|Friday, February 8
Mariners minor-league report
By John Sickels
Special to ESPN.com
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
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.
WILL HELP SOON
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
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.
Other names to know
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.