It's never easy to turn down an honor such as being asked to represent your country in the Olympics, so Seattle Mariners outfield prospect Greg Halman had to weigh his options carefully.
But when he looked at the big picture, the 20-year-old Netherlands native knew that his first priority was to get to the Major Leagues.
With that in mind, Halman respectfully turned down the invitation from the Dutch Olympic baseball squad, and spent the second half of his summer traveling with his new teammates at Double-A West Tenn around the Southern League, instead of going for the gold in Beijing, China.
"It would have been a great experience, but I had just gotten to Double-A," Halman said. "My dream has always been to get to the Major Leagues, and I wanted to set myself up to get there."
Between West Tenn and his remarkable first-half performance at Class A Advanced High Desert, Halman combined to hit .272 with 29 home runs, 83 RBIs and 31 steals, leading all Mariners farmhands in homers, finishing second in steals and coming in third in RBIs. His 95 runs scored also ranked among the Minor League leaders and he posted a .528 slugging percentage.
He laughed when asked about coming so close to the 30-30 mark, so elusive in the Minors. He went without a homer in his last six games with the Diamond Jaxx to fall the one long ball short.
"It was going through my mind a lot, but mostly because the guys were trying to get on me a little bit to see if it was getting to me," said Halman, who batted .274 with four homers in August. "I was just trying to play my game and do what I do."
And what Halman does is, frankly, pretty much everything. A center fielder with power and speed, he had struggled in his full-season league debut in 2007, hitting below .200 at Class A Wisconsin, but this year he barely missed a beat. His average stayed steady as he moved from High Desert, where he batted .268 with 19 homers, 58 RBIs and 23 steals (he was caught just once) in 67 games, to West Tenn, where he hit .277 with 10 home runs, 30 RBIs and eight steals in 61 games.
With the Peoria Javelinas, Halman is working on playing the other two outfield positions, since the club is stocked with several top center-field prospects such as Austin Jackson of the Yankees, Drew Stubbs of the Reds and Lorenzo Cain of the Brewers (though he plays all three spots).
"I never had the opportunity to play left field or right field a lot, so that's the main thing I'm doing here. It's fun and I'm learning a lot," he said. "Eventually when I get up to the big leagues I might have to pay left or right and I don't want to feel weird going out there."
While he didn't travel to China this summer, Halman was ecstatic about coming to Arizona.
"I was excited and happy and thankful and grateful that they gave me this opportunity," he said.
And now that he's finished his successful 2008 campaign and continues to drill the ball with Peoria, to the tune of a .350 average with a homer and four RBIs in his first five games, he's also hoping he may yet get to wear his country's flag this spring in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
"If that opportunity comes," he said, "I'll make sure I'm ready to go."
Other Mariners in the AFL
SS Carlos Triunfel, just 18 years old, became the first Arizona Fall League player to be born in the 1990s, with a birthdate of Feb. 27, 1990. Slowed by an abdominal strain early in the season at Class A Advanced High Desert, he heated up down the stretch to finish with a .287 average, eight homers, 49 RBIs and 30 steals, the latter of which tied him for third in the system. He has a plus arm. This marked his first full season after he missed part of 2007 with a broken thumb. He is hitting .353 in his first four games with three RBIs.
RHP Gaby Hernandez, a third-round pick out of high school in Miami by the New York Mets in 2004, was traded for the second time in his pro career this summer as the Mariners picked him up from Florida in exchange for veteran reliever Arthur Rhodes. Hernandez had been dealt by the Mets to the Marlins for C Paul Lo Duca. Hernandez had a solid 2007 season when he posted a 4.22 ERA at Double-A Carolina, but took his lumps in 2008 as he compiled a 6.08 ERA at three stops. In his first start in Arizona, Hernandez struck out three in three innings, giving up one run.
RHP Doug Fister, who stands 6-foot-8, was a seventh-round pick in 2006 out of Fresno State. He moved to the bullpen at Double-A West Tenn in August of this year, and between his two roles combined for a 6-14 record and 5.43 ERA and struck out 104 in 134 1/3 innings. In the early going, Fister had tossed a perfect three innings of work with four strikeouts.
RHP Steve Kahn was a fifth-round pick in 2005 out of Loyola Marymount and has been known for his blazing fastball. Injuries, notably a torn ACL, have derailed his ascent; he did not play at all in 2007 or '08. In his last active season, 2006, he posted a 1.95 ERA at Class A Advanced Inland Empire and a 6.23 ERA at Double-A San Antonio. In his long-awaited return to the mound in Arizona, he tossed one shutout inning, giving up one hit and fanning two.
RHP Joe Woerman is in his second season in the Arizona Fall League, where he posted a 6.86 ERA in seven games with the Peoria Javelinas last fall and pitched in the Rising Stars Showcase. An 11th-round pick in 2003, he was 3-11 with a 6.69 ERA this summer between Triple-A Tacoma and West Tenn, plagued by some control issues as he walked 81 while striking out 74 in 117 innings. Woerman threw a hitless inning in his lone outing so far in Arizona.
C Rob Johnson was a fourth-round pick in 2004 out of Houston and his .305 average at Tacoma this season ranked him fifth in the organization. He added nine homers and 49 RBIs and spent 14 games in Seattle, hitting .129. He made his Major League debut in 2007 after hitting .268 at Tacoma. He is hitting .182 in three games so far with the Javs.
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.