Minor League Roundup

Sometimes the old adage rings true: one bad apple spoils the bunch. In the case of the five minor league affiliates for the Seattle Mariners, the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers were the rotten seed, going 2-5 on the week. The lower four levels combined for a stellar 17-9 record as Wisconsin played well and San Antonio, Inland Empire, and Everett each hung on to postseason aspirations.

During a time where trades, signings, promotions, and other roster moves headline the weekly activity, the superb play of star players and key prospects share the spotlight with great team performances.

Short-Season-A Everett avoided mediocrity by going 3-3 on the week. Lineup changes galore marked another week in the search of some consistent offense. The Sox now sit four games behind the division leaders and continue to ride the right arm of Felix Hernandez.

Offensively, the Aqua Sox were led by OF Chris Colton, SS Oz Navarro and 2B Nick Orlandos.

Colton went just 4-23 for the week with one extra base hit in six games played. His great defense and speed on the bases (13 steals) does not go unnoticed, however, as Colton remains the teams best all-around player. On the year the 20-year-old is hitting .265 with five homeruns and 22 RBI.

Navarro went 5-21 on the week with two runs scored and two RBI. The 18-year-old slick fielding shortstop is hitting .281 with 13 steals.

Orlandos led the team in hitting for the week, going 6-21 (.286) with three runs scored and his eighth steal of the season. The 23-year-old is hitting .308 on the year with two homeruns and 16 RBI.

The pitching staff has recently been carried by phenom Felix Hernandez, along with stud closer Michael Moorhead.

Moorhead's 13 saves paces the Northwest League and his miniscule 0.98 ERA proves his dominance over an inferior level of talent. The 23-year-old closer sports a 20/4 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Felix Hernandez, 17, continues his roll through the competition. In his two starts this week the flame thrower logged 12 innings allowing just eight hits and one earned run while walking five and striking out 17. On the season the teen superstar leads the league in wins with six, and ranks sixth in ERA (2.13), fifth in strikeouts (50), and first in ooohs and ahhhs.

Single-A Wisconsin had a fantastic week, going 5-2. The Timber Rattlers struggled through many weeks of wretched offense but seems to have found some consistency of late. Outscoring their opponents 40-30 in seven games, the 18-24 Rattlers are turning the corner and putting up W's with more regularity.

Led offensively by SS Michael Garciaparra and 1B Jon Nelson, the Wisconsin offense had their best week with 40 runs.

Garciaparra had his fourth straight week of superb hitting and the former top draft choice is looking more and more like a Garciaparra after all. The 20-year-old went 11-28 (.392) with six RBI, four runs scored, four steals, and four multi-hit games. On the year Garciaparra is hitting .243, an improvement of over 40 points in the past six weeks.

Nelson went 11-28 (.392) blasting his 13th homerun, four doubles, and nine RBI. The 6-foot-5 slugger is hitting .263 with 13 homeruns and 67 RBI.

The pitching staff is led by southpaw Bobby Livingston, right-hander TA Fulmer, and righty reliever Miguel Martinez.

Livingston, 20, went eight solid innings in his only start of the week, allowing five hits and one earned run, while walking two and striking out seven. Livingston is 13-5 with a 2.64 ERA on the year.

Fulmer's only start resulted in 8.1 innings of three hit baseball, allowing just one earned run, one walk, and four strikeouts. The 23-year-old is 7-7 on the year with a 2.71 ERA.

Martinez has had a dominant year and this week's three-inning stint was typical. No hits, no runs, one walk and five strikeouts later, Martinez had lowered his ERA to 0.92.

Advanced-A Inland Empire held up its end of the bargain by posting its own 5-2 record. The system's most well rounded roster this side of San Antonio, the 66ers win with quality starting pitching and an offense that finds a way.

Offensively led by OF Dustin Delucchi, OF Cristian Guerrero and Shin-soo Choo, the San Bernardino-based California League 66ers lead their division by a game and a half.

Delucchi went 8-25 (.320) on the week with six runs scored, three doubles, and two RBI. The 25-year-old continues to beat up the Cal League and is rising to the occasion in the absence of recently promoted OF Greg Jacobs. On the year Delucchi is hitting .324 with 10 steals.

Choo, 20, recently returned from injury and went 5-21 for the week. Choo's presence is even more vital in the lineup due to Jacobs's appearance in Double-A these days. The top prospect is hitting .287 with eight homeruns, 12 doubles, and a mind-boggling 12 triples on the year.

Guerrero had a fine week going 8-16 (.500), with five runs scored and six RBI.

The pitching staff is being carried by two southpaws, Ryan Ketchner and Glenn Bott.

Bott had another fine start this week, going six strong innings. He allowed seven hits, two earned runs, and eight strikeouts without walking a batter. Bott, 21, is 6-5 on the year with a 3.09 ERA.

Ketchner, 21, is now 11-5 with a 3.33 ERA after two solid starts this week.

Double-A San Antonio went 4-2 on the week and is probably getting bored with it.

The Missions lead their division by eight games in the second half and have a full season record that would make the M's green with envy.

Led offensively by SS Jose Lopez and OF Greg Jacobs, the Missions outscored their opponents 20-12 in six games.

Lopez went 7-23 (.304) with his 11th homerun, two RBI, two runs scored, two doubles, and finished the week with a 4-hit game. The-19 year-old top prospect is hitting .270 with 55 RBI, 29 doubles and 13 steals.

Jacobs just keeps rolling along, going 9-25 (.360) this week, with five RBI and two three-hit games. Jacobs belongs at Triple-A, and already has proven that with his 2 weeks in Double-A.

3B Justin Leone continues to lead the team in RBI with 78 and 1B AJ Zapp leads the team in homeruns with 22.

The pitching rotation, endearingly nicknamed the EN FUEGO FIVE by yours truly, continues to shove hitters around and dominate with regularity. Left-hander Bobby Madritsch, and right-handers Cha Baek and Gustavo Martinez led the way this week, while top prospects Travis Blackley and Clint Nageotte remain the staff aces.

Madritsch had possibly his best start of the year, going all the way in a two-hit shutout win. He walked two and struck out nine. The Independent League signee is now 10-5 with a 3.47 ERA on the year.

Baek went six shutout innings, allowing just three hits while walking two and striking out four. Baek, 23, has quickly risen up the prospect charts after returning from injury.

The Missions had a mid-week streak of 21-consecutive shutout innings that spanned parts of three games. The domination just continues.

Triple-A Tacoma put up the only sub-par week of all of the affiliates with a 2-5 record. It was the same old situation for the hapless Rainiers as they got outplayed in all facets of the game on a regular basis. That is, unless, righty Rett Johnson was on the hill.

Offensively, Tacoma struggled through seven games. The Rainiers scored just 22 runs, and 11 of those were in Saturday's weekly finale. Top prospects Chris Snelling and Jamal Strong are leading the poor man's version of a hit parade and Johnson is carrying the pitching staff.

Snelling went 7-19 (.368) with two homeruns, six RBI, and showed patience with four walks. Since his promotion, the 21-year-old OF is hitting .366 with three homeruns, nine RBI, and just four strikeouts in 31 at-bats.

Strong had his best week with the bat since joining Tacoma, going 10-23 (.434) with four multi-hit games, three runs scored, two RBI, and his 15th stolen base of the year. Strong improved his average to .270 on the year.

When it comes to pitching there are fewer stars to choose from than when summer rolled around. Rett Johnson continues to put out quality starts, Craig Anderson has found a nice groove, and Jeff Heaverlo has found the REAL Jeff Heaverlo after missing 2002 with shoulder surgery.

Johnson went 12.1 innings this week, allowing 16 hits, six earned runs, three walks and six strikeouts. Not the usual dominance RJ has shown in previous weeks, but he has battled to keep the Rainiers in games when he doesn't have his best stuff. Johnson, 24, is now 5-2 on the year with a 1.80 ERA in nine Triple-A starts.

Anderson, 22, had one of his best starts of the season. He pitched eight innings, giving up one earned run on five hits. The left-hander is now 9-10 on the year with a very respectable 3.47 ERA in 22 games.

Heaverlo followed suit and grabbed his first win in six starts to improve to 4-8 on the year. The 25-year-old Washington alum went six strong innings, allowing three earned runs on six hits while walking just one and striking out six.

Overall the 19-14 record throughout the farm system is very solid. Now if Tacoma could just make a a deal or two and add a few starting pitchers…we'd be in business.

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 one better suited for stardom. Feedback is always welcome at DiamondGenius@hotmail.com.

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