M's Minor League Players of the Week: 5/16

Lots of solid performances at the plate and on the mound made this week's decision a tough one. But in the end, I guess there really wasn't much doubt who was going to take home the gold.

InsidethePark.com's Position Player of the Week

Bryan LaHair, 1B – Inland Empire
LaHair entered the week with just two home runs and 16 RBI after showing promise of a more productive future in the Midwest League last season. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound slugger made up for all of the waiting with a big breakout last week. In 26 at-bats, the 22-year-old collected 11 hits for a .423 average, smacking four home runs while driving in 10. LaHair tallied three multi-hit games, including a four-hit effort versus Lancaster and a three-hit game at Lake Elsinore.

The left-handed hitting LaHair is now hitting .271 on the season, with six home runs and 26 RBI. If the past week was any indication, the 66ers might have found their cleanup hitter and anchor to an otherwise inconsistent lineup. LaHair has bigtime power potential and could serve as effective lineup protection for top prospects Adam Jones and Wladimir Balentien. In the meantime, LaHair could get his name printed on the prospect map himself – if he keeps hitting long balls at his current pace.

Honorable Mention

Shin-soo Choo, LF - Tacoma
Choo is getting settled in as a Triple-A hitter and is starting to show why the club thinks so highly of his talents. The 23-year-old went 8-for-21 (.381), crushing two home runs and a triple on May 10 versus Round Rock. Choo drove in five runs for the week and added a double and four runs scored to his resume. The multi-talented Choo drew seven walks and is now hitting .294/.402 on the year, with four home runs and 16 RBI. His two steals brought his season total to seven in 11 attempts.

Jamal Strong, CF - Tacoma
Strong has done nothing but impress since returning from his 10-day suspension and has his leadoff skills in overdrive after a solid week. The 26-year-old went 10-for-24 (.417) with five runs scored and three stolen bases, proving further that he probably belongs on a big-league roster – somewhere. Strong drew three walks versus just two strikeouts and totalled two 3-hit games to improve his season numbers to .271/.373 with seven steals. It's anybody's guess as to why he is still rotting in Triple-A when the parent club is without a real defensive outfield reserve nor a base stealer on the bench.

Matt Rogelstad, UT – Inland Empire
Rogelstad held onto his league lead in hitting with five straight 2-hit efforts to start this past week. In all, the utility man had 10 hits in 28 at-bats (.357) for the 66ers, hitting mostly in the two-hole. Rogelstad has been the most consistent bat for Inland Empire and his ability to make solid, regular contact and handle the bat with runners on base has been a welcomed addition to this year's club. Rogelstad is third on the team with 18 RBI and has a solid 10-10 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.

Keep An Eye On...

Yuniesky Betancourt, SS – San Antonio
Betancourt, like Rogelstad, had five 2-hit efforts last week, raising his season average to .265 after dipping down into the .220s. The 23-year-old shortstop has taken quite nicely to his new slot in the batting order, hitting second behind Gary Harris. Betancourt ended the week with 10 hits in 29 at-bats (.345), scoring five runs in his six games played, and added two doubles and two steals to his fine seven-day run. Betancourt's recent hot streak resulted in just one strikeout in 31 plate appearances – exactly the type of hitter the M's signed him to be.

Hunter Brown, 3B - Tacoma
Less than a month ago, Brown was sitting on the Rainiers bench, getting three or four plate appearances per week and miring in an apparent slump without an end in sight. Turns out, the Rice University product just needed... well, umm... Brown simply needed to play. Since Justin Leone went on the disabled list, Brown has started to prove his worth and earn his gig at the Triple-A level. This past week, the 25-year-old went 8-for-23 (.348) and drove in four runs with three multi-hit games, including a three-hit effort versus Albuquerque on May 14. Two of his eight hits were four-baggers, his first two career Triple-A long balls, and one an inside-the-park special. Brown is now hitting .221 for the year after spending the first month of the season hitting well under .200 as he sat in the dugout, inning after inning. Look for Brown to continue to hit, as long he stays in the lineup.

InsidethePark.com's Pitcher of the Week

Felix Hernandez, RHP - Tacoma
Ho-hum. We might as well get used to seeing this kid's name everywhere we look. It's not often that a hyped prospect lives up to expectations. It's even more rare that a 19-year-old does it and in Triple-A to boot, blowing away all expectations – and any hitter that dares step in the box to take their hacks.

Hernandez had his finest start of the season on May 12 versus Round Rock. The right-hander went seven shutout frames, allowing just two hits, a single and a double, walking one and striking out eight. Hernandez reached 97 mph on the radar gun, baffled hitters with his unmatched curve ball and his ever-improving change-up and faced just three batters over the minimum en route to his league-leading fifth victory.

The King is 5-2 on the year with a stingy 2.30 ERA and .208 opponents' batting average. Hernandez ranks fifth in the PCL in ERA, eighth in strikeouts and improved his strikeouts-to-walks ratio to 39-20 after experiencing some struggles in the control department.

While he isn't likely to get the call anytime soon, Hernandez is the best starting pitcher in the organization, and everyone knows it – including the entire Mariners front office - and Felix himself.

Honorable Mention

Jason Snyder, RHP - Wisconsin
Snyder pitched another gem last week, going eight scoreless versus Dayton, allowing just two hits and a walk while striking out seven. Snyder is the clear ace of the Rattlers' staff and though he's been a bit inconsistent at times, the right-hander's abilities are undoubtedly those of a bonafide prospect. Snyder is now 4-3 on the season with a 2.93 ERA in seven starts. The 22-year-old has a 27-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 43 innings of work and is another Rattler that should see time in the California League this season.

Juan Sandoval, RHP – San Antonio
Sandoval tossed eight strong innings against Springfield, allowing nine hits but just one earned run. The right-hander struck out five and did not issue a walk. Sandoval is 2-1 on the season with a 2.50 ERA in seven starts for the Missions.

Jason Mackintosh, LHP – Inland Empire
Mackintosh tossed seven scoreless innings at the Lake Elsinore Storm on May 13, and did so in impressive fashion. The left-hander allowed nine hits and a walk but did not yield an extra-base hit and struck out nine on the way to his second victory – a narrow 1-0 66ers win. Mackintosh is now 2-2 with a 2.59 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 48.2 innings.

Keep An Eye On...

Craig James, RHP - Wisconsin
James is still perfect. The right-hander has yet to allow a run, earned or otherwise, in 10 relief appearances covering 13 innings. James went three more shutout innings this past week, allowing one hit, a walk and striking out two. For the season, James has allowed just seven hits (.163 avg) and three walks while punching out 11 batters. The Florida native has faced just eight batters over the minimum, for the season, and is 2-0 with two saves to go with his goose egg-style ERA of 0.00.

Mumba Rivera, RHP - Wisconsin
Rivera has made seven starts this season and yielded four hits in each, tallying just 28 in 40.2 innings of work. In his only start of the week, Rivera allowed four of those 28 base hits over six innings, striking out two and walking four. The 24-year-old is now 5-0 on the season with a sparkling 2.66 ERA. We keep saying this but one more time wouldn't hurt. Rivera belongs in Advanced-A ball with the 66ers.

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