I figured that I've criticized enough other peoples' lists that I might as well give the community an idea of where I'm coming from when it comes to my favorite team.
Right off the bat, I'll warn people that there are a few fundamental things with the way I look at prospects that will lead to differences between my list and some others. First, I ignore the 130 AB/50IP cutoff. It makes sense for an organization like BA, which needs a uniform (if arbitrary) cutoff, but it has a tendency to just erase a category of players that I still think warrant discussion. Anyone who is not yet established as a major league regular (with a generally known "true talent" level based on a large body of MLB work) is still a prospect in my eyes. In this list, this applies to Justin Smoak, Michael Saunders, and Adam Moore.
Next, while I think age relative to league is incredibly useful, my way of thinking usually tends to weight it less than other people. I think ARL is hugely important in weighing the relative merits of good to very good prospects with bona fide major league skills. For mediocre guys or fringe prospects, I think it tells you very little except that a guy has some time to become a completely different player. A 19-year-old in full-season ball who has given absolutely no indication that he possesses current or potential major league skills does not get ranked above a 22 or 23-year-old who has based on a higher theoretical upside. The most notable omission based on this principal is Gabriel Noriega, who at this point is so fundamentally flawed a hitter that I consider him a virtual non-prospect. Carlos Triunfel’s ranking is affected by this idea. He makes it based on his plus contact rate, but people will be surprised at how low I put him. My thoughts on Triunfel are simple: he came into pro ball with one plus skill (his swing/ability to make contact), and three years later he has yet to take a single meaningful step forward. Denny Almonte isn’t on here either, because while he is kind of young and has some tools, he sucks at baseball.
A related point on guys who are age-appropriate and at a relatively high level but are fundamentally flawed players: I write these kinds of players off pretty quickly. Carlos Peguero and Mike Carp, while performing ok at Double-A and Triple-A, respectively, at decently young ages, don't make the cut. Both players are 100% bat (well, Peguero’s got an arm, but that’s just about the least valuable tool and does little to make up for his shortcomings), and the bats just aren’t good enough. Greg Halman also ranks much lower than I suspect the major outlets will put him. He's here based on age, level, toolsiness, and the fact that he adds some value defensively, but the odds are against him turning into an even marginally useful major leaguer.
Finally, I'm assuming James Paxton will sign before the start of the 2011 season. I don’t think he wants to sit out yet another year, return to the draft with less leverage, and keep risking injury in indy-ball when he can get some guaranteed money for his talent and start working towards the majors instead.
So yeah, I expect a great deal of disagreement, which is fine. Hopefully people at least realize that this comes from some careful contemplation and a pretty extensive understanding of these guys' tools and skills, and the differences in opinion come from the fact that I weight things differently, and not because I don't understand, for instance, that Gabriel Noriega is young and scouts have called him "toolsy" or that Mauricio Robles has some velocity and had a high strikeout rate this year.
- Dustin Ackley, 2B
- Justin Smoak, 1B
- Michael Pineda, RHP
- Nick Franklin, SS
- Michael Saunders, LF
- James Paxton, LHP - There is a HUUUUUUGE drop-off in organizational talent after Saunders. I consider 6-10 relatively interchangeable, but Paxton is the one I think offers the best combination of upside and polish.
- Nate Tenbrink, 3B/OF - This one is probably a shocker, but Tenbrink’s 2010 was a fantastic, completely under-the-radar season. Scouts are beginning to notice him, and he has worked hard to fix some of his bad habits in the field and at the plate. I expect him to play his way onto peoples’ radars in the AFL.
- Kyle Seager, IF – totally underrated. Will never hit for plus power, and may never make it to average power, but he’ll hit, and he’ll field. His road #s were just as good as his home #s this year, so I don’t think he’s a HD mirage.
- Adam Moore, C – still has a chance to provide league average offense at C for several years.
- Johermyn Chavez, OF – like him, don’t love him. He’s better than Wladimir Balentien was at the same age, but he’s got a lot of work left to do.
- James Jones, OF - Made huge strides at the plate and in the field in the second half. Great first full season from a raw guy who was considered a better prospect as a pitcher until last year. His swing will never look pretty, which will turn scouts off.
- Dan Cortes, RP - This will be controversial. Particularly in light of who’s ranked next. But, Cortes has been dynamite in relief this year, flashing a fastball that touches 98-99mph. His secondary stuff has played up in the pen as well. I don’t usually rank relievers high, but Cortes is pretty much major league ready, and he profiles as a high leverage guy.
- Alex Liddi, 3B - More controversy, as I expect most lists will have him anywhere from 4-7 spots higher (well, possibly even higher than that, but other lists won’t include Smoak/Saunders/Moore). I have been watching him since before he made his AZL debut. Several years later, in my opinion, every one of his skills and corresponding tools is just a little too weak to profile him as a major league regular. He strikes out a little too much, walks a little too infrequently, doesn’t quite show enough power to make up for the approach problems, and while not a butcher at 3B, his range, footwork, and arm are all comfortably below average. Remember when Michael Saunders used to perplex people with his freakishly average tools and skills across the board? Well, if Saunders was all 50s, Liddi’s all 40s to me. He’s young enough and solid enough to make a big leap still, which is why he still ranks pretty high, but I wouldn’t trade him straight-up for anyone I’ve ranked above him.
- Ji-Man Choi, C(?) - I was tempted to rank him above Liddi, but I think that’d be going a bit too far. A hot start next year and I may change my mind. Very intriguing talent with surprising polish and a bit more upside than I think people give him credit for.
- Taijuan Walker, RHP - Love the arm and athleticism. Best pure arm of any Mariners pitcher not named Pineda.
- Marcus Littlewood, SS – I think he’ll surprise some people next year. Not like Nick Franklin-level surprise, but I think scouts tend to underrate Littlewood for the same reason as they missed on Franklin: both showed great in-game power in HS but very little raw power. I don’t think Littlewood will hit 20+ HRs in the MWL next year, but I suspect his adjustment to pro ball may open some eyes.
- Mauricio Robles, LHP – Many may want Robles ranked higher, but he just screams reliever to me, and until I see him throw in relief I can’t be sure he’ll be a particularly dominant one. Like the velocity, hate the poor command, and not a fan of the secondary offerings. He doesn't hold his velocity late into games well, and he's also a very inefficient pitcher. He only went 7 innings three times all year, and only pitched into the seventh twice more.
- Jordan Shipers, LHP – caught some positive scouting reports out of the California collegiate league. Spotty control of average MLB stuff with a little room for more. He’s interesting, but doesn’t project as a world-beater.
- Greg Halman, CF - discussed at length above. Not a fan, but can’t leave him off entirely.
- Guillermo Pimentel, OF – I never really know how to rank players like Pimentel. Most players with his profile never so much as long a single quality year in full-season ball, and he doesn't add much value with his glove. This is where he ends up. Like the power he shows in BP, like that he gets good marks for his makeup, but way to early to tell if he can actually play baseball or not.
- Rich Poythress, 1B - I want to rank him lower, but I think he has a chance to be an almost average 1B. Not my kind of prospect at all, but I’m trying to be fair, and he’s got some skills that could play at the next level. Next year will tell us a lot. At this point, though, I see him as a lumbering slugger who doesn't walk enough who has yet to convince scouts his power is usable at higher levels. The fact that he had trouble turning on even decent fastballs in High-A is a huge red flag.
- Carlos Triunfel, SS/3B/2B –discussed above. Still young. Still makes contact. Can’t really say anything else good about him.
- George Mieses, RHP – not yet missing enough bats for my taste, but being able to locate mid-90s gas at the age of 19 puts him on my radar. All of the pitches he throws are heavy, and I expect him to improve his GB tendencies as he becomes more polished and repeats his delivery better. Major sleeper candidate.
- Stephen Pryor, RP – potential lockdown reliever who should move quickly.
- Blake Beavan, RHP – I’m not a fan personally, but enough people I respect are. Decently advanced, solidly polished, firmly below-average stuff. Gets very high marks for makeup apparently, so that’s something. He’s a very, very low upside guy, and I take issue with the assumption that he "WILL" have a major league career. He’s a righty with marginal stuff. How many of these guys do we see top out at AAA every single year? I think there’s a very good chance he won’t be able to stick in the bigs, and the number of people who talk about him as some kind of lock perplexes me.
- Ramon Morla, 3B – showed huge power and some defensive abilities in the Appy league this year. Has big K problems, but gets universal praise for excellent makeup. Called a potential 5-tooler by Connor Glassey.
- Maickel Cleto, RHP – still throws gas, still has yet to stay healthy enough to show us what he’s capable of. Not a huge fan, and I think his most likely future is in the bullpen.
- Dennis Raben, 1B/"OF" – will probably rank higher elsewhere, but he’s injury prone and his pitch recognition was absolutely awful this year. One year away from joining Peguero and Carp off the list.
- Erasmo Ramirez, RP – Doug Fister upside isn’t worth much until it’s actually on display in the majors. Most of these type of players don’t make it.
- Anthony Vasquez, LHP – a lefty with fringe stuff who made it work across three levels this year. He doesn’t have huge upside, but he’s gotten my attention. A little bit.
Sleeper: Matt Cerione. Couldn’t rank him above Vasquez, but he could make me look foolish next year. Toolsy OF who’s always underachieved ever since his college days came on huge in August.
Final cuts (no particular order): Cerione, Mario Martinez (still gets some love from scouts, still yet to perform after three professional seasons, still doesn’t seem to have the strength necessary to develop adequate power. Wouldn’t be overly surprised to see him play his way back on my radar next year), Richard Vargas (one of the best live arms in the system), and Josh Leuke (whose presence on my favorite team absolutely disgusts me, but whose talent out of the ‘pen is undeniable – extra points off for the fact that the Mariners almost certainly won’t give him a shot and will have an extremely hard time trading him after the PR nightmare of the last 6 weeks or so. Context matters).