There are a couple of interesting names in the upper levels of the Seattle minor league system, but the highest-ceiling players remain in A-ball or lower. The system also appears to have more depth on the hitting side than the pitching side.
Canadian Michael Saunders has developed quicker than many thought he would. The 22-year-old outfielder was raw as a 2004 11th-round draft pick, but he adapted well to pro ball and spent 2008 split between Double-A and Triple-A. With a crowded outfield at the MLB level, Saunders will have plenty of time to smooth out the rough edges on his game, which includes the tendency to chase (and miss) breaking balls. Regardless, he has the potential to be a 20-20 player at the Major League level, although he steals bases more on smart base running, than pure speed. Defensively, he is OK in center field but possesses enough arm strength for right, as long as off-season labrum surgery does not have long-term effects.
Greg Halman is another athletic outfielder who is not that far off from knocking on the Major League door in Seattle. He split 2008 between High-A and Double-A and slugged 29 homers with 31 steals, which suggests he could eventually be a 30-30 threat in the Majors. Halman has a lot of work to do when it comes to hitting for average, though. He hit .277 in 235 Double-A at-bats, but has a .262 career average. His approach at the plate obviously needs work after posting a walk rate of 6.4 BB% and a strikeout rate of 28.2 K% at Double-A. On the plus side, both rates were improvements over 2007. His defensive skills should definitely force Saunders to right field.
Adam Moore, 24, is not as well known as Jeff Clement but he offers another strong bat behind the dish, like the former top draft pick. Moore, who was selected in the sixth round during the 2006 draft, has hit more than .300 in each of the past two seasons in High-A and Double-A, while slugging a combined 36 home runs. Overall in 2008, Moore hit .319/.396/.506 with a .186 ISO in 429 at-bats. Defensively, he’s allowed 44 passed balls in the past two seasons due to limited mobility, but he calls a good game and threw out 35% of base stealers in 2008.
If he can stay healthy, which has been a challenge so far (and a trend that seems to hamper Canadian pitchers), Phillippe Aumont should be an absolutely monster on the mound. The former first-round draft pick (2007) out of high school has a fastball that can touch the upper 90s with wicked movement. Aumont has also worked hard to improve his secondary pitches, which include a breaking ball and change-up. He’ll receive a huge challenge in 2009 by pitching in a very good hitter’s league in High-A ball.
Only 20, Juan Ramirez should also open the 2009 season in High-A ball. The right-hander showed improved control in 2008 (5.14 BB/9 in 07 to 2.76 BB/9 in 08) and allowed just 112 hits in 124 A-ball innings. Like Aumont, Ramirez has excellent movement and sink on his fastball, which can touch the mid-to-high 90s at times. He has a solid slider and a change-up that needs significant work.
Michael Pineda, who just turned 20, had a dominating North American debut in 2008 in A-ball. He posted a 1.95 ERA (2.87 FIP) with 109 hits allowed in 138.1 innings of work. He posted rates of 2.29 BB/9 and 8.33 K/9. The right-hander has a solid fastball with excellent movement that sits in the 89-92 mph range. His second-best pitch is a change-up and Pineda is still working to develop a reliable breaking ball.
Carlos Triunfel, 19, should open the year in Double-A – which is impressive given his age. He spent 2008 in High-A ball and hit .287/.336/.406 with an ISO of just .116. Although he should hit for a high average and stole 30 bases last season, his offense could become an issue down the line as he is expected to settle in as a third baseman, where his power will be below average. He has also spent time at second base and shortstop, his natural position.
The club’s 2008 first-round draft pick, Joshua Fields, just recently came to terms on a contract, which has obviously stunted his development to this point. The hard-throwing reliever was expected to compete for a MLB job by late 2009, but that time frame could be pushed back depending on how much rust he shows in camp. Fields has a fastball that can touch the upper 90s and a curveball that acts as a solid out-pitch. His command/control was inconsistent in college.
Outfielder Dennis Raben was selected in the second round of last year’s draft. He had a solid debut and showed an advanced approach while hitting .275/.411/.560 with five homers in 91 at-bats. Raben should ultimately settle in at the left field position and he is an average fielder. The 21-year-old left-handed batter will likely open 2009 in High-A ball.
Third base prospects Jharmidy DeJesus and Mario Martinez, both 19, spent their 2008 seasons in short-season ball. DeJesus hit .339/.417/.591 in 127 rookie league at-bats before receiving a late-season promotion to short-season ball. He was moved from shortstop to third base and he should have the power needed to be an impact player at the position. Martinez hit .319/.344/.462 in his second year in rookie ball. He’s less patient than DeJesus, but currently makes a little more consistent contact. Martinez has less power than his fellow prospect, but he is a better fielder.
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