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Friday, February 8
 
Mariners minor-league report

By John Sickels
Special to ESPN.com

System overview
The Mariners were amazing last year, tying the major-league record with 116 wins. Although they shouldn't be expected to repeat that performance, the team is poised to compete for the long haul. They have one of the best farm systems in the game, with a solid stable of both pitchers and hitters.

Seattle is stronger on the pitching side of the barn. Although uberprospect Ryan Anderson missed the season with a shoulder injury, others like Jeff Heaverlo and Rafael Soriano pushed themselves into top prospect status. There is a bit less depth in hitting, but still enough to project success for the future. Outfielders Chris Snelling, Shin-Sho Choo, and Jamal Strong bear close attention. But the only hitter poised to help early in '02, shortstop Ramon Vazquez, was traded to San Diego.

The Mariners have drafted well, but are also highly active in both Latin America and Asia. Their strong connections in Japan have born great fruit in Ichiro Suzuki and Kazuhiro Sasaki.

2001 Minor League W-L Percentage: .560, (ranked 3rd)

2001 amateur draft
The Mariners aren't afraid to do unusual things in the draft. Their first pick in 2001 was Michael Garciaparra, Nomar's little brother, out of high school in California. Michael missed the high school season due to a football injury, and drafting him that high was a risk. It could work out, but he would likely have been available later in the draft.

High school talent was the focus in the next rounds as well. Rene Rivera, a catcher from Puerto Rico, went in the second round. He has strong power potential but will need time to develop. Another second-rounder (they had two due to losing A-Rod as a free agent) was Michael Wilson, a high school outfielder from Tulsa with excellent all-around tools. He is somewhat raw. Third-round pick Lazaro Abreu, another high school catcher, adds further backstop depth to the system.

The first pitcher selected was fourth-rounder Bobby Livingston, a southpaw from high school in Texas with a 90 mph arm. The most advanced player is third-rounder Tim Merritt, a shortstop/second baseman from the University of South Alabama. He doesn't have star potential, but should be useful in the middle infield.

This is an odd draft by Mariner standards, heavy on high school talent and toolsy position players. The Garciaparra gamble could pay off big, but it will be awhile before we can fairly judge this class.

Top prospects
Players in the "Will Help Soon" section could see major-league action in 2002. Players in the "Will Help Someday" section shouldn't reach the majors until '03 or later, though of course that can change. Players are listed alphabetically. No 2001 draftees are listed.

WILL HELP SOON
Ryan Anderson, LHP: Missed season with labrum tear. Best southpaw prospect in the game if healthy this spring.

Jeff Heaverlo, RHP: Went 11-6 with 3.12 ERA and 173/40 K/BB in 179 Double-A innings. Works with decent fastball, solid slider and changeup. Intelligent, and learned to throw inside last year.

Antonio Perez, SS: Missed most of the campaign with a broken wrist. Excellent power/speed/defense potential when healthy.

Rafael Soriano, RHP: Fires 95 mph fastball and evil slider, and made big strides with his control last year. Will need some Triple-A time but could see Seattle in September.

WILL HELP SOMEDAY
Shin-Shoo Choo, OF: Korean, hit .302 with .420 on-base percentage in rookie ball debut. Also hit 10 doubles, 10 triples, and stole 12 bases in 51 games. Needs some time, but a very promising talent.

Ryan Christianson, C: Outstanding defensive catcher, hit just .249 at Class A San Bernadino, but whacked 42 doubles. 20 years old, could be an excellent player if his bat develops further and useful even if it doesn't.

Aquilino Lopez, RHP: Sleeper here. Posted 3.02 ERA and fanned 79 guys in 63 innings of Double-A relief work ... at age 20! He hits 93 at times and has a good slider.

Clint Nageotte, RHP: Works at 89-92 mph, throws strikes with his slider and curve. Excellent 187/50 K/BB ratio at Class A Wisconsin marks him as someone to watch closely.

Chris Snelling, OF: Aussie, hit .336 with .418 OBP and .491 SLG in the Class A California League, at age 19. Runs well, fields well, takes pitches, and a savage competitor.

Jamal Strong, OF: Blazing fast, stole 82 with just 12 caught stealing in A-ball last year, along with 91 walks. Lacks power, but owns career .322 batting average.

Matt Thornton, LHP: 1998 first-rounder, looked like a bust but re-emerged last year. Posted 2.52 ERA, 14-7 record, and 192 strikeouts in 157 innings at Class A San Bernadino. Thows 93 mph with improving secondary offerings.

KEY SLEEPER
Craig Anderson, LHP: Another Aussie, went 11-4 with 2.26 ERA and superb 178/39 K/BB ratio in the California League. Does not throw hard, but Moyeresque in his approach.

Other names to know
Willie Bloomquist, SS; Chris Collins, 3B; Justin Kaye, RHP; Craig Kuzmic, 2B; Jose Lopez, SS; Gustavo Martinez, RHP; Joe Putz, RHP; Bo Robinson, 3B; Derrick Van Dusen, LHP; Aaron Taylor, RHP; Rett Johnson, RHP; Pedro Liriano, 2B; Kenny Kelly, OF.

John Sickels is the author of the 2002 STATS Minor League Scouting Notebook. He is currently writing a biography of Bob Feller. He lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with his wife, son, and two cats. You can send John questions or comments at JASickels@aol.com, or you can visit his homepage at hometown.aol.com/jasickels/page1.html.





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