Minor League Players of the Month

As the dog days of summer sneak up on the 2004 season, the month of July produced a crop of very worthy candidates for the player of the month awards. Join InsidethePark.com's Joseph A. Yencich in congratulating the winners.

InsidethePark.com's Position Players of the Month

Greg Jacobs, OF/DH, Tacoma Rainiers
Shin-Soo Choo, OF, San Antonio Missions

When Bucky Jacobsen moved up to the Mariners at the Triple-A All-Star Break, the Rainiers were left with some big shoes to fill in the lineup. The transfer from Jacobsen to Jacobs, however, has been near seamless.

How could it not be? He slugged .750, had extra-base hits in just under half of his at-bats, and led the team in home runs (7) and RBIs (16). If you thought the transition from the Jacobs of June (.225/.312/.300) to the Jacobs of July (.368/.421/.750) was a dramatic change, you'd be correct- just look at his splits in the twelve games since the break, where he's been hitting .432/.450/.865.

Those power numbers were sustained in part by a streak of 22 at-bats, nearly a third of his monthly total, where he hit nothing but extra-base hits, three doubles and four home runs, good enough for a slugging percentage of 1.000.

It's been a long journey from the mound to the outfield, but if the M's decide they need another outfielder, this 27-year-old lefty may get the call.

Greg Jacobs began his career as a left-handed pitcher when the Anaheim Angels drafted him in the 13th-round of the 1998 draft out of Cal State Fullerton. After spending time in the Anaheim and Arizona farm systems, he was released and returned to the outfield of Long Beach in the Independent Leagues, where he hit well enough to get a contract from the M's. In his first year on the field, Jacobs led the California League with a .357 average and earned a late-season promotion to San Antonio, where he began this season.

Shin-soo Choo took an entirely different route to becoming a noteworthy minor leaguer in the M's organization, than did Greg Jacobs.

After last year's foot injury left him batting below .300 for the first time in his career, Choo has fully recovered and is back to his usual levels of production after a torrid month, included is a little more home run power. With eleven jacks through the end of July, including four during the month, Choo has already surpassed his previous season-high of nine, set last year with Inland Empire. The power numbers are all the more impressive considering the Texas League is a bit less home run friendly.

The toolsy left-handed hitter had his hottest month of the season thus far, hitting well over .300 with four home runs and 17 RBI to bring his overall numbers to .308/11HR/63RBI.

Not to be known just for his bat, the 22-year-old also stole nine bases and currently leads the team with 26 swipes. But the best display of all five of his tools came on the Fourth of July when the right fielder supplied most of the fireworks by coming up just a double shy of the cycle, driving in four, and gunning down a runner trying to score from second. With all this talent at his disposal, Choo should figure into the M's plans in the near future.

Another pitcher turned hitter, Choo was signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Seattle Mariners in 2000. Fortunately, Choo took his 95-MPH heater and has carved out a spot for himself in the outfield, holding a .298 career average coming into the season. Choo attended the same high school as right-hander Cha Seung Baek, who was recently called up to the Mariners, and is more than holding up his end of the Korean reputation in the U.S.

San Antonio Missions infielder Hunter Brown has managed to take his game up a notch despite playing in one of the more difficult parks in which to hit. Batting .306/.424/.441 for the month, Brown took 21 walks in July alone, nearly doubling his season total. Which is not to say that the 24-year-old isn't a power threat, as he led the Missions to a 8-3 victory over Round Rock on the 28th, hitting two home runs and a triple. With a .296/.392/.447 average overall, Brown leads the team in on-base percentage and has nearly matched Choo in most offensive categories throughout the season.

Inland Empire Sixty-Sixers outfielder Josh Ellison seems to have found a home after spending time in both Wisconsin and Everett. Since joining the team on July 3rd, the 21-year-old has batted .429 over seventeen games, including three hit performances on the 7th, 28th, and 30th, and a four-hit night on the 26th. After his first full game in the California League, his average has been no lower than .296.

Wisconsin Timber Rattler first baseman Bryan Lahair has sorted things out after a rough first season. A draft-and-follow signing from 2002, the 21-year-old has put a lot of effort into correcting his swing and it seems to be paying dividends, as he batted .324/.381/.472, his ten doubles leading the system. Lahair has quietly become a major force in the T-Rats offense, and he showed how during a 16-2 rout of Cedar Rapids on the 10th, when he doubled, walked twice, and scored three runs.

Peoria Mariners shortstop Matt Tuiasosopo has become a hot topic of late and would have been at the top of this list, if not for his limited playing time. The first pick by the Mariners in the 2004 draft, Tui led the team with seventeen starts and made the most of every one of them, hitting .439/.554/.807 overall The 18-year-old was recently promoted to Everett, though the change of scenery has done little to slow him down.

InsidethePark.com's Pitchers of the Month

Brandon Moorhead, RHP, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers
Shawn Nottingham, LHP, Everett Aquasox

With Thomas Oldham moving up to Inland Empire, Moorhead is taking over as the most dangerous strikeout pitcher in the Wisconsin rotation and remains among Midwest League leaders in whiffs. The 24-year-old's three wins and 1.83 ERA led all Mariner minor league starters for the month, while his 39.1 innings pitched and 39 strikeouts placed him in the second slot behind Inland Empire's Juan Sandoval and San Antonio's Rich Dorman, respectively. More than a pitcher who just posts good numbers, Moorhead has the ability to dominate opposing batters, as he did with ease against Cedar Rapids on the 3rd, holding them to four hits and a walk as he struck out fourteen batters. In another dominant performance on the 19th, he held a good-hitting South Bend team to seven hits and no runs over another eight innings while striking out six. Moorhead is a guy who can consistently give a team six gsolid innings and keep the ball in the park better than anyone else. The right-hander did not allow a home run in July and has yielded only four on the year, the fewest of any full-time starter. All of this is adding up to a smoother transition from the closer role than anyone expected.

Moorhead was signed in May of 2003 out of the University of Georgia, where he started a game in the College World Series in 2001. While he has overpowered the competition from day one in the system, he'll need to earn a promotion and do the same at higher levels before he'll be considered a legitimate prospect.

During the 2003 draft, there was talk amongst those in the baseball business that the M's got a steal by signing Aaron Jensen in the 19th round, but now, it looks like they may have found another diamond in the rough in one Shawn Nottingham.

One of four high school lefties signed by the Mariners from that draft, the 19-year-old has been bringing the Northwest League to it's knees from day one, posting a 1.93 ERA on the month with a 1.65 ERA overall. His only bad start was a six-inning three-run performance that would still be considered quality by the standards of most, just not for The Sheriff. Quality would be the kind of start he turned in on the 2nd of the month when he held Vancouver to three hits and a walk over six innings, or a similar start on the 7th when he faced Tri City and gave up three hits and three free passes while striking out seven over another superb six innings. Any game that he's gone less than six innings or given up more than one run has looked sub-par in comparison. Controlling any of his four pitches hasn't been a problem either, as he's struck out more than four for every walk he's given up.

If he keeps up this pace, Nottingham might just start 2005 at Inland Empire and follow the footsteps up fellow southpaw Travis Blackley.

Nottingham was the Mariners 13th-round pick (386th overall) in the 2003 draft. Though his draft status relegated him primarily to bullpen duties after signing, he displayed solid control and good strikeout numbers in each of his appearances. He made a good enough impression on management during spring training to earn himself a spot appearance in Tacoma earlier this year, and he's done nothing but improve the club's opinion of him with each passing start.

San Antonio Missions right-handed starter Rich Dorman has been tearing through opposing batters like a Great White Shark through the Brody Family, striking out 51 on the month, almost thirteen per nine innings! In six July starts, the 25-year-old struck out seven batters or more in each outing, and hit ten twice- once in a 4-2 win over El Paso on the 7th, and the other on the 13th in a 7-5, eleven-inning victory over Midland. In addition, he's walked just one batter for every three he's struck out, and gave up less than a hit per inning of work.

Inland Empire righty Juan Sandoval just missed having his name added to the winners list. Over the past month, the 23-year-old Dominican native has gone deeper into games than anyone else, averaging seven innings per start and anchoring the rotation with a 2.14 ERA. His 37 hits allowed in 42 innings also indicate that he's been avoiding the big inning that have given him so much trouble in previous months.

Inland Empire southpaw reliever Melvin Pizarro pulled off a rather unusual feat by going 15.1 innings on the month and not giving up a single run. No real surprise, considering opponents were only batting .164 off of him and he walked only three batters all month. The 26-year-old former independent leaguer notched four saves on the month and is currently sharing the closer duties with Darwin Soto and last year's closer Mike Steele.

Former Wisconsin Timber Rattler Thomas Oldham did his part to earn a promotion to Advanced-A Inland Empire through his pitching performances, and not his record. Despite losing three of his four starts, Oldham continued to go deep into games, averaging 7.2 innings per start. The 22-year-old's only win came on his lone complete game of the year on the 15th, a 5-2 victory over Cedar Rapids where he gave up only five hits, walked only two, and struck out eight. A performance which would later earn him Pitcher of the Week honors for the Midwest League.

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