Compiled by Will Kimmey
San Antonio trio hopes to embark upon successful Mission to Seattle
By Lee Scheide
SAN ANTONIOFor Mariners pitching prospects, San Antonio seems like a good place to be. Last season, three of the four promotions from the Missions to the Mariners came on the mound.
April 24, 2003
Rafael Soriano, Julio Mateo and Aaron Taylor each made the jump from San Antonio to Seattle. This season, another trio of arms looks to open eyes in the Pacific Northwest while shutting down hitters in the Texas League.
Righthanders Clint Nageotte and Rett Johnson, along with southpaw Travis Blackley, make up 60 percent of manager Dave Brundages rotation and 30 percent of the organizations Top 10 Prospects list.
At 23, Johnson is the veteran of the bunch. He made 21 starts for San Antonio last season, going 10-4, 3.62 with 104 strikeouts in 117 innings. He fashioned a 1.80 postseason ERA as the Missions captured the Texas League title and likely would be the first player promoted from this team. Nageotte, 22, led all of minor league baseball in strikeouts last season, with 214 in 165 innings, an average of 11.3 punchouts per nine innings, at high Class A San Bernardino. Blackley, just 20, already has great presence on the mound and three quality pitches to choose from, including what some think is the best breaking ball in the Mariners system.
"We think highly of all three of them," farm director Benny Looper said. "Blackley is a different type of pitcher than the other two guys.
"Clint and Rett are fastball/slider/change guys, where Blackley is not as hard a thrower, with a curveball and changeup and working on a cutter. They are all progressing well, and we like what we see from them."
New Year, New Projects
San Antonio pitching coach Rafael Chaves, one of the key people involved in Sorianos conversion from outfielder to pitcher, has been entrusted with some of the Mariners best young arms for the second straight year in San Antonio.
Already hes got Nageotte working on an offspeed pitch and using his 91-94 mph fastball to set up his out pitch, a hard slider. The young fireballer must gain better command of his fastball and improve his below-average changeup so he doesnt have to rely solely on the slider when trouble arises.
"Theres no doubt that Nageotte has one of the best breaking pitches in baseball, at any level," Brundage said after Nageottes first start, when he struck out six in six innings of work. "In order for him to pitch in the big leagues, he has to gain more command of his fastball. To have command of two plus pitches, you are going to have a nice career in the big leagues."
If Nageotte can master the changeup and locate his fastball better, he should be able to limit his pitch counts enough to work deep into games while shooting up the farm system.
Like Nageotte, Johnson is working on his command and using his fastball more often; not just to set up his better-than-average slider, but for strikeouts. He must also improve his changeup.
"He really came on strong for us last year," Brundage said. "He throws hard, has an above-average slider and competes. Thats all you can ask for every time out."
Different Recipe For Success
Blackley already has the changeup and command that Nageotte and Johnson are working to improve, and he pitches with a style similar to that of Craig Anderson, whom the Mariners also signed out of Australia.
Blackley throws in the high 80s and uses his curveball to keep up with his teammates strikeout numbers, as he fanned 152 in 121 innings last year at high Class A San Bernardino.
Blackley, too, has been improving under Chaves tutelage, already having made several adjustments with his delivery.
"Ive only been working with him for a few days, but everything weve done has helped me improve," Blackley said. "Hes got a reputation for helping pitchers improve and make that next step, and thats what we are all here for, to learn and hopefully make it to the major leagues.
"My goal is to try to improve one level each year, and last year I was in A-ball in San Bernardino, so being in San Antonio was the logical step. Everyone knows that pitchers were called from here last year, so its important to work hard and good things will happen."
Lee Scheide covers the Missions for the San Antonio Express-News.
After hitting .251-12-77 with 40 steals for Double-A Reading last season, shortstop Anderson Machado was set on moving up to Triple-A this season. When minor league camp broke, however, the Phillies assigned him to Reading again.
"I was surprised," Machado, 22, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "But I wasnt mad. It was their decision, and I took it like a professional. They want me to improve on a lot of things, and I want to do that. I want to learn the little things that will make me a major leaguer."
More than anything, the Phillies want Machado, who fanned 118 times in 450 at-bats last season, to improve his plate discipline. "I need to cut down on the strikeouts, put the ball in play, and use my speed," he said.
Blue Jays outfield prospect Gabe Gross got off to a dismal .141 start last season for Double-A Tennessee, finishing the season at .238-10-54 and not showing the same form that led Toronto to use the 15th overall pick on him in 2001. Gross has made the necessary adjustments and was hitting .367 through his first 49 at-bats at New Haven to begin his second season at Double-A.
Ria Cortesio became the first female umpire in Southern League history when she was promoted from the Class A Florida State League just before the season began. Cortesio began her fifth season in Organized Baseball and just the fifth female umpire in the history of baseball.
"I know Im not doing anything different from any other umpire out here," said the 26-year-old Cortesio. "Even though, yes, it can be a little annoying for me. Because there havent been many women before me, maybe it means a little something."
Jacksonville righthander Joel Hanrahan began his season with 14 scoreless innings and two victories. After two scoreless outings, Hanrahan finally allowed a run in the fourth inning of his third start. The 2000 second-round pick used two plus pitchesa 90-92 mph sinker and a sliderto pile up 15 strikeouts in 17 innings while yielding just 10 hits, two walks and the lone run. Batters were hitting just .164 against him, which was lower than the .167 average the 21-year-old accumulated in his first six at-bats of the season.
Carolina pitchers Ryan Snare, Steve Kent and Ryan Baker combined to throw the second no-hitter in Mudcats history with a 1-0 win in the first game of a doubleheader against Mobile. Teammate Sean Fesh, 30, needed just six appearances to earn five wins. The minor league veteran had won more than five games just once in a 12-year career that began with the Astros in 1991.
High winds whipped through Midland, prompting a tornado watch and creating such a dust storm that the RockHounds game against Round Rock had to be postponed in the second inning. Midland lost a game to a dust storm in 1993, and had to reschedule a contest in 1972 because of a grasshopper invasion.
"Ive seen tornadoes, earthquakes, rain, snow, but Ive never seen a game called off because of dust," Midland manager Greg Sparks told the Odessa (Texas) American. "But we had to do it because of the players safety. The batters couldnt see the ball because of the dust, and neither could the fielders. We had to take everyones safety into account."
Wichita lefthander Jimmy Gobble burst out of the gate, going 3-0, 0.50 in 18 innings over his first three starts. He fanned 15 batters while allowing 10 hits and five walks. It was an impressive return to Wichita for Gobble, 22, who went 5-7, 3.38 in 69 innings there last season before being shut down in July with shoulder soreness and recurring pain from a groin tear sustained in June.
"Hes really made his mark," Royals general manager Allard Baird said. "Hes not ready for the big leagues just yet, but hes showing a quality breaking ball and a great downward plane on his fastball."
Chris Burke and Tommy Whiteman, the Astros fifth- and sixth-ranked prospects, were creating a formidable middle infield combo for Round Rock. Second baseman Burke, repeating Double-A after hitting .264-3-37 for the Express last season, was off to a fast start. His .380 average ranked third in the Texas League, while Whiteman was eighth at .342.