Prospect Positionals: Catchers/Relievers

A positional look at the catchers and relief arms, where there is more depth than any year in recent memory.


Catchers

1. Jeff Clement

Clement is just six months removed from college baseball at the University of Southern California where he set numerous records and finished second all-time in home runs, behind future hall of famer, Mark McGwire.

The national high school baseball record holder in home runs is currently the top offensive prospect in the entire Mariners farm system, after playing only 34 games in pro ball.

His propensity for the extra-base hit, plate discipline and for hitting from the first base side of the plate all contribute to the 22-year-old from the great state of Iowa major competition for Adam Jones as the top prospect in the system.

Clement possesses plus power and has shown the strike zone judgment the M's were hoping they'd get from the third overall pick in June's draft.

He'll hit, but can he catch? Roger Hansen, the M's catching coordinator who is highly praised around the league, says Clement will indeed be a big-league catcher. It's just a matter of when.

Clement will not be rushed, but he could make it tough on the M's to hold him back. He's a blue-chip bat at a premium position.

2. Rob Johnson

Johnson is everything that Clement is not - polished defensively - at least for someone with so little experience.

The Houston product made two strong impressions on the M's last summer. One in Wisconsin and the other with the 66ers of the Inland Empire.

Johnson's catch-and-throw skills are advanced and he could be ready for Double-A San Antonio this spring, one step ahead of Clement.

In order to hold off Clement, Johnson must continue his strong showing at the plate. Dropping down in the mid-200s without power is not an acceptable feature of the Mariners future catcher. If Johnson wants to forge his way into the M's plans, 2006 is critical.

3. Rene Rivera

Rivera has a strange stat line the past few seasons. His time in Double-A San Antonio and Triple-A Tacoma haven't been too kind on the Puerto Rico native. But in his two stints with the big club, Rivera has stung the baseball, using an aggressive approach that reminds some of Einar Diaz.

Solid defensively, Rivera still needs time in the minors to sharpen his game, particularly in how he handles the pitching staff and his footwork could use a polishing.

In a year or so, Rivera will be as ready as he will ever be - where ever he may be at the time.

The 22-year-old may spend the 2006 season as Kenji Johjima's backup, but he doesn't figure much into Seattle's plans beyond that.

Offensively Rivera has average power potential, typical catcher speed and sub par on-base skills. His future is very likely as a backup.

4. Luis Oliveros

Oliveros was let go in 2004, only to be re-signed this past summer when the M's needed a catcher worthy of Double-A San Antonio - the M's wanted no part of rushing Johnson to the Texas League.

Oliveros impressed enough to hang around and has become useful.

The 22-year-old is an organizational catcher in the mold of a Miguel Ojeda or John Flaherty.

5. Chao Kuan Wu

Wu has the natural skills to post better than average offensive numbers from the catcher's position, but has yet to remain healthy in his two summers in the U.S.

At 6-feet-3 and 200 pounds, Wu is certainly an imposing figure. The club likes his natural physical tools, including his throwing arm, but his footwork and accuracy need development.

If Wu's bat takes off, he could be moved to first base in the near future.

Others: J.B. Tucker, Erwin Jacobo, Nick Prosise, Kevin Gergel, Justin Ruchti, Chris Collins.

Relief Pitchers

1. George Sherrill, LHP
Sherrill still holds prospect status but will not be on this list in a year. The nasty lefthander has more than earned his right to a spot on the 25-man roster next spring.

Sherrill handcuffs lefties and makes the potential re-acquisition of Ron Villone seems more than useless. Inappropriate might be the correct term.

The 28-year-old uses a better than average slider, bordering on plus, to freeze lefthanders, often inducing a swing and a miss.

The Memphis native sets up his slider with a fastball sitting 88-91 and a change that may be an average pitch by the time 2006 rolls around.

2. Scott Atchison, RHP
In some circles, Julio Mateo would be trade bait and the 29-year-old Atchison would be inserted into the '06 bullpen.

The right-handed 49th rounder uses a 90-92 mph fastball and a pretty solid array of off-speed pitches, led by his better than average curve ball.

Whether he makes the club out of spring training or not, Atchison has big-league stuff and should log anywhere from 40 to 60 innings with the M's.

3. Stephen Kahn, RHP
Kahn is the most intriguing of the bunch, showcasing his live arm from the bullpen at 91-94 mph last summer.

Kahn is very business-like on the mound, showing a take-charge attitude by the message his pitches send.

Kahn's out pitch is a sharp curve ball that needs more consistency but will confuse some of the inexperienced hitters in the Midwest League in 2006.

The Loyola Marymount product has the stuff to be a late innings relief option, though the M's haven't completely closed the door on using him in the starting rotation.

4. Emiliano Fruto, RHP
Fruto has a plus fastball, sitting 90-94, a solid slider and curve ball and a change-up in which he likes to throw but has very little command.

The right-hander was reliable down the stretch for Rainiers skipper Dan Rohn and at times was one of two arms that Rohn and pitching coach Rafael Chaves could lean on.

Fruto could see some big-league time in September with a strong year in Tacoma.
5. Edgar Guaramato, RHP
One of the sleeper picks of the system, currently, Guaramato, 20, showed the ability to get ground ball outs on a consistent basis, as evidenced by his 2.74 G/F ration in Everett.

The right-hander fanned 38 in 37 innings, but issues 24 free passes - something he'll have to clean up if he wishes to earn duty in the 8th and 9th innings, or get back into the starting rotation.
Others: Rich Dorman, RHP; Jeff Heaverlo, RHP; Sean Green, RHP; Tim Rall, LHP; Craig James, RHP;, Lance Beus, LHP; Eric O'Flaherty, LHP; Jon Lockwood, RHP; Cesar Jimenez, LHP; Renee Cortez, RHP; Ryan Rowland-Smith, LHP; Nathanel Mateo, RHP; Michael Flannery, RHP.

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