AL West Prospects Part II: Long Term Impact

marc w · April 2, 2011 at 11:59 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

The M’s start 2011 as the odds on favorite to finish last in the AL West. That the M’s are not in Texas’ class is a judgment that unites the columnists, sabermetric projection systems and probably most Mariner fans. Fangraphs assessment of the M’s current talent is brutal (27th!) but understandable. While the M’s had an edge over many teams financially, they’re clearly not the Yankees – and with the new television deal negotiated by the Rangers, the M’s are a step behind Anaheim and Texas.

Regression to the mean will help the M’s avoid 100 losses, but how can this team compete in the next 3-5 years in this division? While Jack Zduriencik was able to address a few of the black holes in the 2010 line-up with low-key trades and free agent pick-ups, he’s still got work to do. Essentially, the M’s need their prospects to narrow the (considerable) gap between themselves and the rest of the division.

As you know, the cupboard was pretty bare when Zduriencik became GM, and he’s won plaudits from people like us for restocking the system with guys like Nick Franklin, Ji-Man Choi, Rich Poythress, etc. But how do these guys – the guys a year or two from the majors – stack up with the prospects of the A’s, Angels and Rangers?

Beyond the guys I mentioned in the first post, the big three in each system are:
Angels: Mike Trout, Jean Segura, Garrett Richards
A’s: Grant Green, Michael Choice, Ian Krol
Rangers: Martin Perez, Jurickson Profar, Robbie Erlin
Mariners: Nick Franklin, Johermyn Chavez, Taijuan Walker

Angels – Division Rank: 1
Mike Trout went from a late first round flyer to the best (or second best) prospect in baseball in less than a year. JY and I have been trying to figure out exactly how he dropped as far as he did, and the whole ‘northern state’ thing only goes so far. Pretty much everyone missed how special he is. A CF with plus plus speed, he stole over 50 bases, had a good walk rate, made solid contact and could develop power down the line. He’s a long way from the big leagues, having just cracked the California League last year, but this is clearly the best prospect in the division. By far.

Jean Segura was Trout’s teammate for much of 2010 in the Midwest league. Like Trout, he also stole 50+ bases, but unlike Trout, he’s a tiny middle infielder. He’s not a patient hitter, but he’s got great contact ability. The M’s equivalent now would be someone like Kyle Seager, though Segura’s much younger and may have more defensive flexibility. All in all, he’s much more similar to Howie Kendrick – another 2B who didn’t need to worry about walk rates in the minors.

Garrett Richards was an enigma at Oklahoma – great stuff, horrific results. Bob Fontaine drafted similar pitchers when he was with the M’s – Aaron Pribanic and Nolan Gallagher come to mind. Unlike most of Fontaine’s flyers, Richards figured some things out in pro ball. He’s a righty with a low-90s fastball and good sink, enabling him to get both K’s and ground balls. That said, a lot can go wrong with someone like this. A college pitcher with good sink really should be able to succeed in the low minors, so AA will test him – but his skill set certainly is intriguing.

Others: Tyler Chatwood, Fabio Martinez-Mesa, Randal Grichuk

Athletics – Division Rank: 4
Grant Green is basically Nick Franklin with college experience. The A’s first round pick out of USC, Green demonstrated solid power, but struck out quite a bit in the Cal League last year. Like Franklin, many scouts think he’s destined to move off of SS to 2B. Green made a touch more contact, but Franklin was younger and played in a much, much less friendly offensive environment (Stockton’s surprisingly close to legendary High Desert in HR park factor). I’m pretty bullish on Green, but next year’s a crucial step.

Michael Choice is an athletic CF in the mold of current UCONN CF George Springer. Some thought he was the best college hitter in last year’s draft, which reflects more on last year’s college crop than it does on Choice. An athlete with a lot of power, he struggled mightily in a short Northwest League stint last year. The sample size is so small, you’d be tempted to ignore it, but contact is a stat that stabilizes quickly and…43 Ks in 121 PAs? Greg Halman, is that you? Halman of course never cracked the 35% K rate barrier in the NWL, and he was 17-18 years old. The power and speed combo’s great – I know, I’ve been following Halman for years – but Choice has to improve this year. His M’s equivalent is, well, who else? In a perfect world, he’s Jay Bruce. High risk/high reward, power+speed – contact ability… he just sounds like a Mariners outfield prospect.

Ian Krol‘s a sneaky lefthander who posted great numbers in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League last year. A great control pitcher who also gets some GBs, Krol was something of a surprise in his first full pro season, as he was suspended for his senior year of high school. He’s not physically imposing or possessed of lights out stuff, but given the year layoff, Krol had a stunning 2010. Krol’s ceiling isn’t exactly high, but a lefty with command and a good change-up isn’t a terrible thing to have. Full disclosure: though Dave probably thinks this is my favorite pitcher type in the world, I may underrate guys like this after having my heart broken by a string of Livingstons, Blackleys and Oldhams.

Others: Fautino De Los Santos, Max Stassi, Jemile Weeks, Steve Parker*

Rangers – Division Rank: 2

Martin Perez hit AA at age 18 after laying waste to the Sally League in 2009. He entered 2010 as one of the top 20 prospects in baseball and perhaps the top lefthanded pitching prospect in baseball. In 2010, he had his first sub-par season – his command left him, he got hit hard, and his HR rate spiked. It’s a testament to his stuff that he enters 2011 with most of his prospect sheen intact. A plus curve, a FB in the 93-94 range, and good sink producing lots of GBs. Despite his small stature, the Rangers (and most prospect folks) think he can put up a monster year, especially as he’s not going to start the year in AAA. I wish the M’s had a prospect like this; pre-injury Mauricio Robles is another short Venezuelan throwing in the low-mid 90s from the left side, but Robles is much older and still doesn’t have Perez’s command. A better comp would be Jon Lester (though Lester’s much larger).

Jurickson Profar played a key defensive position (SS) and flashed good plate discipline in the NWL at the ripe old age of 17. Some expect him to add power down the line, though he’s not big; he wouldn’t need power to be a decent regular. There’s some disagreement about the quality of his defense, though I don’t think anyone thinks he needs to move off of short. Elvis Andrus had advanced plate discipline at 16-17, though he was obviously much better defensively. On the other hand, Profar has a better swing. This isn’t an all-star, but a club-controlled starter like Asdrubal Cabrera sounds pretty good to anyone who’s suffered through the Betancourt-Cedeno-Wilson-Wilson era.

Robbie Erlin is a young lefty starter with exceptional control; sort of a right-handed Erasmo Ramirez. A bit less pure stuff/velocity than Ian Krol, Erlin had better results at 19 in the Sally League. As a starter, his walk rate was under 5%. While he may struggle to maintain his stellar strikeout rate at higher levels, and while his HR rate will creep up as he moves up the ladder, his walk rate could regress significantly and still be exceptional. Again, the M’s used to have a lot of guys like this in the system, though now (with the exception of Ramirez), they’ve mostly been replaced with high-ceiling/high-risk guys. How you view Erlin/Krol depends a great deal on how you balance risk/reward.

Others: Jake Skole, Engel Beltre, Mike Olt, Miguel de los Santos.

Mariners – Division Rank: 3

I don’t want to say too much as the new Future 40 will be out soon, but Nick Franklin is a clear top 100 prospect as a switch-hitting SS coming off a remarkable season in the Midwest league. Sure, he had issues from the left side, and sure, he struck out a bit much, and yes, some insist he’s a 2B down the road. But a guy with a reputation as a hard worker just hit 23 HRs in a pitcher’s league as a teenager. He was reported to have decent skills but no one true weapon when he was drafted – he’s got one now.

Acquired in the Morrow deal, Johermyn Chavez is another high-risk/high-reward guy with plus power and contact problems. He’ll face a real rest this year in AA, but scouts like his tools and his ceiling’s high, especially if he can continue to improve his contact skils. Of the divisional prospects I’ve touched on, he’s most similar to Michael Choice.

Taijuan Walker was seen as a raw athlete, but twitter lit up this fall/winter when he was touching 98 MPH in instructs. I know very little about him, but the combination of velocity and reports of a solid breaking ball so early (he was a standout basketball player in HS) sound pretty good to me. He shot into the top 5 in many prospect lists and while some think that’s premature, he’s got the highest ceiling of any SP in the system now that Pineda’s in the bigs (which, admittedly, isn’t saying much).

Others: Guillermo Pimentel, Kyle Seager, Marcus Littlewood, James Jones, Mauricio Robles

So what’s the point of all this? Well, we typically think about changes in a team’s system, or how many representatives each org has in a top 100 or top 150 list. But improvement against some baseline may not tell us enough; the M’s have clearly improved their system at every level, and yet it’s still not clear that their system gives them an advantage over their divisional rivals. Second, a key part of the M’s marketing involves patience until the current prospects become the core of the team. But while that’s sensible (I couldn’t wait until we had someone other than Casey Kotchman playing 1B either), it’s not like the other teams aren’t developing players to fill holes as well. Finally, I’m hoping we can zero in on areas of disagreement; if someone thinks the team’s going to challenge in 2012, is that because they’re really high on the 2011 guys (Smoak/Pineda), or because they think that someone like Chavez or Robles will make an impact in a year or two? Or, having watched Oakland throw the ball around like an over-30 softball team after a few dozen beers, do they think the gap in present talent is overstated?

To expand on that last point, I hope we can start to focus on the ways the team can get back into the hunt in the AL West. If the M’s have noticeably worse current talent, finances and their future talent doesn’t look like it’s head and shoulders above the rest of the division, what do they do? First, they can leverage their front office and narrow the gap through trade and FA acquisitions. Take a look at Dave’s post on the 2011 M’s from June of 2010. The M’s haven’t addressed every hole in the 2010 line-up, but Zduriencik was able to improve several positions without spending a lot of money. The M’s made low-key upgrades like Ryan over Wilson, and moving Figgins over to replace whatever that was in a Lopez jersey last year. The Rangers added Adrian Beltre. Is Zduriencik THAT much better than his AL West peers? At this point, that’s a tough argument to make.

The other option is player development. If their raw talent can’t close the gap, they could be more efficient/productive with it. If Pedro Grifol and the gang develop a few of the high risk/high reward guys in the system (Johermyn Chavez, I’m looking at you). This is promising, given the stories last year about the new training approach and the surprising power that many M’s prospects showed – most notably Nick Franklin. But given the uncertainty about how to apportion credit/blame in player development, it’s difficult to expect a massive advantage in this area, and it’s difficult to say, in any event, what a massive advantage in player development would translate to in MLB wins. It’s also going to be tough to compete with the Rangers, who’ve done a great job taking unheralded players like Mitch Moreland and getting them to the majors.

Finally, while the M’s have more depth than a lot of people think (there’s not much of a gap between them and the Texas group), running neck and neck with Texas in the low-minors isn’t good enough. This really highlights how important this year is – not in terms of wins and losses, but in terms of the present-talent gap. As Dave mentioned, this season’s about developing Pineda, Ackley and Smoak. On paper, this is as impressive a group of prospects to hit the majors for the M’s in a long time. As we all know, they cannot simply improve upon the play of the guys they’re replacing; given the holes elsewhere, they need to be better than the starters in Oakland/Texas/Anaheim fairly quickly. This is a major challenge for Wedge, and I’m sure this challenge dominated the interview process when the M’s hired him. So: do you think the M’s are underdogs for the foreseeable future? Will Z use trades to replenish the system and will Grifol improve the signal to noise ratio?


13 Responses to “AL West Prospects Part II: Long Term Impact”

  1. wtnuke on April 3rd, 2011 12:15 am

    I really believe, deep down, that we’ll need to trade Felix Hernandez at some point. I hate that thought because he’s the best part about this team, but I don’t see this team being competitive within the division until his last year or two in the current contract. I think his value in prospects is the kind of boost that our organization needs long-term.

  2. kimalanus on April 3rd, 2011 1:40 am

    NO. Re-sign him for whatever it takes. No prospect haul is as certain as an already dominant pitcher. Of course, things can change in three years, but with all the information available now, you give him up to 5 more years at the end of this contract at up to the going rate for 5 wins a year. Maybe even six years and/or six wins… Anybody want to take the under on him being worth 5 years/5 wins in 2015 at age 28? Assuming he’s still a healthy horse in three years? (And I believe he will be.) You DO NOT trade him in 2012 or 2013 regardless of health. The upside of recovery will still be more than the value he’d bring in trade, which would be depressed by whatever putative health issue. And if he’s healthy? Dude. Valuable doesn’t quite describe him. You have to say invaluable.

  3. johnfree63 on April 3rd, 2011 4:04 am


    That is some of the worst logic I’ve ever read. You just said that you think the M’s will be in the divisional race when Felix is still on the team. So, I’m just wondering why they would trade him then?

    I can see the argument of having to trade Felix if the young guys (Smoak, Ackley, Pineda and co.) fail and the M’s have to start over from scratch. Trading him while they’re contending is just dumb.

  4. PackBob on April 3rd, 2011 6:42 am

    I am one that thinks the gap in present talent is overstated. So much depends not only on what you have but how things go. Every team has prospects that they hope pan out to their ceiling. Some do; most don’t. It’s a bit of a crap shoot.

    I don’t think you judge Jack from the immediate results of his short time here. Too much is dependent on what he has had to work with rather than if he is good or bad at what he does. Even if Smoak fails to reach his predicted potential, it doesn’t mean the deal was bad. Prospects are gambles and every GM gambles and wins some, loses some.

    The Mariners both last year and this year were/are very how things go-dependent teams. It could hardly have gone worse last year and I think the early Griffey black hole at DH really set the downward spiral in motion. This year, a few things starting off right could set the whole thing in motion in the other direction. Give the Rangers some problems, such as their starting pitching, and there is much less a gap between the teams.

    The 2011 Mariners look to me much more like the team that the 2010 Mariners were supposed to be.

  5. Adam B. on April 3rd, 2011 10:00 am

    Another factor to consider is draft slot.

    Certainly teams will continue to unearth gems later in the draft (Mike Trout), but by and large the best players are always going to go very early.

    We may not enjoy the Mariners losing 90-100 games year in and year out, but if it nets us players like Justin Smoak (via Phillipe Aumont), Dustin Ackley and Garret Cole or Anthony Rendon, then that’s a pool of talent the Rangers don’t have access to.

    Early and smart picks were one of the key reasons Tampa Bay has been able to compete with a modest budget while playing in a terrifying division.

    That said, if the M’s continue to waste picks on busts like the aforementioned Aumont, Jeff Clement and Brandon Morrow, then no amount of top-5 picks is going to resurrect this franchise and the M’s are just going to be lumped in with the rest of the Orioles and Astros in this game.

  6. MrZDevotee on April 3rd, 2011 10:13 am

    We don’t talk here at all about Player Assessment as a determining factor… The most important aspect to me in Major League Baseball is assessing talent. I’m more interested in whether Jack Z (and his crew) is better than Nolan Ryan at assessing/acquiring/dismissing talent than at the actual prospects the two teams have.

    It’s all about how efficiently we give up on the guys who won’t pan out, and stick with the guys who will– and how few mistakes we make in those assessments, versus the other teams. That’s where you gain (or lose) ground versus your opponents over the long haul.

    And THAT’s where a GM becomes valuable, at essentially growing your own commodities, every time you hit on one of those, you gain $$$’s (versus what it would cost to acquire the same talent through free agency), and that money then in turn becomes leverage you can use in future key free agency acquisitions. This is also why next offseason, rather than this last one, is more key to our future success too– it’s really the first time Jack Z will have actual $$$’s to do any free agent acquisitions (other than the few he’s squeezed in to an otherwise tight budget so far, like Figgins). So far, his “investments” have really just been a fancy Ponzi Scheme.

    I think so far the major accomplishment has been that we now actually have management that I feel is COMPETING with the other teams in our Division, on the same level… With the potential to be better. Bavasi failed miserably at this. Hence, headed in the right direction. But again, until next year comes (and certain contracts clear the books) a fair assessment of Z’s skills is hard to come by, and perhaps makes it difficult to overstate ANY forward progress he has made so far.

    On the assessment side, I would point to the fact that I don’t see nearly as many of our traded away guys becoming stars for other teams as we suffered in the Bavasi era. While guys we’ve acquired in these moves have become key components of the current team (Smoak, Guty, Vargas, etc.).

  7. eponymous coward on April 3rd, 2011 11:56 am

    Brandon Morrow’s a bust, after his season last year, where finally the Jays invested time into making him into a top-notch starter and got rewarded for it?

    News to me.

    I would instead argue that our ability to develop talent sucked during the Bavasi era. Outside of Felix, we had talent… just no ability to enhance it from it’s raw state (Lopez was basically the same player in 2004 that he was in 2010, for instance, and I think Morrow was obviously jerked around to his detriment). In retrospect, we should have done a lot of things differently (first among them: not hire a guy whose major claim to fame was a really dumb contract to Mo Vaughn).

    The problem I see is that Zdurencik has gotten us past being led by a complete disaster of a GM and has remade an organization that was stuck in the 1990s, but this division is a tough crowd to run in. Billy Beane is a pretty sharp dude. So’s Jon Daniels. I kind of wonder about the Angels (Vernon Wells? Really?), but still…

    I’m also not convinced that 2012 is the nirvana we seek, though it is when people can officially stop trotting out “but GMZ has all this Bavasi baggage, it’s not fair to judge his work product” as an excuse (while in 2011, we have a roster that’s had HUGE turnover since 2008… and Billy Beane seems to avoid 100 loss seasons with salary constraints that make the Mariners look like the Yankees). We’re looking at ~35 million in contract space at first blush… but League, Aardsma and Vargas will either be looking at decent paydays (arbitration raises) or be off the team (and we will be looking at ways to replace them). 20ish million does not go as far as you would like- maybe it even gets you Chone Figgins of last year. Whoops.

    I actually have a sneaking suspicion Jack’s going to package one or more of the aforementioned three in deals this year. It would seem to me Vargas has decent trade value, as well as some wind-assist from playing at Safeco, and is the sleeper I’d call out as the guy you’d see dealt for a talent package from a contender needing pitching talent at the deadline- “Hey, you need a closer? How about a starter, too? and this one’s under contract for 2012!”

    So, to get back to “focus on the ways the team can get back into the hunt in the AL West”… at this point, let’s focus on the crawl to .500. I think once you’re there, the path forward’s clearer. I also think to some extent we need to know how Saunders/Pineda/Smoak/Ackley stand as a group and individuals at the end of 2011- which ones will make it into the talent core? Which ones can’t cut the mustard? Without knowing that it’s a fool’s errand to plan much of 2012.

  8. SODOMOJO360 on April 3rd, 2011 12:52 pm

    That said, if the M’s continue to waste picks on busts like the aforementioned Aumont, Jeff Clement and Brandon Morrow, t

    Morrow is not a bust. He was used wrong in Seattle and finished strong in Toronto last year.

  9. Klatz on April 3rd, 2011 2:07 pm

    I think part of the equation for competing that’s missing is being able to find impact talent via free agency. Colby Lewis was a significant contributor for the Ranger’s last year, shoring up a relatively weak rotation. Vladimir was, a short period, a monster for the Angels.

    We had Ichiro in 2001 to be the spark for the a good if aging core of players. Although peak performances from Pineiro, Boone, Abbot, and Moyer were also big factors. In the last 4-5 years, the free agent acquisitions just seemed to fall into big holes and fail to live up to their career averages. Figgins, and Sexson come to mind. And that’s not to mention the outright bad choices: Silva and Jose Vidro. Those two were Bavasi signers but have we had a good free agent signing in recent memory? Maybe a reliever here and there (Kelley?).

    I think the jury is out on Z’s major league talent evaluation as compared to the minor league evaluation.

  10. diderot on April 3rd, 2011 4:16 pm

    It’s logical to look at the offense first; and no question, breakthroughs are needed.
    But my biggest curiosity this summer will be the development of minor league starters and the draft.
    The A’s are a popular dark horse this year because of their starters–it can’t be because of that lineup we just looked at for three games.
    What I’m dreaming of is a starting five of Felix, Cole, Pineda, Paxson and Walker–all pitching toward the top of their ceilings.

  11. gerrythek on April 3rd, 2011 9:07 pm

    I think one factor that could vault the M’s farm system over their rivals is that Texas and LA will be contending this year while the M’s clearly will not. I can see our division rivals trading away some of their talent during the heat of a pennant race while we have the opportunity to continue stocking our system.

  12. justinh on April 3rd, 2011 11:13 pm

    This is the main point about the JZ mentality I love, “we are not going to mortgage the future for a chance to be competitive in September.”

    Choi, Cabrera, Soriano, O’Flarehty for God’s sake. Not one move, other than the Morrow trade, made me scratch my head. And there is more to that trade obviously.

    Anyway, we are building a squad, through trades, draft, and International signings that will not simply compete for a year, but will be continually pumping out new guys. We may not win this year, I could see us be an 85 win team next year, and with the inexpensive talent, we have some cash to be spent.

    If the Mariners were a stock, they would be a “strong buy” right now. Jack and Co. are setting this up to be a consistent team playing for a Division Title.

    Have the faith my friends, and remember kids, Felix is not hung like a horse! Horses are hung like King Felix!

  13. illdonk on April 3rd, 2011 11:34 pm

    From a Mariners perspective, Brandon Morrow is a bust. This is true even if we agree that the M’s mishandled him, and even if he wins 200 games for the Blue Jays.

    I’d guess that Tampa Bay fans consider Josh Hamilton a bust, too.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.