PEORIA, Ariz. – InsidethePark.com's Joe Kaiser and Jason A. Churchill were at the Mariners minor league fields at the Peoria Sports Complex on Monday, and the pair unearthed several tasty tidbits for diehard M's fans.
The Mariners minor leaguers divided into separate fields as they normally do for early-morning workouts, but broke off early for lunch at around 11 a.m. Usually, the minor leaguers don't end their day on the fields until closer to 12:30 in the afternoon. This day was different, as the M's welcomed Kansas City's minor leaguers into their complex for two Single-A games that both started at 1 p.m.
On the south field, the group of players likely destined for SS-A Everett and Mid-A Wisconsin took the field. On the north field, merely 100 feet away, the Inland Empire grouping played its game.
Meanwhile, the youngest players in the organization – a group compiled of players who'll likely begin 2005 in the Arizona Rookie League - practiced on another field.
Here are some impressions from the day:
Yung-Chi Chen, a second-year player out of Taiwan who starred at Everett last season, has the look of a future star. The 21-year-old started at third base for the Wisconsin team and seemed like the most advanced player on the field. The right-hander ripped a triple to the opposite field gap in right-center, hammering a first pitch fastball from an overmatched Royals minor leaguer.
Matt Tuiasosopo got one at bat with the Wisconsin club, a walk, but continued to be absent in the field. Instead, Erick Monzon, a second-year player who signed as a minor league free agent last spring, played the entire game at shortstop. Curiously, Tuiasosopo has yet to get much time in the field this spring, whether it be at shortstop or anywhere else on the field. He didn't appear defensively in any of the big league games, serving exclusively as a pinch-hitter, and has been limited defensively to taking infield during daily workouts.
LHP Eric O'Flaherty, a sixth round draft pick in 2003 out of Walla Walla High, appeared in the Inland Empire game and pitched great. His fastball stayed between 87-90 mph on the radar gun, his slider was biting and he showed good command from start to finish. The sight was good to see, considering O'Flaherty went 3-3 with a 6.12 ERA in an injury-marred 2004 campaign at Wisconsin.
SS Jeffrey Dominguez, a ninth round pick last June out of Puerto Rico, took batting practice and infield with the Peoria group. Only 18, the infielder has a long, lanky build and will need to add some bulk to his frame in the coming years.
Jairo Hernandez, an outfielder/first baseman out of the Dominican Republic, continued to hit the ball hard today in batting practice. Hernandez has been hammering pitches in the batting cages this spring, and will be a name to watch in 2005.
Michael Garciaparra and Oswaldo Navarro both showed their defensive talents at shortstop in the Inland Empire game. Garciaparra has steadily improved since his early days in the M's system, and Navarro has always had a reliable glove wherever he's played in the infield. The question with each will be whether they can hit well enough to get out of Single-A. Garciaparra is noticeably bulked up this year, which could prove beneficial as the season progresses.
Craig James, a third-year player who dominated as a 21-year-old at Peoria last season, came in to relieve Tim Dorn in the Wisconsin game and pitched outstanding. The flame-throwing right-hander out of Miami, Florida showed tremendous velocity on his fastball and good command of his curveball. He used each pitch to get called third-strikes and may be a late bloomer – he was slowed by Tommy John surgery after being drafted - who could make a difference in 2005.
Outfielder/3B Brent Johnson, a 14th round pick last June out of UNLV, appeared in left field in the Wisconsin game, a position he wasn't used at in Everett last year. With a strong arm and good speed, look for Johnson to get more time in center and right field over the course of the season.
LHP Brandon Perry, an 8th round pick in 2002, is no longer with the Mariners organization. Coincidentally, Perry, now a product of the Kansas City Royals, pitched against the Mariners farmhands in the Wisconsin game. Also missing from the Mariners minor league camp this spring is catcher Luis Oliveros. Oliveros was considered the second-best backstop in the system heading into 2004, but struggled mightily at the plate and let it carry over to his play on defense. He was suspended late last season when, while playing at Double-A San Antonio, he received a suspicious package when the team was on the road in El Paso.
Matt Hagen, a first baseman in his first three seasons in the M's system, has been used exclusively as a catcher this spring. Hagen saw some time behind the plate last spring, but moved to first base once the season started. So far, the big-bodied slugger has struggled to make consistent throws to second base, but that could change with more time and repetition at the position.
Former Mariner pitcher Paul Abbott – who can forget the guy's gutty year of 2001 – made it out to the fields to talk with former teammate Norm Charlton,now a Mariners minor league coach, and Farm Director Greg Hunter.