Wladimir Balentien: Hitting His Groove

Wladimir Balentien burst on the scene last season with 16 home runs while playing for Peoria in the Arizona Rookie League. This season, his second playing in the United States, the 6-foot-1, 210 pound outfielder didn't start the season nearly as well. But now that it's June and the sun is out, Balentien's bat has started to become hotter by the day.

Andruw Jones, Torii Hunter, Jim Edmonds, and Wladimir Balentien. That's right, Wladimir Balentien. Well, not yet… but, if Balentien continues his great play at the minor league level his name might, indeed, one day be mentioned in the same sentence as these All Star centerfielders.

Balentien's route to the Mariners is an interesting one. He grew up in Willemstad, Aruba and was signed by the team as a non-drafted free agent in 2000. Since then, Balentien has been nothing short of stellar. He played in the Dominican League in 2000 and the Venezuelan League in 2001, but it was in 2002 that he really made himself a household name among Mariners' faithful. That year he hit .283 with 10 home runs and was named the Venezuelan Team's Most Valuable Player by the Mariners organization.

Last year he played in 50 games for Peoria of the Arizona Rookie League and set an all-time Peoria record with 16 home runs, good enough for the league lead. He also led the league in slugging percentage at .658 and extra base hits with 33, and finished second in RBI with 52. For his great play Balentien was once again named his team's Most Valuable Player by the Mariners.

Balentien's 2004 campaign with the Timber Rattlers, however, did not start off so well. In the first month of the season he hit just a shade over .200 with only one home run, and on April 30 he injured his shoulder diving for a ball in the outfield and landed himself on the bench for two weeks.

But when Balentien returned to the lineup on May 14, he looked like the player of a year ago, tearing the cover off the ball and improving his home run total to seven in a matter of weeks.

"The time away gave me time to think about what I am doing and what I am not doing and when I come back to try and fix what I am not doing," Balentien said, analyzing his recent offensive outburst.

The 19-year-old also said that the time away allowed him to redefine his strike zone and become more patient at the plate.

As a result of his excellent return from the injury, Balentien was named the Midwest League's Co-Player of the Week for the week of May 17 to May 23.

"That gave me energy to keep going," Balentien said.

Known mostly for his power stroke, Balentien has also been giving opposing defenses nightmares on the base paths. He has swiped seven bases in as many attempts, which is good enough for second on the team. Remarkably, he has been able to do this despite playing in fewer games than most of his teammates.

"The first thing I do when I get on base is look for the catcher's sign, and if I can't see the sign I wait until a good count to run and get a good jump," he said, talking about what has enabled him to do so well on the bases.

Balentien, however, does not take all the credit for his early success in the Mariners' farm system. He attributes a great deal of it to the Timber Rattlers' coaches as well.

"Offensively, they have helped me with little things on my swing," he said.

Balentien has surprised many and disappointed few since being signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Mariners just four years ago. He has done so well, in fact, that Baseball America lists him as the Mariners 16th best prospect.

Someday in the coming years Balentien may indeed find his way into the outfield at SAFECO Field. If and when he does, don't be surprised. Midwest League pitchers sure won't be!

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