Minor League Roundup

The minor league season is in its final stages, but that doesn't mean the action is slowing down in the Mariners farm system. InsidethePark's Troy Sowden brings you his rundown of each M's affiliate again this week in the Minor League Roundup.

Triple-A: Tacoma Rainiers, Pacific Coast League
Season: 74-60 (2nd in Northern Division)
Week of August 23-30: 2-6

After playing above their heads for what seemed like weeks, it looks like the Rainiers may finally be coming back to earth. The Rainiers followed up four games at Portland with a five game set at home against the boys from just below the Columbia River. Tacoma dropped six of the nine games with the Beavers, not to mention the division lead.

If manager Dan Rohn has any magic left up his sleeve, this would be a great time to put it to use. It just doesn't look good for the Cheney nine. Fortunately, they close the year out at home, as they're in the midst of a four-game set with Sacramento which will be followed by five home games against Tucson. In case you're wondering, Portland has two games left at Fresno before Sacramento comes to the Rose City for a year-ending four-game series.

Designated hitter Ryan Christianson raised his average 11 points to .276 over the past week, and added his fourth and fifth home runs of the season. It seems like the former first-round pick has been around for forever, but he won't be turning 24 until next April. While his OPS of .787 isn't spectacular, it's certainly respectable. If his right arm will heal up enough to let him return behind the plate, his prospect status could shine once again.

Greg Dobbs also homered twice, raising his Tacoma tally to eight. The third baseman's .282 average looks nice, but his abysmal .295 on-base percentage will have to improve greatly if he wants to have an impact at the next level.

Greg Jacobs won't be sad to see August end. The outfielder, who turns 28 in October, was suspended for "personal reasons" for the better half of the month. He finally returned to play on the 30th but went 0-4, perhaps showing some rust after the long layoff.

Newly acquired pitcher Brett Evert had a rough debut. The righty lasted just 2.2 innings versus Sacramento on Monday. The patient River Cats welcomed him to the PCL with six runs, four earned, on four hits and six walks. Evert managed to strike out two.

Double-A: San Antonio Missions, Texas League
Second Half Season: 34-28 (Second in West Division)
Week of August 23-30: 6-2

The Missions host Tulsa for one more game, before pennant fever comes to town in all its glory. Division-leading Round Rock travels to San Antone Thursday to open an epic four-game set to end the year and determine the West Division title. Oh by the way, if the Missions stay in rotation, they will be sending Felix Hernandez to the hill Sunday. Here's hoping the decision is on the line and King Felix brings home the title.

Hernandez was clearly the star of the week, spinning a complete-game (seven-inning) shutout to open Thursday's double-header with Wichita. Still, Felix's mound mates didn't let him outdo them by much. In the eight games, Missions hurlers yielded but 16 runs, an average of two per contest, as six different pitchers picked up one win each.

The bats didn't fare quite as well as their pitching counterparts, but they scored runs to win six games, so we won't complain too much. After 3B Hunter Brown hit his 11th dinger of the year to open the week, the Missions put the thunder sticks away for five games. Finally, Sunday night against Tulsa the power drought ended when Dustin Delucci, John Lindsey and Jaime Bubela all hit big flies. For Bubela, it was his first in 41 games for the Missions this season.

Lindsey followed up his Sunday blast with more yard work on Monday, raising his total 18 for the season which easily leads the team. The big 240-pound first baseman now sports a .279/.362/.474 line for the year.

Advanced-A: Inland Empire 66ers, California League
Second Half Season: 35-28 (Second in South Division)
Week of August 23-30: 4-2

One might say that Bobby Livingston made the biggest noise this week, as he dominated San Jose to the tune of a complete-game, three-hit shutout. The 21-year-old struck out six hitters and continued the exemplary control he has displayed all season by not walking a single batter. In 26 starts (181.2 total innings), the lefty has handed out just 29 free paces, or just over one per start. Another 21-year-old lefty made his return to the U.S. after a strong showing in the Olympics. Australian Ryan Rowland-Smith came out of the pen Sunday just as he had in Athens. In 2.1 innings, he did not give up a run while striking out three. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for Ryan, as he has shown enough in relief and as a starter to be an intriguing prospect either way. Basically, he can just flat out pitch.

Rett Johnson struggled in both of his appearances, yielding eight runs, seven earned, in eight total innings. The one-time top prospect who missed most of the year for personal reasons walked six and struck out four, and saw his ERA jump to 5.29. He obviously hasn't settled in yet after his long absence, as his 12-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 17 innings confirms.

Wladimir Balentien suited up for the Netherlands and was Rowland-Smith's rival at the Olympics, but returned to America to find out he was promoted to Inland-Empire and is now Rowland-Smith's teammate. The slugging outfielder is playing right field for Inland. Known for his poor plate discipline as much as his considerable power, Balentien had two walks to go with three hits in his first 11 California League at-bats, although he did strike out three times.

Third baseman Jesus Guzman raised his batting average back to .300 with a solid week. The 20-year-old has uncanny patience for his age for someone his age, and drew five more walks to raise his on base percentage to .383.

Intermediate-A: Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, Midwest League
Second Half Season: 26-37
Week of August 23-30: 2-5

Back-to-back wretched weeks have dropped the T-Rats to all alone in eighth and last place, 11 games back of league leading Kane County. There were some signs that maybe they can finish the year on a decent note, though.

After scoring just eight runs in the first six games last week, they erupted for 13 runs on 14 hits versus Peoria on Monday night. First baseman Jeremy Dutton has had a tough year as his .218 average can attest, but he led the offensive outburst with a 4-4 night. He drove in four runs, scored two and added a walk.

In the same game, RHP Brandon Moorhead brought his record to .500, as the win leaves him at 9-9 for the year. It was his second strong performance of the week. Overall he gave up five runs (4 earned) in 15 innings, striking out 13 and walking just three. His ERA now sits at 3.24.

The T-Rats experimented with their lineups a bit this week. Adam Jones, who has been in the three-hole for most of the year, got bumped up to leadoff for three games. From the top of the order he went 3-for-13 but did add a double. On the year he's now hitting .258 with a team-leading 66 RBI and 72 runs scored.

Francisco Gerez was recently called up from Peoria, and has performed well in limited duty. The 19-year-old played all over the diamond at Peoria, but has spent most of his time with Wisconsin at shortstop. In eight games, the speedster is hitting .318/.375/.364, and has been successful in all three of his stolen base attempts.

Short-Season-A: Everett Aqua Sox, Northwest League
Season: 38-32 (1st in West Division)
Week of August 23-30: 1-7

Wow, what happened to the Frogs? After blazing through the year as the premier team in the Northwest League, the Aqua Sox have hit a slump that will likely cost them the division title. In what seems like a recurring theme in the organization, the offense is primarily to blame. While the pitching staff game up more than three runs just three times, the bats struggled to a paltry average of two runs a game.

Every Aqua Sox regular saw his batting average drop this week except 1B Marshall Hubbard and 2B Oswaldo Navarro, who raised theirs by four and three points respectively. SS Asdrubal Cabrera fell from .281 to .270, CF Brent Johnson dropped from .311 to .302, OF Casey Craig lost eight points down to .275, and DH Matt Tuiasosopo had the biggest drop, falling from .294 to .267.

While the hitters were struggling to scrounge up some hits, ace Shawn Nottingham had easily his worst week of the season. In taking his second and third losses of the year, Nottingham managed to go just 9.2 innings. The lefty surrendered seven earned runs including two long balls, walked eight and struck out 10. His ERA ballooned to 3.22 in the process.

Despite the uncharacteristic outings, the 19-year-old still pops up all over the Northwest League pitching leaders. He's first in wins (9), second in winning percentage (.750), fourth in ERA, first in innings pitched (86.2), and first in strikeouts (85).

Rookie: Peoria Mariners, Arizona League
Second Half Season: 15-13
Week of August 23-29: 3-2

The rookie Mariners ended their season in fourth place, five games back of the lead. Along the way, a few players turned some heads and should be exciting to follow as they move up to more advanced levels.

C Daniel Santin was just promoted to Tacoma to replace Pat Borders. The 18-year-old led the Mariners in many offensive categories, and he finished fifth in the league in batting average at .325. Plus, the Miami native's powerful bat placed him fourth the AZL in slugging percentage at .506. In his 41 games, the left-handed hitting Santin smacked 13 doubles, two triples and four home runs. He also led the team in RBI with 28, and finished second in runs scored with 31. Whatever categories Santin didn't lead the team in were usually led by 1B Luis Soto. The Dominican narrowly bested Santin in batting average (.331), on base percentage (.392), and runs scored (35). The right-handed slugger's 27 RBI and .493 slugging placed him just behind Santin.

On the mound, none of the M's pitchers finished in the top 10 in ERA, although current Aqua Sox hurler Jason Snyder's 2.88 would have placed him ninth if he had enough innings to qualify. Oliver Arias did tie for the league lead in wins, but that was largely a function of run support, as his 5.59 ERA doesn't inspire thoughts of Cy Young. Arias was tough to hit though, as his 60 strikeouts placed him second in the league. His big problem was keeping the ball in the park, and he yielded six home runs, also second most in the league.

Left-hander Paul Fagan also flashed his potential while putting up an ERA that wasn't awe inspiring. Fagan, the M's fourth-round draft pick last year out of a Jacksonville, FL high school, struck out 57 in 60.1 innings. His 29 walks contributed plenty to his 5.07 ERA, and were the third-highest base on balls total in the AZL.

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