As we all know, the 2004 Major League Baseball season never really existed. As Mariners fans, we are living in a Matrix as bad as the sequels to that one great film. There is but only one chance for our collective sanity, at least this year. You guessed it, the minor leagues, that bastion of Seattle's organizational hope. It looms as a land flowing with two things we haven't seen nearly enough of at the big league level - victories and talent.
Hope, alas, spring is eternal. Enjoy.
Triple-A: Tacoma Rainiers, Pacific Coast League
Season: 48-39 ( 1st in Northern Division)
Week of July 4 - 10: 2-5
It wasn't the Rainiers best week of the year, but any team that survives a 2-5 stretch versus mediocre teams like Salt Lake City and Fresno and still find themselves to be three games up in their division is one to be respected.
At first glance, it appears RHP Clint Nageotte had a rough week in his return to the PCL, taking two losses and sporting a 7.50 ERA for the week. But a closer look reveals some solid numbers for Clint; In 12 inninsg the 23-year-old struck out 12, versus only four walks, and only allowed one home run. Overall, a much better week than that ERA would indicate. The key for Nageotte is to find his control, and if he can do that the sky is the limit for the M's right-hander.
Recently acquired CF Jeremy Reed had another solid week, garnering base hits in all six games he appeared in for a .320 average and .370 OBP. This guy is somebody to get excited about - he has reached based safely by hit or walk in all nine games he has played for Tacoma and now has a .943 OPS in a Rainiers uniform. Watch for him to be spraying line drives in Safeco before the season ends.
Double-A: San Antonio Missions, Texas League
Second Half Season: 12-6 (1st in West Division)
Week of July 4 - 10: 5-2
The Missions are clearly not the same team that struggled through the first half of the season. Of course, adding a stud like Felix Hernandez would rejuvenate any team, but the Missions turnaround is more than just the story of King Felix.
RHP Chris Buglovsky has recently returned to the rotation after some injury troubles, and has been stellar. This week was no different, as he went seven shutout innings in his start versus El Paso. Jared Thomas picked up the win in that game, as the Missions scratched across a late run to win it 1-0. Rich Dorman (7 IP, 10 K, 1 BB, 2.57 ERA) also had a nice week on the mound.
At the plate, 1B John Lindsay was clearly the star, as he went 10-25 with 5 doubles and a HR, good for a .400/.444/.720 line. Right-fielder Shin-Soo Choo had his typically solid week at the dish, sporting .304/.385/.565 mark. Newly acquired SS Michael Morse struggled a bit, hitting just .222. He did draw three walks though, showing the solid plate discipline that should help his bat come around soon.
Advanced-A: Inland Empire 66ers, California League
Second Half Season: 9-8 (3rd in South Division, 2.5 GB)
Week of July 4-10: 3-4
Inland Empire might be in a bit of a post Felix Hernandez funk, and who can blame them. It's not everyday you lose the best pitcher in your league and any team would struggle to rebound from that. Inland still seems poised to make some noise in the second half, thanks in large part to their two stud 21 year-old LHP's; Bobby Livingston and Ryan Rowland-Smith.
Most are somewhat familiar with Livingston, so let's focus on Smith. The Aussie started in the bullpen this year before being moved into the rotation after a slew of injuries and promotions. This week the southpaw had one average start in which he gave up three runs in six innings, with four walks and seven strike-outs.
It's his season totals that make him one to keep an eye on. In just 67.2 innings he has struck out 80 batters against just 20 walks. A 4-1 K/BB ratio speaks volumes in any league at any level of play. Watch for him to start rising up the prospect rankings.
At the plate, Venezuelan 3B Jesus Guzman is another previously unknown player who is making a name for himself. This week was no exception for the first-year infielder. the 20-year-old hit .333 with four doubles and a triple, giving him a .533 slugging percentage. Michael Garciaparra returned to action after an injury hiatus, and his struggles seem to be continuing, as he went just 2-23 on the week. I'll let you do the math on that one. It's not pretty.
Single-A: Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, Midwest League
Second Half Season: 6-11 (8th in Western Division, 5 GB)
Week of July 4-10: 1-6
With the T-Rats, there's good news and bad news. The good news is, its still early. The bad news is, Clay Aiken is front and center on their homepage. Talk about your horribly disturbing omens. What are the cheeseheads thinking?
As far as the prospects are concerned, SS Adam Jones (.138), and OF Josh Womack (.118/.167/.235) had weeks they would like to forget. Outfielder Wladamir Balentien had a little better luck, going 7-24 with a Home run, for a .292/.292/.417 line.
Infielder Nick "all I do is hit singles" Orlandos had the crazyiest line of the week. Red-hot by any measure, he went 18-31 for a .581 average that, thanks to a walks-plus-extra-base total that ended at zero,, tripled his OBP and his SLG percentage. That my friends, is hard to do.
Short-Season-A: Everett Aqua Sox, Northwest League
Season: 15-9 (1st place in West Division)
Week of July 4-10: 4-3
As the gem roster in the organization right now, Everett has everything you look for in a minor-league team; great production on offense, defense, top performances on the hill, and prospects at virtually every spot on the diamond. not to mention a winning team, good coaching, great uniforms. . . okay, so they have most of what you look for.
Picking one or two prospects to focus on here is like picking which Ferrari to test drive - you really can't go wrong. Taiwanese IF Yung-Chi Chen seems to have caused the most stir, so we'll start with him. Playing 2B, SS and 3B, Chen has taken the Northwest League by storm. This past week he went 11-30 for a sparkling .367/.406/.533 line, and added five steals to boot - bringing his season totals to .333/.386/.484 with 13 steals in 15 attempts.
On the mound, LHP Shawn Nottingham has stolen some of the attention from his more high-profile teammates Aaron Jensen and Ivan Blanco. In his only start this week he gave up just three hits in six shutout innings, walking three and striking out seven. His ERA for the season sits at a microscopic 0.36, and in 24.2 IP he has an impressive 28 K's to just 7 BB's.
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