No drought for High Desert's Poythress

Seattle infield prospect had 130 RBIs in first full year in system

By Ashley Marshall / Special to | December 8, 2010 5:00 AM

This offseason, will be honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League baseball. Select a team from the dropdown below.

The Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers won the Pacific Coast League Pacific North Division and swept Memphis in three games in the Finals to claim their first title since 2001, while the Double-A West Tenn Diamond Jaxx made it to the Southern League playoffs before losing out in the first round.

The Class A Advanced High Desert Mavericks lost in the opening round of the California League, but the Class A Clinton LumberKings made it to the Finals of the Midwest League before losing a decisive Game 5. The short-season Everett AquaSox wrapped up the successful year for the Mariners. After posting the best record in the Northwest League (49-27), Everett rallied to beat Spokane in the Finals to capture its first championship in 25 years.

Mariners organizational All-Stars

Catcher -- Guillermo Quiroz , West Tenn (68 games), Tacoma (28 games): Quiroz set a number of career highs across two levels in 2010, including games played (96), RBIs (46), runs (37) and doubles (22). Quiroz started the year at Double-A, but spent five weeks at Tacoma in May and June, in which he hit .297 over 28 games. Eliezer Alfonzo deserves an honorable mention. He slugged nine homers in 174 at-bats, but only played in 48 games at Triple-A. Steven Baron, a Seattle first-rounder in 2009, also caught the eye of the powers-that-be.

"Quiroz went back to Double-A to get some playing time and he did a great job," said Pedro Grifol, Seattle's director of player development. "He's an experienced guy, he's played more than two years in the Majors, and he did a very nice job.

"Steven Baron also deserves a mention. He struggled in Clinton, but went back probably to where he belongs, developmentally wise, in the Northwest League. He's got a great future ahead of him."

First base -- Rich Poythress, High Desert (123 games): Poythress was one of the most productive players in baseball this season. His 130 RBIs were the most of any professional at any level, including the Major Leagues. The second-rounder slugged 31 homers, the third-most in the Mariners system and his .315 average ranked inside the top 10 among Seattle affiliates and California League hitters. The 23-year-old, in his first full season, scored 88 runs, drew 52 walks and had a slugging percentage of .580.

"Rich had a real good year," Grifol said. "At times he carried that ballclub, and we were extremely happy with the year he had. He has power to all fields and he has a knack for driving runs in. Anytime you have 130 RBIs in one season, it's a phenomenal year."

Second base -- Kyle Seager, High Desert (135 games): Alongside Poythress, Seager helped make up arguably the best right side of any infield in the Cal League. Seager's .345 average and 126 runs scored were the best in the league, while his 40 doubles and .419 on-base percentage ranked second. The third-round Draft pick out of UNC-Chapel Hill also had a league-best 32-game hitting streak between June 16 and July 27, during which he hit .428 with 19 extra-base hits.

Grifol praised the second baseman's all-around game, adding that between Seager and Arizona Fall League MVP Dustin Ackley, the organization has a lot of talent at the position."

"Kyle had a phenomenal year. He had 193 hits and played real good defense," Grifol said.

"In his first year out of college, he went to Double-A, struggled for a little while, put up good numbers and then went to Triple-A where he had a real good year," he added of Ackley. "Having those two guys at the same position is extremely exciting for us."

Third base -- Alex Liddi, West Tenn (134 games): Liddi moved up to Double-A this year, and while he didn't duplicate his '09 numbers from High Desert, he still shone at the hot corner -- a position of strength within the organization. Liddi's 92 RBIs were the most in the Southern League, and he also finished inside the top five in extra-base hits (60, tied for first), total bases (239, second) and doubles (37, fifth). Liddi narrowly beat out Clinton's Mario Martinez (.239, 12 homers, 66 RBIs), Everett's Kevin Mailloux (.296, 15 homers, 52 RBIs) and Pulaski's Ramon Morla (.323, 17 homers, 49 RBIs, 13 SB).

"He is really young for that league and we're really proud of the way he was able to drive runners in," Grifol said of Liddi. "For a young kid, he did a great job. It's a tough league and the way he handled it was phenomenal."

Shortstop -- Nick Franklin, Clinton (129 games), West Tenn (one game): Franklin led the Midwest League with 23 homers, proving power up the middle of the LumberKings' infield. The 19-year-old, selected 27th overall in the 2009 Draft, scored 89 runs and stole 25 bases, third-most in the organization. He added 65 RBIs while predominantly batting leadoff or in the No. 2 hole, and he added versatility to the Clinton lineup by being able to play at second base. Franklin got one start at the end of the year with the Diamond Jaxx, going 2-for-3 with a walk and three runs.

"He had a great year for his first year of professional baseball," Grifol said. "He made adjustments to the professional game and dealt with adversity well. He had his ups and downs, but he went through them really well. The talent speaks for itself and he has a lot of confidence that keeps him moving.

"He has the package of talent and makeup to become a very good Major Leaguer."

Outfield -- Greg Halman, Tacoma (112 games): Halman led all Seattle Minor Leaguers with a career-high 33 home runs in his first and very productive go-around in Triple-A. The 23-year-old outfielder struggled with strikeouts (169), but his 80 RBIs were fifth-most in the organization and his 12.85 home run to at-bat ratio was the best in the Pacific Coast League. Halman was rewarded with a September callup, and he made his Major League debut Sept. 23 in Toronto. He went hitless in his first three games before smacking an RBI double Set. 27 against Texas, and he finished the year batting .138 with three RBIs in nine games.

"The strikeouts were a little high, but they are always going to be high for him," Grifol said. "But the tools he has and the way he can impact a baseball game on a daily basis is what makes him special. He hit 30-plus home runs, he can run, steal bases, play defense and he has the package to impact a game in many ways.

"He still has things to work on, but considering he missed 38 games because of an abdominal pull, he had a phenomenal year."

Outfield -- Johermyn Chavez, High Desert (136 games): Chavez took the Cal League by storm, setting career highs in virtually every meaningful offensive category. The 21-year-old, playing in his first season with Class-A Advanced High Desert, hit 32 homers -- the second-most in both the Cal League and the system -- while batting .315, another personal best. The Postseason All-Star ranked inside the top three hitters in the league in runs (109, second), extra-base hits (69, third) and slugging percentage (.577, third).

"He came to us from Toronto and we were extremely happy with him," Grifol said. "He struggled a little bit at the beginning of the year, but the credit here goes to the kid for making adjustments and to our hitting coaches, Tommy Cruz and Jose Castro, who brought some new stuff to the table for him and revamped his swing. Here's where you can tell that makeup is a huge factor when developing kids. He has great aptitude. He took on the instruction, put it to play right away and took off to have one of the best years we had in the Minor Leagues."

Outfield -- Kevin Rivers, Everett (71 games): Rivers moved up from the Arizona League in 2010 and had very little trouble adjusting to the short-season Northwest League. A two-time Player of the Week, Rivers did it all. His .332 batting average was third-highest in the organization and with 60 walks in 71 games, he was able to post a league-best .466 on-base percentage. Add to that 11 homers, 28 extra-base hits and 48 runs (all ranking inside the top five) and Rivers looks ready to make the jump to a full-season affiliate in 2011.

"He has a very patient approach," Grifol said. "He has a real good swing and knowledge of the strike zone, and he put it together. It was a nice Draft pick and our scouts did a great job.

"He's a good-looking young hitter, and he'll compete for a job in Clinton or even a little higher. We have competition here -- seven teams in the States and two in Latin America -- so he'll come to Spring Training, compete for a job and if he wins the job it's his, whether that's in Clinton or High Desert or wherever."

Utility -- Matt Mangini, Tacoma (117 games): Mangini had a successful campaign with the Rainiers and he was rewarded in September with his Major League debut. The third baseman hit .313 with 18 homers and 63 RBIs over 117 games with Triple-A Tacoma, and while he predominantly hit in the No. 2 hole, manager Daren Brown also penciled him into the lower third of the lineup for flexibility. Mangini followed Brown, who replaced Don Wakamatsu as skipper, to Seattle as a September callup when the rosters expanded.

"He has improved every single year," Grifol said of Mangini. "He has good plate discipline, good pitch recognition and his power has kept developing over the years. This year, he put it all together. Matt had a great year when you compare where he came from the previous year. He did some really nice things this year and we're proud of him."

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Michael Pineda, Tacoma (13 games), West Tenn (12 games): The 21-year-old made the jump across two levels in 2010. Pineda had never pitched at Double-A before the season began, but his Southern League domination earned him a midseason promotion to Tacoma. The right-hander went 8-1 with a 2.22 ERA with the Diamond Jaxx, striking out 78 batters, walking just 17 and allowing one home run in 77 innings. Over the two levels, Pineda was 11-4 with a team-high 154 strikeouts and a 3.36 ERA.

"Michael is an extremely talented kid -- a very big, physical kid with a power arm who throws strikes," Grifol said. "His secondary stuff is a work in progress, but he improved tremendously this year and we hope he continues to improve. We are really happy with his progression, and we're really happy with the level that he finished in in Triple-A."

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Anthony Vasquez, High Desert (13 games), Clinton (eight games), West Tenn (seven games): Vasquez split time between three teams in 2010, compiling a 11-9 record and sparkling 2.46 ERA, the lowest among all starters in the system. The Texas native struck out 125 batters, issued 24 walks over 171 1/3 innings and tossed three complete games -- one in Clinton and two in back-to-back starts over nine days for High Desert.

"There are so many different aspects to his game that I was impressed with and happy to see -- his command in the strike zone, his ability to field his position, his ability to hold runners on," Grifol said. "He's not a real big guy but he's a workhorse. He threw a lot of innings and he's a great competitor. There are a lot of things to like about Anthony Vasquez and everyone in the organization believes he is a strong pitcher."

Relief pitcher-- Brian Moran, Clinton (22 games), High Desert (17 games), West Tenn (two games): Moran threw 67 2/3 innings out of the bullpen while appearing in 41 games in relief. The southpaw struck out 78 and walked nine, and he had a combined 6-1 record, four saves and a 1.73 ERA. The seventh-round pick of the Marines in 2009, Moran more than doubled his workload in his second season in pro baseball. While his ground ball rate dropped as he moved through the system, he has yet to give up a home run in 96 career innings.

"He has very good deception and he is a left-hander, so that works in his favor because lefties always tend to do some things that righties can't do," Grifol said. "He throws strikes, but he doesn't always throw strikes -- he commands the strike zone. So you're talking about a left-hander who commands the strike zone and that is a recipe for success.

"There's no doubt in my mind that he can be a very successful big league pitcher."

Ashley Marshall is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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