Days in Wisconsin Winding Down for Tui

APPLETON, Wisc. - The air is thick, the grass is brown and we're amidst the dog days of summer here in the Fox Cities. It's time to check back in with Wisconsin Timber Rattlers star Matt Tuiasosopo and's Jeff Harrison did just that recently, and has this report on the future star from Woodinville, Wash.

Things started out very well for Tuiasosopo, the Mariners third round pick, and first overall selection in the 2004 draft. His batting average has been hovering around the coveted .300-mark for the majority of the season, and he's shown power to all fields - through July 27, he's batting .294. Perhaps more impressive, though, has been the 19-year-old's .377 on-base percentage, an excellent number for a teenager in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League.

Tuiasosopo is considered one of the premier sluggers in the M's minors, but as is the case with nearly every young ballplayer, power is an area of his game that is still in its developmental stages. He has just six homers so far this year, and his 19 doubles aren't overwhelmingly impressive, either. But Tui's extra-base ability is a talent the Mariners expect him to improve on, as he matures and gains strength in his legs and wrists.

To his credit, Tuiasosopo has stayed within himself and avoided the dangerously tempting urge to overswing. His strikeout numbers (75 in 323 at-bats) while not great, aren't horrible, either. A further look inside the pure statistics, particularly his 37 walks, suggests that the 19-year-old has the plate skills to be a solid power prospect - in due time.

The question that often arises with Tuiasosopo is whether he is still playing shortstop and how well is he doing defensively at the position. The answers? Yes, he is at shortstop, and no he's not doing very well.

Tuiasosopo is playing his natural position at shortstop as well as designated hitter for the Timber Rattlers, a system that has worked out well for his offensive production. His defense, on the other hand, has been nothing to brag about.

Lacking the instincts of other shortstops in the organization - particularly Yuniesky Betancourt and Asdrubal Cabrera - Tuiasosopo has struggled his way through the season defensively, leading Wisconsin with 22 errors.

While he is playing shortstop the majority of the time, the coaching staff has put him on a program to prevent fatigue throughout the season. And it seems to be working.

"Ever since the beginning I've been put on a program to keep me fresh so I didn't wear out towards the stretch," said Tuiasosopo. "It's just something that I talked about with our coaching staff here. I'm glad they chose to do that, my body feels good and I'm not worn out at all."

Another aspect to handle for Tuiasosopo in his first full season is that in the minor leagues the roster is a rotating door. He has found himself in the middle of an infield that has been forced to shuffle since all-star infielder Asdrubal Cabrera was promoted to Advanced-A Inland Empire last month.

"He's one of our top infield prospects in the organization, so anytime you lose someone like that it's definitely a huge loss," said Tuiasosopo. "But we've got Oswaldo Navarro and Yung-Chi Chen Chen and now Brandon Green and Brent Johnson are playing a little bit more at third base. They're good defenders, too."

Tuiasosopo hasn't had a tough time developing a rhythm with his teammates because he's become very familiar with their tendencies by playing with them previous to the 2005 season.

"We've played with each other so much, we're used to playing together," said Tuiasosopo. "I'm used to playing with Navarro, Chen and even Jack Arroyo, my roommate. We played together at rookie ball. We're all used to each other."

Tuiasosopo seems to be having great time in Wisconsin. He's feeling right at home, and his family back home in Woodinville, Washington has helped avoid any homesick tendencies by making a few trips to Wisconsin to see him play.

"Family is real important. We're always going to each other's events," said Tuiasosopo. "Family is definitely very huge, in our culture, the Samoan culture. My parents even came to a road trip in the Quad Cities. Whenever they can get away, they like that."

The transition to the long season in the minors has been very smooth for the top prospect. He's gotten things done with the help of his coaches, teammates, family and some good local cooking.

"Yeah, for sure," said Tuiasosopo about his fondness for Wisconsin brats, a local favorite. "My dad loves brats too. When we're tailgating during football season, we'd barbeque some brats, so I've had them before. They taste a lot better up here."

With little more than a month remaining in the season, Tuiasosopo will need to savor every last brat he eats. Barring the unforeseen, it'll be his last month spent in Wisconsin during his pro career.

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