AquaSox Notebook: All-Around Play Improving

EVERETT, Wash. - Twenty-two games into the season, the Everett AquaSox have a record of 11-11 and are sitting in second place of the Northwest League's West division, six games behind the Vancouver Canadians.

Fresh off a weekend series against the visiting Salem-Keizer Volcanoes in which they took two out of three games, the Sox still have the bulk of the season ahead of them. Things are looking positive after a lukewarm start and several promising young prospects have emerged in the early weeks of the season.

The big news of late has been offense. The AquaSox are leading the league in 10 offensive categories, including team batting average (.276), home runs (17) and RBI (109). During last week's road trip to Boise, Everett took four of their five games and scored a total of 43 runs. Their success against the Hawks carried through the weekend as the Frogs scored 12 runs Saturday and seven more on Sunday. Everett manager Pedro Grifol had expressed concern for his offense prior to the series, but was pleased to see his lineup start to produce.

"For a lot of these guys, this is their first time in pro ball," he says "They need to get their feet wet, they need to get comfortable and these guys are settling in now, they're settling in as a club. They have ability, they're putting everything together now, and it's showing."

Leading the offensive charge is second baseman Luis Valbuena, currently hitting .273/.369/.466. He's become the team's workhorse, appearing in every game but one so far this year, and leads the team in home runs (3), RBI (18) and walks (12). Hot on his heels are first baseman Jeff Flaig (.292, 2 HR, 15 RBI) and outfielder Casey Craig (.357, 2 HR, 9 RBI).

The latter of the two has also been busy stockpiling the great plays vault lately, showing off his arm strength in two consecutive nights on Sunday and Monday. Sunday evening, Craig gunned down a Volcanoes runner trying to stretch a deep drive to left into a double. The next night, Craig chased down a long fly ball to right, then sent a laser to third to end Salem-Keizer's inning and prevent runner Charlie Babineaux from igniting a possible rally. With the versatility Craig has shown in the outfield and the prowess he's displayed in the batter's box, it's surprising that he has yet to garner a promotion to a full-season club.

"Casey's having a great year and he's a good player," says Grifol, though he adds that roster moves are out of his control and he has no idea if or when Craig will get the call to move up to the next level. Craig himself has stated that he's happy to play wherever he's asked to and has expressed optimism about his role in the Mariners' organization.

Pitching: So far, so good: While AquaSox pitching hasn't stood out to the extent of their offense, Everett's starters and bullpen relievers have nevertheless been getting the job done. The team boasts an ERA of 4.00, ranking in the middle of the league, and has put up two shut-outs thus far. While Everett's hurlers still have room to improve, as evidenced by an almost-blown 12-3 lead over Salem-Keizer last Saturday, its skipper has been satisfied with the team's work.

"We have good pitching, the guys just need to be more aggressive in the strike zone and let our defense do their job."

Nick Allen, 22, has established himself firmly as the team's number one starter, posting a 3-0 record in 25 innings pitched. Allen is currently sitting on a 3.24 ERA with 2 walks and 11 K. He and the rest of Everett's staff have been backed up by Jon Lockwood, the go-to man in the bullpen. Lockwood, currently 2-0, has yet to allow a run in 16 innings of work and has allowed only one walk—impressive when compared to his team-leading 19 strikeouts. Lockwood was promoted to Wisconsin on Wednesday.

Another pitching notable is Robert Rohrbaugh (4 G, 1-1, 2.63 ERA, 13.2 IP, 13 K, 0 BB).

Zorn Demoted: After spending the first couple weeks of the season with Everett, shortstop Dean Zorn was sent back to the Arizona Rookie League to hone his craft. The Australian native batted .167/.314/.238 in 12 games with the AquaSox, driving in two runs and adding three runs scored. He was also part of a shaky defense that started off the season, committing seven errors during his tenure—nearly half of the team's current total of 16.

Chasing Vancouver: The AquaSox have won six of their last eight games, after taking this weekend's series 2-1 over Salem-Keizer. The Frogs dropped the first of a three-game road series with Vancouver on Wednesday. They'll return home Saturday to host the Spokane Indians for five games and finish off July with series' against Salem-Keizer, Eugene and the Tri-Cities.

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