Prospect Retro: Raul Ibanez
Per frequent reader requests, a Prospect Retro for Raul Ibanez
Raul Ibanez was drafted in the 36th round by the Seattle Mariners in 1992, out of Miami-Dade CC in Florida. He hit .308 in 33 games in his pro debut for the Arizona League Mariners, although at age 20 in the AZL this wasn't super-impressive. The next year he split the campaign between Bellingham in the Northwest League (hitting .284/.385/.351 in 43 games) and Appleton in the Midwest League (hitting .274/.375/.427 in 52 games). OK numbers but not great. He was primarily regarded as an organization player at this point, with some offensive upside. Grade C would be appropriate.
Ibanez played in 91 games for Appleton in 1994, hitting .312/.375/.486 with 30 doubles. The Mariners converted him to catcher, and his bat had improved from "has upside" to "impressive production." He needed experience and polish with the glove, but I think he'd have rated a Grade C+ prospect based on the improvement with his bat.
A wrist injury limited him to 95 games for Riverside in the California League in 1995, but he had a great year, hitting .332/.395/.612, posting a +36 percent OPS. He hit 20 homers and drove in 108 runs, with just 49 strikeouts in 361 at-bats. His defense behind the plate was weak, and at age 23 he wasn't young for the Cal League, but his hitting was hard to ignore. I gave him a Grade B+ in the 1996 Minor League Scouting Notebook. Nowadays I'd probably have rated him a straight Grade B, due to his age.
Ibanez played just 19 games in Double-A in 1996 (hitting .368) then was jumped to Triple-A. He hit .284/.353/.430 for Tacoma. This was credible given the fact that he basically skipped Double-A. But his value was reduced in general terms when the Mariners gave up him as a catcher, shifting him back to the outfield. His MLE showed him as a .270 hitter at the major league level, with moderate power. I gave him a Grade B in the '97 book.
He returned to Double-A in '97, hitting .304/.349/.498. He also got into 11 games for the Mariners, hitting .154. By this time he was 25 years old. He'd shown the ability to hit for average, but his power production was only moderate, and he didn't run well enough to play center field. I gave him a Grade B-, but projected that he would "make an adequate regular" and that he "could have some very good years."
Ibanez split 1998, 1999, and 2000 between Tacoma and Seattle. Injuries were a factor in all three seasons, and during his major league trials his playing time was sporadic. It looked more and more like he was a "Quadruple-A" player, very effective in Triple-A but not quite good enough for the majors.
Ibanez finally got healthy in 2001, and received a legitimate trial in Kansas City, hitting .280/.353/.495 in 104 games. He followed that up with strong campaigns in '02 and '03, then returned to the Mariners as a free agent in 2004 and has remained an effective outfielder.
The injuries and lack of playing time in the '98-'00 window delayed the start of his major league career, and at age 34 he is on the wrong side of the age curve. But he's lived up to the early offensive potential he showed in the minors, perhaps even exceeding it to some extent in the power department.
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