For those of us who have a problem watching another second half collapse than could have been avoided, Iâ€™m here to provide a distraction. Welcome to:
Daveâ€™s Big Minor League Review
Prospect of the Year: Justin Leone, 3B, San Antonio
Justin Leone has made as large of an improvement as anyone in the system. A college player who had already spent too many years in A-ball and wasnâ€™t producing the way you would hope, he was handed a utility job in spring training and asked to be a role player. That changed when projected third baseman Greg Dobbs blew out his knee, and Leone was inserted into the starting line-up. Five months later, Leone has himself the Texas League MVP as the main cog on one of the best minor league teams in recent history. He moved himself from non-prospect into the Future Forty, and is in consideration for a spot on the 40-man roster this off season. If the Mariners donâ€™t protect him, he will almost certainly be selected in the Rule 5 draft, and there is a good chance that Leone will see time in the major leagues in 2004. Thatâ€™s quite a leap from where Leone was in the spring. Heâ€™s no spring chicken, but with an improved bat and one of the best third base gloves in the organization, Leone could help the Mariners next year. Letâ€™s just hope he gets the opportunity.
Pitcher of the Year: Felix Hernandez, RHP, Everett/Wisconsin
This was a tough call, as several people turned in terrific seasons. Clint Nageotte continued to establish himself as one of the premier arms in the minors, though his inconsistency continued to be a source of frustration. Travis Blackley went 17-3 and won pitcher of the year honors in the Texas League, but he was never truly dominating. Hernandez made the biggest splash, going from a whisper in spring training to an ace in the Northwest League. King Felix was just 17-years-old when the Mâ€™s assigned him to Everettâ€™s bullpen to start the year, but it was clear that heâ€™d be in the rotation before long. His 95+ MPH fastball and hammer curve made college-polished hitters look foolish, and Hernandez never got rattled despite facing opponents with a significant advantage in experience. Upon a promotion to the Northwest League to avoid a suspension, Hernandez blew away full-season competition and simply wasnâ€™t challenged. He managed to climb all the way to #7 on the Future Forty, and his potential is clearly higher than anyone else in the organizations. There is a long road ahead for the 17-year-old, but heâ€™s the closest thing the Mâ€™s have to a phenom.
Comeback Player of the Year: Cha Seung Baek, RHP, Inland Empire/San Antonio
Matt Thornton made a nice run, but more health problems cost him the last two months of the season, and Baek was able to sneak in and take the award. A mere afterthought after three years of continual arm problems, Baek reemerged as a new pitcher with impeccable command, sparkling through the California and Texas Leagues. His stuff isnâ€™t back to where it was when the Mâ€™s signed him as a bonus baby from Korea, but he is a better pitcher now than heâ€™s ever been. If his velocity and movement returns, he could be a force. As it is, the Mariners will consider any contribution they get from him a gift, as heâ€™d been all but written off. His resurgence was definitely a bright spot in 2003.
Most Improved Player: Bobby Madritsch, LHP, San Antonio
Really, this hardware should belong to Justin Leone, but weâ€™re capping each player at one award apiece. Madritsch made tremendous strides in the second half of the season, justifying the Mariners decision to win a bidding war with several other teams for his rights last winter. Madritsch got off to a rough start with his command as he battled an injury on his pitching hand and posted some ugly lines in April and May. Once he settled in, however, he was a force to be reckoned with and nearly untouchable in the second half of the season. He showed remarkable poise for someone who spent 2002 in the Indy Leagues, and his power arm from the left side has the Mariners considering him for a roster spot on the big club in 2004. His velocity and command from the left side, as well as his ability to work several innings at one time, could make him a valuable piece of the Marinersâ€™ bullpen.
Most Disappointing Player: Michael Garciaparra, SS, Wisconsin
I originally didnâ€™t consider him for this â€œawardâ€, because Iâ€™ve never expected much from him, but a $2 million signing bonus and first round selection earns enough notice that Mini-G had expectations from someone. Drafted as a project, he has been even more undeveloped than people imagined. In his first exposure to full-season ball, he was simply overmatched, hitting .243/.314/.289. He did improve in the second half, giving some hope, but there is still no way to describe his season as anything but bad. He had just 15 extra base hits and 38 walks, which is only acceptable if youâ€™re hitting .350. If that wasnâ€™t bad enough, he also made 50 errors at shortstop, which is high even for the minor leagues. Heâ€™s still young, filling out, and he did improve during the second half of the year, but the odds of him being worthy of a 40 man roster spot in the next two years are very slim. We can safely call Nomarâ€™s little brother a bust at this point in time.
Most Snake-Bitten Player: Ryan Christianson, C, The David Segui Memorial Team
Remember when Ryan Christianson was the catcher of the future? Seems like ages ago. Injuries have cost Christianson valuable development time the past two years, and 2003 was supposed to be his make-or-break season. Consider it broken. He spent the entire year rehabbing an injured knee and never managed to make it out of Arizona. Due for a 40-man roster spot this winter, there is no real justification for giving him one, and heâ€™ll be available to any team willing to carry him on the roster next year. Christianson is example 1A in why spending high draft picks on high school catchers can be a very dangerous proposition.
Best Story of the Year: Ryan Ketchner, LHP, Inland Empire
Weâ€™ve been touting Ketchner as a fan-favorite for months, as you canâ€™t help but root for a guy who is pitching with 40 percent of his hearing. Despite his Craig Anderson-like stuff and no confidence from the organization, Ketchner had a simply fantastic year for Inland Empire, winning 14 games with a 3.45 ERA and a 5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He lacks the stuff that major league scouts look for and will never be considered a prospect by the Mariners (see Brian Sweeney), but Ketchner is exceedingly fun to root for. The fact that he had another terrific year, in spite of his inability to hear, is just another feather in his cap. Three cheers for Ryan Ketchner, my favorite player in the organization.
Persistence Pays Off Award: Greg Jacobs, OF, Inland Empire/San Antonio
Okay, I admit it, I created an award just to highlight what Jacobs did this year. I did a feature on Jacobs during the season, but wanted to point out his accomplishments again. Few people can take several years off from hitting a baseball and come back and play at a high level in professional baseball. Greg Jacobs had a remarkable season, far above what the Mariners expected when they signed him as a roster filler last off-season. His power and patience didnâ€™t carry over to Double-A, but it will be interesting to see how he responds next year with a starting job likely his for the taking. If he can show that his performance in San Bernardino wasnâ€™t entirely a fluke, someone will give him a shot to make it as a 5th outfielder.
Scott Podsednik/Aquilino Lopez â€œOne Who Got Awayâ€ Award: Allan Simpson, RHP, Tacoma
This award is given to the person who will almost certainly find a new organization next year and come back to haunt the Mariners by performing well in the major leagues. Simpsonâ€™s plus velocity has gotten him noticed in the past, but a weird case of misdiagnosed lupus led to his removal from the 40-man roster last off-season. He spent 2003 showing he was healthy and attempting to harness his always-shaky command. A midseason lowering of his arm slot led to improved life on his slider and a better feel for the strike zone, and Simpson was the Rainiersâ€™ best reliever the final two months of the season. Regardless, the Mariners didnâ€™t find room for him at the major league level, even when the rosters expanded in September. With a roster crunch facing them after the season ends with other, more high-profile prospects requiring room on the 40-man, Simpson will almost certainly be available in the Rule 5 draft. A wise organization will, once again, pluck a perfectly capable major league reliever from the Mariners farm system at the cost of $50,000. Meanwhile, the Mariners will pay Kazuhiro Sasaki $8,000,000 to be the 6th best reliever on the team.
All in all, it was a good year for the Mariner farm system. The pitchers stayed healthy, for the most part, and several players took big steps forward. They found a legitimate phenom in King Felix, and put three of their four full-season teams in the playoffs. The lower levels of the system are still thin, but the near future looks bright, and people should have some interesting arms to watch in Tacoma in 2004.
I’ve finally gotten around to updating the Big Board. Check it out. Yeah, there are some holes, but that’s what happens when seasons come to an end and guys get called up.
Just how bad is this offense?
Stats from the just completed six-game road trip, during which the M’s scored three runs per game, were shutout twice and held to one run twice more:
(I’d go in order of the batting order, but who knows what that is these days?)
Pretty ugly, eh? Basically the only guys hitting well at all were:
Winn: .320/.370/.560 and
which amazes me since whenever I was watching, Randy Winn was swinging at a pitch well out of the strikezone and either striking or grounding out.
Of course, there’s nothing to be done at this point but hope they come out of this slump. Ichiro must start getting on base again, or the whole offense might as well walk up to the plate carrying an old table leg instead of a bat.
The next game you watch, listen closely to how many times Fairly starts a sentence with “well…” in order to give himself a second lead time as his brain struggles to come up with an answer. Drives me insane. It’s like having a neighbor with wind chimes, or sitting near some woman who insists on snapping her gum every five seconds.
If you’re into alcohol poisoning (and who isn’t), here’s the Ron Fairly Drinking Game
“out over the plate”
“play for one run”
“put the game in motion”
“good piece of [hitting/pitching/fielding/bench-warming]”
“think opposite field” or “don’t [try/want] to pull the ball”
“Mariners are going to have to [score some runs/put some runs on the board]”
“As you can see…” (refering to on-screen graphic)
“I’ll tell you what…”
Highly Dangerous Bonus Chugging
“As we mentioned in the [x] inning…” = group must drink beers equal to number of innings between original comment and reference. Days count as 9 (for instance, a comment he made two days before= 18 beers for the group).
I should just keep this updated and stick it up on the sidebar, now that I think about it.