Mariners stocked at shortstop

Originally Published: July 20, 2005
By Jim Callis | Baseball America

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It doesn't look like we're going to see many big trades before the July 31 deadline for deals without waivers. Several clubs have yet to decide whether they should be buyers or sellers, and there just aren't that many attractive players on the market. Thus far, the biggest name to change teams is Preston Wilson, and he's not exactly a difference-maker. But as the trades happen, be sure to check out Baseball America's Trade Central for breakdowns of all the big leaguers and prospects involved.

Question: How do you see all of the Mariners' shortstops sorting themselves out? Mike Morse is doing surprisingly well in Seattle, Yuniesky Betancourt is holding his own at Triple-A Tacoma, Adam Jones is hitting well at Double-A San Antonio, Asdrubal Cabrera is doing well at high Class A Inland Empire and Matt Tuiasosopo is having a decent year at low Class A Wisconsin. Jones, Cabrera and Tuiasosopo are all teenagers. Can Betancourt hit enough to play regularly in the majors, and do the others field well enough?

Philip Meneely
Philadelphia

A year ago in Ask BA, I answered a similar question about the Mariners' shortstop depth. At that point, I ranked their minor league shortstops in this order: Jose Lopez, Matt Tuiasosopo, Michael Morse, Adam Jones, Asdrubal Cabrera and Juan Gonzalez. "It's very difficult sorting them out, as the only easy call is putting Gonzalez sixth," I wrote. "I may be conservative with Cabrera, who's hitting very well in the short-season Northwest League at age 17. On pure upside, Tuiasosopo would be No. 1, but Lopez is five levels ahead of him and playing well in Triple-A at age 20."

Since then, Lopez has lost his rookie/prospect status, Betancourt signed a $3.65 million major league contract as a Cuban defector and Gonzalez was released by the Mariners and re-signed by the Tigers. What hasn't changed is that the Mariners still are loaded with shortstops. Oswaldo Navarro also deserves mention with that group.

Betancourt and Cabrera are both dazzling fielders, while Jones has an absolute cannon for an arm to go with solid range. Navarro has very sure hands and is a legitimate shortstop, though with all the others in the system, he already has been shuttling between second base and short and has seen a little time at third base. He'll probably wind up as a utilityman.

Morse and Tuiasosopo probably aren't going to be long-term shortstops. Morse has been decent in the majors so far, but he lacks the first-step quickness and range of an ideal shortstop. Though Tuiasosopo is a good athlete and a former top quarterback recruit, he doesn't have classic shortstop actions and probably will outgrow the position.

As for Betancourt's bat, he should be fine. After not playing at all in 2004, he has jumped right into Double-A and Triple-A at age 23 and hit a combined .280/.305/.420 with 18 steals in 91 games. He needs to draw more walks (13) but he makes good contact (just 30 strikeouts in 379 at-bats) and he has gap power and plus speed. Throw in a defensive package scouts compare to that of Cesar Izturis, and Betancourt does project as a big league regular.

It's still difficult sorting out the Mariners shortstop prospects, but I'll take another crack at it: Jones, Betancourt, Tuiasosopo, Cabrera, Morse (I think he's playing over his head in Seattle right now), Navarro.

Question: Could J. Brent Cox help the Yankees this season?

Eric Burt
East Orange, N.J.

This parallels the dozens of Craig Hansen/Red Sox questions I get in my weekly chats with ESPN.com, and my answer is the same: It's unreasonable to expect anyone to contribute much to a team in the middle of a pennant race in the same year in which he's drafted. It's one thing for a Rickie Weeks to get a September callup, or for a Chad Cordero to pitch in a setup role for a team out of contention. It's entirely another to expect Hansen or Cox to get key outs two or three months removed from college.

That said, I do like Cox and think he'll help the Yankees as a setup man in the near future, perhaps toward the end of 2006. He's not Huston Street, his predecessor as closer for Texas and Team USA, but he's not too far removed. Cox has the makeup to pitch in the late innings and a nasty slider that's a strikeout pitch. His second pitch is a sinker that runs in on right-handers. He took the loss in his pro debut for high Class A Tampa Monday, giving up one run and two hits while recording two outs (both via the strikeout).

Question: How do you factor in the use of aluminum bats when rating college players? Secondly, how do you factor in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League when rating minor league hitters? I seem to recall a lot of players putting up big numbers there, but not coming close to anything like it in the big leagues.

Bill Braudis
Newton, Mass.

When you're looking at statistics, it's important to put them into context. At the college level, they're sketchy to begin with because the level of play is so far removed from the major leagues. Most college players aren't going to spend a day in pro ball. In general, with college players, I won't get excited about the guy just because of his numbers. If he has disappointing stats, that's a big red flag, but the converse isn't true -- good stats don't mean he's destined for success. I want to know that he has some tools that will play in pro ball before I'll believe in him.

As for the aluminum bats, in many cases a scouting breakdown can be more illuminating than statistics. Some players have geared their swings to aluminum, and scouts can project that they're going to have trouble hitting with less forgiving wooden bats. Summer performances are also important, when players mostly use wood bats and face better competition.

With the Pacific Coast League, the top performers are a better bet for success than those in college, but you still have to acknowledge that it's a hitter-friendly league. Hitting 30 homers in the PCL isn't the same as hitting 30 in the International League. And though the PCL is just one step away from the big leagues, there still will be players who stand out in Triple-A but can't hack it in the majors.