25 Guys the M's Should Be Looking At: 2007 Edition

David PriceWith the draft less than a week away, it is time for me to offer up a list of players who could really improve the Mariners' future. These 25 players would be great acquisitions for any franchise, but I have tailored the list with the M's needs in mind (check out my previous post to see where I think they need help). I got the idea to start looking at prospects a couple days before last year's draft, to see if I could identify good prospects. In about six hours of searching online, I came up with a list of 15 guys the M's should look at, and a year later the list looks as good now as it did when I created it (it doesn't hurt that my number one guy, Tim Lincecum, really is the dominant starter that I was convinced he would be).


After such an encouraging first year, I've taken it to the next level. I looked at every college conference, and used my 100-point rating scale that I had not created as of last year's draft. I've also taken the time to adjust player's statistics based on the strength of their conference. Basically, this year's search is way more encompassing, and way more thorough. Despite these major changes, the principles I use to rate prospects remain the same. First of all, this list only includes college prospects, simply because all I have are statistics. Though I do prefer college prospects to high school ones, there are way too many great players that make the jump from high school to the pros to ignore. I'm certainly not mad that the M's drafted both Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez straight out of high school.


Once I had players rated based on this year's statistics, I looked at their past performances. Like last year, I gave preference to guys who have performed at a consistently high level. When guys had disappointing years, I preferred players who had more reasonable explanations. Basically, my whole theory on professional prospects is that the best players in college will tend to be the best ones in the pros. I try to minimize "projectability" (whatever that is), though I admittedly favor contact hitters and power pitchers.


Experts say that this year's draft does not have much to offer in the college ranks, but I think that's a little overblown. I don't think it's ridiculously weak; more than anything it points out how strong last year's college crop was. As a result, I don't expect many on my list to go in the first round. Finally, I present you 25 guys the M's should be looking at this year:


25. David Newmann, SP, Texas A&M - Newmann, a southpaw, posted great numbers in the Big 12 this year, though it would have been nicer to see him work deeper into games. The biggest concern about him is his injury history, considering he missed the 2005 and 2006 seasons thanks to Tommy John surgery (this may explain why he didn't work deeper into games). The good news is that Tommy John surgery is the least troublesome of any major arm injury, since the risk of re-injury is as great as if he had never had the surgery. Also, it's quite possible that Newmann is yet to fully recover, meaning he could become unexpectedly stronger. Ultimately, it's difficult to project what Newmann will do, given the injury and only one year of major college experience. He's a bit of a wild card, but an intriguing one.


24. Josh Donaldson, C, Auburn - He batted .338 this year with a .441 OBP, 29 extra base hits in 201 at-bats, and 17 stolen bases to boot. Though Donaldson had always posted solid numbers, nothing indicated he would explode like he did this year. He had never shown he had speed until this year, and ultimately it is the speed he flashed that got him on this list. It gives him the potential to be a real dynamic offensive player.


23. Dominic de la Osa, SS/OF, Vanderbilt - Like Donaldson, de la Osa really flourished this year with a .383 AVG, .454 OBP, 15 home runs, and 16 stolen bases, showing an impressive blend of speed, power, and contact in his offensive game. Dominic has shown rapid, but steady, improvement at Vanderbilt, which inclines me to believe that he will continue his upward trend. His defensive versatility is an added bonus.


22. Todd Frazier, SS, Rutgers - I sound like a broken record. Frazier this year batted .376 with a .502 OBP, 18 home runs, and 21 stolen bases, showing a dynamic offensive game! However, Frazier has performed at a much higher level throughout his college career than Donaldson and de la Osa, while also showing steady improvement. My biggest concern with Frazier is that he has been strikeout-prone throughout his college career, but the rest of his tools cannot be ignored.


21. Corey Brown, OF, Oklahoma State - Brown is one of the toughest prospects to evaluate in the entire draft. One one hand, he batted .367 with a .506 OBP, 18 home runs, and 17 stolen bases, and he has shown this incredible combination of average, power, and speed his entire college career. On the other hand, he also struck out an astronomical 50 times this year, and has always struck out a ton. Generally, switching from aluminum to wood bats decreases a player's power and increases their strikeouts, so the concerns are obvious. However, Brown has somehow produced at an extremely high level for three years in college, so there's reason to believe he can continue to be productive in the pros. I would have rated him higher if the Mariners did not have both Adam Jones and Wladimir Balentien in the system already.


20. Adam Mills, SP, Charlotte - Here's another guy that's tough to evaluate. Mills averaged almost 8 innings a start this year, and posted a 0.80 WHIP with over a 10 K/9 IP. In addition, he's only allowed 1 home run all year! This year, Mills has been nothing short of phenomenal. However, though he has improved every year, nothing he had done indicated he would be this great. In fact, no year before this one would have even got him considered on this list. So, despite his flawless season, I have a hard time rating him much higher than this.


19. James Simmons, SP, UC-Riverside - This right-hander has good size (6'4"), and good numbers throughout his college career. Simmons is exactly the kind of pitching prospect I look for. He has no strength that jumps out, but no weakness either.


18. Cory Luebke, SP, Ohio State - I had a hard time deciding if Simmons or Luebke was better, so I ended up going with Luebke because my rating formula said he is better. There's plenty to like in a 6'4" southpaw from the Big 10.


17. Ross Detwiler, SP, Missouri State - Detwiler is a flame-throwing lefty who posted an 11.28 K/9 IP this year. Most have him very highly rated, and it wouldn't be surprising if he is gone before the Mariners even get to pick. Obviously, I'm not quite as high on him, though I do like him.


16. Josh Collmenter, SP, Central Michigan - Collmenter is big, burly right-hander who really lit up the Mid-American Conference this year. I thought long and hard about putting Detwiler above him, but Collmenter pitched over an inning more per start, and gave up fewer home runs and base-runners while still posting an admirable 9.41 K/9 IP.


15. James Adkins, SP, Tennessee - If there's one thing Adkins can do, it's strike out batters. Over his college career he has struggled with control issues, and even home runs to a certain extent, but he has always struck out hitters. However, his control has improved a bunch, and even his home run rate has improved. It seems like he is really starting to harness his stuff. The argument for putting Detwiler above Adkins is strong, and they do have similar college numbers. However, Adkins has compiled his numbers in a much tougher conference, the SEC.


14. Nick Chigges, SP, College of Charleston - Chigges has put up big numbers two straight years in a small conference. However, the Southern conference is stronger than many give it credit for and even when the statistics were adjusted, Chigges compared quite favorably to starters like Adkins, Collmenter, and Detwiler in my rating system. Chigges is likely to be the last guy drafted on my list, but whoever drafts him may have themselves a steal.


13. Mitch Canham, C, Oregon State - Catcher is not a high priority for the Mariners, but Canham might be too good to pass up. He's a complete offensive player, but what really caught my eye was a particular comment by Pat Casey, the head baseball coach at Oregon State. Said Casey, "Mitch is the best leader in the country - there’s nobody who has a leader better than Mitch Canham on and off the field. He’s the heart and soul of our club.” Now, Casey is probably a little jaded, but all indications are that Canham's intangibles are spectacular. On Canham's OSU bio page, he lists fishing and helping the community as his interests, and in high school he earned the team Sportsmanship award, as well as honors in math, social studies, and school in general (he accumulated a 3.98 GPA). Oh, and if that wasn't enough, he's from Lake Stevens, Washington. So, though Canham's game is solid, it's all the intangibles that boost him up to this spot on the board.


12. Tony Thomas Jr., 2B, Florida State - How does a .439 AVG with 24 doubles, 6 triples, 9 homers, and 24 stolen bases sound out of a second baseman? My main concern with Thomas are his strikeouts, though he nearly cut them in half from his freshman to his junior season. Looking at his past production, he's probably not quite as good as his numbers suggest this year, but there's no denying that he has improved significantly in every facet of the game while in college. His numbers this year are indicative of both hard work and raw talent.


11. Josh Horton, SS, North Carolina - Even though Yuniesky Betancourt isn't going anywhere soon, shortstops are still a valuable commodity, and Horton is way too good of a talent to not put on the board. First off, he's great defensively. However, he's also a tremendous hitter, as he showed his sophomore year by batting .395 and winning the ACC batting title. This year, his batting average sunk to .333, but he has a .473 on-base percentage to go with it, and an astronomically low 7 strikeouts in 162 at-bats! He's even flashed some power with 9 doubles, 3 triples, and 6 homers on the year, and speed as well with 6 stolen bases. Looking at his numbers, I'm convinced his batting average has sunk solely due to bad luck. However, even if it didn't, it's still a .333 average. The bottom line is that Horton's offensive and defensive skills translate very well into the pros, making him a terrific prospect.


10. Travis Banwart, SP, Wichita State - The focus has been on Ross Detwiler in the Missouri Valley Conference, but Banwart should be getting just as much, if not more, attention. Banwart posted a lower WHIP and allowed fewer homers than Detwiler, while maintaining a high strikeout rate. In addition, Banwart pitched in the renowned Cape Cod League last summer, and was named to the league all-star team. He's even got great size at 6'4"! Yet, despite all the measurables and accolades, Banwart just isn't as highly regarded as Detwiler by most.


9. Will Kline, SP, Mississippi - Kline was named to the preseason Clemens Award Watch List, which honors the nation's top college pitcher, and he did not disappoint this season. Kline has made major improvements each year in college, and showed the ability to live up to high expectations this year. His ability to succeed in a tough conference like the SEC, coupled with how much he has risen in the last couple years, makes him a promising prospect.


8. Tony Watson, SP, Nebraska - Like Kline, Watson was on the preseason Clemens Award Watch List, but was also named a preseason All-American by Collegiate Baseball NCBWA and Rivals.com. Obviously, to be this high on my board, he lived up to the hype. As if Watson did not have enough accolades, he also pitched in the prestigious Cape Cod League last summer, where he was named to the all-star team. I wish Watson had a bit higher strikeout rate, but with each year he strikes out more and more batters, and the honors and awards were too much to put him below Kline or Banwart. A 6'4", 223-pound left-handed frame doesn't hurt either.


7. Nick Schmidt, SP, Arkansas - Speaking of tall, powerfully-built left-handers, Nick Schmidt is listed at 6'5", 230 pounds, and he has used his frame to overpower the SEC. This year, Schmidt had a 1.16 WHIP with 8.7 K/9 IP, which actually was well down from a rate that was around 12 K/9 IP last year. Ultimately, Schmidt slipped some this year, but he still had a great season. I had a hard time choosing between Schmidt and Watson, but I ultimately went with Schmidt because he has shown the ability to strikeout more batters.


6. Eric Sogard, 2B, Arizona State - This kid has it all. He doesn't strikeout much, hits for a high average, takes walks, has a little pop, and steals more than his share of bases. On top of that, he was voted the Pac-10 defensive player of the year. Even better, he's performed at this elite level for two years. There's not much more to ask for.


5. Bryan Henry, SP, Florida State - For four years, Bryan Henry has handled the ACC. He's got good size, impeccable numbers, and a great track record in a really good conference. It would have been nice to see a little more improvement out of Henry in his tenure as a Seminole, but he set the bar awfully high to start with.


4. Matt Wieters, C, Georgia Tech - If you are looking for a freak of nature, Matt Wieters is your man. He's 6'5", 230 pounds, switch hits, and pitches quite effectively as well, with a fastball that goes into the mid-90s. However, his real potential is as a hitter, as he's proven by posting an OPS well over 1.000 every year at Georgia Tech. I'm concerned about his size as a catcher, so I would personally move him to third base or right field. He should be athletic enough to handle either switch, and neither position would waste his golden arm. The Mariners probably shouldn't look too hard at this guy, because the odds are he's not making it to the 11th pick.


3. Tyler Mach, 2B, Oklahoma State - I'm not sure what it takes to get noticed sometimes. All Mach has done is post back-to-back 1.000+ OPS seasons, yet there is minimal buzz around him. His excellent power with a lack of strikeouts is a rare combination. In addition, though Mach attends Oklahoma State, he's also attended the UW and Edmonds CC, and he graduated from Kentlake High School in Kent, Washington.


2. David Price, SP, Vanderbilt - Price is the unquestioned top collegiate pitcher in this draft. Nobody had a season that compares to his this year. It will be surprising if the Devil Rays do not take him number one overall, and given their horrendous pitching staff, he's definitely the right pick for them.


1. Matt LaPorta, 1B, Florida - Just as I thought Lincecum was the perfect pick for the Mariners last year, I think LaPorta is the perfect pick this year. All indications are he will be available to take at the 11th pick, and I would be thrilled if the M's didn't let him fall any further. Due to a groin injury, LaPorta had a disappointing junior season, but he came back with a vengeance this year. The statistics are absurd: .423 batting average, .579 on-base, slugging over .800, 19 home runs, and only 15 strikeouts. Yes, LaPorta had more home runs than strikeouts. Many are concerned about his sub-par junior year, but all that dipped were his doubles and batting average, which given the pain that running with a strained groin would be, shouldn't be too surprising. There's also some concern over signability since his agent is Scott Boras, but the M's have shown the ability to negotiate with him, and LaPorta should be eager to sign since he is a college senior. He's easily the best power prospect in the draft, and he even plays a position the Mariners really need a prospect at. Matt LaPorta would be the perfect pick.


Like last year, I doubt the Mariners will pick any of the players I've listed. They seem to have a much different draft strategy than me. However, all these guys will be drafted and it will be interesting to see how their careers begin to unfold. If they're anything like last year's bunch, they'll be worth watching.

2007 State of the Mariners

Wladimir BalentienThe 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:


CATCHER
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)


FIRST BASE

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)


SECOND BASE

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)


SHORTSTOP

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)


THIRD BASE

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)


OUTFIELD

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)


STARTING PITCHING

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)


RELIEF PITCHING

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.

Lincecum Made It, Who's Next?

Tim LincecumBefore the 2006 Amateur Draft, I identified 15 prospects the Mariners should be looking at, and at the top of that list was Tim Lincecum. I was very disappointed when the M's passed on him with the fifth pick, though to this point Brandon Morrow looks very good. So, since my top-rated prospect from the 2006 draft just made the majors, I figured now is as good of a time as any to check up on the 15 players the M's should have been looking at in the 2006 draft:


15. Whit Robbins, 1B, Twins (68, High-A): He is struggling some with a .235 batting average and no home runs. However, he's still got great plate discipline with a .361 on-base percentage. Robbins only has 98 bats so far this year, so he could heat up.


14. Evan Longoria, 3B, Devil Rays (99, AA): The consensus was that Longoria was the best position prospect in last year's draft and now I agree. Right now, his adjusted Major League rating in my 100-point system is a 69. Outside of Lincecum, Longoria is the closest to major-league ready on this list.


13. Chad Huffman, OF, Padres (88, High-A): He hit every at TCU, and (surprise!) he's hit at all the minor league levels he has been at so far!


12. Luke Hopkins, 1B, Blue Jays: He struggled after getting drafted last year, and is yet to appear in a minor league game this year.


11. Ryan Strieby, 1B, Tigers (89, Low-A): Like Hopkins, Strieby struggled after getting drafted this year, but is off to a good start this season. He has cut back on his strikeouts, which is very promising.


10. Brad Lincoln, P, Pirates: Lincoln was the Pirates' top selection, but despite that he has not appeared in a minor league game this year.


9. Steven Wright, P, Indians (68, Low-A): He has recorded great strikeout numbers so far this year, but been mediocre to sub-par in everything else.


8. Wade LeBlanc, P, Padres (95, High-A): LeBlanc, like Wright, is also posting great strikeout numbers. However, he is dominating no matter what the stat. He stood in the SEC, the king of all baseball conferences, and so far he has stood out in the minors.


7. Jon Jay, OF, Cardinals (66, AA): Jay was outstanding in his pro debut last year, but so far he has also struggled. I think the Cardinals have rushed him some, but he will have to prove he can hit in AA at some point.


6. Cole Gillespie, OF, Brewers (71, High-A): Gillespie is another guy who tore up the minors after getting drafted this year, but has gotten off to a rather slow start this year. His strikeout rate is high, which does not bode well for sudden improvement.


5. Max Scherzer, P, Diamondbacks: Arizona is yet to sign this guy, their top pick in the '06 draft, so he has not played at all yet.


4. Eddie Degerman, P, Cardinals (99, Low-A): He's only had one start this entire year, so it's unfair to rank him, but I did anyway. He was very good after getting drafted last year though.


3. Craig Cooper, 1B, Padres (83, High-A): He's neither the most nor the least successful prospect on this list. If he cuts down on his strikeouts some he could be a really special hitter.


2. Andrew Miller, P, Tigers (89, High-A): The consensus #1 player from last year's draft has been very good so far, but not the best. His strikeout rate is lower than expected.


1. Tim Lincecum, P, Giants (118, AAA): This kid dominated from pitch one in the minors, and didn't let up until the Giants called him up for his first start on Sunday. He got roughed up a little by the Phillies, but his adjusted Major League rating in my formula is 100. Lincecum has the potential to be this year's Francisco Liriano.

Mariners Recap: April

Kenji JohjimaWell, the Mariners certainly can say they've never had an April quite like this one. They had more weather-delayed games in the month than in any other season in their history, and as a result it still feels like the team is yet to settle into a regular-season groove yet. Look no further than Horacio Ramirez, who was the last player on an opening day squad to appear in a game - and he started the year as the M's fourth starter, ahead of Jeff Weaver. Despite the wackiness, the M's did play some games, and to see how they did I'm going to debut my re-worked ratings formula. You faithful readers may remember a 5-point scale I came up with at the start of the year, but now I've redone it to be a 0-100 scale, and it assigns ratings just like grades (or video game rankings of players, whichever you prefer). First off, let's look at the team's hitting and pitching as a whole:


HITTING
Seattle Mariners: 70 (C-)
A.L. Average: 71 (C-)


PITCHING
Seattle Mariners: 80 (B-)
A.L. Average: 80 (B-)


As the season goes on, the A.L. hitting and pitching averages should both end up hovering around 75, but this proves the old theory that hitting does heat up with the weather. Considering the Mariners are pretty much dead-on the average for both hitting and pitching, you would expect them to have a record around .500, and low and behold, their record is exactly .500 at 10-10!


Now, let's take a closer look at individual players to see if the Mariners can keep up their current pace, or if they are likely to improve/get worse:


LINEUP
  1. Ichiro, 80 (B-) - Last year he was an 85, so Ichiro may heat up a little bit. However, given his age, he may start to slip just a little bit, which means he may also maintain his current pace.
  2. Adrian Beltre, 63 (D) - There's no doubt that Beltre is going to get better. Last year he was a 74, and given that he should be just entering his prime, as well as his history of slow starts as a Mariner, there's no reason to believe he won't improve dramatically. It wouldn't surprise me if he has a monster May.
  3. Jose Vidro, 79 (C+) - I still don't think Vidro should be batting third, but so far he has been a bit of a pleasant surprise. He rated a 73 last year, and he has been declining for a couple years now, so the odds are he will fade significantly. However, it's possible that completely focusing on hitting as the DH has allowed him to have a miniature resurgence. I certainly don't expect Vidro to get any better than he's been, but there's a chance that he could maintain his current pace.
  4. Raul Ibanez, 64 (D) - Like Beltre, there's no doubt Ibanez is going to get better. He got off to a very sluggish start, and already has shown signs of turning the corner. I doubt he'll be as good as he was last year (which netted him an 81 rating), but I expect him to climb into the C-grade range, if not a little better. He's another candidate to bust out in May.
  5. Richie Sexson, 59 (F) - Well, he got his first single of the year on Sunday, so there's a start! Sexson's power is there, but absolutely nothing else is (hence the awful rating). It's likely that Richie's best days are behind him, but even with that being said he should improve some (he was a 75 only a year ago). How much he improves, I don't know. I thought he was a safe bet to duplicate last year's numbers, if not improve on them slightly, but now I'm not so sure.
  6. Jose Guillen, 64 (D) - Guillen's career rating is a 70, but given his age and recent injury history, I think what we've seen in April is pretty much what we are going to get.
  7. Kenji Johjima, 90 (A-) - Why is this guy batting seventh?! He's off to a fantastic start! Kenji is the brightest spot on the Mariners so far, and though he's likely to cool down some, I don't think he'll cool down that much. He rated a 78 last year, but in Japan he put up elite offensive numbers. Given that this is his second year in the majors, and he doesn't have to deal with all the major adjustments of coming over to the majors this year, it's very reasonable to think he will hit better this year. When the year is said and done, Kenji may end up being the M's best offensive player.
  8. Yuniesky Betancourt, 63 (D) - Betancourt got off to a slow start last year too, but gradually heated up and ended up with a rating of 72. He has flashed more power this year, and I think the average will come around. I expect Betancourt to heat up with the weather.
  9. Jose Lopez, 80 (B-) - Why is this guy batting ninth?! Sometimes Dudley drives me insane. Lopez is another bright spot on the M's this year, just like he was in 2006. What's better is that I think he can keep up his current pace for the entire year. He was a 72 last year, but he's still young and improving, and he showed the ability to hit like this in the minors.
STARTING PITCHING
  1. Felix Hernandez, 107 (A+) - Yes, Felix has been so good to start this season that he goes beyond what's considered "perfect" in my rating system. It's unfair to expect Felix to be better than perfect for the entire year, so he's going to regress a little. However, judging from his hot start, his age, his minor league career, and his 2006 season, Felix is destined for huge things this year. An All-Star appearance and Cy Young award are not out of the question.
  2. Jarrod Washburn, 90 (A-) - Since when was Washburn this good? He won't stay this good, because his current rating is definitely skewed by the game of his life that he just pitched against the A's. In fact, I expect him to regress quite a bit, given his rating last year was a 75.
  3. Miguel Batista, 66 (D) - Batista has been a bit of a disappointment so far, and it's hard to say if things will get any better. He's getting old, and the hitters are going to start to heat up around the league. I don't think he'll get any worse, but I'm sorry to say that there's no guarantee he will get any better.
  4. Horacio Ramirez, 62 (D-) - Ho-Ram has been just as disappointing as Miguel, but I've got more hope for this guy. First off, he's younger, which helps. However, he also got impacted more than any other M's pitcher by all the rain and snow outs, so I think he will improve as he gets a chance to pitch on a regular basis. For his career he's a 71, and I think he will approach that rating by season's end.
  5. Jeff Weaver, 21 (F) - He's bound to get better just by dumb luck, but that doesn't mean he should stay in the rotation. He earned a 63 rating last year, but he looks washed up to me. I don't see him getting a rating any better than an F.
  6. Cha Seung Baek, 70 (C-) - Granted, Baek's only had two starts, but early returns say he could be a decent starting option (certainly a better one than Weaver at this point). There's reason to believe he can keep up the solid work, because his rating last year was a 71 (that's including major league and adjusted AAA numbers).
BULLPEN (Actual Grade/Adjusted Bullpen Grade, because my system rates an average reliever as a 65)
  • Sean White, 63 (D/C) - White's adjusted AA numbers last year suggested he would be a 52 in the majors. So, expect him to get worse. Right now, what's keeping his rating this high is the fact that he hasn't given up a home run.
  • Julio Mateo, 67 (D/C) - I thought he might rebound this year, and to a certain extent he has. He is a 66 for his career, so this is about what to expect.
  • George Sherrill, 84 (B/A) - George is off to a fast start, and though I like him, expect him to cool off some. He was a 77 last year.
  • Brandon Morrow, 78 (C+/B+) - I'm starting to believe that this kid is ready for the majors. His walk rate is high, but in his last couple outings his command has been much better. It looks like Morrow is settling in and may start to put up dominating numbers. Given Weaver's struggles, I'm tempted to put him in the fifth spot of the rotation and see what happens. The M's may just catch lightning in a bottle, and if they don't, there's no way Morrow will be any worse than Weaver.
  • Chris Reitsma, 51 (F/D-) - For his career he's a 67, and that's where I think his rating will end up. It was around there until his recent bad outing. Despite the low rating right now, I'm not too concerned about Reitsma.
  • J.J. Putz, 72 (C-/B-) - Putz was awesome last year (a 90 rating), but I expected him to regress some. However, he's going to get better than he's been so far for multiple reasons. First, he's a month removed from his spring training arm problems. Also, he got very little work in the past month due to the weather, as well as a paucity of save situations.

Looking at the team as a whole, the best way to sum up April is to say that they weathered the storm (rather literally). As the season unfolds, the offense will get better. However, everyone's offense is going to heat up, so I see the M's lineup being middle of the pack all year. The pitching is a different story though. Despite slow starts from Batista, Ramirez, and Putz, a disastrous beginning for Jeff Weaver, and an injury to Felix Hernandez (not to mention all the snow/rain outs that messed with everyone's rhythm), the staff was just fine. Considering all that went wrong (and only Jarrod Washburn getting off to a truly hot start that he won't duplicate), I think it's safe to assume that the pitching will improve, or at least not trail off with the rest of the league as the hitters find their timing. So, with one month in the books, I see an average offense, and an above average pitching staff, which in turn should translate into a winning season.