Mariners Minor League Players of the Week

Another spring is upon us and each and every team at each and every level of America's favorite past time has a chance at seeing something truly special this summer. Fresh faces for each affiliate are spread across the organization, offering a new excitement to the fans in each minor league town. With spring comes the promise of a brand new baseball season. The sights and sounds are back, and so are the Mariners Minor League Players of the Week Awards.

The first week was short, with most of the Mariners' minor league affiliates playing just three or four games on the young season. The top prospects had their chance to shine and many did just that. Despite the somewhat lackluster win-loss record, the four affiliates that began play this past week gave fans a lot to get jazzed about. The votes are tallied. The results are in. And without further adieu, here is the first installment of the Mariners Minor League Players of the Week.

InsidethePark.com Position Player of the Week:
Jamal Strong, CF-Tacoma Rainiers
Greg Jacobs, OF-San Antonio Missions.


Too difficult to choose just one, each put up gaudy numbers and both deserved the award after such performances to start the season.

Strong laid out eight hits in 17 at-bats for a blistering .417 average through the first four games. The 25-year-old began the year going seven for 10 , including back-to-back games of three and four hits, respectively. The former Nebraska Cornhusker added a triple and a .550 on-base percentage to top off a torrid start.

The Rainiers' leadoff man and center fielder hit .305 with Tacoma in 2003 and is building on his success of last season in hopes to see significant time with Mariners.

Jacobs, 27, played just two of the three games for the San Antonio Missions over the four-day opening weekend and despite that fact, earned this award without question. The 2003 California League Batting Champion strolled to the plate eight times in those two contests, and walked back to the dugout without reaching base just once. Jacobs swung his way aboard with two home runs, three doubles, and a single, to go with five RBI. The Missions' left fielder enters the new week with a scorching .857 batting average, an equally ridiculous .875 on-base percentage, and a slugging percentage sitting at 2.143.

The only way Jacobs could have won this award while playing half the games as most other regulars appeared in, was to do exactly what he did - hit more homers than outs made, drive in twice as many runs as games played, and force stat geek web sites to off-center their statistical pages one full column to the right just to accommodate a four-digit slugging percentage.

Other Notables:

Tacoma Rainiers' 1B Bucky Jacobsen put together a solid opening week. Jacobsen, 29, used his left-handed bat to post six hits in 18 at-bats including two home runs and a team-high seven RBI in four games.

San Antonio Missions' 3B Greg Dobbs hit .444 in two games while his teammate, catcher Luis Oliveros, hit .400 with a home run and three RBI. Dobbs is not fully prepared to play 3B everyday and will see time at first as well as DH to keep his bat in the lineup. Oliveros' bat might be what ultimately wins the 20-year-old Venezuelan the starting catcher spot with the Missions.

Wisconsin Timber Rattler center fielder Wladimir Balentien has made the jump from the Arizona Rookie League, and has been impressive thus far. The 19-year-old Aruban native bashed his way to a .417 average in three games. Balentien has two doubles, two RBI, and has struck out just twice, both in the same game. Making consistent contact was a concern coming into the season for the M's top power prospect.


InsidethePark.com Pitcher of the Week:
Bobby Livingston-LHP, Inland Empire 66ers.

Inland Empire hurler Bobby Livingston was undoubtedly the pitcher of choice this week. There were several worthy candidates but not one of them matched up with the 66ers' ace. The 21-year-old went eight shutout innings, allowing just two hits. The southpaw struck out three and did not walk a batter in the 1-0 loss to Lake Elsinore on opening night. Livingston got a no-decision.

The Texas-born lefty ended 2003 with a 2.73 ERA with Wisconsin and enters the new season with a career 21-12 professional record.

Notables:
Rainiers' reliever George Sherrill sparkled in week one out of the Tacoma bullpen. The 26-year-old left-hander went 3.2 innings and allowed an earned run on two hits and a walk. The former Independent League signee struck out six, including three of the five lefty hitters faced.

Left-hander Tim Rall appeared in just one game all week but sure caught the eye of many during his 2.1 inning outing. The 24-year-old allowed one hit while striking out six of the eight batters faced in the one time he was called upon.

Inland Empire hurlers Felix Hernandez, TA Fulmer, and Rich Dorman all began their seasons with terrific outings. Hernandez, 18, went 5.1 innings in his initial start with the 66ers. The right-hander allowed three hits and two runs while walking two and striking out six. The Mariners prize blue-chipper was in total control through five innings and was charged with the two earned runs when reliever Miguel Martinez served up a three-run shot after taking over for Hernandez with one out in the sixth. Fulmer one-upped Hernandez by going 5.1 innings and allowing just one earned run on four hits. The 23-year-old Citadel grad struck out seven and walked just one in a 16-4 win over Lake Elsinore. Dorman surprised many with a solid follow-up to Livingston, Hernandez, and Fulmer. The 25-year-old former reliever went 5.1 innings of three-hit baseball allowing one earned run. The right-hander struck out seven and walked four before giving way to the bullpen.

Wisconsin right-hander Michael Moorhead came into spring camp this season after a 16-save season split between Everett and Wisconsin in 2003. The former closer went five innings without yielding an earned run on just two hits. The Georgia product fanned five and walked one. Moorhead was the victim of very little run support and picked up a no-decision in a 3-2 T-Rats loss to Clinton.

Fellow Timber Rattler hurler Thomas Oldham took his outing to the limit on opening night. Limited to a pitch-count of 75, Oldham fought through four scoreless innings, allowing three hits, a walk, and sending down seven batters via the strikeout. The Rattlers' bullpen allowed five earned runs in the final four frames and took the loss, 5-1.


Jason A. Churchill resides in Tacoma, Wash., where his father is his best friend and his nephew continues to develop the fastball-splitter combo that he hopes to have mastered by age 3. Jason enjoys the failures of the New York Yankees and despises the slider speed bat. Feedback is always welcome at JasonAChurchill@InsidethePark.com.

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