Minor League Roundup

InsidethePark.com's Jason A. Churchill tours the Mariner organization for all the tidbits and trends. Join him on his journey and find out who's hot, who's not, and which teams might be well on their way to contending for a league championship. The Minor League Roundup is here.

With the big club scuffling to score runs and failing to put together back-to-back wins in their past nine games, the farm system is picking up the slack.

The Inland Empire 66ers are pitching staff is having its way in the California League while the Tacoma Rainiers insist on dominating the Pacific Coast League with strong pitching from top to bottom and a solid lineup with power and speed. Each of the two sports the best record in their respective league.

The San Antonio Missions have busted out of an offensive funk and seem to have righted the ship enough to push for the West Division lead in the Texas League. The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers continue to struggle at the plate but have pitched fairly well for most of the year. Flashes of an offensive explosion this past week have sprung new optimism for the T-Rats.

From top to bottom, the farm system is solid, and with the right moves over the next seven months, the Mariners can turn some of their youth into quality players at the major league level.

Let's just hope this time they do it right.

Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers, 21-12, 1st in Northern Division, Pacific Coast League

The Rainiers weather-shortened week produced three wins in five game, mixed in between a suspended series finale at Salt Lake City and cancelled game at Nashville. Tacoma continues to lead the Northern Division at 21-12, and boasts the PCL's best record. At times, the Rainiers have been dominant over extended stretches. As strong as the pitching has been all year long for the Rainiers, the bats have done their part and this past week was another example. Along with scoring 23 runs in five road contests, the lineup belted 23 extra-base hits including eight home runs. Tacoma is second in the league in home runs with 45 and third in steals with 33.

The arms keep rolling along despite a few bumps in the road, notably by Matt Thornton and Clint Nageotte. The starting rotation combined to average just under six innings per start and the bullpen was solid once again. The staff as a whole posted a 2.77 ERA for the week, lowering their season ERA to 3.93, second in the league.

Offensively the Rainiers were led by DH Bucky Jacobsen (6-14, 2 HR, 3 RBI), and RF Hiram Bocachica (8-14, HR, 2 RBI) as well as the surprising power of 2B Mickey Lopez who smacked two home runs on the week. Justin Leone hit his team-leading ninth home run, ranking fifth in the league. Jacobsen's 27 RBI leads the entire organization and ranks ninth in the PCL while extending his hitting streak to nine games.

The pitching staff, as usual, was led by Bobby Madritsch, who fifth in the league a soon may forget what it is like to not pitch well. The southpaw ranks fifth in the league in ERA at 2.59 and third in strikeouts with 41. Travis Blackley has certainly found his groove as evidenced by his four straight quality starts and 2.82 ERA since April 21. The left-hander picked up his second victory of the year in a seven-inning complete game shutout at Salt Lake this past week. Clint Nageotte's control issues persist, causing inconsistent outings and mixed results. Nageotte went seven scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and struck out six. The right-hander's five walks did not bite him back this time but the bullpen blew the lead and Nageotte came away with a no-decision.

In the pen, George Sherrill relentlessly reminds all Mariner fans that Mike Myers and Ron Villone were unnecessary acquisitions and that he is way overdue for a call-up. The left-hander's 34/5 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 19 hits allowed in 21.2 innings are sure signs that he belongs in the Mariner bullpen. Sherrill still has the 12th most strikeouts in the league, serving as the main setup man and occasional closer for the Rainiers.

Up Next:
May 17-18 @ Memphis
May 20-23 vs. Omaha

Double-A San Antonio Missions, 18-17, 5.5GB Western Division, Texas League

San Antonio hasn't had this much trouble scoring since the Fonz himself rolled through town and stole the hearts of every young dreamer within fifty miles and not even Arthur Fonzerelli can help the Missions offense these days. Outscored 39-26 in seven games, the Missions extended their struggles to reach 44 innings where they managed just one run. Thursday's 8-7 comeback win sparked an offensive barrage that would produce 25 runs over the next four games.

The offense was led by catcher Jim Horner (7-18, 3-2B, 4 runs), and DH John Lindsey (7-21, 2-2B, 3 RBI), and was propelled by the late-week surge of OF's Dustin Delucchi and Shin-Soo Choo who combined for 11 hits in 27 at-bats in the final three contests of the week. Lefty-hitting 3B Greg Dobbs went 7-21 with a home run and is now hitting .337 on the year, ranking seventh in the Texas League. Outfielder Greg Jacobs remains in the top five with a .339 average and is tied for the team-lead in home runs with five. Catcher Luis Oliveros is six for his last 35 and has seen his average dip under .250 after a torrid start to the season. The 21-year-old continues to play well behind the dish as he works out his issues with the bat, justifying his starting role. Horner has provided the spark voided by Oliveros offensive struggles.

The starting rotation in 2004 doesn't compare to the starting five for either championship team over the past two years but there are bright spots. Ace lefty Troy Cate bounced back from a few rough outings to pitch 7.1 innings, allowing just one earned run and striking out six. Right-hander Chris Buglovsky is holding up his end of the bargain this season but will spend at least 10 days on the DL and be replaced by righty Rich Dorman. Buglovsky is 2-2 with a 3.86 ERA in seven starts this season. Fellow right-hander Gustavo Martinez, the last remaining member of the 2003 staff, has been solid in his six starts since joining the rotation. Martinez is 2-1 with a 3.18 ERA in eight games overall.

Southpaw Rene Cortez made his first appearance since being promoted out of extended spring training in Peoria and could get a few chances in the closer role with the departure of right-hander Jared Hoerman, promoted to Triple-A Tacoma. Likely sharing that role is fellow lefty Tim Rall.

Up Next:
May 17 @ El Paso
May 18-21 vs. Round Rock
May 22 (DH)-23 @ Midland

Advanced-A Inland Empire 66ers, 24-14, 1st, South Division, California League

A 5-2 record and a team batting average of .307 for the week are two impressive statistics to analyze the early season success of the 66ers. Their team ERA of 2.76 in the seven games and more than six innings per outing from the starters would be two more pieces of evidence that the Inland Empire squad is a team to be reckoned with. But none of the above would be the most telling stat of the week. Nor would the 13 extra-base hits in three games, the team's 13-2 home record or the .329 average with runners in scoring position. The most ridiculous and utterly disgusting statistic of the week is the strikeouts-to-walks ratio put up by the entire pitching staff over the past seven games. In 62 innings the 66ers hurlers struck out 56 batters and walked just nine while holding opponents to a stingy .223 average.

The bats pounded out 74 hits this past week, plating 49 runs. They were led by OF Gary Harris (10-30, eight RBI), OF Jon Nelson (4-9, five RBI), C Rene Rivera (7-21, four RBI), 1B Frederico Balet (9-28, six RBI), OF Carlos Arroyo (7-21) and infielder Matt Rogelstad (7-20, five RBI).

Infielders Juan Gonzalez, 21, and InsidethePark.com Player of the Week, 3B Jesus Guzman, combined for 17 hits in 51 at-bats, 17 runs scored, and five RBI, hitting 1-2 in the batting order. Gonzalez leads the organization in hits with 46 and Guzman, 19, is quickly becoming one of the top position prospects in the farm system.

Inland OF T.J. Bohn is third in the league in on-base percentage with a .441 mark. The 24-year-old leads the league in outfield assists with five. The next closest total is three, by several players.

The straw that stirs the 66ers was on its game this past week, with Bobby Livingston earning his third Pitcher of the Week honor and T.A. Fulmer returning to early season form. Right-hander Felix Hernandez had his worst stretch of his career over his past two starts but remains the top talent in the California League. Livingston leads the league in innings pitched with 56.1, and wins with six and ranks second in strikeouts with 48 and third in ERA at 1.44. Fulmer ranks sixth in strikeouts with 45 and Rich Dorman is fifth in ERA at 2.68. Fulmer's seven-inning, eight strike out showing this week was more of what we have gotten used to seeing from the 24-year-old.

Up Next:
May 18-20 @ High Desert
May 21-23 @ Lancaster

Intermediate-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, 15-22, 7th in Western Division, Midwest League

The T-Rats actually improved their season record with three wins in seven games this week and the offense erupted for 35 runs including back-to-back games of 10 or more runs for the first time this season. It marked the second and third time all year that the Rattlers scored in doubles figures, all within a five-day span. The Wisconsin pitching staff picked the wrong time to flounder, hence the four-loss week.

The hitting spree was led by blue chip prospect Adam Jones, who belted two home runs, his first two of the season, and drove in six. The Timber Rattlers starting shortstop scored seven runs and had two multi-hit games on the week. Outfielder Josh Womack (6-20), 3B Michael Cox (8-19, HR, three RBI, .534OBP, three multi-hit games), and infielder George Sandel (5-12) followed suit and were large pieces of the offensive puzzle as well. Outfielder Chris Colton had six RBI and Evel Bastida-Martinez had six hits in 20 at-bats with six runs scored to compliment the offensive output. Cox has the fifth highest home run total in the MWL at four, and Womack ranks eighth in runs scored.

Wisconsin ranks last in the league in hitting with a microscopic .217 average.

The pitching staff was paced in part by closer Brian Stitt, who tossed 3.2 innings shutout innings with five strikeouts. Stitt picked up two saves and ranks fourth in the league with eight on the year. Left-hander Ryan Feierabend continues his strong campaign and ranks second in the league with five wins. The 18-year-old ranks in the top 20 in ERA at 3.02 and has allowed just 35 hits in 41.2 innings. Feierabend picked up win No. 5 this past week, pitching six solid frames and allowing just two earned runs on six hits. The Rattlers sit in the middle of the pack with a 3.60 team ERA.

Up Next:
May 17-18 vs. Cedar Rapids
May 20-23 vs. West Michigan

Jason normally resides in Tacoma but this week has chosen to move to la-la land and dream that M's get back in the race somehow. Can someone please remind him that your not supposed to eat those little silica gel bags that come in product packages? Seriously. Feedback is always welcome. Email our minor league expert to ask a question or simply start a discussion. JasonAChurchill@InsidethePark.com

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