AquaSox: Leveling Up through the Minors

Can you be the next Nelson Cruz?   (Image courtesy of RHONA WISE / EPA)

The Minor League Baseball system is a cornerstone of America’s favorite pastime. But there remains a lot of questions and concerns by fans regarding the purpose and process involved with the system. The hope here is to clear up some common misconceptions and misunderstandings about our team and its function within the system.

While it’s fun to have an exciting team stacked with incredible talent and dominating the competition, the minor leagues is really about the process. It’s about every player’s singular journey and development towards The Show. So, while a team may not always have the best season at this level, they can still be incredibly successful in developing the players and preparing them for their future.

You may see mistakes made, it’s really about how they respond to their mistakes that’s the key. This environment gives them the opportunity to grow both as people and as ballplayers.

Unlike some sports (Football comes to mind), once drafted out of high school or college, a player doesn’t find himself immediately on the starting roster of the major league team. Baseball is a game of depth and nuance and requires a lifetime of study to truly understand. There are several levels to the system where players can learn more and more about the game while steadily facing increasing competition.

Our AquaSox are a part of the very genesis of that journey. Newly drafted players (as most of the current roster is) arrive and learn what it’s like to be part of a professional team. They are thrown into an often unfamiliar situation, alongside new teammates they don’t know, and may be required to play positions or adjust their habits in ways that are new to them. But it’s only the beginning, and there’s a long road ahead to The Show in Seattle.

Players don’t always start in Everett however, with the Rookie league being below us in terms of development. It’s typically used for internationally signed players and younger high school and raw recruits. There are actually two different teams, with a team in the Dominican Republic and another located in Peoria, AZ where the Mariners spring training facility is. They work like an extended spring training, with a lot of the players getting more one on one treatment than is possible at higher levels. Several of the players who began the season on the AquaSox roster were from these rookie levels, and have since returned, with the addition of several drafted players to the Frogs roster.

When a player succeeds or it’s deemed that they are ready for the next challenge, they are “promoted” up a level to the next team. There’s several levels of classification in the minors, from Rookie to A, to Double A (or AA) and Triple A (or AAA). Level A is the most diverse, with most MLB teams connected to 2 or 3 different minor league teams.

It starts with Short-season A (AquaSox), rolls into full season A (Lumberkings) and then finally heads to High A at Modesto. From there it’s on to Arkansas, Tacoma and finally Seattle in a journey that can be a 3 – 6 year climb to the major leagues.

From Everett the typical next stop is full season A ball located in Clinton, IA called the Clinton Lumberkings. 2016’s Ace of the AquaSox Brandon Miller is currently holding down the Ace role for Clinton, ruling over the Lumber.

The Modesto Nuts are the Mariners affiliate for High A at the moment, and provide the last stop before Double A. Last year’s AquaSox right fielder and league MVP Eric Filia is currently chasing fly balls for the Nuts.

The Arkansas Travelers based in Little Rock, AR are the Mariners Double A affiliate, where former AquaSox star Dylan Unsworth is currently anchoring the pitching staff on his way up the ladder.

The final stop before The Show is down I-5 in Tacoma, with the Rainiers. Former Frog DJ Peterson is holding down 1st base and working on refining the last few parts of his game, waiting for the call from the Mariners.

Up in The Show, 2014 AquaSox Alumni Andrew Moore is currently holding down a rotation spot in the Seattle Mariners and living his dream. He worked long and hard, and his journey took 3 years to reach fulfillment. But if you were to ask him, I’m guessing he’d admit he still has much to learn.

So when watching our beloved Frogs, join us in encouraging these young men in their journey. They truly are living their dream. You never know who’s a curveball away from being truly great, or who just needs to make a small change to their batting stance and become the next Nelson Cruz.

Matt Paige is the Baseball Managing Editor and a regular contributor on SSU TV and for Seahawks Football. He also writes the column “The Call-Up” and is a rabid fan of all teams Seattle (Except the Huskies. Go Ducks!).

 

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