Mariners look to brighter future
After nightmare season, prospects may pave way for new beginning
The future success of every Major League team lies in its Minor League system. With that in mind, MLB.com takes a top-to-bottom look at all 30 organizations each preseason, from top prospects to recent Draft picks.
It couldn't get much worse for the Seattle Mariners following a season that saw the team flounder in just about every area of the game from hitting to pitching to fielding.
Seattle lost 100 games in 2008, its worst season in a quarter century. The team also lost faith in its front-office and field staff, firing its general manager at midseason and, days later, its manager as well.
The summer passed, though, and with it came the fall when leaves change and things turn around.
An up-close look at the club as we approach Opening Day
Milwaukee Brewers scouting director Jack Zduriencik, long regarded by many as the obvious choice for the next open GM spot, was brought in, signaling a change for the good. He brought in a dynamic new scouting director in Tom MacNamara and promoted well-respected instruction coordinator Pedro Grifol to farm director, letting him stay in uniform with his players as he'd wanted.
And what a difference a refurnished regime makes.
Strong talent is evident in the Mariners organization. Most notably, there are young pitchers working their way through the system. This year may be a challenge for many of them as the Mariners' best corps of young starters will be in a rotation at possibly the worst pitchers' park in the Minors, High Desert's Mavericks Stadium.
However, even that is being regarded as a teaching experience.
Overall, 2009 will be a learning year for the players in the Mariners system as well as the new leaders in the Seattle regime. The results could be a lot brighter than fans in that scenic rainy city by the water have been used to for quite some time.
Chris Jakubauskas, RHP
The 30-year-old right-hander has gone from undrafted independent league pitcher to a reliever on the verge of the big leagues. He combined to post a 1.88 ERA at three levels, striking out 79 while walking 21 in 91 innings. During Spring Training, he'd stuck through several cuts as a non-roster invitee thanks to a 2.16 ERA in five games.
Rob Johnson, C
Johnson, who hit .305 with nine homers and 49 RBIs at Tacoma last summer, has had a good camp, hitting well above .400 and adding outfield skills to his defensive package.
Shawn Kelley, RHP
The 13th-round pick in 2007 out of Austin Peay (Clarksville, Tenn.) has ridden his fine slider to the brink of the Majors, where he could be in the bullpen before long. During three stops in 2008 from Wisconsin to West Tenn, he posted a .218 batting average against and had a 2.11 ERA in 42 2/3 innings for the Jaxx.
Jharmidy DeJesus, 3B
Just bubbling under the top 10, the 19-year-old batted .309 with 10 homers and 33 RBIs in 62 games between the short-season Arizona League and Everett, finishing fourth in the system in average. A converted shortstop, he has a plus arm.
Tyson Gillies, OF
The 20-year-old Canadian is a table-setter who played all three outfield positions, hitting .313 with 24 steals at Everett. He boasts the system's strongest outfield arm and its best speed. He's an 80 runner, which is the highest score on the scouting scale. Drafted in the 25th round of 2006 out of junior college in Iowa, he signed the next spring. Gillies, who is hearing impaired, made a big impression this spring, hitting .313 in 17 big league games.
Johan Limonta, 1B
The 25-year-old Limonta is Cuban-born, but was drafted in the 20th round of 2004 out of Miami-Dade Community College. The left-handed hitter with the easy swing combined for a .302 average, 12 homers and 79 RBIs between High Desert and West Tenn. He also ranked fourth in the Minors with 43 doubles
2008: Josh Fields, RHP
The Mariners didn't sign their top pick, taken with the 20th overall selection, until last month, so the Georgia product will make his pro debut this spring. A true closer with a fastball and power curve, he was also drafted in the second round of 2007 by Atlanta but didn't sign.
2007: Philippe Aumont, RHP
Though slowed by elbow trouble in his pro debut last summer, he still posted a 2.75 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 55 2/3 innings at Wisconsin, limiting hitters to a .224 average. The Quebec native will likely move to the bullpen this year at High Desert to make best use of his blazing fastball.
2006: Brandon Morrow, RHP
The fifth overall pick in 2006 wasted little time in cruising to the big leagues. He made the club in something of a surprise out of Spring Training in 2007, posting a 4.12 ERA and improving that to a 3.34 mark last summer.
2008 Draft Recap
OF Dennis Raben (2) out of Miami hit .275 with five homers and 14 RBIs in 91 at-bats with short-season Everett and has the best power potential in the system. He could move to first base eventually. ... RHP Aaron Pribanic (3) out of Nebraska had a brief debut in the Arizona League, allowing eight earned runs in 4 2/3 innings, but has a great fastball in the mid-90s. ... RHP Brett Lorin (4) out of Long Beach State combined between Everett and Wisconsin for a 3.96 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 52 innings. ... OF Jarrett Burgess (6) is a high school pick from Florida who is an outstanding athlete with tools across the board. The 18-year-old stole 17 bases in his Arizona League debut and has a plus arm and raw power. ... RHP Luke Burnett (14) has the club particularly excited about his future. The 6-foot-8 pick out of Louisiana Tech appeared in just two games in the Arizona League, but has a big power arm.
Hitter of the Year -- OF Greg Halman
The 21-year-old Netherlands native fell one home run shy of the elusive 30-30 mark and he should get a shot to go after that again this season.
Pitcher of the Year -- RHP Michael Pineda
Most of the Mariners' top young starters are bound for High Desert, a tough place to post Pitcher of the Year-type numbers, but we'll look for Pineda and his excellent control to conquer the challenge like he dominated in his first full season.
Outfielder Dennis Raben should be on the Top 10 list at this time next year as the second-rounder from Miami could be one of the top hitters in the system once he gets healthy. A finger injury slowed him in his debut and he's waiting to rebound from arthroscopic surgery on his knee this spring. ... Also on the comeback trail is LHP Stephen Kahn, who missed two full years after coming out of Loyola Marymount. He has a power arm and tossed 14 innings in the Arizona Fall League. ... The Mariners are excited about 17-year-old outfielder Julio Morban, a recent sign out of the Dominican Republic, who will make his pro debut this summer.
"In everybody's career at one time or another you're going to face adversity, and High Desert will bring pitchers adversity, no question. But how you bounce back, how you handle that, is what is going to separate a Minor Leaguer from a big league player. If they can handle High Desert they can handle anything, so it's a great evaluator makeup-wise for us for these kids." -- Pedro Grifol, the Seattle Mariners' Director of Minor League Operations, on pitching at Advanced A High Desert, a tough locale for pitchers.
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.