Prospect Positionals: Corner Infielders

With just a single regular projected among the bunch, the M's corner infield crop is a bare cupboard.

The strength of the Seattle Mariners farm system does not lie in the infield, as it did just a year ago.

Last winter, the M's could boast of a half-dozen middle infielders that projected to be starting caliber regulars in the big leagues.

After a few graduated to the majors and a few others switched positions, the depth is gone.

At the corners, the options are few and far between, but they do gain where the middle of the infield lost. The system is without a major-league level talent at first base, and have one potential starter at the hot corner.

First Base

1. Thomas Hubbard

Hubbard was the M's eighth round pick in 2004 out of the University of North Carolina, where he set numerous records for home runs and extra-base hits.

After struggling in his first pro experience later that summer, Hubbard took his bat to the Midwest League and performed like the club expected him to, posting a .496 slugging percentage and hitting 17 home runs in 110 games at Wisconsin.

The 23-year-old can handle first base and has the swing and raw strength (6-3, 220) to produce even more power, but being a college draftee, the left-handed hitting Tarheel product has little room for error and could run out of time to develop into a true prospect.

Hubbard could put up big numbers in the California League in 2006, perhaps rivaling those of Inland Empire's first sacker from last season.

2. Bryan LaHair

Speaking of LaHair, his 113 RBI in '05 led the minors before the 23-year-old left the 66ers for the Olympic team in August.

LaHair took advantage of the hitter friendly parks in the Cal League, tallying 52 extra-base hits and hitting .310 with a .503 slugging percentage.

The 6-foot, 5-inch lefty is a solid fielder and is athletic enough to continue at first base for the balance of his career.

Double-A San Antonio will be a true challenge for LaHair, who was the M's 39th rounder in 2002.

3. Bryan Sabatella

Sabatella's numbers don't look very much like a worthy prospect, but there are two reasons why he ranks third here. First, numbers don't always tell the whole story. His raw power is second to no other first baseman in the system.

Second, the position is weak.

Sabatella was the M's eighth round pick in this past June's draft and played third base at Quinnipiac University in Connecticuit, where the 21-year-old hit .406/.466/.656 with 11 homers in 50 games his junior season.

Sabatella stands 6-feet, 3-inches, bats right-handed and possesses a solid power swing that may need a few slight adjustments. His numbers at Everett this past season (.249/.332/.373) mirror those of Hubbard during his first year in pro ball (.275/.361/.392).

The M's hope Sabby responds the same way Hubbard did when he takes the field for a full season in 2006.

4. Daniel Santin

Santin wants to remain at catcher, but the chances of the Miami native remaining a backstop much beyond 2006 are very slim.

He may have the offensive skills to warrant a move to first, but the son of a scout scuffled mightily at the plate in 2005.

Santin never found a ryhtmn and finished at .273/.311/.385 after dazzling the organization in the rookie league in '04.

Whether behind the plate or at first, Santin has to show the club something in order to stay in a lineup. He'll likely get a few at-bats in Wisconsin until Everett begins play in June.

5. Andy Hargrove

Grover junior has a good idea of how to handle himself with the bat. He put up good numbers in Peoria, but for a 23-year-old college draftee facing pitching that averaged 20.1 years of age, his .464 on-base percentage loses some luster.

Now 24, Hargrove will probably see time in both Everett and Wisconsin in '06, but must vastly improve his strikeout ratios in order to avoid becoming an organizational player.

Others: Nate Espy, Reed Eastley, Aaron Rifkin, Jesse Hoorelbeke.

Third Base

1. Matt Tuiasosopo

The early word is that the M's third rounder from the 2004 draft will slide to his right and give third base a shot in 2006.

Right field is probably where Tui's skillset is best suited but the club figures to play out the most valuable spots and since third base is an empty position in the system, the 19-year-old Woodinville native will likely get a long look at the hot corner.

Playing shortstop and DH'ing for Wisconsin, Tuiasosopo's 2005 season ended after mixed results.

The 6-2, 215-pounder did not show the power that the Mariners thought he might display in his first full year in pro ball. His strikeout ratios weren't terrible, but 96 whiffs in 464 plate appearances isn't ideal.

The right-handed hitting former University of Washington football recruit hit just six home runs and totalled only 30 extra-base hits but did draw 44 walks, hit .276 and post a solid .359 on-base percentage in a pitcher's league.

Removing the burden of playing shortstop from his shoulder may aid in Tuiasosopo's offensive development. Most scouts still see good power in his bat and his sound approach should allow for improvement in all areas.

2. Hunter Brown

Brown began the 2005 season in an unfamiliar place - the bench. With Justin Leone manning third base for Triple-A Tacoma, Brown was relegated to backup duties, which lasted well into the summer until injuries and call-ups foced the Rainiers to use the Rice University graduate on a regular basis.

In 380 plate appearances, the now-26-year-old led the club in doubles with 30, and posted the third best slugging percentage on the roster among regulars at .448.

With consistent time in the lineup, The M's 22nd rounder in the 2002 draft may produce numbers that earn him a look at a big-league bench job.

Brown can handle first and third and even some time at second. The 6-2, 205-pounder spent three weeks in the instructional leagues this fall learning to catch.

One thing to remember about Brown is that he's improved every year as a pro. OPS: 2002 - 2005 = .737, .789, .814, .814. Slugging Pct: 2002-2005 = .367, .436, .435, 448. He also improved his batting average from .248 in 2003, to .286 and .291 the past two seasons.

3. Jesus Guzman

Guzman was one of several Mariners famhands to be suspended after testing positive for a banned substance this past spring.

The 21-year-old followed that up with a very un-impressive 2005 campaign, hitting just .258 with nine home runs.

Guzman hit .310 with 44 extra-base hits in 2004, raising some eyebrows. But his lack of power potential may move him to second base where hit bat may play better.

The Venezuelan lacks plate discipline and a single plus tool, however, and probably won't successfuly make the defensive transition to second, due to his lack of athleticism and footwork.

4. Ronald Prettyman

The M's drafted Prettyman in the 10th round out of Cal State Fullerton in June and after just 22 at-bats in Peoria, sent Prettyman to Everett.

After his time in the Northwest League, it's clear that the lefty-hitting Prettyman lacks the power to produce at the third base position, but defensively his skills may be unmatched in the system.

Prettyman may be useful in a utility role if he can make more consistent contact and put his raw power to better use.
Next Up: 2B/SS, Later Today

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