Looking Ahead: Jeff Clement

Dave · August 25, 2006 at 8:14 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Today, we continue the irregularly scheduled Looking Ahead series, where I do a slightly more in depth post on a player from the M’s farm system. The Bryan LaHair feature generated a lot of positive response, so I’m going to try to do at least a couple more of these before the end of the year. This time around, we’re going to take a look at the Mariners Catcher Of The Future (TM), Jeff Clement.

Jeff Clement has been a big name prospect for a long time. He played in the Little League World Series in 1996, and he is still the nationwide high school home run champion, launching 75 bombs in his four years of prep baseball. The record was previously held by Drew Henson, and Clement got significant accolades in both his junior and senior years. A firm commitment to USC scared teams off, however, and the Twins finally selected him in the 12th round of the 2002 draft. He turned down their offer to attend college, and went on to have a very nice career for the Trojans.

The Mariners used the third overall selection in the 2005 draft to select Clement, going for a power left-handed bat at a position where they had no long term solution. Reports on him coming out of college were very good on his power, but not so good on other aspects of his game. His defense was considered a work in progress, and scouts were split on whether he would remain behind the plate or eventually move to first base. The Mariners insisted that they projected him as a catcher, and they worked with him extensively on his footwork and release to help improve his skills as a receiver.

Clement’s professional debut went very well, as he beat the tar out of the ball in the Midwest League. While low-A ball isn’t a huge challenge for a star college hitter, Wisconsin is still not an easy place to hit, and Clement posted a .319/.386/.522. He showed both patience and power, and while his contact rates (19.7% K, 9.7% BB) weren’t as good as they were in college, scouts were very impressed with his adjustment to using wood bats. He entered the 2006 season neck-and-neck with Adam Jones for the title of best prospect in the system.

He began the 2006 season with an assignment to Double-A San Antonio and continued hitting right out of the gate. His .288/.386/.525 line during the first 15 games of the season continued to show the skills he was known for – a good approach at the plate, knowledge of the strike zone, and serious power (11.1% K, 10.0% BB). However, just two weeks into the season, he required knee surgery to repair a torn miniscus in his left knee and remove bone chips from his left elbow. This sidelined him until June, and upon his return, the Mariners gave him a promotion to Triple-A Tacoma.

Things haven’t gone as well since his return. He’s struggling for the first time in his life as PCL pitchers have proven more of a challenge. He’s hitting just .252/.320/.354 in 206 at-bats, and his base skills that we know he has haven’t demonstrated themselves. He has just 14 walks in 206 at-bats and is failing to make consistent contact, striking out 47 times (20.1% K, 6.9% BB). He’s also not making consistent hard contact – just 13 of his 52 hits have gone for extra bases. This slump isn’t a case of him hitting the ball right at people. He’s just not making solid contact. He’s posting a ridiculous 27.9% IF/F rate. Essentially, when he hits it in the air, it’s not leaving the infield.

Clement just turned 23 this week, so there’s no real reason to be concerned about his struggles. The promotion to Tacoma was extremely aggressive to begin with, and when combined with the fact that he had missed six weeks due to an injury, it’s not a big surprise that he’s experiencing an adjustment period. The skillset of power and patience is still there, but he just needs to adjust to better pitchers and start making better contact more frequently.

Clement’s struggles in Tacoma have made it easy to have him begin the 2007 season back in the PCL and ignore the talks about what to do with him and Kenji Johjima when Clement is major league ready. The team is wisely taking a “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” approach, realizing that many things can happen over the course of time, and making a decision now based on Clement’s projected arrival time isn’t in the best interests of the franchise.

I’m firmly against the suggestions of moving Clement to another position to get his bat to the majors sooner. With the additions of Ben Broussard and Chris Snelling to the line-up on a regular basis, the Mariners have added two major league quality left-handed bats that they didn’t have a month ago. Despite all the cries for “left handed sock” that we have heard the past year, the current line-up is actually fairly well balanced, with Ichiro, Ibanez, Broussard, and Snelling all swinging quality bats from the left side.

The M’s would be wise to let Jeff Clement force his way into the major leagues, rather than rearranging the deck chairs to try to push up his timetable. With Johjima around, the Mariners don’t have a hole to fill at the catcher position, and the team has enough other options at 1B/DH that moving him from behind the dish shouldn’t be an option. His receiving skills have developed nicely, and his defensive reputation is significantly better now than it was a year ago.

With Jeff Clement and Adam Jones, the Mariners have two strong up-the-middle building blocks for their future sitting just half an hour south of Safeco Field. While they gave in to the temptation of bringing Jones up to fill a need, the team would do well to ignore any similar unctions they get with Jeff Clement. Give him another year in Tacoma, and he’ll let you know when he’s ready for the show.


109 Responses to “Looking Ahead: Jeff Clement”

  1. BelaXadux on August 25th, 2006 9:58 pm

    On Clement, good to hear that his D is coming a long; that’s been a major issue in seeing where he slots into the org’s future. He just doesn’t seem a nimble enough athlete that he’s ever going to excell behind the plate, but he looks like he could be decent, and you say he’s on track for that. No Victor Martinez type who’ll kill the team back there until he’s moved, so good. When I look at his swing and approach, what _I_ see is Troy Glaus from the left side. Maybe a little more contact, but the rest the same. That’s pretty decent at any position, but especially sweet as a LH bat behind the dish.

    Re: ‘aggressive development,’ I think Bavasi’s idea could, in principle be sound—but the way he and the org uses it demonstrates such very poor judgment that it’s not an idea or philosophy or method, it’s just a slogan for what they want to do anyway. Travis Blackley, Clint Nageotte, and Matt Thornton were manifestly not ready the first time they were put on the 25-man; their control was terrible in both cases, due to injury for Clint and Travis evidently, and the promotion’s were patently bad ideas. Jose Lopez was coming off an 6-week injury last year and _not_ ready the firt time he was brought up in July. Clement was coming of a 6-week injury this year, and while it may have _seemed_ reasonable to promote him we see the result. Matt Tui was manifestly NOT ready to be pushed up to AA this year. Adam Jones was manifestly not ready for Seattle. In essence, Bill B. and the team have been way wrong far too often for me to trust their judgment in any way at this point. The assessments are faulty, not the players.

  2. Newby on August 26th, 2006 12:30 am

    really, jose is an example of a guy that didn’t work out? seems to me he worked through the struggle and played pretty good this year. The aggresivness isn’t about immediate success, its about having these guys fail then come be able to come back stronger. Lopez worked out, jones and clement are to early to tell, as they were moved up this year.

    Learn commen sense before you bad mouth people that are actually succesful in life.

  3. BelaXadux on August 26th, 2006 1:08 am

    102, it’s patently obvious you didn’t bother to read the post, or less charitably didn’t comprehend it if you did. Care to try again?

  4. darrylzero on August 26th, 2006 10:17 am

    Bela, I agree 102 was a little harsh, but you did sort of skirt the point. If the purpose is to make these players fail, regroup, and be stronger for it in the long run, then I’d say Lopez is a decent example of that strategy succeeding. So far. You make it sound like the point is that Lopez wasn’t ready, while it’s been clearly stated that promotions before hitters are ready is exactly the intention. And Lopez bounced back pretty nicely, it would seem. Right? Clement and Jones may too. Right? In which case, all you can say is that, “yep, they struggled because they were promoted so aggressively.” Which isn’t an argument against Bavasi’s strategy; it’s part of his strategy.

    Your whole post, really, has the same problem. You point out situations in which players weren’t ready as if they’re proof that Bavasi’s strategy is stupid, or that he actually has no strategy, that he is just following his whimsy. But if Bavasi’s strategy is to promote hitters while they aren’t ready to help them understand and overcome failure, all your examples say is, “yep, that’s Bavasi’s strategy.” Your post is internally inconsistent and doesn’t take on Bavasi’s strategy on its own terms at all. And you get to claim that your critic there “didn’t comprehend it?” I don’t know…

    I’m not defending the strategy; I don’t claim to know how to handle these things. And, in spite of that, the aggressive promotions manage to make me pretty nervous, too. But your examples aren’t examples of Bavasi’s strategy failing, so you can probably lay off the snipe a little.

  5. catcherwatcher on August 26th, 2006 4:26 pm

    #100…AND as I have told you- I am not biased one bit…I do believe this is a sight in which one may post their imput with freedom. You sir or madam, are obviously calling yourself “ancient” for a reason …I am not sure whether you have even seen a Rainiers game, much less Johnson and Clement play in person, SO…you may want to do that before you harp on me. “Ancient Mariner”, basing your opinion by simply checking their website does not give you CREDIBILITY.

  6. The Ancient Mariner on August 26th, 2006 6:11 pm

    Oh, of course, you can post anything you want. That is not under question.

    And you declaring yourself unbiased is not evidence.

  7. dw on August 26th, 2006 6:32 pm

    I believe Quiroz is the best catcher in the entire Mariners system.

    How can I say this? Because I have seen a baseball game. That gives me CREDIBILITY.

    Also, I am UNBIASED.

    And my opinion is BETTER than yours. I can see things with my own EYES.


  8. scraps on August 26th, 2006 6:34 pm

    Catcherwatcher, what is it that you think gives you credibility, outside your own head? Since what you assert is opposed to the opinion of every educated watcher of the Mariner farm system, do you have anything at all to back up your opinion? “No doubt about it” is just air; what argument do you have to offer?

  9. mlb2131 on August 26th, 2006 8:17 pm

    Like others, I also wonder if the promotion to Tacoma was not the correct move. Mostly because it just doesn’t seem to make sense after being out for 6 weeks to get promoted, especially after only 15 AA games.

    Anyway, I think the focus (offense wise) should be on Clement’s strong numbers in A and AA. Additionally, don’t forget that he posted pretty good numbers in the AFL last fall and he went 2-9 in spring training with a triple and a HR. And of course you have the numbers from USC and 2 summers with Team USA as well.

    He can rake. There’s no doubts there. I think the time in Tacoma has been kind of rough due to the timing of the promotion.

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