The Reign of Prince Wlad Has Begun. Whither Griffey?

May 4, 2009 (Gothamist delivered by Newstex ) --

You may soon have to catch your Ken Griffey, Jr., highlights on ESPN Classic, because young slugger Wladimir Balentien is the team's best choice to play left field.

Balentien's already getting more respect from M's opponents than Griffey is--the A's intentionally walked him in Sunday's marathon. Griffey hasn't been intentionally walked since last July.

You can excuse the A's for avoiding Balentien--he's been the most effective hitter among Mariners outfielders. In just 38 plate appearances he's hammered three extra base hits: That's one more than Endy Chavez (103 plate apperances), as many as Ichiro (81 PA), and one fewer than number three hitter Griffey (77 PA). Balentien's hitting .353 and slugging .500. Griffey? .190, .317.

Coincidentally, it's Balentien's terrible performance as an everyday player last year that made the M's go after Griffey in the first place. Handed a starting job midway through the '08 season, Wlad compiled a Cirillo-esque .592 OPS.

There was even a chance Balentien wouldn't make the Mariners out of spring training, which, since he was out of minor league options, would've required the Mariners to make him available to every other MLB team. Wanting plenty of evidence for assessing Balentien, the new regime gave him the third most at-bats of any Mariner this spring; he responded by hitting .311 with three homers, enough to justify his spot on the roster. He's done more than justify that spot now; he merits a full-time job.

A short Balentien bio: You say his name VLAD-im-eer bal-en-TEEN. He grew up in Curacao, the Dutch-run tropical island off the Venezuelan coast that also gave Baseball Andruw Jones. (Fun Frustrating fact: The record-low temperature in the history of recorded Curacao weather is 69 degrees. That's not the low high we're talking about, 69 is the lowest it's ever gotten.) The Mariners signed Balentien twelve days after his fifteenth birthday, he steadily rose in the minor league system, and also represented the Dutch in the 2004 Olympics, homering against host Greece. Balentien made his MLB debut at age 23 in September of '07. He's unmarried, but he has a daughter back home named Jenilee (cute!). He almost always wears wrap-around sunglasses.

Balentien's value isn't just in his hitting. He's a terrific outfielder as well, fast and strong-armed enough to have played 29 games in center last season; he made a sprinting over-the-shoulder catch to briefly preserve Brandon Morrow's near-no-hitter against the Yankees.

So, if Balentien holds down left field, what about Griffey?

Probably, Griffey will play against every righty pitcher for the foreseeable future, mostly at DH but occasionally in the outfield, until he heats up.

If he doesn't get over the Mendoza line by the end of this month, he'll rightfully see his playing time reduced to several times per week. And if he's still scuffling by the All-Star Break, the M's may need to have an uncomfortable conversation with our hero.

We want nothing more than for Griffey to find his stroke, claim the DH job, and march toward 700 homers with the Mariners on his back, all the way to a World Series. But, the way it looks now, M's stand a better chance of getting there with Balentien in left.

Newstex ID: 34648950



Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: May 5, 2009