Prospect Watch: Mid-season Top 30

Reed adds much needed Depth (Getty)

InsidethePark.com brings you a special edition of the Top 30 Future Mariners, following the recent trade acquisition of two solid prospects into the farm system. Where do each of the new M's rank and what is their future in the organization? Check out the latest Top 30 to find the answers.

1. Felix Hernandez, RHP, San Antonio Missions
I have simply run out of praising terms to use on this kid. 9-3, 2.74 ERA and 114 K's says plenty. His performance and mound presence gave the club no choice but to challenge him in Double-A starting July 1. Felix is the clear-cut ace that the M's will need in 2006 and beyond.

2. Jeremy Reed, CF, Tacoma Rainiers
Reed hit .409 in 66 games at Double-A Birmingham in 2003 and carries a career .334 minor league average into his first game with Tacoma on Thursday. Don't expect Reed to spend too much time in the farm system. He is ready. If you are wondering about what kind of player Reed is, think about players such as Don Mattingly with speed, a healthy Rusty Greer, Tony Gwynn with more power, and even a left-handed Edgar Martinez with plus speed.

3. Jose Lopez, SS, Tacoma Rainiers
Lopez will return from his knee sprain in August and could still earn a September call up, providing there are no setbacks. Once I believed that his ultimate future with the M's was SS, but now it looks more like 3B is where he may end up. The addition of prospect No. 18 will effect that decision in the end. Offensively, Lopez could end up a lot like Dodgers 3B Adrian Beltre. Yeah, the 2004 version.

4. Travis Blackley, LHP, Tacoma Rainiers
Blackley is probably just days away from making his big league debut, and has nothing more to prove in the minors. If all Mariner pitching prospects understood how to make adjustments like Blackley does, the M's would have the market cornered on top-of-the-rotation left-handers. The Aussie projects out to be very similar to New York Mets future Hall of Famer, Tom Glavine.

5. Shin-soo Choo, RF, San Antonio
Choo went on another hot streak in the past week or so and is probably the next prospect to be considered for promotion. The soon-to-be 22-year-old is using all of his skills to gain star status in the Texas League. Choo's future is probably as a corner OF in the mold of a Rocco Baldelli from the left side of the plate. Check out Choo in the Futures Game over All-Star Weekend.

6. Adam Jones, SS, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers
The M's top pick in 2003 has come along nicely in the Midwest League, raising his average to .269 for the year. Still only 18-years-old, the San Diego native could push his way up the ladder pretty quickly if he continues the progress at this rate. Jones is still playing SS, but could ultimately slide to 3B or even to the outfield. For now, he still projects as a solid fielding shortstop with a cannon arm, closely resembling a mixture of Edgar Renteria and Alex Rodriguezdefensively. Jones has a long ways to go, but the tools are there and the progress is very promising.

7. Jesus Guzman, 3B, Inland Empire
Guzman has been one of the biggest surprises for the system in 2004 after being called up in late April. Only 20, Guzman entered the system as a switch hitter but is leaning toward hitting from the right side of late. The Venezuelan has the skills to play 3B regularly and could develop solid power as he matures.

8. Rene Rivera, C, Inland Empire 66ers
Rivera is the top catcher in the system and is proving that with a solid season at the plate as well as behind it. Projected to be an average MLB offensive catcher, the 20-year-old has top defensive skills and could be the catcher of the future for the M's.

9. Bobby Livingston, LHP, Inland Empire 66ers
I personally don't buy the "lack of stuff" issue when it comes to Livingston's prospect status. How many top starters in baseball throw 95 MPH, have a wicked power slider, or a devastating hammer-style curve ball? The way of the pitcher these days is to change speeds, move the ball in and out and create contact. See Greg Maddux, Jamie Moyer, Tom Glavine, Mark Buehrle and Barry Zito if you're not convinced. Livingston, 21, has enough stuff to go with his Travis Blackley-esque mound presence and maturity to get through to the bigs without having to miraculously gain eight miles-per-hour on his heater.

10. Chris Snelling. OF, Tacoma Rainiers
Still on the shelf, Snelling should be able to return for part of the 2004 season. If healthy, Snelling is a solid pure hitter and could contribute to the M's 2005 season. That might be the biggest "if" since Alex Rodriguez was in negotiations to return to the M's back in 2000.

11. Wladimir Balentien, OF, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers
Perhaps the best power prospect in the organization, Balentien has made decent progress in the contact department. At 19, he seems to have the all-or-nothing approach out of his system, and has enough athletic ability to play the outfield long term. Balentien has a frame that could easily carry over 200 pounds and the added strength could allow for the Aruba-born slugger to reach 30+ home run potential.

12. Bobby Madritsch, LHP, Tacoma Rainiers
Madritsch, recently back from an oblique injury, could break through to the bigs as either a starter or a reliever and might get a shot in 2004. The gates to Safeco are open, and Madritsch should be given the access code sometime in August or September.

13. Justin Leone, 3B, Tacoma Rainiers
Leone's ability to play 3B, LF, and even SS in a pinch, has heightened his value to the M's. Even at the advanced age of 27, the power-hitting right-hander could get a shot to stick in the bigs as early as July of this season. With contact being his only issue, Leone's line drive power translates well to Safeco Field and could land the M's 2003 Minor League Player of the Year a roster spot for 2005.

14. Chris Colton, OF, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers
A hot month of July for Colton could land him in the California League and propel the 21-year-old onto the right track. Double-A in 2005 should be attainable. Colton has a lot of tools and is starting to put them all together. Colton possibly projects as a Ron Gant type player.

15. George Sherrill, LHP, Tacoma Rainiers
Sherrill, 27, is the only reliever on the list, but is more than justified in being here. The former Austin Peay State Governor hurler has been lights out since signing with the club last summer. I'm going to say this one more time; Sherrill should be in a Mariners uniform already.

16. Jamal Strong, CF, Tacoma Rainiers
Strong's recent battle with a few short-term injuries has hampered his chances of getting a real shot at the majors sooner, rather than later. At 25, Strong is ready for some at-bats in the big leagues and the M's need to know whether he can play CF and handle the bat at the next level. Strong reminds me a lot of Eric Young, when Young was in his prime. Solid bat, not much power, but possesses the ability to truly wreak havoc on the bases.

17. Josh Womack, OF, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers
Womack will slide up several spots when the off season hits and many of the prospects ranked ahead of him see enough time in the majors to strip them of their prospect status. The San Diego product has a solid approach from the left side of the plate to go with good speed and good instincts in the outfield. Expect Womack to follow Balentien to the California League in 2005. The 20-year-old reminds many of a young Mark Kotsay.

18. Michael Morse, SS, San Antonio Missions
The 22-year-old infielder just picked up in the trade of Freddy Garcia, has plus power potential and his size (6-5) probably guarantees a move from SS to either 3B or the outfield. Morse should see time with the San Antonio Missions for most, if not all, of the remainder of 2004. Some scouts like Morse as much as Jose Lopez. We'll see. The White Sox 3rd rounder in 2000 has steadily improved his power numbers from eight in his first three seasons to 10 last season and 11 through the first half the current year.

19. Bucky Jacobsen, DH, Tacoma Rainiers
If Bucky could play the outfield or 1B on a regular basis, he'd rank 10 spots higher, even at 28-years-old. The M's can't let Jacobsen rot in Triple-A all year and my guess is that they won't. Hello Big Bucky.

20. Greg Dobbs, 3B, Tacoma Rainiers
After a slow start in Triple-A, Dobbs has taken off like a rocket and is showing power and solid plate skills with Tacoma. Already an established defensive player at the hot corner, Dobbs' bat could make him a candidate for the big leagues in 2005.

21. Juan Gonzalez, SS, Inland Empire 66ers
Although his future is probably at 2B rather than SS, Gonzalez continues to solidify his defensive skills while continuing his surprising season at the plate. For Gonzalez to move up the charts he must sharpen his base running skills (12 CS in 24 attempts) and learn to be more consistent with the stick.

22. Jon Nelson, OF, Inland Empire 66ers
Nelson has transformed his game from a low-average hitting, all-or-nothing 1B with unlimited power and major strikeout issues, to an athletic outfielder with the same unlimited power but with better plate discipline and the disappearance of the sub-.250 batting average. Nelson leads the 66ers in steals, despite boasting the stature of an NBA shooting guard. Double-A is in Nelson's sights sometime this season.

23. Ryan Feierabend, LHP, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers
The 18-year-old continues a solid season in his first full year of pro baseball. Feierabend was voted to the Midwest league's All-Star game and was the game's winning pitcher. Not blessed with the tools that the blue-chip prospects usually are given, the left-hander uses the same approach as fellow Mariner prospect Bobby Livingston. Control, change speeds, and keep the hitter off balance. So far it has worked.

24. Casey Craig, OF, Everett AquaSox
Craig was the M's 21st round selection in last June's draft and has been a very pleasant surprise thus far. After hitting .331 in the Arizona Rookie League last summer, Craig is off to a fast start with the AquaSox this season. The 19-year-old appears to have the pure hitting skills that the club liked so much in Chris Snelling back in 2000. Craig could be a batting champion a few times over in the minor leagues. The lefty-hitting line drive specialist possesses solid speed and plays the game with a straight-forward approach in every aspect.

25. Rett Johnson, RHP, Tacoma Rainiers
Falling off the radar would be an understatement as Johnson has yet to pitch in a competitive game in 2004. This has been a strange year thus far for the 24-year-old right-hander as he returned from a short hiatus in Spring Training and began working through some apparent control issues, likely fevered by the implied personal matter that necessitated Johnson leaving camp for a few days. The South Carolina native is expected to work his way back up the system this season and ultimately land in Triple-A Tacoma by season's end.

26. Ryan Rowland-Smith, LHP, Inland Empire 66ers
The versatile left-hander has been lights out in a starting role and has been at the very least an effective reliever when called upon in such a role. The future of the Australian is probably as a starting pitcher due to his solid arsenal of pitches in which he seems to have solid command over. Rowland-Smith has a style all his own but is in the mold of Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Darrell May. I fully expect more starting assignments in his future.

27. Aaron Jensen, RHP, Everett Aqua Sox
Jensen was a prize signing by the club after the right-hander was passed over round after round due to sign-ability questions. The M's were able to lock him up and get a deal done and Jensen made his debut earlier this month. Armed with a fastball clocked in the 91-94 MPH range and perhaps the best curve ball this side of Felix Hernandez, Jensen's upside is huge. The 19th round draft pick could turn out to be a 1st round find.

28. TJ Bohn, OF, San Antonio Missions
Bohn was a 30th rounder in the 2002 draft and has made more progress in two years than any of the Mariner draftees from the same year. The 24-year-old's plate skills are as good as any in the system and his recent promotion to Double-A should provide Bohn and the organization a good idea of what kind of hitter the Minnesota native can become.

29. Hunter Brown, 3B, San Antonio Missions
Brown has played 1B, 2B, and 3B this season and could find himself playing a lot more at 1B and 2B due to the recent acquisition of Michael Morse, expected to play SS and 3B. Brown has had a very good season, hitting .290/.378/.458 with minimal strikeouts and 21 extra-base hits.

30. Yung-Chi Chen, 2B/SS, Everett Aqua Sox
Chen has only played 11 games in the Mariner organization and would probably rank much higher if he had more U.S. experience. The versatile infielder has plus speed and solid all-around skills, though he doesn't project to have a lot of power. His future is probably at 2B, but will see time at SS and 3B until his road to the bigs is mapped.

Just Missing the Cut
LHP Kendall Bergdall, LHP Shawn Nottingham, 3B Brent Johnson, LHP Thomas Oldham, RHP Ivan Blanco, C Ryan Christianson.

The Injury Bug
While the injuries to Snelling and Lopez were short-term and their returns are expected in 2004, former 1st round pick Ryan Anderson's long battle with shoulder problems has kept him far off of any top prospect list. The latest on the left-hander is that he will throw off of a mound sometime in the middle of the summer and hopes to pitch competitively by season's end. Word is that Anderson has been playing soft-toss for a few weeks.

Jason welcomes your questions and comments at JasonAChurchill@InsidethePark.com. If you would like to whine, complain or vent, send your emails to Idonotgiveadarn@nobodycares.com

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