Mariners Prospect Q&A: Jason Churchill

Senior Writer
Posted Feb 4, 2008


The Orioles appear set on making their biggest splash yet in the the rebuilding process and could be close to dealing prized left-hander Erik Bedard. In this interview with ProspectInsider.com's Jason Churchill, ITW gets detailed scouting reports on the players likely to be coming to Baltimore.

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The Orioles appear set on making their biggest splash yet in the the rebuilding process. Both local and Seattle-based reports have the Orioles nearing a trade of ace Erik Bedard for all, or some combination of, Adam Jones, George Sherrill, Chris Tillman, Tony Butler, and Kam Mickolio.

To better evaluate this trade, ITW checked in with one of the top experts on the Seattle Mariners and their farm system around- Jason Churchill. Jason runs ProspectInsider.com (where, for the record, he expects the deal to be announced Tuesday or Wednesday). He can also be heard on 950 KJR-AM every Monday at 12:20 and he sells the most detailed Mariners scouting reports around on his own e-store.

ITW: What kind of hitter do you see Adam Jones becoming in his prime? How far away is he from his prime?

Jason Churchill: I think the Mike Cameron Torii Hunter comps are fair, but Jones has more raw power than either established big leaguer. He's 6-2 and 205 and gets stronger every year. I see his ceiling as a Vernon Wells offensively. I'd expect it to take some time, though, as Jones is just 22 and still has a little trouble with good breaking balls.

He's also below average at controlling the strike zone, as he'll expand his a little too often. But there is still lots of developmental time left. I expect Jones to put up all-star type years at the plate during his best 5-7 years in the bigs, and that could begin in year three or four.

ITW: After switching from shortstop, do you feel Adam Jones will be an above-average centerfielder?

Jason Churchill: Yes. He's like Hanley Ramirez. All the physical tools to play shortstop but for whatever reason it doesn't translate to plus range and the necessary footwork. [For the record, Jones would very likely have been a better defender than is Ramirez, and only moved to center because the M's extended a slick-fielding young shortstop in Yuniesky Betancourt. It wasn't because he was bad at short.

He's a perfect fit for center and while he's not there yet as he'll occasionally make a misread or two, but as he settles in and gets comfortable at Camden, he'll probably be a borderline gold glover at worst. His defense isn't much of a question, and his arm is tremendous, probably a 70 or better on the 20-80 scouting scale.

ITW: Scouts seem to like Chris Tillman more than his raw statistics. What is it about his arsenal that scouts like so much?

Jason Churchill: That's because raw stats mean so little. Tillman was rattled and battered in his first handful of starts in High Desert, partly due to poor command and partly due to the fact that the Cal League is full of severe hitter's ballparks and his home park in High Desert is THE absolute toughest park in baseball in which to pitch.

Once he got comfortable, though, he was terrific, flashing a 91-95 mph fastball and a plus curve from a true 5/8 arm slot. The keys for him are going to be his fastball command the development of his changeup. He threw a splitter in high school so he's still new to the circle change and because it's such a feel pitch it may take some time.

His FB and CB will be big league ready in a year, his command and change will lag a year or two behind. There's a chance that Baltimore could allow him to go back to the splitter, but it wouldn't be wise to do so until he's in Triple-A - just to get him out of the woods as far as physical development goes, so he's less likely to develop forearm issues.

Tillman is a good kid, too, and despite rumors that he was a little flaky in high school, he's put in the work and changed all of those thoughts. Being a good pitcher is important to him and it's showing in his performance. His future is as a No. 2 starter and I believe he'll miss enough bats to at least contribute in the rotation for several years. I think of a combo of Chris Carpenter and John Lackey as his absolute ceiling.

ITW: After a promising debut, Tony Butler had a rough first full-season. Did he have problems with his stuff or just his command?

Jason Churchill: He battled back soreness and command problems, though the latter is probably directly connected to the former. At 6-7, he has a lot of room to make a mistake mechanically and that will be his biggest hurdle.

His velo dropped to the 89-92 range after showing a 91-96 mph heater in '06. But in his final half-dozen starts he was very good, and in a complete game shutout during the final few weeks of the year, he was tagging 90-94 on the gun again.

His curve is an above-average offering, but he has been known to fall in love with it a little bit. He was asked to throw nothing but FB-CH at the end of '06 in the NWL and was still getting outs.

He gets good downward plan on his four-seamer when his arm slot and release point are consistent and that makes his fastball an out pitch, too.

His change is behind in development due to the time he missed, but he's got a pretty good feel for pitching in general and that might be what gets him to the show.

Butler profiles as a No. 3 starter in the mold of a Cliff Lee, or more likely a Chris Capuano or Doug Davis... a sizable, physical left-hander who misses bats, and their success levels depend greatly on their control.

ITW: With Chris Ray on the shelf, do you feel that George Sherrill is ready to close ballgames or is his ceiling as more of a set-up man?

Jason Churchill: I don't think Sherrill is a closer on a contending team, but he's good enough to handle the job while the Orioles sort things out for 2010. He murders left-handers with that 3/4 arm slot and slingshot arm action. His slider is extremely tough on lefties and his fastball, typically 89-92, plays up because of the deception in his delivery.

His numbers versus RHB are deceiving because he rarely faces the better righties in tough situations. It might be unfair to judge him without giving him the chance to get those bats out, but he's yet to prove he can go through the heart of the order in high-leverage situations versus those better right-handed hitters.

He's a perfect LH setup man, though, and a quiet, unsung hero for the M's the past few years. And to think that former Mariners' scout Charley Kerfeld found him on the scrap heap in the Independent leagues five years ago.

ITW: The player most fans know least about is Kam Mickolio. What can you tell us about him?

Jason Churchill: The right-handed Mickolio (pronounced Mik-oh-ly-oh, long "i" at the end) could be playing power forward for the Wizards at 6-9 and 260 pounds. But he wears that weight well and uses his height to create good downard plane on his 90-95 mph fastball. He gets good armside run and induces a good number of ground ball outs.

He misses bats with it some, too, and flashes a useful 84-85 mph slider as well. He was a college draftee but has a little bit more projection in him than I'd otherwise believe due to the fact that he's only played organized baseball since he was 17; his high school did not have a team.

He's very aggressive in the zone and has pretty decent overall command. If he continues to develop the slider he could be a late-inning reliever. Probably not a closer, but a valuable live arm.



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