Mariners Minor League Roundup

All four of the Seattle Mariners' full-season minor league affiliates started their seasons last week, and InsidethePark.com's minor league expert Jason A. Churchill followed each game every step of the way. Stay with Churchill this week and all season long as he gives you the scoop on the Mariners' top prospects and emerging stars from down on the farm.

Baseball has always been a game of inches. A game of dramatic extremes, and unruly rhythm. There were times when the game seemed sure to die with the socially vigorous times during the 20th century. Then there were other times that the game seemed so invincible as if it were protected by every moment of it's own history.

Baseball's continuous gift to the American people has been it's mere presence. The simple sound of a capacity crowd at Yankee Stadium in October. The piercing buzz at Fenway Park as a game-winning home run flies over the Green Monster. The echoes of the PA announcer belting out the starting lineups before a mid-summer match-up at Dodger Stadium. The soothing sight of the sun setting over the left field bleachers at SAFECO Field.

The simplest of things that we rarely notice during daily events are exactly the things that baseball fans in America enjoy six months out of every calendar year. When the World Series concludes, and the weather grows colder, those delicate intricacies fade away into the darkest of winter nights. Baseball hibernates as fans long for the warm air of spring and a brand new beginning.

That's where we find ourselves now, as Spring is here. The sweet sights and sounds of baseball are back. The game is as strong as ever. And the traditions of baseball will endure the test of time, just as it always has.

There is no better way to soak in the history of America's favorite past time than at a minor league baseball game.

The Seattle Mariners' top four affiliates returned to the field last week with two teams looking to defend titles, one looking to take another step in the right direction, and another looking to simply get on track. InsidethePark.com's Minor League Roundup returns to bring the scoop on the M's farm system each and every week of the season.

Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers, Pacific Coast League:
The PCL Champions in 2001, the Rainiers have struggled mightily the past two seasons and have been lacking the necessary talent to stay competitive. This year should be different in every manner. The talent is there, and only the experience is lacking relative to the 2001 squad.

Week one was a bit rough on the Rainiers, as they finished the four-day, four-game series versus Tucson at 1-3. The pitching struggled quite a bit, registering a 7.60 ERA in the series. The "En Fuego Five", the starting rotation first banded together in Double-A San Antonio just before mid-season last summer, got off to a bit of a slow start. The bats supplied plenty of support, hitting .269 with seven homers. The 28 runs scored was plenty to win another game or two but the pitching staff had trouble hanging onto leads. Opening Day starter Bobby Madritsch had a win in hand after five solid innings, only to have the bullpen surrender the lead in the ninth. The 27-year-old southpaw yielded just two earned runs on five hits. Madritsch walked three and fanned five before being lifted to start the sixth. InsidethePark.com's top ranked Mariner prospect Clint Nageotte went five innings for his first victory at Triple-A Tacoma. The 23-year-old allowed three earned runs on six hits while walking one and striking out four. Travis Blackley and Matt Thornton didn't fair quite as well, both leaving the game trailing the Tucson Sidewinders. Blackley gave up five earned runs on nine hits in five innings. The 21-year-old left-hander walked two and whiffed two in an 8-4 loss. Thornton, 27, returned to the starting rotation after experimenting in a relief role, struggled in an 11-3 defeat. The former first-round pick went just four innings and allowed seven earned runs on seven hits while striking out just one batter and walking three.

The Tacoma bullpen had one shining star among several sub par outings from the group, LHP George Sherrill. Sherrill (2.45 ERA in 3.2 IP) was the sole success out of the pen over the four-game series. The rest of the relief corps ended the series with a 7.24 ERA in 13.2 innings.

The bats were setup by the hot hitting of CF Jamal Strong (.471, 5 RBI), LF Elpidio Guzman (.667), 1B A.J. Zapp (.375), SS Jose Lopez (.235, 2 HR, 3 RBI),and Bucky Jacobsen (.333, 2 HR, 7 RBI).

Up Next:
April 13 Bobby Madritsch, @ Las Vegas
April 14 Clint Nageotte @ Las Vegas
April 15 Travis Blackley @ Las Vegas
April 16 Matt Thornton vs. Tucson
April 17 Cha Seung Baek vs. Tucson
April 18 Bobby Madritsch vs. Tucson


Double-A San Antonio Missions, Texas League:
The two-time defending Texas League Champions have reloaded and are shooting for a third-straight title. The first week of the season wasn't exactly what manager Dave Brundage had in mind, as the Missions finished 1-2 versus Midland in the first series of the year. Game four was postponed due to rain.

The offense was working just fine as evidenced by the 22 runs scored in three games, as well as bashing six homers. The pitching was worse-than-ordinary, however, and allowed 19 earned runs in just 26.1 innings. Southpaws Troy Cate, and Glenn Bott, as well as right-hander Chris Buglovsky, started things off for the Missions and none of the trio could get through the fifth-inning. Pitch counts were high and effectiveness was mediocre in the debut of an almost totally revamped pitching staff. Bott went 4.2 innings, allowing two earned runs on four hits while striking out four and walking two, while Cate and Buglovsky each went four frames, allowing two and three earned runs, respectively.

The bullpen didn't fair much better overall, but left-hander Tim Rall stood out with 2.1 shutout innings, and struck out six of the eight batters he faced. Closer Jared Hoerman carries a 16.20 ERA into this week's match ups.

Offensively, the Missions were led by the big-time bats of left fielder Greg Jacobs, 3B Greg Dobbs, and the patient, smart hitting style of outfielder Shin-soo Choo. Jacobs went 6-7 with five RBI in the two games he played in and hit two home runs and three doubles. Dobbs hit .444 with four RBI in two starts. Choo, while only hitting .272, drove in three, stole a base, and all three of his hits are of the extra-base variety. The 21-year-old has a double, a triple, and a home run, as well as five walks and just two strikeouts while hitting in the No.2 spot in the order. 2B Rob Gandolfo was injured in the first series and the Missions called up middle infielder Evel Bastida-Martinez to help fill the void. 3B Hunter Brown is expected to see time at 2B as well as 1B. Catcher Luis Oliveros (.400, HR) is off to a hot start and the more he hits the more he plays.

Up Next
April 13 Emiliano Fruto @ Midland
April 14 Troy Cate @ El Paso
April 15 Gustavo Martinez @ El Paso
April 16 Chris Buglovsky @ El Paso
April 17 Elvis Perez @ El Paso
April 18 Emiliano Fruto vs. Midland

Advanced-A Inland Empire 66ers, California League:
It's quite possible that the 2004 Inland Empire 66ers have as much talent up and down the roster as the 2003 San Antonio Missions. The two teams mirror each others vast depth in top prospects and are led by veteran managers who have won in the past.

The 66ers went 2-2 during the season's first week but statistically were as dominant as could be. The pitching staff allowed just 10 earned runs in the first four games for a team ERA of 2.57. Led by southpaw Bobby Livingston (8.0 IP, 0 ER), right-handed phenom Felix Hernandez (5.1 IP 2 ER), TA Fulmer (5.2 IP, 1 ER), and Rich Dorman (5.1 IP, 1 ER). The bullpen has five relievers who have at least an inning of work that have yet to allow an earned run, including Tanner Watson (1.0ip, 0H).

The bats weren't quite as hot as the arms but still managed to hit .292 and score six runs a game. They were led by OF T.J. Bohn, SS Juan Gonzalez, and DH Matt Rogelstad.

Bohn, 24, had five hits in 14 at-bats (.357) and two RBI in the opening series. Infielder Juan Gonzalez, acquired from Detroit in the deal for Carlos Guillen, played SS and 3B and went on to bat .308 (5-14) with two steals. Rogelstad went 5-14 (.357) and produced two multi-hit games to start the 2004 season. Ismael Castro (.333), Frederico Balet (.333), Michael Garciaparra (.273, 3B), Matt Hagen (.250, HR, two RBI), Jon Nelson (.250, two-2b, two-3b) and Gary Harris (.250, team-high five RBI) balance out the lineup.

Up Next:
April 13 Cesar Jimenez vs. Bakersfield
April 14 Bobby Livingston vs. Bakersfield
April 15 Felix Hernandez vs. Bakersfield
April 16 TA Fulmer vs. Lake Elsinore
April 17 Rich Dorman vs. Lake Elsinore
April 18 Cesar Jimenez vs. Lake Elsinore

Intermediate-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, Midwest League:
The T-Rats started the 2004 campaign by losing three straight to Clinton and hitting just .200 as a team in the series. The rotation was being forced to shutdown the opponents and the margin for error was close to zero. The talent on this year's Timber Rattler roster far exceeds the 2003 club's and manager Steve Roadcap has the tough assignment of putting things in order to achieve winning results. The 0-3 week isn't what Roadcap had in mind, but it's early.

The Rattlers' pitching staff began the year a little slow, but it shouldn't be anything to be worried about. Led by ace Thomas Oldham (4.0 IP, 0 ER), and right-hander Michael Moorhead (5.0 IP, 2 H, 1 ER) gave Wisconsin two quality starts to open the series vs. Clinton. While the offense was stagnant, the bullpen was inconsistent and unable to hold the game within reach. An exception to that was right-handed reliever Brian Stitt, who went four scoreless innings in relief, allowing just one hit vs. Clinton over the weekend. Starter Ryan Feierabend wasn't as fortunate, struggling in his first start. He went just one inning and gave up five earned runs in a 10-3 loss. Reliever Jason Mackintosh also saw tough times, going 2.1 innings and serving up five runs on five hits. Strangely enough the Rattlers entire pitching staff allowed just one home run, a solo shot off right-hander Brian Heaston.

Offensively, there aren't many positive aspects of the opening weekend. A lineup that hit just .200 as a whole and scored just five runs in three games isn't something to write home about, or in this case, to write about at all. The few bright spots were highlighted by 19-year-old Wladimir Balentien's adjustment to the Midwest League. The Aruban youngster struck out just twice, while hitting .417 with two doubles and two RBI. Starting 3B Michael Cox is 1-10 (.100), OF Josh Womack 2-9 (.222) and SS Adam Jones 2-9 (.222) will be expected to pick things up as the season rolls along to give the Rattlers some sort of offensive punch. OF Chris Colton has the team's only homer, a solo shot in game one.

Up Next:
April 13 Eric O'Flaherty at Burlington
April 14 Thomas Oldham at Burlington
April 15 Michael Moorhead at Burlington
April 16 Ryan Feierabend vs. Peoria
April 17 Nibaldo Acosta vs. Peoria
April 18 Eric O'Flaherty vs. Peoria


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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