Minor League Roundup

Buuucky, Buuucky, Buuucky... I'm sure I speak for many of us when I say I have never been this excited about a team that is this bad. This is a week Mariner fans will remember for years. Leone flashed sick power. Sherrill finally got the call. Bocachica did his Cameron impression. And that Jacobsen guy did okay I guess. It was easily the most interesting week of the season for the M's, but there's been plenty of excitement in the minors all year long. This week was certainly no exception.

Tacoma Rainiers - Triple A Pacific Coast League
Season: 49-41 (first place in Northern Division - 1 game lead over Edmonton)
Week of July 11-18: 1-3 (had three days off for PCL All-Star Break)

Even with Bucky Jacobsen and Justin Leone in Seattle, this team has plenty of intriguing players. SS Jose Lopez (say it with me, the most underrated prospect in baseball) returned from injury to go 2-7 with two RBI. CF Jeremy Reed had a bit of an off-weak, but still stands at .304/.365/.478 in his 12 games with the Rainiers.

1B AJ Zapp now looms as the team's best power source. His 18 HR's have helped him to a .301/.372/.529 line. 3B Greg Dobbs has been lost in the shuffle a bit with the emergence of Leone, but his bat still shows some promise. The big question is what happened to his plate discipline, as he's only drawn one walk in 25 games with Tacoma, giving him a line of .333/.337/.469. If he can find the patience he flashed at lower levels he could potentially contribute off the bench next year in Seattle.

Bobby Madritsch has returned from injury to make his case as the next pitcher promoted. He went 5.0 innings last week, giving up just one earned run. Clint Nageotte showed signs of rebounding from his slump, as gave up but two runs in 7.1 strong innings against Fresno Saturday. Unfortunately, Gil Meche did nothing to help his trade value or his chances of returning to the majors anytime soon, as he gave up nine runs in four innings last week.

San Antonio Missions - Double A Texas League
Second Half Season: 15-9 (first place in West Division - 3 game lead over Round Rock)
Week of July 11-18: 3-4

After a rough showing in the Futures Game, Shin-Soo Choo has come back to San Antonio with a vengeance. Last week he hit a blistering .440, raising his average to .303 on the year. SS Michael Morse seems to have settled in at the plate, as he went .357 to bring his average up to a solid .291 in 14 games with the Missions. He also hit his first Texas League home run and knocked in five runs Friday, helping him to an eye-popping 10 RBI for the week. Overlooked a bit when the M's acquired him in the Freddy Garcia trade, he could turn out to be a steal of if he can somehow prove himself as a middle infielder. His stick looks for real. With Boone declining and Ismael Castro struggling to rebound from injury, the M's need a 2B of the future. Will Morse be moved to the right side of the middle bag soon?

RHP "King" Felix Hernandez, the 18-year-old sensation, continued his brilliant year. The flame-throwing righty went 5.0 innings in his third start for the Missions on Friday, giving up four hits and two runs while striking out six. He did issue an uncharacteristic four walks, but overall it was another fine performance by the young man widely regarded as the top pitching prospect in baseball. Working his way back from injury, RHP Cha Seung Baek had a sterling performance. He gave up a mere two hits in 5.0 strong innings while striking out five.

Inland Empire 66ers - High A California League
Second Half Season: 10-12 (fourth place in South Division, 4 games back)
Week of July 11-18: 2-4

3B Jesus Guzman continues to be a force at the plate. The patient 20-year-old went .438 for the week, with a beautiful .550 OBP. Overall, the Venezuelan is hitting .314/.404/.450 against his first taste of American pitching. With C Rene Rivera struggling to a .252/.301/.372 line, and SS Juan Gonzalez hitting a so-so .294/.347/.372, Guzman has established himself as the hitter to watch in the 66ers lineup.

Australian LHP Ryan Rowland-Smith had a solid but unspectacular week. Over two starts he went 12.0 innings, giving up 14 hits and six earned runs, leaving him with a 3.73 ERA for the year. He struck out 10 and walked four. Fellow lefty Bobby Livingston continued his Jekyll and Hyde season Wednesday, as he took an "L" with a sub par 6.0 inning performance. He gave up five runs on seven hits, walking three and striking out just one. On the season, he is still 8-4 with a solid 3.69 ERA.

Wisconsin Timber Rattlers - Low A Midwest League
Second Half Season: 10-12 (5 games back in Western Division)
Week of July 11-18: 4-2

The T-Rats prospects might be the toughest group to judge off their raw numbers. LHP Thomas Oldham is dominating the league with a 2.83 ERA and 116 strikeouts in 101.2 innings, but at 22 he's too old for the league and seems past due for a promotion to a more challenging level. Ryan Feierebend's numbers aren't as impressive, but a 3.59 ERA with 75 strikeouts in 111.1 innings is decent, especially when you consider he doesn't turn 19 until the end of next month.

The hitters aren't much easier to evaluate, as they each come with their own caveats. Last year's first round pick, SS Adam Jones, had a tough week, picking up just three hits in 18 at-bats and dropping his season rates to .254/.311/.370. Still, he's just 18 until August 1st, and has both offensive and defensive potential oozing out of him. Fellow top prospect OF Wladamir Balentien just turned 20, and has as much raw power as anyone in the organization not named Bucky. Last week, he didn't fare too much better than Jones, going 4-for-17, but he did flash that pop as he added a home-run. He now stands at .273/.311/.524. The big question for both Balentien and Jones is plate discipline. If they can cut down on the strikeouts and take some walks, their natural talent should be enough to carry them to the big leagues.

OF Josh Womack is on fire and doing exactly what you want your leadoff man to do - getting on base. Last week, he hit .500 in 24 at-bats, adding a pair of triples and four walks. The former second-round pick is 20 years old, and starting to flash the upside the team saw in him when they drafted him in 2002.

It will be very interesting to watch this group of hitters and pitchers as they progress through the system.

Everett Aqua Sox - Short-Season A Northwest League
Season: 17-12 (lead West Division by one game)
Week of July 11-18: 2-4

Last week we called Everett the gem of the organization, and one semi-disappointing week has done nothing to change that. This team is full of talent at every position. OF Brent Johnson hit .400 on the week, bringing his numbers to .325/.441/.386. Although diminutive OF Casey Craig doesn't look imposing, he just gets the job done. After another quietly productive week, he stands at .292/.446/.431. SS Asdrubal Cabrera hit .347, giving him a .329/.359/.572 line. Watch for him to shoot up the prospect charts, as he's just 18-years-old.

Many have forgotten about OF Michael Wilson, the 2001 second round pick who struggled badly in his first three years in the organization. No longer considered a top prospect, Wilson sports a solid but not spectacular .289/.378/.392 line. With that solid plate discipline, the former Oklahoma Sooners linebacker recruit only needs to find a way to tap his considerable power to again garner notice as a player to watch.

How awesome has lefty Shawn Nottingham been? Well, he had his roughest start of the year last week, going 6.0 innings and giving up three runs to raise his ERA to a still sterling 1.17. When three runs is clearly your worst outing of the year, you are on top of your game. Meanwhile, Mark Lowe, a 5th round pick in 2004, had a rough introduction into the rotation on Friday. He gave up five runs in 5.0 innings while striking out five.

Peoria Mariners – Arizona Rookie League

The Mariners first choice in the 2004 draft, SS Matt Tuiasasopo didn't come cheap, but the 18 year-old's first week in rookie ball looked a lot like Jacobsen's first week in the bigs - you can't ask for anything else. It took top 10 draft pick type money, a reported $2.1 million, to keep Tuiasasopo from lining up behind center in Husky Stadium, but "Tui" has quickly established himself as a prospect to watch. In six games and 19 at bats, Matt has hit .474/.542/.789 with two home runs and three walks. If there's a complaint, it's in his four errors in the field, but that's to be expected out of any young shortstop. Fellow 2004 draftee Jermaine Brock has been overshadowed somewhat by his teammate with the famous surname, but he's worth watching as well. He has hit 333/.383/.429 in his first taste of pro ball.

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