Each Monday during the minor league season, I will give our readers a rundown of the best and worst from the minor league week that was within the Seattle Mariners system. The focus will be to concentrate only on true prospects, but if any player has an exceptionally noteworthy good (or bad) week, he could appear here as well. This isn't necessarily a "stock going up" or "stock going down" on the player, just simply a recap of their week.
The goal is to not only keep you up to date on the goings on, but to try and give you a better look of what talent is in the system by spreading the coverage around.
The past week had a number of noteworthy efforts from some top prospects. I can't highlight them all, but I will give you what I consider to be the best. Read on for Three Up, Three Down.
Victor Sanchez - Everett AquaSox: 2.25 ERA, 0.50 WHIP, 8 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 SO
Sanchez was dominant and efficient on Friday in Eugene while cruising through the first eight innings allowing just one hit and one walk. The first two batters in the 9th got themselves a hit and a walk and Sanchez was replaced. Both runners scored against reliever Grady Wood and Sanchez's line looked a lot less impressive in the end than it really was.
The fact is that this is a 17-year-old -- the youngest player in the Northwest League -- in his first professional, first organized baseball action and he has been better than could have been expected to this point. His 94 pitch outing against Eugene is just a hint of the kind of talent he has -- talent that had the M's seriously considering starting the youngster off this year in the Midwest League. Sanchez is easily one of the fastest rising Mariners prospects.
Patrick Kivlehan - Everett AquaSox: .379/.438/.862 (11-29), 2 2B, 4 HR, 11 RBI, 1 BB, 13 SO, 2 SB
The 22-year-old Kivlehan got off to a rocky start for Everett but he did a lot this last week to show why the M's saw enough in him to use a fourth round pick on the right-handed hitting third baseman. Two multi-homer games helped him work his way to a Northwest League-best 25 total bases and 11 RBI over the past week for the AquaSox.
He did still tie for the most strikeouts in the NWL for the week (along with fellow AquaSox player Alfredo Morales) and his 31 Ks on the season are the second most in the league, but the six extra base hits this week were two more than he had in the season's first 15 games. And five multi-hit games, four multi-run games and three multi-RBI games still deserve a nod here.
Vinnie Catricala - Tacoma Rainiers: .429/.556/.714 (9-21), 3 2B, HR, 7 RBI, 6 BB, 2 SO
Well, all I can say about this past week for Cat the Bat is, "Its about time!" This is the kind of week that I, for one, expected Catricala to have often coming out of spring training this year. He murdered the California and Southern Leagues last year and performed admirably in big league camp in February and March before torching the minor league side of camp prior to heading north with the Rainiers.
But a .182/.240/.205 April probably got in Catricala's head a bit, and despite posting increasingly better OPS's each month since, he hasn't fully been able to break away from that awful start. This last week may finally shock his season back to life. He had a huge game Saturday night against Salt Lake City and he has now reached base multiple times via hit or walk in 11 of his past 17 games. His OPS currently sits at a season high .681 and his 48 RBI and .746 OPS with runners in scoring position suggest that the good hitter is still in there waiting to wake up and come to the party.
James Gillheeney - High Desert Mavericks: 8.38 ERA, 1.97 WHIP, .364 oAVG, 9 2/3 IP, 16 H, 14 R, 9 ER, 3 BB, 9 SO
Gillheeney made 20 starts in High-A last year and seven in Double-A for the Mariners, so heading back to High Desert in 2012, I was expecting to see some better results. His 2011 ERA: 5.39. 2012 ERA: 5.36. He's also walking more batters, allowing more hits and not doing a great job of working out of trouble. The 24-year-old lefty had those same problems again this past week. In addition to the stats above, he also hit two batters and threw two wild pitches in his two start week and didn't get past the 5th in either effort.
As always, evaluating pitchers in High Desert isn't as simple as looking at their overall ERA, and Gillheeney has been serviceable on the road in that regard (4.10), but since a good first seven starts this year (2.75 ERA, .257 oAVG) he's been roughed-up to the tune of a 7.08 ERA over his last 11. Despite his struggles, there are a couple of good signs in that he is increasing his groundball rate as the season goes along and he is maintaining his 9.1 SO/9 number that he had in 2011.
Alex Liddi - Tacoma Rainiers: .250/.333/.429 (7-28), 2 2B, HR, 3 RBI, 4 BB, 9 SO
Those numbers may not seem all that bad for Liddi, but the fact remains that he should be hitting better than this. He shouldn't still be chasing so many pitches out of the zone for strikeouts, and he should be hitting for a higher average with his tools. The extra base hits are nice and the walks are better than a lot of prospects, but the amount of swing-and-miss in his game -- even against some less-than-great minor league pitchers this past seven days -- leads me to think that maybe Liddi hasn't improved much at all from 2011.
That's not to say that he doesn't have a big league future, but it does say that his big league future likely isn't ever going to be as a guy that can hit for average. The pitch recognition hurts him even though he has learned to shorten his swing at times. Liddi is still just 23 and he could improve more in those areas, but he needs to do that and start pounding Triple-A pitching to get himself another extended big league shot with Seattle.
Nate Tenbrink - Jackson Generals: .056/.217/.056 (1-18), 2 RBI, 3 BB, 7 SO, 2 SB
Coming back from a broken elbow last season, Tenbrink was in extended spring training rehabbing until just a few weeks ago, but now that the 25-year-old is back, he needs to pick up the pace and force his way out of Double-A to have any chance to remain in the club's long-term prospect plans. This past week didn't do anything in that regard.
Playing three times at third base and three as the DH, Tenbrink only tallied one hit (a single) and struck out seven times in six games at or near the top of the order for the suddenly offensively-challenged Generals. He popped a double and two homers while drawing four walks in his first four starts after his activation for Jackson, but has no extra base hits, only three walks and 13 Ks in his last 29 plate appearances. We should expect some rust and this is a lot of small sample size action, but time is not on Tenbrink's side.
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