Grasley thankful for chance, hopeful for future

Thomas Oldham is many things to the Seattle Mariners organization: a stud left-handed pitcher, a personable athlete good to his fans and on top of all that, one heck of a recruiter. <br><br> Recruiter, you ask? That's right. Had it not been for Oldham's persuasion, the Mariners rookie league affiliate in Peoria, Ariz. would have likely been without one of its top pitchers in 2004, RHP Stephen Grasley.

Grasley, who's currently back in Omaha, Neb. finishing his degree at Creighton University, got calls from two teams after going undrafted in June – the Mariners and the Chicago Cubs. Being from Minnesota, a Midwest state, the Cubs seemed like a better fit on the surface, but when Grasley talked it over with Oldham, a former teammate of his at Creighton, the future became clear.

The Mariners were his choice.

"I've heard nothing but good things about how (Seattle) treated players," said Grasley, a St. Paul native. "I had Tom as a reference and chose to sign with them."

What'd Oldham tell Grasley? Exactly what he felt, that's what.

"The past two years have been the best two years of baseball for me developing and learning because of the coaching staff and everyone associated with the Mariners," said Oldham. "I saw the offer the Cubs gave Steve as more of a favor to him than a real offer. Steve is too good of a pitcher to get passed up just because his stuff isn't off the charts.

"I talked with Mark Lummus, the M's Midwest Area Scout, and he felt the same and obviously so did the Mariners. I'm just glad Steve is in an organization where they care about you as a person, but also want you to help them out as best you can."

Grasley got a first-hand look at that upon reporting to Peoria, where the coaching staff was upfront with where he stood at all times.

"I liked the way they shot me straight," said the pitcher. "I was known for being a free agent and I asked them what my leash was like; if I didn't do good, how long would I be there. I appreciated how everyone shot me straight and told me the truth."

Shaking off early nerves last season, Grasley quickly began to feel like he belonged in the organization and, as a result, established himself in the Peoria bullpen. Appearing in 16 games, the right-hander finished the season with a 3.18 ERA and the top strikeout-to-walk ratio in the farm system at 37-to-1. He also won all four decisions he factored in to.

"Steve is the type of pitcher that is going to give it his all every time he steps out on the mound," said Oldham. "He has always been that way."

Grasley's success, particularly in the Arizona Rookie League, a league typically home to high school draftees, wasn't as much a surprise as it was a confidence-builder. Preying on younger, less experienced batters, he went right at them with his array of pitches and let them get themselves out.

"There is definitely a difference between the college players and the high school players," said Grasley. "When I got down there I was real nervous and didn't know anybody. I just wanted to feel comfortable and feel like I actually belonged. Once I got comfortable, I started throwing a lot more fastballs and I started having some success.

Grasley isn't a guy who will make the catcher's hand hurt with heaters in the 90 mph range – if he was, he would have surely been drafted – but he's like a lot of M's minor league pitchers in that he makes up for it by knowing how to pitch. He throws a 85-87 mph four-seam fastball along with a two-seamer, slider and changup.

"My best pitch is probably my slider," said the Creighton product, analyzing his pitches. "My best thing is my accuracy. I tried to fill up the zone and make the hitters do what they were going to do. That led to pretty good success. I threw my changeup a little bit after developing it last summer. I need to get a little better with that. Mostly I'm a slider, two-seam guy."

Grasley's most likely destination in '05 is Mid-A Wisconsin, a team that struggled badly on the mound last season and a state that the pitcher is more than familiar with. For three summers while in college, Grasley played 64-game seasons for the Wisconsin Woodchucks in Wausau, Wisc. to improve his skills on the mound.

"Steve Foster coached me at Wisconsin, and after my first year he was basically my mentor," said Grasley. "That's the main reason I went back, because of the respect I had for him.

"I really loved the league. It is growing real fast. Every place we went to there were a thousand fans there. I thought it was baseball how it should be. We stayed with host families. We really respected the organization."

Wausau is only 103 miles from Appleton, home of the M's affiliate. Grasley hopes he has a chance to play for the Timber Rattlers if all goes well during spring training.

"Next year I'm going to need to just continue to throw strikes, and see what they do with me," he said. "I want to move up, but it's the Mariners decision. I just want to keep doing what I'm doing."

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