AFL Week in Review
Ask around about this year's Peoria Javelinas team and there's one name that keeps on coming up: Mariners multi-tooled prospect Shin-Soo Choo.
The right fielder from South Korea is making his AFL league debut after an excellent 2004 season, and has quickly become a fixture in the team's offense, batting third or fourth in each of the games thus far.
Though the Javelinas lost their season opener 14-3, Choo hit his first homer and drove in two of the three runs. Having already shown off his power, the next day the 22-year-old showed off his speed in center field and his much-improved plate discipline, going 2-for-2 with two runs scored, drawing three walks and adding his first stolen base.
Friday night yielded more of the same for Choo, who went 3-for-5 with another stolen base, a run scored, and a run batted in. With any luck, he'll show some more power soon but there's not much to complain about when you're hitting .545 and rank among the top five in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.
Another Mariner prospect under close observation down in Arizona is shortstop Michael Morse. After being acquired from the Chicago White Sox via the Freddy Garcia trade in late June, Morse only played in just 41 games due to two separate suspensions for two different reasons. Now he's in Arizona to continue his breakout offensive season and determine his future defensive position.
So far, it's been a bit of hit and miss. In the season opener, he struck out in all three of his at-bats before being pulled for a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning. The two following games he combined to go 4-for-8 with a walk and three runs scored, though none of his hits so far have gone for extra bases.
On the defensive side, it's been the same basic story; Morse made an error in Friday night's game and as the current starting shortstop for the Javelinas, the offensive-minded Morse is being looked upon to show leadership and command of the infield.
Right-hander Jon Huber came over from the Padres organization in the Dave Hansen trade, hoping to benefit from a change of scenery. His early returns with Inland Empire weren't that great, as his key pitches tended to stay too close to the middle of the strike zone and were subsequently hit pretty hard at times.
Though the 23-year-old has gotten another chance to makee some improvements in the AFL, that trend seems to have continued. Going three innings in Wednesday's game, Huber allowed two runs on five hits, despite striking out four and not walking a batter. He'll need to sharpen his pitches a bit in order for the organization to think enough of him to challenge him in Triple-A by the end of 2005. Until then, Huber will remain mired in the middle of the minors as he works on location and command.
The problems of Jared Thomas run a little counter to those of Huber; instead of staying in the strike zone, he's had trouble getting into it, walking a batter a little more often than every inning and two-thirds. In the very small sample size through the first week, the ratio has been one in three innings of work, though he allowed four hits over the same span. The good news is that this earned him a win on Wednesday as the Javelinas rallied behind the left-hander for the lead and Thomas and the rest of the relief corps held on for a 10-5 victory.
Wrapping up the first week of play, it seems pretty clear that the Javelinas' biggest strength is in their offensive lineup, as they've been averaging a little over seven runs per game in large part due to Choo and Indian's third base prospect Kevin Kouzmanoff.
Unfortunately, what's been making the difference has been the below-average pitching performances that has the team ERA sitting at 7.71, last in the league by a considerable margin. Even after the opening day blowout, the ERA would still be second-to-last at 5.54. Since you can't always count on the offense to put up those kinds of crooked numbers, the pitching staff will have to step up in the coming weeks to give the Javelinas a chance in the standings.
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