TEAM MVP: Chris Snelling, RF
One of two Rainiers named to the PCL All-Star squad, Snelling’s torrid pace at the plate has led Tacoma since the 23-year-old joined the team during the first homestand of the year. Snelling is showing no ill-effects from the wrist and knee surgeries that limited the outfielder to two weeks in the rookie leagues in 2004 – hitting .363 through June 23 is a good sign that the Aussie is feeling quite healthy. Expect Snelling to stay in the hunt for the PCL’s batting crown until the M’s summon him to the big leagues – likely sometime in August.
PITCHING MVP: Felix Hernandez, RHP
This selection needs no explanation or validation, whatsoever. Hernandez is far and away the best pitching prospect in the game, and may be the most talented arm the Mariners have ever developed – including Randy Johnson. The King’s all-star selection was a no-brainer, though it’s unlikely he’ll pitch due to bursitis in his right shoulder. Hernandez has been the stopper for Tacoma all season, often halting short slides and turning them into positive streaks. The 19-year-old has allowed three runs or less in 12 of 14 starts this season and leads the PCL in ERA at 2.32.
DEFENSIVE MVP: Shin-soo Choo, LF
Choo’s switch from right field to left field was supposed to be in its early stages, but the 22-year-old has made great strides as he positions himself for a shot at the big leagues. Choo has made numerous diving catches and several dazzling catches on the run. To any base runners trying to stretch for the extra base, beware. Choo has thrown out eight runners on the bases this season, despite the fact that he spent two weeks in the big leagues, including the defensive play of the year when he made a sliding catch on a wind-blown ball (toward the infield), popped up to his feet and gunned down a base-runner trying to tag and score from third.
UNSUNG HERO: Hunter Brown, 3B/1B
Brown has done nothing but play well – when he gets the chance to, anyway. Sharing time in the field with fellow third baseman Justin Leone, first baseman Aaron Rifkin, and now Greg Dobbs – at both positions – Brown found a groove in May that no other Tacoma batter could match. His modest .268 average through June 23 is deceiving, since the 25-year-old hit .304 while Leone was on the DL with a hand injury. Borrowing a line from "Field of Dreams”... If you play him, he will hit. Not to mention that he’s the best defensive third sacker on the roster, too.
BULLPEN STUD: George Sherrill, LHP
Despite missing the final month of the first half with an arm injury, Sherrill was clearly the staple of the Rainiers relief corps during the first half. When the club was searching for the proper roles for the rest of the clan, Sherrill was the team’s shutdown closer, posting numbers very similar to his dominant 2004 campaign. When the team needed outs in the late innings, Sherrill was there to get them.
BEST MOMENT AWARD: Shin-soo’s Moon Shot
Last September, former Rainiers first baseman A.J. Zapp tagged a 94 mph Joe Blanton fastball over the big blue wall in center field at Cheney Stadium. It was the first time in the stadium’s 45-year history that anyone had hit a ball over the 28-foot wall. Now Mr. Zapp has company. Outfielder Shin-soo Choo achieved the feat on May 6 off Salt Lake City right-hander Scott Schneider. The line drive to center appeared to be headed for the middle of the wall for an easy two, possibly even three bases for Choo. When center fielder Chris Prieto reached the warning track, then the wall, the ball disappeared behind the blue monster. Wow!