Thursday, February 26, 2004

Gleeman on Soriano 

Aaron's Baseball Blog is in the process of reviewing the top 50 prospects from last year. At number 30 was Rafael Soriano. About Soriano, Gleeman writes

After being a starting pitcher in the minors, Rafael Soriano spent last year pitching out of Seattle's bullpen. He came up for a couple weeks at the end of April, went back down to Triple-A for about a month, and then rejoined the team for the remainder of the year. In all, he pitched 53 innings in 40 games with the Mariners, all in relief, going 3-0 with a 1.53 ERA.

The miniscule ERA is extremely impressive, but do you want to know the two numbers I like the most? 11.55 strikeouts per nine innings and a .162 batting average against. The only pitcher who pitched as many innings as Soriano did and had a higher strikeout rate or a lower opponent batting average was Eric Gagne, the NL Cy Young winner.

After watching Soriano pitch and after staring at his amazing numbers, I would love nothing more than to proclaim him the next Johan Santana, and to campaign for his place in Seattle's starting five, just like I did for Johan over the past two seasons. Unfortunately, Rafael Soriano appears to be more interested in becoming the next Mariano Rivera.

I'd like to see Soriano start, but once a team and a player begin to agree that the best spot for him is in the bullpen, it's usually a done deal. While Santana held strong to his belief that he deserved to be a starter, often talking to the media about it, Soriano was quoted earlier this week as saying, "I just feel comfortable [in the bullpen]. I want to be a closer, but I'll do anything they want."
Stock: UP
Its interesting to compare the attitudes of Soriano and Santana. Santana complained in the press about not getting starts, and he eventually go to start, and now he is viewed as one of the top starters in the American League. Soriano has stated in the media that he is more comfortable relieving and wants to be the next Mariano Rivera. And so that looks like the career path he will follow. It can be debated which would be more valuable, but with the current abundance of starters that the Mariners have, they are not going to try to push Soriano into the rotation. We'll see if his desire to start increases when a spot in the rotation appears.

For you M's fans that are interested, here are Aaron's other reviews of Mariner prospects.

#18 Jose Lopez
I began my comment on Jose Lopez last year with the following:
I suppose that every person ranking prospects and trying to predict the future gets that "feeling" about certain lesser-known players. I get that feeling about Jose Lopez.
Perhaps the next time I get one of those "feelings," I should just go to a doctor.

Lopez hit just .258/.303/.403 last season, which is certainly not what I had in mind when I wrote that last year. Still, it's important to remember that he was a 19-year-old playing at Double-A, so the fact that he simply held his own is worthwhile in itself.

Beyond his age, there are other bright spots. Lopez hit 13 homers and 35 doubles in 132 games, stole 18 bases and, although he didn't walk much, he also only struck out 56 times. I still think he's got a chance to become a special player, but 2003 was definitely a disappointment.
Stock: DOWN
#27 Clint Nagoette
Clint Nageotte moved up to Double-A in 2003 and continued to pile up strikeouts. He whiffed 157 batters in 154 innings (9.2/9 IP), bringing his career totals as a pro to 617 Ks in 520 innings (10.7/9 IP).

The two things you always hear about Nageotte are that his slider is perhaps the best in all of minor league baseball and that he can be a pain in the butt to people who try to get him to rely on his other pitches more. What he throws and when he throws it aren't as important to me as the overall results, which have been extremely good.

The one concern is that his strikeout/walk ratio has gone from 3.74/1 in 2001 to 3.15/1 in 2002 and then to just 2.34/1 last year. That's not the type of pattern you like to see. Still, it's hard to argue with more than a strikeout per inning and a 3.10 ERA for a 22-year-old at Double-A, so...
#42 Chris Snelling
Chris Snelling made it to the majors for eight games with the Mariners in 2002, but blew out the ACL in his left knee and missed the rest of the season. The same injury limited him to just 65 games between Double-A and Triple-A in 2003 and, from most reports, bothered him quite a bit when he was able to play.

As usual though, Snelling was a very good offensive player when he was on the field. He hit .333/.371/.468 in 47 games at Double-A, before hitting .269/.333/.433 in 18 Triple-A games.

Despite missing huge chunks of time in several seasons and having his development severely stalled, Snelling still doesn't turn 23 until December. I still think he can be an impact player, but he's going to have to show he can stay healthy first.
#50 Travis Blackley
Thinking back on it, one of the toughest things to do while compiling last year's rankings was deciding who was going to make the list at spots 45-50, and which guys, essentially ranked 51 and up, were going to be left out.

The difference between the guy ranked #1 and the guy ranked #25 is significant, but the farther down the list you get, the less of a difference there is (at least in my mind). So, while someone like Travis Blackley snuck onto the list as #50 last year, he was basically in a group of about 20-30 guys who all could have been put there.

That said, I am very glad Blackley made the cut. He had an extremely impressive season as a 20-year-old at Double-A San Antonio in 2003, going 17-3 with a 2.61 ERA in 162.1 innings pitched. He posted great strikeout numbers (although down from 2002) and a very solid 144/62 strikeout/walk ratio.

I feel very good about Blackley's inclusion in my top 50 from last year, not only because he did very well in 2003, but also because he was a relatively unknown prospect heading into the season.
Stock: UP

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