Minor League Roundup

Don't call it a comeback, because it wasn't. It was, however, another off week for the Seattle Mariners farm system, which combined for a 12-18 record over the past seven days. There are a few contributing factors to the slump of the past few weeks; player call-ups, injuries and lineup changes.

Triple-A Tacoma followed suit with the previous several weeks and continued to struggle offensively, scoring just 19 runs in six games this week in which the Rainiers managed a single victory. Just like all things, there are a few bright spots. Recently named PCL All-Star catcher Pat Borders is fourth in the league in doubles and will soon be fifth in hitting when he reaches the minimum amount of plate appearances. OF Chad Meyers is fourth in the league with 24 stolen bases. But for the offense, that is it. Tacoma doesn't have a single hitter that ranks in the Top 20 in homeruns or RBI.

The pitching is a bit better off with closer Aaron Taylor ranking fourth in saves and lefty Craig Anderson leading the league in complete games. The Rainiers feel to 35-49 for the year and remain in the cellar of the PCL's Northern Division. Rett Johnson had another strong outing after his promotion, going six solid frames of one-run baseball.

Double-A San Antonio is once again the lone diamond in a bowl of gravel. A 5-2 week has the Missions off to an 8-4 start in the second half after dominating the first half in the Texas League. The starting rotation has taken a hit but hasn't seemed to miss a beat. Without the staff leader in Rett Johnson and left-hander Matt Thornton, both recently promoted to Tacoma, it seems the slack left behind has been scooped up by Bobby Madritsch, 27, a former first-round draft pick by Cincinnati who the M's found in the Independent Leagues. Madritsch, a hard-throwing southpaw, has found his groove been nails in four of his last five starts. The staff is still led by the sheer domination of top prospect Clint Nageotte and Aussie Travis Blackley. Nageotte also seems to be hitting his stride and is starting to show off the nasty stuff and mound presence that has vaulted him to the status he has around the organization. Blackley, 20, hasn't halted his complete and total dominance he began the season with and leads the league in wins and is third in strikeouts. Nageotte, 22, is second in the league in both wins and strikeouts. Closer Jared Hoerman continues to lead the Texas League in saves with 24.

The offense has been scuffling somewhat and is in need of a shot in the arm. The numbers are still there but the consistency has vanished since the end of May. The bright spots continue to be the same cast of characters. AJ Zapp, Jose Lopez, and Chris Snelling lead the way. 1B Zapp ranks second in the league in homeruns and sixth in RBI. 3B Justin Leone is fourth in RBI. OF Michael Curry is first in steals (31), while infielder Luis Ugueto (20) and OF Jamie Bubela (18) rank second and fourth. The Missions lead the Texas League in steals with 128. The closest team is Wichita with 81. The Missions are the most likely team to be affected by promotions and other roster moves. With so many highly-rated prospects playing at the double-A level many are candidates to be called up to Tacoma and even Seattle late in the year. The most highly promotable players in single-A ball are at Inland of the California League and the next natural step is double-A San Antonio.

Single-A Inland Empire, coming off of the league's All-Star break, went 2-2 for the week and sustained their near .500 clip for the year, standing at 4-5 for the second half. Inland OF Greg Jacobs was named the All Star Game MVP and continued his hitting in the four-game week, batting .500 (7-14) with three doubles. Jacobs is likely to be the next promoted hitter in the organization. OF Dustin Delucchi, 3B Hunter Brown, and uber-prospect Shin-Soo Choo led the offense.

Left-hander Ryan Ketchner and TA Fulmer, who combined for 15 innings of work, allowed one earned run and struck out 18 to lead the pitching staff.

The 66ers have a few stars amongst the league leaders as well; Jacobs is fourth in the league in hitting (.336), is second in on-base percentage (.423) and slugging percentage (.577), and leads the league in extra-base hits with 42. Shin-Soo Choo leads the league in triples with ten; Closer Matt Steele leads the league in saves with 16.

Single-A Wisconsin of the Midwest League did their best impersonation of the triple-A Tacoma Rainiers. A 1-6 week will break a lot of teams and the few weeks ahead will be critical for the Timber Rattlers. While there weren't many highlights during the past seven days there sure are a few season-long notables. 3B Matt Hagen is third in the league with 13 homeruns; utility man Corey Harrington is second in triples with six, and left-handed starter Bobby Livingston is second in the league in wins with 10.

Wisconsin sits in last place in their division with a 2-9 record in the second half. There is good news on the way however. As the 2003 draftees ink contracts, the players will be assigned teams, and several figure to go to the Timber Rattlers. Help is on the way.

Short-season single-A Everett of the Northwest League offered up a 3-4 week after a 3-2 initial start to the year. The roster is going to change weekly if not daily, but the Aqua Sox keep plugging away anyhow and sit at 6-6 on the young season.

Led offensively by the 19 year-old duo of Josh Ellison and Joshua Womack, Everett lacks punch in the lineup, but that's a quality most lower level teams have to live without. Ellison, the teams leadoff hitter, leads the Northwest League in steals with seven and is seventh in average at .361. Womack is struggling with his consistency at the plate but makes it count when he does connect, ranking second in the league with two triples.

The starting pitching, as usual at the low levels, is an issue in Everett. Bullpen rosters normally carry two or three starters to pick up the innings that the rotation leaves. It's very common to see short-season pitchers struggle to get past the fifth and sixth innings. Victor Ramirez, 20, has emerged as the early season staff ace. His 23 strikeouts lead the league. Stopper Matt Moorhead is tied for first in saves with three.

The Aqua Sox currently sit in third place just two games back of first.

The Seattle Mariners farm system went 12-18 for the week as players continue to be shuffled a bit and newly acquired talent (ie: draft signees) is placed among the six teams. Don't look for that to change anytime soon with the trade deadline coming up for the big club. Along with the aforementioned Greg Jacobs, others such as 3B Hunter Brown, OF Shin-Soo Choo, and lefties Bobby Livingston and Troy Cate lead the group that sit on the promotion fence awaiting the shove to the other side.

Jason resides in North Tacoma, WA, where his father is his best friend, his mother has a better fastball than he does, and his nephew is the only person better suited for stardom. Feedback is always welcome at JasonAChurchill@cs.com.

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