Inching closer to No. 1, Matt Tuiasosopo comes in at the fourth spot, up two spots from a year ago.
Bill Bavasi took over as the GM for the Seattle Mariners following the 2003 season, in which an aging roster crumbled in the second half of the year and missed the postseason.
Bavasi's duties included a rebuild of the club's farm system and a complete overhaul of the youth in the organization.
Perhaps the most critical signing of his tenure was to bring on Scouting Director Bob Fontaine, who has overseen the last two drafts.
So far, so good, as Fontaine started off his Mariners career with the selection of Matt Tuiasosopo in the third round of the 2004 First Year Players Draft.
Most clubs tabbed Tuiasosopo, a Woodinville, Washington native, as a first-round talent with signability concerns, due to his potential football career.
Bavasi and Fontaine felt comfortable enough with their relationship with the Tuiasosopo family that they drafted him anyways and signed to him a record $2.29 million bonus.
Tui began his pro career with a bang, lighting up the Arizona Rookie League with 11 extra-base hits in his first 68 at-bats.
After a solid showing with Everett to finish his first taste of the pro game, the Mariners challenged their new prospect with a full year in the Midwest League, where many blue-chip bats have failed to produce, including high-grade talents such as Brandon Wood and the M's own Adam Jones.
The 19-year-old did not disappoint, though he followed suit of his fellow teen cohorts that came before him and put up moderate offensive numbers.
Looking ahead, if Tuiasosopo continues to trace the track of Jones, the Mariners are in for a nice treat in 2006.
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||No. 4 – Matt Tuiasosopo, 3B/OF
| Ht/Wt: 6-2/205
| Bats/Throws: R/R
| Acquired: Selected in third round of 2004 draft
| Signed By: Mariners' scout Phil Geilser
Tuiasosopo spent his first full pro season with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, showing that his future at shortstop is likely going to end sooner than later.
At the plate, the 19-year-old held his own, but lacked the power the M's believe is in his bat. He show a decent ability to work counts and draw a fair amount of walks. A successful season, surely, but nothing spectacular – yet.
Tuiasosopo possesses plus athleticism and has the typical work ethic you'd expect in one with the Tuiasosopo name. A former highly-recruited high school quarterback, there's not much Tuiasosopo can't do on the baseball field. Run, hit, throw, field and he has the physical tools to develop plus power at the plate.
Nothing but positive responses were received when his teammates and coaches were asked about the M's third-round pick from 2004. The tool box is full, and the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder has the ingredients to become an all-star.
Tui lacks experience and will begin just his second season with a main focus on the diamond. With total concentration on baseball, he should naturally carve his physical makeup into prototypical baseball stature.
He needs work on hitting the breaking ball and will have to move off of shortstop at some point soon, due to a lack of range, scratchy footwork and and inconsistent throwing arm.
Tools: Scouting Profile
Hitting for Average: 50+
Tuiasosopo's natural approach at the plate starts with an inside-out swing that allows pitches to get in on far too often. Instead of turning on fastballs middle-in, Tui is punching them to right field, which at times is resulting in easy outs rather than a sharply struck liner.
The M's are working with the right-handed bat on hitting the ball where it's pitched, which should protect him from higher strikeout totals. Tuiasosopo drew 44 walks a year ago and has the patience to draw more. His strike zone judgment is average but continues to improve with more at-bats.
Staying on his developmental track, his future could produce a .280 batting average with solid on-base numbers in the .350 range.
Hitting for Power: 60
His six home runs last year might scare some observers away, but Tui's tools suggest there is a lot more pop in his bat than he has displayed thus far. As he settles in with improved mechanics, his power should take off, somewhat.
Correcting his tendency to stay inside the ball too long is imperative for his power to develop. He must be able to get the bat head out on pitches on the inner half to tell pitchers that they have to be careful coming inside. The ceiling on Tuiasosopo's power likely falls in the 25-home run range.
"He's got the strength and bat action to far exceed his power peripherals," said an area scout. "I'd like to see him take a little bit more aggressive swing at the hittable pitches. He appears to be too defensive sometimes and that will hurt his numbers. I like his future, though, and he should have better luck in California, if that's where he ends up next year."
Tuiasosopo has little chance to be more than a backup-level shortstop on the defensive side, but his tools should allow him to be an asset in the outfield where his speed and arm can make a difference. He may get a shot to play third base some in 2006, but the transition to the hot corner isn't a simple move to make, particularly at such a young age.
As a corner outfielder, Tui could thrive and take his mind off defense while he develops offensively. The M's should make the switch now, but it'll likely take place in a year.
Tui's arm is strong enough to play anywhere in the field, but his transfer at short is below average, adding to the probability of a position switch. Tui's accuracy should become average or better as an outfielder and in time a plus defensive weapon.
Tuiasosopo is a good athlete with above-average speed, though he has work to do on the bases. With more experience, he should be able to swipe 10-15 bags a year and be an asset on the bases with the ability to go from first to third on most singles and score from second on any hit to the outfield.
As he matures physically, he may lose some of his natural foot speed, but his instincts can make up for any of that.
The Mariners believe Tuiasosopo can be an all-star at the major league level, and while he's at least three years away from putting himself in a position to see time in the bigs, he's still on a decent developmental curve.
He'll be going from the pitcher-friendly Midwest League to the hitter's paradise that is the California League, where he'll see many of the same pitchers he faced in '05 and will do so in warm weather and small ball parks.
If all goes well, Tui projects as a No. 5 or No. 6 hitter, putting up peak numbers that resemble those of a young Carlos Lee.
2006 Projection: .292/.359/.515, 22 HR, 84 RBI, 8 SB, 58 BB, 102 SO
MLB ETA: 2008
MLB COMP: Morgan Ensberg (HOU), Casey Blake (CLE)
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.
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