Mariners Minor League Players of the Month

Rainiers Slugger Bucky Jacobsen (Photo: Mariners)

For the past few offseasons, the question that has been on the minds of fans and sportswriters alike is "Where can the Mariners get a left-handed slugger and some stronger southpaw pitching?" The M's don't have it yet, but some answers can be found just south of Safeco Field, as three of the May winners are at Tacoma right now and all but one just happen to be left-handed.

InsideThePark.com's Position Player of the Month:
Bucky Jacobsen, DH, Tacoma Rainiers


It doesn't matter what level you're at, slugging over .700 even in a month isn't an easy feat, but Jacobsen managed to pull it off. He had the highest average on the Rainiers for the month at .341 in addition to that. A true slugger, Jacobsen had at least one extra-base hit in over two-thirds of the games he played in and 84 percent of the games where he got a hit.

The 28-year-old DH had a 13-game hitting streak in the middle of the month during which he hit .415 and slugged .811, and in the midst of that was a 16-game streak where he reached base safely. Among his bigger hits was a three-run game-winning home run on May 22nd against Omaha, but perhaps his best game was the one that capped his hitting streak two days prior, where he went 3-4 with four RBI. It's uncertain whether or not Jacobsen will see the majors with the M's, but for now, things are looking good in Tacoma.

Jacobsen originally signed with the Milwaukee Brewers out of Lewis and Clarke State College in Idaho after being selected in the 7th round of the 1997 draft, but his progress as a player was interrupted by a freak leg injury in 1999. He signed with the Mariners in November of 2003 after hitting 31 home runs with St. Louis' Double-A affiliate. Always carrying a big stick, Jacobsen has a career slugging percentage of .508.

Notables:

Tacoma Rainiers right fielder Hiram Bocachica was recently promoted to the big leagues, and his month of May shows why he was the one the Mariners chose to promote. One of the toughest cuts in spring training, Bocachica earned his way back by hitting .328/.391/.656 in the 18 games he played with Tacoma after he returned from an ankle sprain. Those numbers jump to .351/.415/.702 if you discount his 0-4 return game. The former first-round pick of the Expos in 1994 raised his average .104 points over the course of the month.

San Antonio Missions infielder Hunter Brown has been taking advantage of his opportunity to play every day. Taking the field in 26 of the 31 games the Missions played in May, Brown hit .326/.386/.598 after hitting just .167/.280/.310 in April. The 24-year-old didn't have any hitting streaks above five games for the month, but he had multiple hits in 10 of his games.

Inland Empire left fielder Jon Nelson caught the malady of the month with an oblique strain that sidelined him for a number of games, but when he was playing, he was clutch. Despite only having 71 at-bats, the 24-year-old was second on the team in RBIs with 17 for the month, and those ahead of him with 18, Gary Harris and Rene Rivera, had 123 and 91 at-bats, respectively.

Wisconsin center fielder Wladimir Balentien had been riding the pine due to a sore left shoulder and didn't start his month of May until May 15th. In his third at-bat of that game, he crushed a two-run homer. During his limited playing time, the 19-year-old slugger looked like he was back to his 2003 form, hitting .304/.360/.630 with four home runs in just 46 at-bats.


InsideThePark.com's Pitcher of the Month
Travis Blackley, LHP, Tacoma Rainiers
George Sherrill, LHP, Tacoma Rainiers
Cesar Jimenez, LHP, Inland Empire 66ers


It isn't easy to pitch effectively when you don't have control over your best pitch, but Travis Blackley has been doing just that. Despite throwing his changeup with a little less movement than he would like, the 21-year-old led all system starters with 1.97 ERA over 32 innings in five starts.

In the midst of this was an 11-inning streak where he didn't allow a run from the fourth inning on May 18th against Memphis to the second inning against Las Vegas on the 28th. During that streak, opponents batted only .132/.195/.158 off of him, striking out 10 times. Nine of those strikeouts came in a seven-inning start against Omaha on the 23rd where he allowed only three hits and two walks. He also had an earlier 8.1 innings scoreless streak from the 2nd to the 18th where opponents hit .111/.250/.148 against him and struck out six times. For the month, opponents only had a hit off of Blackley in a sixth of their at-bats, and it showed with his 4-0 record.

Blackley was signed as a non-drafted free agent out of Australia on October 29th 2000 by Mariners scout Jim Colborn. He made his debut with the Everett Aquasox in 2001 and jumped a level to San Bernardino for 2002. Blackley's career took off in 2003 when he named to the Texas League All-Star Team, the Futures Game, and awarded as the Texas League Pitcher of the Year, posting a 17-3 record and a 2.61 ERA. Coming into the 2004 season, he had a career 28-13 record and 3.07 ERA.

Last month, it was mentioned how difficult it would be for a relief pitcher to get the pitcher of the month distinction, but the more difficult task for George Sherrill is to come up with valid reasons for why he isn't pitching with the M's. At the suggestion of Mariners pitching coach Bryan Price (and with the help of veteran catcher Pat Borders), Sherrill has been trying to add a cutter to his arsenal. If you can believe it, his ERA was 1.38 in May, a 0.50 drop from April. Working against both left-handed and right-handed batters indiscriminately now, Sherrill had a .204 opposing batting average for the month and his percentage of batters struck out was at 31%, an 11% drop from last month, but if he can do that while trying to add a couple of pitches to his arsenal, it's all the more impressive. He's already looking prepared to take out left-handed batting at the major league level, through the end of May, they were only batting .100 against him.

Sherrill was signed as a non-drafted free agent from the Winnipeg Goldeneyes in July of 2003. He went to Austin Peay State University and played a few seasons in the independent leagues prior to signing with the M's. In 2003 with San Antonio, he made 16 appearances and pitched 27.1 innings, allowing only one earned run the entire time, good for a 0.33 ERA. Not too shabby.

Those who were watching Cesar Jimenez' month of May shouldn't be at all surprised by his move to the rotation when another spot opened. A swingman through his 2003 season in Wisconsin, the 19-year-old led all Mariners minor league relievers with a 1.10 ERA for the month, picking up a win and a save along the way. His sole save of the month came on the 21st as a three-inning relief appearance where he allowed three hits and struck out three.

In his May 29th win, the precursor to his move to the rotation, Jimenez held the High Desert offense to six hits, all singles, over three and two-thirds innings, with two strikeouts. For the month, he was holding opposing batters to a 0.98 WHIP, walking only two batters in his sixteen and a third innings.

Jimenez was signed as a non-drafted in Venezuela on July 2, 2001 by Mariners scout Emilio Carresquel. He made his debut the following year and was 7-1 with a 0.83 in eleven starts with Aguirre, where he was named the team's most valuable pitcher, before being promoted to Peoria amd then Everett. In the U.S., he had a 2-1 record with a combined 2.78 ERA in nine relief appearances. Last season in Wisconsin, he was named to the mid-season all-star team.

Notables:

San Antonio Mission right-handed starter Rich Dorman started out the month with Inland Empire, but when Chris Buglovsky went on the DL, he was called up to the Texas League, where he actually pitched a little better than he had in High-A. Combining his stats from both levels, Dorman posted a 2.48 ERA in seven starts without allowing a home run. In his May 18th Double-A debut, a start against the division-leading Round Rock Express, Dorman went 7.0 innings and allowed only three hits with nine strikeouts to pick up the win. The 25-year-old's California League send-off game against High Desert was much the same; six innings, one run, nine strikeouts.

Wisconsin Timber Rattler lefty Jason Mackintosh is the kind of pitcher managers love because he can fill any role you give to him. Mackintosh took over the spot in the rotation from the injured Brandon Moorhead in the middle of the month. While the 23-year-old didn't pick up any wins from it, it wasn't for lack of trying; in his three starts he went 17.2 innings, allowed only four runs (good for a 2.04 ERA), walked only two, and struck out 20. Inlcuded in that was a seven-inning, eight-strikeout performance against Peoria on the 30th to close out his month.

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