Prospect ranking season is just around the corner. In anticipation of that, we present an intro series looking at some of the players who deserve mentioning but probably will not be appearing on their teams’ Top 10 lists. The popular series is back for a second year.
The Graduate: Rob Johnson, C
As a fan of Johnson, I was happy to see him get a shot in 2009. Unfortunately, his bat did not do much to show that he should be back in the Majors in 2010. He hit just .213/.289/.326 with an ISO of .112 in 258 at-bats. Johnson was a replacement-level catcher who offers a steady glove and an arm that threw out 31% of runners attempting to steal against him. He can also look over his shoulder and see Adam Moore zooming up behind him.
The Riser: Michael Pineda, RHP
Pineda, 20, battled injuries in 2009 but he made it back by the end of the year and looked good. His stuff is not currently as good as some of the other pitchers in the system, but its solid with an 88-92 mph fastball, good changeup, and slider. Despite pitching in a hitters’ haven in ’09, Pineda allowed just 29 hits in 44.1 innings of work and his walk rate was just 1.22 BB/9. He also allowed a line-drive rate of just 8.1%. On second thought, I think I’ve just convinced myself that he deserves to be on the Top 10 list for the Mariners, despite pitching just 44.1 innings in ’09.
The Tumbler: Maikel Cleto, RHP
Cleto, like Pineda, did not see a lot of time on the mound in 2009, but his results where no where near as promising when he did pitch. Now keep in mind, though, no one is even considering writing him off. He’s still an excellent prospect with a repertoire that includes a fastball that can hit the mid-to-upper 90s, a slider and a changeup. Cleto allowed 35 hits in 25.1 innings of work but his walk rate (3.91 BB.9) and strikeout rate (8.53 K/9) were not bad. He was also in his first season in a new organization and is just 20 years old.
The ’10 Sleeper: Gabriel Noriega, SS
Does the Mariners organization know how to develop middle infield prospects or what? Noriega, 19, had a very nice year for his age/experience level. He hit .311/.360/.456 with 14 doubles in 206 at-bats. The plate rates need a little work with a walk rate of 7.2% and a strikeout rate of 29.1% but he’s shown enough that people should start getting excited. Noriega may hit for more power than expected (.146 ISO), although he currently hits a lot of balls on the ground (55.7%).
Bonus: Tug Hulett, IF
I know, I know… Hulett is no longer a Mariners prospect, but he was highlighted as the ’09 sleeper last winter. Now a Royal, the infielder did not really have an opportunity to play much in the Majors and when he did… he did not hit well. However, he continued to be a solid minor league player at the age of 26 with a line of .291/.384/.473. Hulett walks a lot (13.4%), he has some power (.182 ISO) and he can play enough positions well enough that he should be able to help a Major League team as a glove/bat off the bench.