Michael Garciaparra: Again, the Long Road Begins

InsidethePark.com's Jonathan Bianchet had a recent chat with former top pick Michael Garciaparra. Find out what is going through his mind on his way back from injury and what it's like having a superstar brother in the big leagues.

What's in a name?

A lot when the name has 11 letters and belongs to a family with great athletic talent.

But while older brother Nomar Garciaparra is dealing with the heat in Boston, his younger brother, Michael, is still trying to find himself as a baseball player at the minor league level.

Michael Garciaparra was a supplemental first- round draft pick of the Seattle Mariners. Once considered a top prospect in the organization, the six-foot-one inch, 165-pound Garciaparra has fallen off the list due to a rough start to his professional career.

Entering this season Garciaparra already knew what it was like to struggle. After a tough season offensively and defensively last year, Garciaparra soon realized the type of mental wear that baseball can put on a player. "This game is so mental. That's one thing I learned last year. The first half was especially tough, but the second half I got my head straight and thinking more positively," said the younger brother of the Red Sox superstar shortstop.

But while Garciaparra began a new season with a fresh start, he quickly took a step back. Playing through pain in this left wrist throughout the first month of the season, Garciaparra struggled again. Hitting only .170 in the first 15 games of the season, the pain in his wrist continued to the point where something had to be done.

"I knew it was hurt," said Garciaparra, who broke his nose last year and tore an ACL in a high school football game in 2001. "But I did not know it was that bad."

It was indeed bad news for the infielder when tests revealed a torn ligament in the wrist. The injury, which began hurting him early in spring training, was put into a cast for four weeks. More than two months later, Garciaparra was back in the line up for the Inland Empire 66ers, the Mariners' Advanced-A affiliate.

Since his return to the field, Garciaparra has again struggled. As he embarks on what is considered a second spring training, he has returned only to go 1-17 at the plate which totals a 2-31 mark dating back before he was put on the disabled list.

The struggles are nothing new for Garciaparra. Last year, in his first full season as a professional, the La Habra, California native hit only .243 in 122 games and committed 50 errors playing primarily at shortstop.

On June 10 of last year, Garciaparra's average dropped to its season low, .210. But slowly he showed signs of breaking out as he hit for a .283 clip in the month of July, helping his average climb to it .243 by seasons end.

"I obviously struggled in the first half of last year, but the better second half that I had helped me realize that I can play with these guys" said Garciaparra.

This year, mainly due to the injury that plagued Garciaparra for the entire first half, his batting average has never reached higher than .200 in his last 18 games. He has had only one multiple-hit game, the second game of the season on April 9, as his batting average has dropped to .141 for the season. However, defensively Garciaparra has improved as he has only committed three errors this season and has made some impressive plays at both second base and his natural position at short.

Even his brother can't fully understand what it is like to struggle in the minors as he hit a career .287 in his 201 minor league games.

"He was fortunate. He struggled very little in his time in the minors," said the 21-year-old. "Everyday there are negatives in this game and if you dwell on them, you're going to miss the one positive that may have happened. Soon if you fully dwell on the negatives, it will snowball into a slump."

If he continues to scuffle, it may snowball into an avalanche and turn a potential top prosect into a mortal minor leaguer.

Pressure to succeed? Always.

"There is more pressure because of where I was drafted, the amount of money they gave me, and who my brother is," said Garciaparra, who received a two million dollar signing bonus. "But that pressure is not nearly as much as the amount I put on myself. Many times I am my own worst enemy."

Time isn't necessarily running out for the player the M's drafted with the pick they acquired due to the loss of Alex Rodriguez, but his potential may be decreasing with each out he makes.

"I know I have to get better everyday," said Garciaparra.

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