M's Farmhands Confront Harshness of Double-A

SAN ANTONIO, Texas - The talent pool at Wolff Stadium this season could be described as a revolving door for all the prospects that have made a short stay in San Antonio. The ballpark has witnessed chart-topping performers such as Yuniesky Betancourt and Adam Jones, but its also played host to many players without a major league future. As has long been the case, the Double-A level, for all involved, separates the prospects from the suspects, the future stars from the future car salesmen.

Lost within the excitement of future stars like Betancourt and Jones are the players that don't get the attention and press coverage. It are these players who grind it out night after night fighting to stay on the organizations radar. Some say that Double-A is the level of play that either makes or breaks a player, and for most players that often is the harsh reality.

"It's a make it or break it, as an organization they are going to make that decision on whether a guy can play or maybe it's not going to pan out here," said Missions outfielder Jon Nelson, who himself has seen a major drop in production after a breakout 2004 season at High-A Inland Empire. "I think there is a lot of truth to that, at this level you're either good enough to play or your not at this point."

The Missions have many of these players that may be on the bubble this year. As players get older, and younger talent moves in, some of these guys get lost in a numbers game. At Double-A, you can pretty much tell what kind of player the organization has its eyes on.

"It's the toughest level in the minor leagues," said Missions manager Dave Brundage. "When you're coming from A-Ball, most clubs have two and three A Ball teams, with 25 players on each team. So when you get to Double-A you only have one team, therefore, you are getting the best players in the organization. You are facing the number one and two pitchers from each of those A Ball teams, and the one, two, three, and four, hitters off those teams as well. So collectively. as a ballclub, it's harder to pitch to them, it's a tougher jump, and your going to see much better talent."

When players are drafted, or picked up along the lines, expectations are that these players will hopefully play in the Bigs someday. Some are anointed with lofty expectations that they will eventually become more than just a big leaguer, but a super star or hall of famer. For these can't miss prospects, Double-A is a formality, and idealy they are only there long enough to develop their skills further. The question is, what happens if these "can't miss" prospects don't put up the numbers, and the promise that they once showed never comes to fruition?

"Sometimes it takes more than a guy who has power, or a guy that's fast, or a guy that throws 95 mph, it take refining," said Brundage. "At this level you have guys certainly that have these tools, and you don't want to give up on a guy like that because you hope that someday they will put it together. "There are early bloomers, there are late bloomers and there are guys it takes two years for them to get to the next level. Some guys get it in a half season."

Patience is a tough thing for baseball fans to grasp. Young players are going to struggle from time to time, and if all goes right they learn from the hard times they experience in Double-A, in places like Wolff Stadium, and become better players. Those who don't are forced to take another career path. Like selling cars, for instance.

Bohn Hits Milestone: Last Friday T.J. Bohn had his 40th multi-hit game of the season. This is the most since Paul Konerko, the current Chicago White Sox first basemen, had 40 multi-hit games in 1996. Bohn is hitting .311 with 12 homers and 57 RBI on the season.

Newcomers Chipping In: The three pitchers that joined the Missions at the MLB trade deadline have filled vital roles for the club. Yorman Bazardo was magnificent in his debut, hurling seven scoreless innings and striking out five. Nate Mateo and Mike Flannery have come in and done a solid job as well. Flannery has appeared in three games, and sports a 2.70 ERA in a closer's role. He notched his first save with the Missions on Monday night. Mateo has struggled at times so far, but he's appeared in five games and has a 4.91 ERA since joining the team.

Former Missions in The Bigs:Two current Mariners started this season in San Antonio. Jeff Harris and Yuniesky Betancourt were promoted recently to Seattle, and have contributed immediately. Betancourt hit a triple in his first major league at-bat, and hammered another on Tuesday to drive in the Mariners' lone run and help lead Felix Hernandez to his first major league win. Harris, a 31-year-old journeyman, appeared in a blowout game, but was sensational. He tossed five scoreless innings. Then, on Sunday, he returned to the mound for his first major league start and allowed three earned runs in 5.2 innings, picking up the loss.

Bubela Closing in on 300: Jaime Bubela is closing in on a milestone of his own; with three more hits he will have 300 hits as a member of the Missions. This is a milestone that probably would not have happened if he had not been hurt the majority of the 2004 season. The injury has prolonged his stay in San Antonio, because without the injury he surely would have been moved up by now.

What's on Deck?: The Missions begin a six-game road trip today in Tulsa, with Jon Huber (6-6, 4.99 ERA) scheduled to take the mound for San Antonio. They will return home on Aug. 18 against the same Tulsa team.

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