Prospect Mailbag

As the top five comes to fruition, readers reach out for some added thoughts on their favorite prospects.

Q: Where does Tom Oldham fit into the prospect ratings? Is he not in the top 20? Do you see him at AA or AAA this year? -- Thanks, Scott Wagner

A: Oldham sits at No. 24 this year after being No. 13 a year ago. No, I don't think he was ranked too high last year, he was coming off a season in which he did nothing but throw strikes and his K/9 abd K/BB rates were fantastic. His sink was due to both his less-than shiny season with the Missions, and the addition of some fine talent from the draft and through trades, including Sebastien Boucher, Justin Thomas, Jeff Clement, Yorman Bazardo and Stephen Kahn, among others.

He struggled some out of the gate last year in Double-A but rebounded to post a respectable 3.67 ERA in the Texas League, good enough for seventh in the circuit. Oldham's overall stuff is about average, which means his command must be top drawer in order for him to record consistent outs against the best hitters minor league baseball has to offer.

He'll repeat Double-A San Antonio, and has a good chance to significantly improve in his second tour of duty. If he stands strong and shows the organization he can handle the Texas League, it's not out of the question that he earns a look in Triple-A Tacoma by season's end.

Q: Do you think Travis Blackley will ever be healthy enough/be good enough to live up to the potential we saw in him two years ago, or will he become another Gil Meche, or worse, Ryan Anderson? -- John Gilbert

A: Blackley's injury is among the very toughest in all of sports in which to return from, as Gil Meche can attest to. I think the road for Blackley's full return is longer than the team expects and tougher than Blackley foresees. The labrum is a far more sensitive part of the arm that requires a longer recovery and a lot more rehab than Tommy John surgery. Blackley feels fine now, and the club is excited to see how far he can go this season, but expecting anything more than mediocre results after he had two labrum tears repaired 12 months ago is, well, asking too much.

Returning from this sort of injury and subsequent surgery requires a lot of time, patience, hard work, dedication, resolve and downright nastiness from the recipient. Which would explain two things; why Gil Meche is still a mess, and why I believe Blackley will be more successful than Meche in his own return to the mound.

Blackley is relentless.

Look for Blackley to start posting some promising results in 2007. Anything he does this season is gravy.

Oh, and, if you ever mention Travis and that super tall lefty/waste of talent in the same sentence again, I'll hunt you down.

Shin-soo Choo. Last year the outfielder was No. 3 on the prosepct list. Now he has dropped to No. 8. Is it because of the plethora of talent in the Mariners farm system? Or is it because of a weakness or lack of development on Choo's part? -- Squawkya24

A: Choo underwhelmed with his power production in Tacoma, taking a step back in that department in comparison to his season in San Antonio in 2004 where he clubbed a career high 15 home runs while swiping 40 bags.

Corner outfielders are typically one of the positions on the field asked to hit for some power and since Choo managed a paltry .431 slugging percentage in Triple-A, things aren't looking as promising for the 23-year-old as they were a year ago.

Having said that, he did heat up in the season's final month and a half and drew 69 walks for the year, showing that he does have on-base skills. But he also took a cut in stolen bases (just 20 in '05) and while he improved defensively, his bat plays better in center, one position in which he doesn't project very positively on the defensive side.

His chances of becoming a regular are slimming, but he does have the tools to break 20 homers and maintain his high on-base percentages.

Q: Why doesn't Ryan Feierabend get any attention? He had the second best ERA in the California League which is known to be hitter friendly, and he was only 19. -- Prestyn Moore

A: Feierabend ranked No. 18 in this year's InsideThe Top 20, and I'd say that's some pretty high regard, being ranked that high. But he does go under the radar somewhat, probably for a number of reasons, including the fact that not many can pronounce his last name. (Fear-a-bend)

Also, he isn't flashy, nor are any of his numbers, at least not yet. You can point to his ERA all day, but he still allowed 186 hits in 150.2 innings and batters hit over .300 off of him. He used his pickoff move as a weapon, which aided in his ERA drop.

His strikeout rate wasn't exciting, either, sitting at 7.29 at year's end but that is up from 5.93 in 2004 and the southpaw posted a promising 8.54 K/9 ratio after July 24. Feierabend is adding velocity and is definitely one to keep an eye on as he fills out his 6-foot-4 frame and continues to improve his curve ball.

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