When we took our preseason look at the Seattle Mariners organization, it boasted an intriguing and assorted mix of young talent, with the emphasis on the youth. In fact, none of the 10 players listed on our spring 10 Players to Watch list lost their rookie eligibility in 2009, with only outfielder Michael Saunders even coming close (he retains rookie status by a margin of eight at-bats and seven days of service time).


NL East
ATL | FLA | NYM | PHI | WAS

AL East
BAL | BOS | NYY | TB | TOR

NL Central
CHC | CIN | HOU | MIL | PIT | STL

AL Central
CHW | CLE | DET | KC | MIN

NL West
ARI | COL | LAD | SD | SF

AL West
LAA | OAK | SEA | TEX

So now, as we look back at the '09 season and try to give an overview of the "state of the organization," it's no surprise that the key word here is depth.

That depth is balanced between pitching and all of the positions and, most important, much of that young talent is now one step closer to being ready to make the move to the big leagues if and when they're called upon in 2010.

"The most important thing for us is that our lower levels were talent-rich and now that those guys are older, our Double-A ballclub [the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx in the Southern League] will be good," said Pedro Grifol, the Mariners' director of player development. "So we'll be talking about a lot of our prospects in Double-A, where a jump to Seattle is not far-fetched."

Grifol is reluctant to pinpoint one particular area of strength, and looking at the long list of intriguing prospects, it's easy to see why.

"I wouldn't say we're especially deep at one position -- it's more of a versatility depth," he said. "Last year we might have talked about catching, but this year rather than one position where we're two or three deep, it's more that we have multiple positions where we can help the ballclub in the big leagues if there is a need."

In fact, the biggest challenge may come this spring when it's time to finalize rosters at Double-A. There could be some players who skip themselves up the ladder to Triple-A, or a few who due to the numbers game return to Advanced A, but basically look for an All-Star lineup in Jackson, Tenn.

Among the names that could end up there (but not limited to this list): 2009 top pick Dustin Ackley (who could be moving to second base in his official pro debut), California League MVP third baseman Alex Liddi, toolsy outfielders Tyson Gillies and Carlos Peguero, slugging first baseman Joe Dunigan and shortstop Carlos Triunfel, as well as potential aces such as Michael Pineda, JC Ramirez and Edward Paredes, and closer prospects Philippe Aumont and Josh Fields, both recent first-round picks.

"The biggest step forward for us this year is going to be having our kids playing at a level where anything can happen," Grifol said. "Experience is the biggest key for us."

Not that the lower levels will be barren. Anything but. Between a Draft which netted, in Grifol's words, "enormous" talent, including the fast-tracked Ackley, the club added young depth at several premium positions, such as high school shortstop Nick Franklin (first round, No. 27), high school catcher Steven Baron (supplemental first round, No. 33) as well as a few sleepers in rangy, raw right fielder/first baseman James Jones out of Long Island University (fourth) and Oklahoma State right-hander Tyler Blandford (fifth), about whom Grifol commented, "He had one of the best arms in instructs -- I don't know how he was still there in the fifth round."

Add in the club's young international outfield prospects such as 16-year-olds Guillermo Pimentel and Alfredo Morales and 17-year-old Julio Morban, and the future decision-makers and roster-trimmers will have even more to mull.

While the big league Mariners enjoyed a tremendous turnaround in the Majors in 2009, going fro a 100-loss season in '08 to an 85-77 record in '09, it looks like things will continue to improve for Seattle fans, who can look forward to seeing the influx from one of the best-stocked and talent-laden organizations in baseball right now.

On the field, the Mariners' farm teams combined to go 474-423 (.528), fifth among the 30 organizations, with two of their four full-season teams making it to the postseason (Tacoma at 74-70 and High Desert at 83-57), while the club's Arizona League team won its league title at 33-22. Both short-season Everett and Class A Clinton also finished over .500.

ORGANIZATIONAL PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
MLB.com's Preseason Picks

Greg Halman, OF: The Netherlands native fell one homer shy of the 30-30 mark in 2008, splitting his season between Advanced A High Desert and Double-A West Tenn to hit .272, but continued to show the need to develop his plate discipline in '09 as he hit 25 homers and drove in 72 runs in a full season at West Tenn. He led the Southern League in home runs, but also batted just .210 and struck out a Minor League-high 183 times. Just turned 22, the free-swinging Halman still has time to develop and once he puts those tools together, look out.

Michael Pineda, RHP: Pineda emerged in 2008 when he posted a 1.95 ERA at age 20 in the Class A Midwest League, striking out 129 while walking just 35 in 138 1/3 innings at Wisconsin. He moved up with several top starting prospects to High Desert this year, and actually turned in outstanding numbers in a league and home park that has been terrible for pitchers, but a sore elbow landed him on the DL twice, keeping him from enjoying a full season of success. When healthy, he posted a 2.84 ERA in 10 starts and walked just six in 44 1/3 innings, striking out 48 and limiting hitters to a .190 average.

MLB.com's Postseason Selections

Alex Liddi, 3B: The Italian-born Liddi, just 21, was one of a handful of Mariners farmhands who put up outstanding numbers this season, but gets the nod in that crowded field as our pick for Hitter of the Year. His .345 average at High Desert led the organization while his 104 RBIs tied him with his Mavericks teammate Joe Dunigan. He added 44 doubles, 23 homers and 10 steals in 129 games as well as a .594 slugging percentage and led all full-season Minor Leaguers in batting to also earn California League MVP honors. The San Remo native repped his home country in the World Baseball Classic as well as playing in the All-Star Futures Game. He is also strong on defense at the hot corner.

Kenn Kasparek, RHP: The Midwest League ERA champion at Class A Clinton, Kasparek went 10-6 with a 2.41 ERA in his first full season. A 12th-round pick in 2008 out of Texas, Kasparek posted a 2.16 ERA in his last 13 starts to win the title, including his first career nine-inning complete game on Aug. 3. The 6-foot-8 Kasparek limited hitters to a .236 average, striking out 134 while walking 32 in 141 2/3 innings.