Whatever had Rifkin benched didn't require anything more than the minimum one-week DL-stint to heal. While the Rainiers are in first place right now, the revolving door of prospects has left manager Dan Rohn with little room for error in the lineup. They've yet to clinch a playoff spot, and with Jose Lopez now promoted, Rifkin has the highest slugging percentage of any player on the roster at .476. They need Rifkin now more than ever, particularly if they're going to advance in the playoffs.
Flannery has handled double-A pretty well this season, but the experiment of putting him in the Tacoma ‘pen hasn't been nearly as successful. The Marlins tried it earlier when he was with them, and he managed a 5.40 ERA in fourteen appearances for Albuquerque, but with the Rainiers it's been a 9.53 ERA in five appearances. Part of the problem has been control, as Flannery, who has a bit of a reputation for being wild over his career, has walked seventeen in his time in the PCL this year.
The release of Scott Spiezio allowed Dobbs, a player with similar abilities, to fill the position on the roster. Except Dobbs is younger, isn't being paid millions of dollars, and while in Tacoma he hit .321/.346/.416 over fifty games, so he seems at least capable of hitting his weight in the big leagues. Except he'll probably have to adjust to the major leagues while seeing rather limited playing time, which is a daunting task for just about any guy who is used to playing every day.
Beating up on Arizona and California League pitchers, that was easy, but in triple-A, Bucky has run into stiffer competition (or hobbled, don't want to aggravate that knee too much). It's only been fifteen games, but he's only hit .135/.250/.192 and hasn't been the same powerhouse that we caught a glimpse of last season, though by all accounts, he's still a fan favorite. But when you're limited to DHing, you need more than that to get a ticket back to the majors, and without some improvement and health on his side, he could go the way of previous hitters who seemed to master Cheney, only to fade into obscurity.
The bad news for Nageotte fans is that he only got two appearances in, giving up a couple runs on four hits, a walk, and a strikeout in two and two-thirds innings (though the first one could hardly be called an appearance, as he threw one pitch over the head of Twins batter Lew Ford and was immediately ejected). The good news? Well, he's still tearing triple-A batters apart, and his season line now has him with a 2.45 ERA, a .172 average against, and more than a K per inning. He'll be a starting pitcher in the Arizona Fall League in October, and he's a lock for a September call-up, as soon as the Rainiers are done with the playoffs.
Another pitcher brought up as an extra arm to fill a thin relief corps, Bumstead's fared a bit better than Flannery has thus far. He's posting a 4.58 ERA through eleven appearances, all of them in relief, though he could easily slide into one of the spots in the rotation if the need arose. The 28-year-old can fill any role given to him, but his success is largely reliant on putting balls in play, and he's striking out under four per nine innings, which is a bit of a warning sign.
The Rainiers already had Wiki Gonzalez and Ryan Christianson capable of donning the gear and playing behind the plate, so when Rivera went on the DL with a sore shoulder, the team opted to get more pitching rather than a third catcher. Rivera left a good impression on the fan during a brief call-up to the big leagues, but once he got back to the minor leagues, his numbers dropped off quite a bit. In eleven games in Tacoma, he only hit .231/.250/.308, and before that his numbers in San Antonio were .272/.305/.382 in 57 games. He'll need to work on his hitting, otherwise he's a backup catcher, at best.
In his one start back at the Triple-A level, Harris pitched six innings and allowed just one run on two hits while striking out seven. At the same time, in Minnesota, Gil Meche gave up three runs in five innings, on five hits and six walks. It didn't come as much of a surprise then that Harris took a spot in the rotation again when Meche went on the DL. Harris was ready the first time he was called up and he was just as prepared this time, facing off against the Rangers at Arlington and the Yankees in Seattle and coming out with a win both times. It's good to see the guy make the most of his opportunities.
Younger talents don't usually come up on the waiver wire unless they're projects, and Cruceta has a ways to go yet. He's 24-years-old and has the stuff to induce his fair share of groundouts and strikeouts, but his command and ability to pitch to his strengths wanes at times, and he's been known to get into jams as a result. Rainiers pitching coach Rafael Chaves may be able to help him out a bit, but right now, he's just a power arm to throw into the mix during spring training. What he does from there is up to him.
In his last start before going on the disabled list, Baek only lasted an inning and two-thirds, and gave up seven runs on eight hits, a wild pitch, and a walk in that span. Maybe it's the triceps, or the flexor bundle earlier in the year, or some as of yet unaddressed ailment, but the fact is that Baek has taken a serious step back this season and hasn't been the future rotation option that the M's had hoped for. Currently, he has a 6.51 ERA and opponents are batting .313 off of him. For now, he'll just have to wait until next year and hope for a healthier, more effective season.
The main criticism that observers had about Lopez' .319/.354/.505 line in Tacoma is that he compiled most of it as a dead-pull hitter, without going to the opposite field nearly as much as one would like. The 21-year-old appeared to catch word of it as well, because of his last five hits at the level, two of them went to right field. And that two-run double to right the other night against the Yankees, that looked pretty good too, didn't it?
After spending some time in Everett earlier this season, Zorn got another quick glimpse at the Pacific Northwest as an emergency call-up for Tacoma, and he was sent to help the Sixers out a day later. Zorn, who will turn nineteen in another two weeks, spent most of his summer down in Arizona, where he compiled a .247/.343/.323 average over twenty-two games, while making a number of errors on the field. Not a great debut, but the versatile switch-hitter knows where he needs to improve, and he should work hard in the offseason to improve those aspects of his game.
One of the more unexpected late-season call-ups, Asdrubal was called up to Tacoma as the more permanent replacement for Jose Lopez (though it wasn't like the Sixer were going anywhere anyway). Drubie hit .318/.407/.474 in Wisconsin in some of the worst months of the season for hitters, but he found his promotion to the California League a bit more challenging and could only muster .284/.325/.418 line there in half a season. But as a guy who won't turn 20 until the offseason, that's good, and like Lopez before him, he's definitely on the fast track.
San Antonio Missions, AA, Texas League
Though he struggled at times in Tacoma this season, the demotion of Dorman to San Antonio seems a bit… well, unnecessary. Unless the Mariners wanted to give the Missions an extra arm for the playoffs, that is. The 26-year-old seems to have figured out all he needs to about the double-A level, as he's gone twenty innings there, given up just seven hits and twelve walks, and struck out twenty-four. His command may not let him have a strikeouts-to-walks ratio of much higher than 2:1 for his career, but since he doesn't give up that many hits or home runs, that may not be such a problem.
Another "veteran" arm to add to the mix, Key had been doing just fine in Tacoma, with a 3.60 ERA over ten innings in relief. But the Rainiers have had various pitchers they've added from trades, the DL, and the waiver wire recently, and so the 27-year-old was sent back to the Missions to help them in their run for a playoff spot. Through 49 relief innings with San Antonio this season, Key has a 2.57 earned-run average, a 4-1 record, and three saves.
Inland Empire 66ers, A+, California League
Winding down the minor league season, one of the biggest surprises in the M's organization (and maybe beyond) has to be the progress of 22-year-old Lahair. He traded home run shots with teammate Wladimir Balentien the whole season, before finally settling on 22, but most impressive is a little fact that seemed to slip by most people during the regular season. For a while there, Lahair was leading all of organized baseball in RBI, with a season total of 113 in 126 games. He may be the organization's top prospect at the position, in terms of both offense and defense.
Though he's now caught a bit behind Jeff Clement on the depth charts, Johnson has turned in quite a season, both offensively and defensively. After his promotion to the California League, the 22-year-old hit .314/.383/.443 in a 19-game audition for next season. Before that, he was named the best defensive catcher in the Midwest League by Baseball America. He and Lahair are both headed for the Netherlands, where they will both represent Team USA.
While Lahair broke out as a bit of a known quantity, Boucher took a different approach and hit the ground running, if not sprinting, in his first year in the organization. After putting up a .326/.411/.426 line in Wisconsin for the first 48 games of his season, Boucher outdid himself with a smooth adjustment to the California League in which he hit .352/.453/.474 in 213 at-bats. Now the 23-year-old will get to cap a tremendous debut season by representing Canada in the upcoming baseball world cup.
Rogelstad has cooled off considerably since the start of the season, when he was batting over .370, but his end line of .304/.367/.372 isn't that bad, considering he's filled in at every defensive position on the infield (except catcher, of course) and keeps the strikeouts to a minimum (about once every 8.4 at-bats, second-lowest in the Sixers lineup). Like Boucher, he'll be playing for Team Canada starting on September 2nd.
Coming in with years of collegiate baseball experience under his belt, Hargrove was in a position to dominate the lesser pitchers in the Arizona League. They soon found out there was just no way to get him out, as he hit .314/.464/.482, coming up just one point shy of leading the league in on-base percentage and leading his own team in walks and time hit by pitches with thirty-one and nine, respectively. How he'll fare at the higher levels remains to be seen, but he is capable of wearing out pitchers, just like his father was.
A smart scouting job on the M's part, Gergel was signed after dominating a rather thin collegiate conference and immediately produced, eventually leading the team in home runs (5), total bases (70), and RBI (27), while hitting .316/.377/.526 in 133 at-bats. Though he's officially listed as a catcher, he didn't spend much time at the position in the Peoria and tended to switch between DH and first. He's an experience left-handed bat with some potential, they just need to find a position for him.
Ledbetter came into the organization from the University of Nebraska, which is belongs to a much bigger conference than Kennesaw State U, but otherwise, he's in a position that's somewhat similar to that of Gergel. Usually a catcher by trade, the 23-year-old was pushed off the position by some younger guys in Kent Dixon and Nick Prosise, who are better defenders anyway. But he hit .311/.364/.500 in 122 at-bats, so he might be able to hit enough to handle a less demanding position anyway.
This isn't the first time Dominguez has been promoted to fill a hole on a roster. He also had a short stint in Tacoma while Yuniesky Betancourt was playing in the Futures Game. But this time around, with the Sixers roster losing so many players, the 19-year-old might get a chance to get more than just one at-bat. With Peoria this year, he hit .240/.297/.288 in 125 at-bats, and while that is some improvement over last season, the Mariners are still waiting for him to start playing to his potential.
Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, A, Midwest League
He came by it in a rather circuitous manner, but Nottingham finally reached the level he was slated to at the start of the season. The competition hasn't been quite as strong as it was in the Cal League, but the Massillon, Ohio native will have the bonus of getting to play in front of his friends and family in the last few weeks of the season, as he's scheduled to make a start against the Dayton Dragons soon.
Mariners prospects have had an unusual number of run-ins with inanimate objects this season. This time, it was Tui up against a window built into one of the clubhouse doors, and while he came out of it the clear victor, the battle wasn't without a price. He required a short trip to the hospital, and a number of stitches in his arm, following the event. Fortunately for him, as well as the T-Rats come playoff time, the injury was only bad enough to keep him out of the lineup for nine days, and he's already back in action.
Blanco spent a 20-day stretch on the DL this time before being reactivated. Since coming back, he's pitched an inning and two-thirds, giving up one hit and striking out two, and maybe that's progress in the right direction, but this season can be written off as a disappointment for him. After being the top pitcher in the Venezuelan Summer League in 2003, posting an ERA under one and striking out almost twelve and a half batters per nine innings, Blanco has struggled to stay healthy in the U.S., missing a good amount of time in both of the past two seasons.
Chen wasn't too keen on leaving his team before they even reached the playoffs, but the opportunity to represent Taiwan in the baseball world cup just wasn't something that he could easily pass up. No stranger to international competition, Chen also played for Taiwan in the 2004 Summer Olympics. Playing around the Rattlers infield this year, Chen hit .292/.339/.416 in 121 games, but only stole 15 bases, a significant drop-off from the 25 he stole in half a season with Everett last year.
A 32nd-round pick in the draft earlier this year, Heckman spent a couple of game in Everett, disappeared for a while, then resurfaced in Peoria, where he played 10 games and hit .278/.372/.308 in that span ,with six walks against just one strikeout. It's hard to tell what the Mariners have in him after just a short amount of time in the system, but he does have college experience and could prove to be a decent role player for the playoffs.
Everett AquaSox, SS-A, Northwest League
Soon after he got his start against West Michigan in his home state, Frye was sent west to Everett where he's likely to remain for the rest of the season. The demotion wasn't so much of a surprise, as he had 8.12 earned-run average and between the hits and walks, he was allowing more than two batters to reach per inning, but it seemed a bit odd to send him packing so late in the season. He's pitched 5.1 innings for the Aquasox so far and only given up one run, but baserunners continue to pose a threat, as he's allowed four hits and three walks.