M's 2006 Top 20 Prospects: 11-15

As we march on in our trek to No. 1, the next five prospects include three pitchers, two of whom are lefties, a catcher and a slugging outfielder.

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No. 15 – Stephen Kahn, RHP
DOB: 12.14.83
Ht/Wt: 6-3/220
Bats/Throws: L/R
Acquired: Selected by Seattle in 5th round of 2005 draft
Signed By: M's scout Myron Pines

2005: Kahn finished his collegiate career at Loyola Marymount and reported to Everett of the Northwest League – after one inning in the Arizona Rookie League - taking over as the Aqua Sox closer for the remainder of the season. He had first-round expectations last June, but a sub par showing last spring dropped him down to the fifth round where Seattle came calling. He made 12 starts at LMU in '04 and did not surrender a single long ball. Then he served up 10 in 86 innings last season.

Strengths: Kahn is a physical pitcher with an aggressive nature, which is part of what makes him a prime candidate to work the end of ball games. The right-hander is not afraid to come inside and dictate the tempo of each at-bat. He is capable of pitching through an extra-base hit or a walk by getting the key strikeout and has the arsenal to start or relieve.

Weaknesses: Kahn has room for improvement in the areas of holding runners, consistency and his tendency to let his pitches live through his emotional state. His secondary offerings could use refining but if he can avoid overthrowing his fastball he should be able to limit the base on balls and the home run. Adding a better change-of-pace pitch could return him to the rotation. Either way, his fastball needs a dance partner.
2005 Everett SS 17 0 3.93 18.1 14 1 14 22 0.94

Tools: Scouting Profile

Fastball: 65+
Kahn's fastball sits 90-93 with movement to both sides of the plate. When his command is sharp he will bust right-handed hitters in, tying them up and sapping their power stroke. He'll need to sharpen his control against the better hitters he'll face down the road, but his fastball has plenty of life and may reach the mid-90s consistently if he remains a short relief ace. Kahn's heater is explosive.

Curve Ball: 60+
The 22-year-old's overhand curve is among the best in the system and typically hits the 85 mph range. What it lacks in location is made up for in the depth and break, but better command would give Kahn a steady plus pitch to pair with the fastball. His curve ball must be commanded to remain effective.

Slider: 30
The Mariners will continue to work with Kahn on adding a second power pitch if he is to be groomed as a closer. Kahn's off-speed repertoire is more reflective of a reliever than that of a starting pitcher at this time. Adding a quality slider could change the minds of the organization. Kahn hasn't thrown much of a true slider in his career.

Changeup: 40
If he developed a decent changeup, he'd be dangerous – in any role. Coupled with his plus fastball and hard-breaking curve, an average change could push Kahn over the top. But there is much work to do, as the change up is a feel pitch and requires a lot of attention. He's more likely to develop the slider.

Control/Command: 45
Kahn issued 14 walks in 18.1 innings with Everett, again showing the wild side that played a significant role in the sinking of his draft status. At times Kahn simply missed within the strike zone, allowing hitters to get the fat part of the bat on the ball.

Delivery/Mechanics: 50+
The high-effort delivery that the right-hander employs could be a factor in whether he is permanently bound for the bullpen. A true rock-and-fire motion with maximum energy assist with Kahn's velocity, but could negatively effect his long-term durability as a starter. If the club hasn't decided on his future role already, his near-violent wind will be a factor. New Timber Rattlers' pitching coach Lance Painter will have his hands full keeping Kahn's mechanics in check.

Future: Kahn's fastball alone suggests he could be an effective one-inning relief option but his secondary pitches will ultimately determine whether he's another Rafael Carmona or Jose Paniagua, or the second coming of Jeff Nelson. He'll likely begin his first full season as a pro with Wisconsin in the Midwest League.

2006 Projection: 75 IP, 65 H, 3.30 ERA, .255 BAA, 21 BB, 77 SO

MLB ETA: 2008

MLB COMP: Dan Wheeler (HOU), Mike MacDougal (KC)
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No. 14 – Justin Thomas, LHP
DOB: 1.18.84
Ht/Wt: 6-3/220
Bats/Throws: L/L
Acquired: Selected by Seattle in 4th round of 2005
Signed By: M's scout Ken Madeja

2005: Thomas won the Horizon League pitcher of the year honors at Youngstown State University and came within six of the school's strikeouts record, held by former big-leaguer Dave Dravecky. Thomas was the 113th player selected in last June's draft and flashed signs of No. 2 stuff while pitching primarily in relief for the Everett Aqua Sox.

Strengths: Thomas is built like a prototypical southpaw hurler at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, and may add some velocity behind that frame. Due to workload, he made just six starts after signing last summer, but displayed good ability to throw strikes with both the fastball and change. Thomas could probably get consistent outs with his two best pitches in the lower levels, but he'll need his slider to be a successful starter.

Weaknesses: Not unlike many college arms, Thomas is used to working batters with his changeup, which left his breaking stuff somewhat weak. He struggles versus lefthanders and issues too many walks, usually because he begins picking at the corners. An improved slider and a more consistent release point to sharpen his control could make Thomas a steal in last year's draft.

2005 Everett SS 18 6 3.81 59.0 63 2 48 20 1.35

Tools: Scouting Profile

Fastball: 55+
Thomas sits in the 87-90 range and often hit the 91 mark last summer in the Northwest League. When his off-speed pitches are working, his confidence soars and he's able to effectively move his fastball to both sides of the plate. Thomas must find a way to throw more strikes early in the count with his fastball in order to set up his secondary offerings.

Curve Ball: 40
More of a show-me pitch that lacks depth, command and bite, the curve isn't likely to be something Thomas puts too much time into at the present time.

Slider: 55+
With the makings of a solid slider Thomas needs to add more consistent location with the pitch. With these improvements, his slider could grade out as a 55 or 60 on the 20-80 scouting scale. It's imperative that the offering become more effective in order to neutralize left-handed hitters. Thomas' slider typically sits in the 82-84 range with average late break.

Changeup: 55+
Thomas had his change dancing with Everett last summer, toying with hitters at times. With an improved slider, Thomas' change will become even more effective as a strikeout pitch. The 22-year-old displayed good arm action and a great feel for the pitch in both college and in his 18 games as a pro.

Command/Control: 50+
Not uncommon among young pitchers, Thomas' command and control could use improvement. Issuing 76 walks in 177.2 innings at Youngstown State is one thing. Handing out the free pass four times per nine innings in the pro ranks is a completely different animal. Thomas did improve his ratio with Everett, walking 20 batters in 59 innings, but more progress is crucial.

Delivery/Mechanics: 65
Thomas is certainly not a strikeout artist and will need to purify the motions in his lower half if he is to achieve the level of command that is desired in a pitcher of his likeness. His delivery contains no red-flag hitches that might induce injury, however.

Future: With consistent development of his command and slider, Thomas could move steadily through the minors, much like that of former 3rd rounder Bobby Livingston. He'll likely start that ascent this spring with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers in the Midwest League.

2006 Projection: 155 IP, 148 H, 3.90 ERA, .260 BAA, 54 BB, 127 SO

MLB ETA: 2008

MLB COMP: Noah Lowry (SF), Cliff Lee (CLE)
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No. 13 - Rene Rivera, C
DOB: 07.31.83
Ht/Wt: 5-10/215
Bats/Throws: L/L
Acquired: Selected by Seattle in 2nd round of 2001 Draft
Signed By: M's scouts Pedro Grifol and Rafael Santo Domingo

2005: Rivera put more miles on his sky card than any minor leaguer in the system. The 22-year-old began the year with Double-A San Antonio and landed in Seattle after playing tag with the Missions, Tacoma Rainiers and the M's the first time around.

Strengths: Rivera is a catcher's catcher, so to speak. He comes to the park everyday, puts on the gear and goes to work. The Puerto Rico native possesses a strong throwing arm with better-than-average accuracy and has shown the ability to consistently block balls in the dirt. His strong, 5-foot-10, 215-pound frame assists in his footwork and lateral movement.

Weaknesses: Rivera just needs experience behind the dish. He has the essential skills to be an adequate defender - possibly more - but his deficiencies lie in his offensive game where his plate coverage is below average and he struggles with well-located fastballs and the breaking ball away.

2005 S. Antonio AA 212 14 2 21 1 7 35 .278 .305 .382
2005 Tacoma AAA 49 3 1 6 0 2 12 .204 .235 .327
2005 Seattle MLB 48 3 1 6 0 1 11 .396 .408 .521

Tools: Scouting Profile

Hitting for Average: 35
Rivera often reaches for the pitcher's pitch, and sometimes too early in the count to justify. He tends to swing at the first fastball he sees, so he isn't likely to go deep into counts and draw many walks. There's more evidence that Rivera has the bat of a backup catcher than there is that Professor Plumb even had a candlestick – or a library.

Hitting for Power: 40
Rivera does have a little punch in his bat but he's also prone to lunging out over the plate, leaving most of his power on his front foot. If he was given a full season's worth of at-bats, he might scratch out 10-12 home runs in his peak. The smart bet is on a few long balls a year, and a dozen doubles – as a second backstop on a 25-man roster.

Glove: 55
Rivera has always been known as a defensive-minded catcher, showing off plus skills as a teenager in Puerto Rico. After improving his footwork and game-calling during his first three years in the system, the former 2nd-round draft pick has leveled out his development. He still needs work with the tools of ignorance.

Arm: 60
Rivera's arm is better than average and his accuracy is the one tool in which he is most likely to improve. He threw out 35 percent of base runners as a 19-year-old in 2003, and followed that up with a 37 percent mark in 2004. Last season he gunned down just 33 percent, but was still effective controlling the running game.

Speed: 20
Rivera runs like a catcher, what else is there to say? He could use some more work on taking the extra base and judging balls hit to the outfield, but he grades out satisfactory in both areas.

Future: Rivera's game needs refining and he would benefit from a full season in Triple-A Tacoma, particularly offensively. But he's the odds-on-favorite to be Kenji Johjima's backup coming out of spring training. He'll likely get 35-40 starts with Seattle. If he can max out his development, he'll be a fine reserve catcher for several years.

2006 Projection: .234/.278/.389, 4 HR, 27 RBI, 17 BB, 44 SO

MLB ETA: 2006

MLB COMP: Einar Diaz (STL), Yorvit Torrealba (COL)
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No. 12 - George Sherrill, LHP
DOB: 4.19.77
Ht/Wt: 6-0/225
Bats/Throws: L/R
Acquired: Signed as non-drafted free agent in 2003
Signed By: M's scout Charley Kerfeld

2005: Sherrill dominated the Pacific Coast League – again – and got the call late this past summer. He held big-league lefties to a .156 average and 18 strikeouts – without walking a single southpaw bat. In two stints with the Mariners, the former Austin Peay State Governor has fanned 29 of the 97 lefty hitters he's faced for a .198 BAA.

Strengths: Sherrill is a strike thrower. An aggressive strike thrower. An aggressive, left-handed strike thrower. An aggressive, left-handed strike thrower with a bulldog approach.

Weaknesses: Sherrill has struggled a bit versus right-handed bats, and has a tendency to serve up the long ball. With more experience, the Memphis native is likely to shake off the home run bug and find a way to get righties out. He'll probably need an improved changeup to get it done.

2005 Tacoma AAA 22 0 2.28 23.2 19 0 6 38 1.75
2005 Seattle MLB 29 0 5.21 19 13 3 7 24 1.00

Tools: Scouting Profile

Fastball: 55+
When Sherrill is healthy and fresh, he sits in the 89-92 range with his fastball – which can be sneaky with his unique release point. With his arm slot, his heater jumps on left-handers and can get in on righties, appearing as a mid-90s offering.

Slider: 60+
Sherrill's slider is his out pitch and can be devastating, particularly to the lefty stick. Thrown from the exact same arm slot as his fastball, the slingshot-style slider breaks sharply down and away from the same-handed hitter and its rotation is difficult to recognize..

Changeup: 40
Sherrill has significantly improved his changeup from the time he signed with the Mariners through last summer. If he's able to develop it into an average pitch, he'll be much more effective against the right-handed bat, allowing him to survive for more than an inning per outing.

Command/Control: 65
Sherrill has issued only 41 walks in 136.2 innings as a professional. In the same timeframe, he's struck out 163 would-be hitters. That's pretty darned good control. Better command within the strike zone will help him avoid giving up the four-bagger, forcing the batter to hit his pitch.

Delivery/Mechanics: 60+
Sherrill's release point is right at his ear hole as he scrapes his throwing arm across his body, shooting his pitches toward the plate with solid command and good velocity. His motions are very much under control and only a few minor adjustments may be necessary. Sherrill is ready to take on major league hitters, and has been for two years.

Future: The soon-to-be 29-year-old is set to serve as the main left-handed relief option for manager Mike Hargrove this season. He has proven he can squeeze out the left-handed bat and will get the chance to improve in an expanded role. Sherrill is in the show for good.

2006 Projection: 60 IP, 55 H, 3.65 ERA, .250 BAA, 18 BB, 54 SO

MLB ETA: 2006

MLB COMP: Kelly Wunsch (LAD), Scott Sauerbeck (CLE)
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No. 11 – Wladimir Balentien, OF
DOB: 07.02.84
Ht/Wt: 6-2/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Acquired: Signed as non-drafted free agent in 2000
Signed By: M's scout Karel Williams

2005: Balentien put up some good power numbers last season, albeit in the hitter-friendly California League where the small parks and the weather are a hitter's best buddy. The Aruban-born outfielder led the system in home runs (25), doubles (38) – and strikeouts with 160.

Strengths: Balentien's ability to swing hard and send line drives into the gap - or over the wall - is the only thing keeping him from the unemployment line. Just 21, the right-handed hitting Balentien has strong wrists and a solid midsection, assisting with his natural power.

Weaknesses: Balentien's Achilles Heel is strike three, which occured in almost a third of his official trips to the plate last summer. He's regularly fooled on breaking balls and is impatient, specifically when he's in the midst of a tough stretch as he attempts to push his way out of a slump. His pitch recognition skills are well below average, and he's yet to show the ability to make adjustments between at-bats. As he begins facing the best pitching in the minors, Balentien's power numbers will begin to show his shortcomings, unless he turns a complete 180.

2005 Inland A+ 492 38 25 93 9 33 160 .291 .338 .553

Tools: Scouting Profile

Hitting for Average: 45
Balentien hit .293 last season and he's a 45 on the 20-80 scouting scale? Yes, Balentien is a career .286 hitter. But his plate skills suggest that his numbers will level out without drastically improved plate coverage and a significantly better understanding of what he's doing in the batter's box. If he learns to control the strike zone, he may develop into a legit big-league hitter.

Hitting for Power: 55+
Balentien has a solid, line-drive stroke with natural loft and raw power. But he's closer to being an all-or-nothing bat than he is to being a complete hitter. Still, his power potential cannot be ignored and is the sole factor in his status as a prospect. In its purest of forms, Balentien's ability to hit for power grades as a 70 on the scouting scale.

Glove: 40
Balentien possesses below average instincts for the outfield, though he generally catches everything he reaches. He's athletic enough to handle left field and appears to be easing into a role at the position. Balentien is unlikely to be anything more than a run-of-the-mill defender. At best, he avoids being a detriment. At worst, he's a designated hitter who can occasionally fill in.

Arm: 50
Like his range and instincts, Balentien's arm strength is about average. His throws are halfway accurate, but could use improvement. Becoming a more intelligent thrower would enhance Balentien's overall value.

Speed: 50
Balentien is an average base runner with slightly above-average speed. He'll swipe the occasional base and leg out his share of triples, though he's not likely to win many games with his legs and feet and he could continue to mature physically and lose some of his footspeed.

Future: Balentien still has a chance to develop into a solid hitter but his time is running out. As he moves through the system, he must begin to show that he can make adjustments. It's vital that Balentien improves his strike zone judgment, plate coverage and pitch recognition – in a hurry. He'll begin 2006 at Double-A San Antonio where he'll be challenged by some of the game's better pitching prospects. If all goes well, the former rookie league home run champ could become a regular. He's more likely to be a bench bat in the mold of Juan Rivera or Marcus Thames.

2006 Projection: .255/.288/.422, 16 HR, 66 RBI, 6 SB, 30 BB, 128 SO

MLB ETA: 2008

MLB COMP: Victor Diaz (NYM), Juan Rivera (LAA)
InsideThePark.com's Top 20 Prospects are based on the player's long-term value to the Seattle Mariners organization.

All players that have not exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched at the big-league level are eligible. Service time is not considered.

The Scouting Scale grades are based on a combination of the payers' current and potential future skills.

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