Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Big Three

Of all the young talent our Mariners have among position players, there are three names that everyone is looking forward to seeing on a regular basis. Adam Jones, Jeff Clement and Wladimir Balentien.

Adam Jones is the most well known among Mariner fans. Jones was drafted in the first round of the 2003 draft as a shortstop. He may have already become a fixture in the Mariner lineup if Yuni Betancourt hadn't beat him to the majors and become the club's shortstop of the future. Once the Mariners saw what they had in Betancourt, Jones began his conversion to the outfield. Jones had a killer year for AAA Tacoma this past season, batting .314 with 25 HR, 84 RBI in 420 at bats, before being promoted to the big club. His only drawback seemed to be his 106 strikeouts in 101 games. He has some pretty good speed on the basepaths, range in the field, a great throwing arm and ability to play any of the outfield positions. I was very impressed by Jones' 2007. When we saw him as a callup in 2006 he was scrawny in appearance and horrible on defense. It was hard for me to see him as a future power hitter, he reminded me of Otis Nixon! This season his body matured a lot, and it payed off in the stat book. He was also much improved in the field, taking better routes to fly balls and making better decisions overall.

It's no secret that Jones will start 2008 with the big club, and he won't be warming the bench like he did after his promotion in '07. If everything goes as planned he will start opening day in any of the three outfield positions, most likely right or left now that Ichiro has shown just how much range he has since moving to center. Depending on his spring training, Jones should bat possibly as high as the two hole, but more likely 7-8. With the departure of Jose Guillen, expect Jones to remain a Mariner. Now that there is room for him on the team, I assume he truly is "untouchable" in the trade market.

Jeff Clement was another first round draft choice of the Mariners, back in 2005, as a catcher out of USC. Clement struggled at first in the minors but saw his bat come around in AAA this past season after a slow start. He was a September callup for the first time in 2007, and certainly opened some eyes with a pair of clutch home runs. One game tying bomb late, and one walk off. He has a beautiful swing from the left side of the plate, and very good power potential. Clement should be the catcher of the future, taking over for Kenji Johjima either after Kenji's contract expires next offseason or sooner, if Johjima is traded or injured. It seems that catcher will be the spot for Clement, too. Rumors have swirled since his September to remember that he may be converted to first base to take over for the struggling Sexson/Broussard tandem, but we can go ahead and put that one to rest. Clement is only playing catcher this year in winter ball, a sure sign that he will not be moved. There is a chance he will be dealt this offseason for starting pitching, but hopefully the Mariners will retain him. It is very hard to come by a good catcher nowadays, especially one that is drawing comparison to Jason Varitek (who the Mariners did lose in one of the worst trades in Seattle history). And as a left handed power hitter, he would definitely benefit from the short porch in right field, originally designed for Ken Griffey.

Wladimir Balentien is flying slightly under the radar compared to Clement and Jones, but Mariner fans finally got a small taste of what Wlad has to offer this past September. He's got great power potential and all the makings to become the next Manny Ramirez, his idol. I'm not saying he will be that great, as Manny is one of the greatest hitters in major league baseball today, but you never know. Unfortunately, Balentien is the most likely of the big three to be moved this offseason. If you remember, he was almost dealt for Octavio Dotel at the deadline last season. Wlad is major league ready, but with Jones taking the only currently available outfield spot he'll have to rely on Bavasi to help him out a little. Balentien could make the starting lineup if Bavasi decides to move any of these players: Raul Ibanez, Jose Vidro, Richie Sexson or Ben Broussard. I would expect Wlad to be traded over any of those players for several reasons, but I will get into that in another post sometime this offseason.

Some other young position players to keep an eye on: Mike Morse could be the teams next utility man, as Willie Bloomquist expressed in an interview last season that he wanted to pursue a starting role, possibly with another team. Bloomquist may never start in the major leagues, and may be best suited as a National League utility man, although he will be given a chance to compete for the starting 2B job with Jose Lopez and Yung Chi Chen. Jeremy Reed may very well be tossed into any package trade made this offseason. His days in Seattle seem over as he is falling down the depth chart, now deemed the 5 or 6th outfield option.

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