Minor League Roundup

InsidethePark.com's Troy Sowden makes his weekly stroll around the Mariners farm system. As always, Sowden highlights the good and bad and reveals who is hot and who is not heading into the first full week of August.

Triple-A: Tacoma Rainiers, Pacific Coast League
Season: 59-47 (1st in Northern Division)
Week of July 26-August 1: 6-1
The Rainiers are red-hot, and as you might expect, so are many of their players. Outfielder Jeremy Reed raised his batting average to .295 with a hot week. He's also starting to show his his speed on the bases, as he contributed four steals last week, bringing his modest total in Tacoma to five. Look for him to continue to run.

By now, everyone knows that shortstop Jose Lopez got the call to the M's last week, but he left Tacoma on a great note by homering and driving in three in his last game as a Rainier.

Third baseman Greg Dobbs also had a solid week, hitting .375 to raise his average to .291.

Greg Jacobs, however, was the real story at the plate for the Rainiers last week. The outfielder homered three times and added two doubles, giving him a sick .850 slugging percentage for the week. After showing very little power to start the year, the converted pitcher is now quietly slugging a quiet .500 with nine home runs in under 50 games in Triple-A. Can you say September call-up?

Like Lopez, Clint Nageotte earned himself a promotion to the big club this week, but not before leaving Tacoma fans with a few more fond memories in a Rainiers win over Colorado Springs on Tuesday night. The right-hander with the nasty slider gave up but one hit in seven shutout innings, lowering his Tacoma ERA to 4.46.

Working his way back to the Seattle bullpen, Rafael Soriano made two appearances this past week. Over three innings total, the Dominican native gave up one run while striking out four and walking only one. Hopefully he will be back to full strength on the Safeco mound very soon.

Double-A: San Antonio Missions, Texas League
Second Half Season: 21-16 (1st in West Division)
Week of July 26-August 1: 3-2
The Missions continue to lead Midland by three games in their division despite another so-so week. After his worst outing of the year, right-hander Felix Hernandez righted himself Wednesday. The Venezuelan, who is now arguably the best prospect on anybody's minor league roster, held Round Rock to one run on four hits in six solid innings. In the process, the 18-year-old struck out five and walked two.

Hunter Brown had a terrific week at the plate. Primarily a third-baseman, Brown has also played over 20 games this year at both second base and first base. By hitting an even .400 for the week, the infielder extraordinaire raised his average to .292. A patient hitter, Brown added two home runs, his eighth and ninth on the year, as well as tallying three walks.

Big surprise, Shin-soo Choo had another solid week. The Korean sensation went .286/.348/.429, and is hitting over .300 for the season.

Unfortunately, SS Michael Morse had a bit of an off-week, as he hit only .211. The 22-year-old did hit three doubles to avoid a total washout.

Advanced-A: Inland Empire 66ers, California League
Second Half Season: 20-17 (3rd in South Division, 2.5 GB)
Week of July 26-August 1: 4-3
The 66ers did not gain any ground on division leading Lancaster, but they did jump forward one spot in the standings, up to third place. They also feature the two hottest hitters in the organization who don't have their first name just above the number 51 on their jersey- and neither are players you would expect.

Outfielder Josh Ellison has had one of the oddest seasons in recent memory. He struggled mightily in 25 games at Wisconsin, where he posted an abysmal line of .209/.327/.264. He was then sent down to Everett to find his stroke and apparently, it worked. After just five games in which he hit .400, he was sent to the Inland Empire, skipping Wisconsin on the way. Ellison has really found his groove in California, where he garnered 12 hits last week, good enough for a .571 average. In 18 games in the Golden State, the speedy Ellison is now hitting an other-worldly .433/.472/.507.

Erick Monzon is a name even more obscure than Ellison. The shortstop was recently signed by the Mariners as a fifth-year senior out of Tampa University. He too has spent 18 games with the 66ers, and has absolutely torn the cover off the ball. Last week, Monzon had two two-homer games, giving him five home runs since joining Inland Empire. Thanks to the power surge, his line for the week was .533/.667/.1.467, and he's now hitting .327 for the year. It's too early to tell, but the M's may just have ANOTHER shortstop prospect on their hands.

Since Felix Hernandez was promoted, left-handed pitchers have dominated the mound spotlight at Inland. Bobby Livingston has had a break-through season, Ryan Rowland-Smith is quietly putting together a solid year, and reliever Cesar Jimenez has started to make a name for himself as well. While Livingston had another solid start, getting a no-decision in eight strong innings, it was the newest lefty on the team who made the biggest waves.

2003 draftee Thomas Oldham got the long-awaited call-up from Wisconsin and immediately impressed in his first start. The 23-year-old picked up the win by striking out nine and yielding just two earned runs in 5.2 innings. The Creighton University product gives the 66ers an absolute embarrassment of left-handed pitching riches.

Intermediate-A: Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, Midwest League
Second Half Season: 16-21 (8th Western Division, 10 GB)
Week of July 26-August 1: 4-2
The struggling T-Rats actually had a pretty good week, but what did it net them? A drop into a tie for last place and one more game behind runaway division leader Kane County. At least Rattlers fans can't complain that promoting Oldham hindered their playoff hopes.

On the bright side, Adam Jones seems to have found his power stroke. The Mariner's first-round pick in 2003, Jones had a terrific week. Of his nine base-hits, six of them were for extra-bases, including a triple and two home runs (his eighth and ninth on the year). The shortstop's great line of .409/.459/.955 helped raise his season average to .268, and his power display helped push his slugging percentage above .400.

Teammate and fellow prospect Wladamir Balentien didn't fair quite so well, but he did hit his 15th homer of the year. Set to play in the Summer Olympics for Team Neteherlands, the outfielder's .278 week was almost identical to his .277 average for the season.

Short-Season-A: Everett Aqua Sox, Northwest League
Season: 23-13 (1st in West Division)
Week of July 26-August 1: 5-2
Nine Aqua Sox were named Northwest League All-Stars this week. You know nine, the number of players you can have on the diamond? Okay, sure, the Sox didn't quite place a player from each position on the squad but they got pretty close, and you could even argue that a player or two got snubbed.

On the mound, the Frogs are sending starters Shawn Nottingham and Aaron Jensen, along with reliever Mumba Rivera. They join the entire infield of C Omar Falcon, 1B Brandon Green, 2B Oswaldo Navarro, SS Asdrubal Cabrera and 3B Yung-Chi Chen. (Note: The positions listed are those that they were selected to play for the game, but Green, Navarro, Cabrera and Chen have all played various infield positions.) The outfield is the slack unit here, with only CF Brent Johnson getting the call. Although you can argue that two other outfielders were of the snubbed few.

Casey Craig might not have been chosen as an all-star, but he's one heck of a prospect. Another great week for the 19-year-old outfielder saw him bat his way to a .320/.452/.600 clip. Perhaps most notably, Craig smacked his first two long balls of the season, helping raise his slugging percentage into the mid-400's, practically even with his league-leading on-base percentage. Craig is not the only Frog at the top of the league leader board. Chen's 22 stolen bases blow away the competition, but it is Nottingham who's name pops up most frequently. His 57 strikeouts leads the Northwest League, his five wins are tied for first, and his minuscule ERA of 1.93 is good for second. Obviously, Nottingham has firmly entrenched himself as the ace of the Aqua Sox's staff, and is starting to garner recognition as a serious prospect. If the 19-year-old lefty really has overcome the immaturity issues that caused him to miss practically the entire season during his senior year of high school, then he's got a great shot at a solid career.

Rookie: Peoria Mariners, Arizona League
Second Half Season: 2-3 (2 GB)
Week of July 26-August 1: 2-3
Led by a trio of hitters in the league's top four, the Mariners are second in the Arizona League in batting average as a team. Utility-man Francisco Gerez leads the charge at .383, second in the league. First baseman, Luis Soto is right behind at .361, and catcher Daniel Santin follows him at .352. Santin also appears in the top five in on-base percentage (.426), and slugging (.542).

Noticeably absent from this list of hitting stars is do-everything SS Matt Tuiasosopo, who's numbers (.412/.528/.721) would place him first in on-base and slugging and second in average. The M's first pick in 2004, alas, is still about 10 plate appearances short of qualifying for the league leaderboard. Even as his power has cooled off somewhat, his batting eye has remained steady, and he now has 13 walks versus 14 strikeouts, very respectable numbers for an 18-year-old.

Also of note, OF Chris Snelling is in Peoria on a rehab assignment. Sunday, in his first game, he went 1-4 with a run scored and an RBI. A healthy Snelling would be absolutely huge for the future of the organization.

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