The Mariners’ High Desert affiliate boasts the best record in the high Class A California League, a distinction they owe in large part to the circuit’s No. 1 offense. The Mavericks have outscored and out-homered their closest competition, Inland Empire, by margins of 86 runs and 18 home runs.
And while High Desert features one of the most favorable hitting environments found anywhere in the U.S., Seattle farm director Pedro Grifol insists that the club’s top talents—players such as third baseman Alex Liddi, center fielder Tyson Gillies and first baseman Joe Dunigan—are not simply a high-altitude mirage.
"I know it’s High Desert and it’s a great place to hit, but I feel like it’s taking some of the credit away from these kids," Grifol said. "Tommy Cruz is a great hitting coach who’s doing great things with this group. And let’s face it, these guys hit in every park."
A closer look at their statistics through Saturday’s games . . .
Alex Liddi, 3b, Age: 20
Signed as international free agent out of Italy in 2005
Home: .365/.414/.739 in 115 AB, with 11 HR, 8 2B, 33 RBIs, 9 BB, 24 SO
Road: .304/.345/.480 in 102 AB, with 2 HR, 8 2B, 20 RBIs, 7 BB, 29 SO
Tyson Gillies, cf, Age: 20*
Draft-and-follow from 2006 (25th round) out of Iowa Western CC
Home: .250/.380/.390 in 100 AB, with 3 2B, 4 3B, 5-for-10 SB, 15 BB, 17 SO
Road: .356/.454/.515 in 101 AB, with 3 2B, 5 3B, 8-for-11 SB, 11 BB, 19 SO
* Extra credit for having minimal experience (11 games) in full-season ball entering the year
Joe Dunigan, 1b/lf, Age: 23
Fifth-round pick out of Oklahoma in 2007
Home: .430/.484/.884 in 86 AB, with 10 HR, 7 2B, 30 RBIs, 9 BB, 18 SO
Road: .295/.398/.557 in 88 AB, with 4 HR, 11 2B, 18 RBIs, 15 BB, 21 SO
The Cal League has undoubtedly been kind to all three of these prospects, but Grifol credits the organization’s renewed focus on teaching its young players the proper approach to the game. It’s a philosophy that really taken root since Jack Zduriencik took over as general manager last fall.
"The first thing we stress is that for every player, we want them to understand what kind of player they are—whatever that may be," Grifol said. "It’s part of our plan of improvement for every kid.
"No. 2, we are really pounding as staff the need for the individual approach to match the situation in front of you. (Minor league hitting coordinator) Jose Castro has done a great job with this for us. He helps the players understand that their approach may change from at-bat to at-bat and from pitch to pitch. Sometimes it’s get the guy in; other times, it’s get the guy over. But the approach always involves staying within themselves—and (Castro) is relentless with that."
For Liddi, a righthanded batter who endured two tough years in the Midwest League, batting a composite .240/.306/.365 in 249 games, the change in venue has been a breath of fresh air. His natural power to right-center field now plays, instead of being muted by an unforgiving home park. He leads the Cal League with 53 RBIs and 73 hits, while ranking second with 13 home runs and 44 runs scored.
"For Liddi, he has the ability to impact the game, the ability to play whatever the situation is in front of him," Grifol said. "His league-leading RBI total means he’s hitting the ground ball with the runner on third and the infield back when he has to.
"You end up dong more when you play the game the right way. When you play baseball to win as a team, you end up having big individual years. That’s what we’re stressing with our kids, that when our team won 116 games (in 2001), it was attributable to a true team mentality."
Elsewhere In The Organization
• The Mariners will assign prized outfield prospect Julio Morban to a domestic farm club, at the Rookie classification, to begin his pro career. They were leaning toward having him bypass the Arizona League and head to Pulaski of the Appalachian League. A native of the Dominican Republic, the lefthanded-swinging Morban signed with Seattle for $1.1 million last July as a 16-year-old. He has been lauded by international scouts—and by the Mariners—for his advanced feel for hitting.
Few clubs have suffered through as many injuries to key prospects as have the Mariners this spring. A closer look . . .
• Double-A West Tenn righthander Josh Fields, the 20th overall selection in last year’s draft, overcame a recent bout of what the Mariners dubbed "dead arm," which knocked him out for nearly a month. He returned to action on May 28, and in four one-inning relief outings since, the 23-year-old has allowed only one run on one hit (a solo home run to Mississippi’s Willie Cabrera), while striking out three and walking two.
• News was not as good for corner outfielder Dennis Raben, the Mariners’ second pick (and second-rounder) from the 2008 draft. The 21-year-old slugger will miss the entire 2009 season after having surgery to remove soft cartilage from his right knee. Raben, who had arthroscopic surgery on the same knee in the offseason, had stayed behind in extended spring training to rehab the ailing joint. He has not suited up for a Mariners’ affiliate this season.
• High Desert righthander Michael Pineda made his second visit to the disabled list this season with the same elbow soreness that limited him previously. Team doctors have found no structural damage, but Seattle wants to give him four or five weeks to rest and recuperate. The 20-year-old was successfully following up on a breakthrough campaign in the Midwest League a year ago.
• Low Class A Wisconsin center fielder Danny Carroll, a third-round pick out of high school in 2007, also made a second trip to the disabled list. A strained groin was the culprit back in April; this time, he’s on the shelf as a result of wrist injury sustained during a plunking in a May 6 game (he also has hit a day earlier, on May 5). A series of trauma-related injuries have severely limited the 20-year-old’s time on the field with Wisconsin in each of the past two seasons, and he’s batted just .229/.311/.299 in 75 total games at the classification.
• West Tenn shortstop Carlos Triunfel was rehabbing from April surgery to repair ankle damage and a broken fibula in his left leg, an injury he incurred on a grisly baserunning accident. The 19-year-old’s rehab is complicated by the fact that he is not able to run at this time. The Mariners expect him to be ready for a winter assignment either to the Arizona Fall League or the Dominican League.
• Jharmidy DeJesus will break camp with a short-season club, probably Everett of the Northwest League, when their seasons begin in three weeks. He ranked as the NWL’s No. 9 prospect a year ago, batting .267/.316/.444 in 28 games. The 19-year-old, who signed for $1 million in 2007, was experiencing right shoulder soreness this spring, so Mariners erred on the side of caution in holding him back. They’ll also employ him mostly as a first baseman, a position he spent five games playing last summer. DeJesus signed as a shortstop, but has spent most of his time as a pro at third base.
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