The Graduating Class of 2005

The Phenom has Graduated (AP)

In the coming weeks you may wonder where all the depth in the M's organization went. The answer is here, in the form of the former top prospects, who have since become major league ballplayers.

The Graduating Class of 2005

When fans of the Seattle Mariners look back on the 2005 season there are a number of things that may jump out to the front of one's memory.

The first season since 1986 without Edgar Martinez in the organization. The 90+ losses for the second straight year. Some may even remember that it was the sad end to the Miguel Olivo era, just as much as it was the end to the career of the franchise catcher, Dan Wilson.

It was also the 10th anniversary of the Refuse to Lose club from 1995.

Though the team didn't celebrate that memory with a successful season, there were a few fun things to remember.

On the positive side of things, it was indeed year one of the Felix Hernandez era. The Venezuelan cruised through the minors in less than three seasons and didn't disappoint in his 12 starts in a major league uniform.

Jeremy Reed's first full season is complete, albeit with mixed results and sudden seeds of doubt about his future.

Mike Morse and Yuniesky Betancourt each exhausted their rookie seasons, with Betancourt cementing his place on the roster for 2006 and beyond after flashing the leather and holding his own at the plate.

Felix Hernandez, RHP


Last winter, we told you about the legitimate ace qualities of the best pitching prospect in baseball.

InsidethePark.com boasted of the teenager's ability to control his emotions, command his fastball and snap off his wicked curve.

We spoke highly of his mechanics, the way he handles himself, and his nasty arsenal, including a slider that has yet to be unleashed.

Well, I'm here to brag and say "We told you so."

Not that we reached very far to proclaim Hernandez as the second coming, since every soul under the baseball moon could see he was special.

Hernandez started the year in Triple-A Tacoma, and while he was as nasty as ever, he did have a few issues with his control, walking 48 batters in 88 innings of work.

The phenom experienced a few bumps in the road, and when you read "few", that's about all there was.

By the time the calendar turned to June, Hernandez was ready for the show, but thanks to a sore right shoulder the 19-year-old waited out a DL-stint and a few relief appearances before making his major league debut in August.

Who will forget the first time they saw King Felix take the mound in Detroit? Well, okay, let me re-think that, since the game was not televised locally and only a few 'netters caught the action live.

After just a few starts, it was as clear as Canadian Spring Water that the kid was the real deal, disposing of all the doubts that M's fans had about the teen sensation.

But those who saw, heard, or read about Hernandez's spring outing versus the Los Angeles Angels should have seen this coming.

A short trip down memory lane reveals a showdown between Hernandez and the reigning American League MVP, Vladimir Guerrero.

The at-bat ended with Guerrero swinging and missing at a 97-mph heater. After the game, Hernandez told the media what he was thinking at the time.

"It was Vlad, I had to strike him out."

The American League has been shaking in their Mizunos ever since.

Hernandez had the use of a 94-98 mph fastball in his 12 starts, both the two and four-seam variety. A knee-buckling curve ball often followed and the occasional change-up that baffled left-handed hitters was not far behind.

Scouts have always been in awe of the natural abilities of Hernandez, but at 19, a few east coast scouts could barely believe their own eyes, despite reading the reports beforehand.

One Philadelphia Phillies scout couldn't say enough about the poise and physical control that Felix displayed, start after start.

"He's out there as if the hitter doesn't belong," he said. "Instead of pitching nervous or overextending himself, he expects to get everyone out, and then he does."

The right-hander pounded the strike zone relentlessly, inducing ground ball after ground ball and keeping his pitch counts well within reason.

It was this, along with his incredible stuff that impressed a National League East scout the most.

"All I remember is that I walked away wishing he was pitching in Georgia," said a Braves scout. "He's easily the best I've seen in maybe 30 years. Better than (Doc) Gooden, better than (Mark) Prior, and easily the most polished of this year's rookie pitchers."

High praise for a special talent, and the numbers back it all up, and more.

Hernandez went just 4-4 in 84 innings in Seattle, but his 2.67 ERA, 77 strikeouts, 23 walks and a mind-boggling 3.31 groundball-fly ball ratio were all top drawer projections that the success that Hernandez experienced on the mound this past summer, was here to stay - and it may get even better.

The Mariners knew they had something special when they inked a deal with a 16-year-old kid in July, 2002.

International Scouting Director Bob Engle and scouts Pedro Avila and Emilio Carrasquel did the leg work to land Hernandez, but not even the trio responsible for signing him would claim they believed he was going to be quite this dominating.

What happened on July 4, 2002 was more than a great free-agent signing. It would ultimately save the organization time and money. It saved the M's from another year or two of rebuilding, as the club attempts to construct a club that can contend after two straight disappointing seasons spent at the bottom of the AL West.

The presence of Hernandez allows GM Bill Bavasi to seek one rotation mate for their ace, instead of blowing up the entire pitching staff and spending every last dollar on replacing them over the next two or three winters.

Hernandez, all by himself, speeds up the club's return to contention by at least a year, maybe two or more.

One last look at the scouting scale for Hernandez would reveal his plus arsenal, accompanied by his strong pitchability, solid mechanics and advanced intangibles.

Fastball: 80
The two-seam fastball is one of the best pitches in the game as it bores in on right-handers, tails away from left-handers and sinks on everyone.

What makes Hernandez's two fastballs so tough to deal with is the movement, but he doesn't lose velocity off the two-seamer, giving hitters no chance to guess right on a fastball they may be able to lift, and a cutting, driving heater that even the best of bats will pound into the ground or swing through.

Curveball: 70
Felix could probably post an ERA around three without straying from his fastballs, which is what makes him such a tough pitcher to face.

Hernandez mixes in his curve ball, often getting a called third strike with the pitch, and even when he hangs it above the knees, the break is usually sharp enough to fool the hitter.

With improved command and a more consistent release point, this pitch could approach the 80 range on the 20-80 scale.

Change-up: 60
The more Hernandez throws his change, the better it gets. After seeing a 98-mph fastball and a wicked curve, throwing a plus change-up might be illegal in a number of states.

It's the equalizer for Felix, with his curve ball being of the high-velocity type. The change-up could end up being his best pitch as he builds consistency with it and gains more confidence.

If you don't believe in Felix's change-up, ask Minnesota Twins outfielder Michael Ryan, who saw one of the better off-speed pitches thrown all season at Safeco Field, swinging and missing at a dead fish in the dirt for strike three.

Command/Control: 65
Hernandez displayed excellent command of all of his pitches, and rarely went through spells where he struggled to find the zone - at least in Seattle. In Tacoma, he did have the occasional stretch of command problems, which is why he could use some polishing in this area.

Delivery/Mechanics: 70
Hernandez has solid mechanics and a fairly fluid delivery for a power pitcher. Though it differs in style, its result is very similar to that of Curt Schilling, with a little Pedro Martinez mixed in, as Hernandez falls to the first base side after the release.

His arm slot is flawless, his arm-action is very consistent and he doesn't seem to show any tendencies to float his leg kick, whether in the stretch or the wind-up.

Jeremy Reed, CF


Reed entered the season with great expectations, many of which targeted the American League's Rookie of the Year honors.

Every predictor, projector and forecaster saw big things coming from Reed in 2005. It didn't quite work out that way, as the Long Beach State product hit just .254 with a .354 slugging percentage after posting strong minor league numbers that suggested he was primed and ready for the big-league challenge.

In three seasons in the minors, Reed hit .327/.401/.478, including .305/.366/.455 at Triple-A Tacoma after coming over in the trade for Freddy Garcia.

Reed struggled to consistently drive the ball as he always has, failing to get out in front of fastballs and getting tied up inside.

The 24-year-old often showed the ability to be selective, but at times seemed to be a little too patient, perhaps passing on good pitches to hit.

Reed never appeared to be comfortable and couldn't find the groove he had found during his September call-up in 2004.

Reed even struggled on the bases, stealing 12 bases in 23 attempts and losing confidence in his ability to get a read on a pitcher's routine.

The former second round pick by the Chicago White Sox did excel in the field, however. Though to be his greatest weakness, Reed thrived in center field, getting consistent jumps and rarely making a bad read on anything hit to the outfield.

The highlight reel is a deep and warranted consideration for a gold glove.

Hitting for Average: 60
Reed still possesses the ability to spray line drives all over the field and hit for a high average. It's possible that a sore wrist hindered mid-season adjustments made in June and July and though he only fanned 74 times, expecting fewer whiffs and a few more walks (48) is not asking too much.

Hitting for Power: 50
While Reed is unlikely to smack 20 or more long balls anytime soon, he's fully capable of driving the ball enough to result in 35 doubles and touching double figures in the home run department.

It's probably going to take Reed a little longer to develop his power stroke than originally expected, but you don't post a career .879 OPS in the minors unless you can hit.

Glove: 65
Reed displayed good range in spacious Safeco Field and more than handled the position that some were unsure he'd ever conquer.

Reed's instincts grade very high and without blazing speed, the 6-foot, 195-pound covers a lot of ground between Ichiro and the forever-rotating spot in left field.

Throwing Arm: 50
Reed's only shortcoming is slightly below-average to average throwing arm, though he grades out satisfactorily in the accuracy department.

Reed relies on hitting the cutoff man to hold runners from taking the extra base. It's safe to call it a left fielders arm.

Speed: 60
Reed's speed is best used on bunts, the occasional steal and taking the extra base. It's not likely that Reed is going to log an inordinate amount of triples or stolen bases, but his gamer-like approach shows up in his aggressiveness - when his confidence is right.

Twenty steals is about tops for Reed, who also uses his better-than-average speed on defense.

Yuniesky Betancourt, SS


After defecting from Cuba and sitting out of organized baseball for more than a year, Betancourt took the field in Double-A San Antonio and surprised many, including one of the scouts responsible for signing him.

No, there weren't many shocking moments when the 23-year-old was donning the leather. Defensive wizardry was Betancourt's forte.

Not many thought he was going to be immediately capable of hanging in at the plate after the long layoff.

Betancourt's modest .711 OPS in San Antonio was enough to get him promoted to Triple-A Tacoma, where he subsequently notched a .766 OPS, a 55-point improvement from the Texas League.

Betancourt's .295/.323/.443 showing in Tacoma was more than enough to earn him a promotion to Seattle where his on-base and slugging numbers took a hit.

The speedy shortstop totaled 14 triples, 30 doubles and eight home runs in 161 games at three levels. More than enough for a player with the defensive skills of Betancourt.

Hitting for Power: 35
At Safeco Field, Betancourt may hit less than three long balls per season, but the cavernous gaps may help the 5-foot, 10-inch right-hander poke quite a few triples off the wall.

As he matures, both physically and in his approach at the plate, he could top out in the 8-10 home runs range.

Hitting for Average: 45+
Currently, Betancourt isn't the most patient of hitters and being void of the skill to draw walks, his average is more important than that of others.

He rarely strikes out and does tend to swing at decent pitches, but until he gains greater command of the strike zone and learns to control it some, he'll probably continue to hit under .280.

Defense: 80
There isn't anything he needs extensive work on, including footwork, positioning, pivoting for the double play and coming in on slow rollers.

He makes every play you could ask as shortstop to make, and then adds some of the plays that a club expects their second baseman to make, and even a few that an average third-sacker needs to make.

He has plus range to either side, great hands and flawless lateral movement that allows for smooth deliveries on throws to anywhere on the diamond.

Throwing Arm: 65
While not in the range of an Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Furcal or Alex Gonzalez, Betancourt has plenty of arm for the position, and is adept at making the tough throws, such as from the seat of his pants, his knees, or off balance.

Speed: 60
Betancourt's raw speed probably grades a little higher than 65, but until he learns to use it more effectively on the bases, his brute speed and quickness isn't put to its best use.

Mike Morse, SS/LF

Remember when Morse was hitting .330, playing error-free defense at shortstop and impressing people with his quality at-bats in the clutch and his sunshine-approach with the media?

Honeymoon over.

Steroid suspension aside, since it appears that he indeed has been suspended three times for the same offense, Morse's 2005 did not end the way he would have liked.

After mediocre numbers in Triple-A (.253/.317/.407, 4 HR, 49 G), Morse's red-hot start in Seattle created some false sense of value for the 23-year-old.

It's clear that he isn't terrible at shortstop, save for his lack of range, but it's also clear that he doesn't belong playing between the second base bag and Adrian Beltre at third.

Third base is probably Morse's best position defensively, but it won't be here in Seattle.

Offensively, the lanky 6-foot, 5-inch Florida native has more power in his bat than he has shown, and displayed a better-than-average ability to make adjustments.

Morse is likely destined to be an extra infielder, but he could be a useful one if he catches on with the right club.

Hitting for Average: 50
Morse finished the year at .278/.349, drawing 18 walks against 50 strikeouts in 230 official at-bats.

His future in the game of baseball will greatly depend on how much of the untapped natural power can be drawn out of his swing. But his ability to make consistent contact will remain a key component. Evening out the K/BB ratio could be the difference.

Expecting anything more than .270/.330 from Morse right now is a mistake. And it may take him a few years to get there.

Hitting for Power: 55
Morse has the physical tools to raise this 55 into the 60-65 range, which may get him over the 20-homer mark.

Better plate coverage and improved pitch recognition is critical, as he often was tied up on hard stuff in, while he constantly looked for pitches away to drive to right field.

Defense: 50
An average mark here might be too generous, but considering he can handle shortstop in case of emergency and has the tools to play third in a utility-type role.

The outfield isn't in Morse's best interest, but he'll play anywhere he's asked. If he settles in at the hot corner, it may be in Tacoma as the club tries to rebuild his value.

Throwing Arm: 60
Morse has a very strong throwing arm, but he probably grades in the average range on accuracy and has trouble with throws from non-routine angles.

Speed: 45
Morse has the speed of the average third baseman, minus A-ROD, though he isn't the worst baserunner. He won't make a ton of mistakes, but if he does make an error on the base paths it will be on the side of aggressiveness, rather than indecisiveness.

Other Graduates

Jose Lopez, 2B (2004)
Greg Dobbs, IF
Matt Thornton, LHP

Don't forget the chat, 3 p.m. in the premium chat room, linked at the InsidethePark.com Forums.

Up Next: Positional Depth Rankings, November 25.

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