The King and Castro Grab Weekly Honors

With five weeks to go in the 2005 minor league season, the cream of the crop rise to the top - one last time. And there's yet another middle infielder that is sneaking up the charts.

InsidethePark.com's Players of the Week

Ismael Castro, 2B - San Antonio (AA)

Castro was cruising right along in the spring of 2004, showing solid plate skills, consistent all-around play and was climbing the ladder in the M's minor league system - until he shredded his left knee running to first base in a game in the California League.

The 21-year-old switch hitter was the 2002 Northwest League MVP after torching the short-season circuit by hitting .313 with nine homers and 46 RBI. Castro was just 18 when the '02 season began.

Last season was not the first time that the injury bug had bitten the Colombian. Castro missed the final four weeks of the 2003 season with a broken left hand, an injury that set him back heading into the following spring.

Castro has fought through the freak injuries to his hand and knee, but not without some growing pains along the way.

Castro began this season with San Antonio but struggled at the plate, mostly due to the time off from the ACL/MCL surgery to repair the knee.

The Missions fireplug has bounced back nicely and last week turned the proverbial corner, collecting 13 hits in 20 at-bats for a sickening .650 batting average. But Castro is no punch-and-judy hitter. The offensive-minded infielder tallied five extra-base hits, including three home runs, and drove in a team-high eight runs for the week.

After hitting just .239 through June 27, The 5-foot-9, 190-pound Castro flipped the switch and returned to form - seemingly once and for all.

Since June 28, Castro has hit over .300 with five homers. Castro's bat is back.


Felix Hernandez, RHP - Tacoma (AAA)

Hernandez has been the talk of the M's organization since breaking into the professional ranks in the U.S. in June of 2003. Then a 17-year-old flame thrower, Hernandez made more experienced hitters look foolish on a nightly basis in the Northwest League, prompting the club to challenge the Venezuelan near the end of the year.

After posting a 7-2 record with a 2.29 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 55 innings with the AquaSox, it was on to the next level for the youngest player in either league.

Hernandez made two starts for Intermediate-A Wisconsin of the Midwest League and whiffed 18 in 14 frames, walking just three and posting a 1.93 ERA. Hernandez was in the hole to start the next game of the first round playoff matchup for the Timber Rattlers, but the T-rats lost the first two games of a best-of-three series.

From that point on, King Felix has been, well, the King.

A Stellar year split between Advanced-A Inland Empire and Double-A San Antonio shot the teenager to the top of the prospect rankings as the star right-hander was named baseball's top pitching prospect by Baseball America.

After just a few starts for Triple-A Tacoma this summer, fans began pining to see the game's best prospect get the call to the big leagues.

Finally, the time has come for Hernandez, but not until he wrapped up his third player of the week award at InsidethePark.com this season, and eighth in two seasons.

King Felix made two appearances last week, his final relief appearance and his first start in over a month. Both were stellar outings.

Hernandez came in from the bullpen to spin 3.1 strong innings, allowing two hits while walking three and striking out four.

On July 30, Hernandez returned to the rotation, for the final time as a minor leaguer. Hernandez is slated to make his big-league debut August 4 in Detroit.

The 19-year-old ace spun four near-perfect innings in his final tune-up, allowing just two baserunners, both walks, while striking out seven.

Hernandez's numbers at Tacoma? How about a 9-4 record in 19 games, with 100 strikeouts in 88 innings of work. He allowed just 62 hits en route to a stingy 2.25 ERA in the top hitting league in all of minor league baseball.
Jason A Churchill is the Executive Editor at InsidethePark.com and can be reached via e-mail at JasonAChurchill@InsideThePark.com

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