I don't know if this would become a series, but I'm going to start looking at players and comparing them. To start, I'm going to look at the Mariners' top prospects now that Adam Jones is gone, Jeff Clement and Wladimir Balentien. I'm going to assess each player's abilities based on stats and what I've seen. So, let's start 'er up.
Jeff Clement is seen as the catcher of the future for the Mariners, but when will that future be? Kenji Johjima is under contract for one more season, and it's rumored that the Mariners would like to have him back behind the plate again in 2009, and possibly beyond. On Joh for a sec, why not have him back? He's played solid in his first two seasons in North America, hitting and fielding wise and works really well with the Mariners pitching staffs. The Mariners aren't big on having Clement play first base this season if Richie Sexson goes down the tube, and the club also prefers to go with Jose Vidro at DH. Clement could DH or play first in 2009, as both Vidro and Sexson will become free agents. Clement will be getting a few more oppurtunities this season, for one, he's ready to play in the MLB, and two, Kenji Johjima's future is still uncertain. Wladimir Balentien on the other hand, has been looked by with Adam Jones blocking him. Now Wlad has nowhere to go but up, and will. He is looking to make this club this Spring, and could very well do so. The chance of Wlad getting some outfield time could greatly improve with a domino effect including Raul Ibanez, Jose Vidro and Richie Sexson occurs.
Jeff Clement has an amazing eye at the plate, and will make contact more than the average person. He has plus power, so he won't be a David Ortiz, but will show more than Jamie Burke. Clement's quick wrists give him a line-drive swing, which allow him to hit the ball solidly both ways, with power. He runs like a regular catcher would speed wise, but has great baserunning instincts. He'll be able to produce in the middle of the lineup for years to come.
Wladimir Balentien has a ton of natural power, that will allow him to pile up some homeruns in the future. He's improved his judement at the plate and plate discipline over the past couple years. He has a cannon arm that would work great in right of left field.
The main thing that Clement lacks, is athleticism. He is a good fielder, don't get me wrong. His arm is fine and developing quite well, but the question is his ability to block pitches in the dirt, and go side to side. That would be his downfall.
The biggest problem for Wlad, is his free-swinging nature. His .291 average last season with Tacoma showed his improvement from his .230 average with San Antonio in 2006. He'll strike out a lot and probably not walk enough, but things can change in a heartbeat.
Hitting for Contact: As I mentioned, Wlad takes a free-swinging aproach to the plate. He'll strikeout more than your average player, but he can make contact. He's no Ichiro at the dish, but he's more than Richie Sexson (I hope).
Clement brings patience beyond his years to the dish. He limits strikeouts and walks often. There is no reason that he can't be a .270-280 hitter in his career. Clement still has room to improve, and when he maximizes his potential, look for that average to creep closer to .290.
Hitting for Power: Clement is your typical power hitter, who doesn't have to go very far out of his way to drive pitches. He relies on timing and balance to hit the longballs. He may not be cranking 40 out, but he should be able to hit out 25-30 with a little but of expierence. Remember his few at bats near the end of 2007?
Wlad's Master's Degree is in the power department. He can hit the ball out of the park all day long. What Wlad needs though, is consistancy. It's an old sports cliche, but he is trying to hard to get the ball too far. Instead, he needs to slow everything down, and allow his smooth swings to help him clear the fences, instead of his quick, untimed thwaks.
Balentien will make almost all of the simple plays that he is expected to. He won't go over the top to make a play, but he will make the catch on anything withen his range.
Clement isn't a bad defensive catcher, but injuries have slowed down his progress, and halted his development for about a year. Now that his knees are fine, he is more comfortable in the crouch, and can get the throw to second or third off a lot quicker. He has a reasonably quick glove, but won't win too many Gold Gloves in his career. He's good, maybe more than that, but isn't spectacular.
Clement's arm is still in the development process, and might not be completely ready yet. Once he gets the mechanincs down pat, then he will develop his consistancy, which will untimately lead to him gaining a superior arm.
Balentien on the other hand, has an arm that is years beyond what would be expected. He has superior strength and accuracy in the ol' cannon. His only problem however, is that he tends to let it fly too much, which leads to him overthrowing his throws, making him look like he is below his actual abilities. An outfield with Wlad and Ichiro. Nobody would try for an extra base ever again.
Balentien's speed isn't going to make much, if any difference in his career, because he will most likely be a power hitter, with some mobility in the outfield. He's an aggressive baserunner, who takes the chances, but as soon as he learns a little more about what he's doing, and realizes that he's not Ichiro on the basepaths, he'll be a solid baserunner.
Jeff Clement is your typical catcher on the basepaths. He's closer to slow than fast, and has somewhat of an idea as to what's going on when he's on base. He's nothing special here, but most catchers aren't known for their speed. Are any?
Grading: Now that we've looked at the tools of both players, I'm going to hand out their report cards, before we decide who's is better now, and in the future.
Now time for the ultimate decision: who is better? If you take a look at my grades, most of us will automatically assume that Wlad is better because he has a couple of 'A's' (not of the Oakland variety) and Clement doesn't. Instead, Clement looks more rounded as a player, and his good at everything, and Balentien is good in some areas, but not consistant in all. For right now, I'm going to say that Wlad will make the most impact when he enters the Majors, and will either excel, or slowly fall out of the game. Five years from now, I think that Clement will be the better of the two. Catcher is a tough position because you have to go through a rigorous development process, that sometimes will end a catcher's career. Now that Clement has found himself healthy, he will continue to improve, and become a top catcher in the MLB.
I'd like to thank Jason Churchill from ProspectInsider for his scouting reports.