The MLB Draft is almost here, and this year I will offer a list of 25 players the Mariners should be looking at! However, before unveiling my list of college prospects, it is worth taking a look at the entire Mariners organization, to assess the strengths and weaknesses. Just as the president offers an annual State of the Union address, here is the 2007 State of the Mariners. Also, a threat level at each position will be given, ala the Homeland Security Advisory System:
Remember two years ago, when the M's went through a posse of no-name catchers, of which none really produced? Those days are long gone thanks to a couple of Bill Bavasi's savvier signings as GM, Kenji Johjima and Jamie Burke. They are arguably the best offensive catching tandem this side of Joe Mauer and Mike Redmond. The only issue is that neither is young, so the M's better be developing some replacements.
Thanks to a focus on drafting catchers in seemingly every draft, the Mariners do have plenty of young backstops in the system, though the jury is still out on all of them. In AAA there are Jeff Clement, the former third overall pick who hasn't yet shown the prodigious hitting abilities expected of him, and Rob Johnson, who I'm convinced will never be more than a light-hitting backup. In AA there are Rene Rivera, who is a poorer version of Rob Johnson, and Luis Oliveros, who I have a few higher hopes for. Finally, there is Adam Moore in High A, who is showing tremendous hitting ability and looks like the best of the bunch, outside of Jeff Clement (or maybe even including him at this point).
All in all, catching is a strength at the major league level for the M's, and it is at least not a weakness in the minors. Lots hinges on Jeff Clement, and he is far from a bust yet. ALERT LEVEL: Blue (Guarded)
Richie Sexson is batting .199 (though showing signs of life), Ben Broussard had to learn some other positions to stay on the ballclub, and the best in the system behind them is Bryan LaHair, who after breaking out last year has struggled quite a bit this year. Even worse, there's nothing after that, unless you consider Johan Limonta a legitimate prospect. ALERT LEVEL: Red (Severe)
Jose Lopez was an all-star last year, but I am still not sold on him. His defense is solid, but outside of the first half of last year, he has shown little of the power that made him a great prospect to begin with. Even worse, he shows little plate discipline, though he also does not strike out much either. It's not like Lopez is a bad second baseman, but it wouldn't hurt to have someone who could push him in the system.
Unfortunately, there is no one right now. Willie Bloomquist is a reserve at best, and the M's had to sign Gookie Dawkins to fill out the minor leagues. Yung Chi Chen has shown great hitting ability, but unfortunately he is injured right now. Still, if Chen and Lopez are all the Mariners have, it's a position worth keeping an eye on. ALERT LEVEL: Yellow (Elevated)
This is the strongest position in the system. Yuniesky Betancourt has taken charge of the position at the major league level, and subsequently forced Mike Morse, Adam Jones, and Matt Tuiasosopo to switch positions. Betancourt's defensive struggles have been alarming this year, but he continues to develop as a hitter, and he still looks like a guy who is going to be around for a very long time. Even better, despite the position switches of the aforementioned prospects, the M's still have a potential uber-prospect at shortstop in 17-year old Carlos Triunfel. ALERT LEVEL: Green (Low)
Maybe Adrian Beltre shouldn't be paid as much as he is, but he is one of the better third basemen in the American League today. Furthermore, Mike Morse would be an adequate replacement if he were to get injured, and Matt Tuiasosopo is blossoming in AA as we speak. ALERT LEVEL: Green (Low)
Ibanez, Ichiro, and Guillen make a pretty nice trio right now, but both Ibanez and Guillen have lost considerable range in the field and some of their power, and Ichiro could very well leave the team as a free agent (or be traded). The outfield sounds like it could be a disaster next year, but the M's do have Adam Jones and the surprising Wladimir Balentien waiting in AAA, as well as Jeremy Reed. Furthermore, Brent Johnson is quietly sneaking on to the radar with every level he hits .300 at, and Casey Craig is developing into a decent prospect too. Still, Balentien is the big story at this position. The remarkable plate discipline progression he has shown makes the entire state of the outfield look better than anticipated. ALERT LEVEL: Blue (Guarded)
There's good news and bad news. First, the good: Felix Hernandez is a young ace who a whole pitching staff can be built around. Few teams have legitimate aces, let alone one as young as Felix. It's a luxury few teams have. Furthermore, Jarrod Washburn has pitched like a legitimate number two starter this year, and Cha Seung Baek has stepped in admirably at the back end of the rotation. Also, based on Brandon Morrow's success in the bullpen, he seems destined to be an effective starter in the near future (and by near I mean next year), and a really good one a few years from now. Also in a few years, Ryan Feierabend should be taking the hill every five days for the Mariners.
That's all the good news; here's the bad. There's virtually no depth behind the starters I've already mentioned. Miguel Batista was signed to a three-year deal, but he looks done now. Horacio Ramirez can pitch in Safeco, but he can't anywhere else. Jorge Campillo and Justin Lehr are both classic AAAA starters who are great to have around, but hardly guys who should be regular starters for a team. In AA, Robert Rohrbaugh and Justin Thomas are AAAA starters in training. In the lower levels there's the trio of high-schoolers the Mariners drafted last year, Chris Tillman, Tony Butler, and Nathan Adcock, but the jury is still out on all of them. Butler looked the best last year, but he's struggling in low A right now. Tillman has looked the best this year, but just got shelled in his first start in high A. As for Adcock, he's done nothing to impress or disappoint thus far. History says one of them will make the majors, so for projecting purposes that's what I will assume. Maybe a guy like Kyle Parker will surprise and turn into a solid prospect (he's off to a great start in low A). All I can say is the Mariners future weighs a little too heavily on Felix and Brandon right now, but I also think the two of them are up to the challenge. ALERT LEVEL: Yellow (Elevated)
To me, the bullpen is "The Island of Misfit Starters," so considering the Mariners shortage of even marginal starting talent in the system right now, I'm also concerned about the depth of bullpen talent. However, the outlook for the bullpen actually is not too bad.
First off, the Mariners do have one of the best closers in baseball, J.J. Putz. Furthermore, George Sherrill is an excellent set-up man, who would be a closer on several ballclubs. The same goes for Brandon Morrow, though everybody knows his future is as a starter. In addition, the Mariners have done a nice job of taking marginal starting prospects and converting them into relievers (Sean White, Jon Huber, Eric O'Flaherty, and Mark Lowe). In time, the M's will likely convert more pitchers into relievers, but for now they have solid depth and talent at the major-league level, and they even have guys like Joseph Kantakevich and Andrew Barb working their way through the system right now. There's many things I don't like about Bavasi, but he does know how to put together a bullpen. ALERT LEVEL: Blue (Guarded)
Overall, the State of the Mariners could be better, but it could be worse. Thankfully, it looks like the high-profile draft picks in the Bavasi era (Brandon Morrow, Jeff Clement, and Matt Tuiasosopo) will benefit the team as much as the the high picks in the decade preceding him, which was highlighted by Jose Cruz Jr. (1995), Gil Meche (1996), and Adam Jones (2003). Still, the lack of a future first baseman is glaring.