Mariners send Balentien to Triple-A
McLaren wants outfielder to stay sharp with everyday play
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Outfielder Wladimir Balentien struck out in his bid to land a spot on the Mariners' 25-man Opening Day roster this spring, but his departure on Monday morning was all about playing time."He's a young kid learning the strike zone and we want him playing every day," manager John McLaren said. "He needs to get ready for his Triple-A season down there." The 23-year-old Balentien, who batted .319 (15-for-47) with a team-leading three home runs and nine RBIs in Cactus League games, was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma, along with catcher Rob Johnson. Left-handed pitcher Jake Woods was reassigned to the Minor League camp. McLaren likened Balentien to catcher Jeff Clement, another high-rated prospect sent to the Minors earlier this spring. "We don't want those guys sitting around as extra players," McLaren said. "We want them playing on a regular basis." Balentien played regularly for Tacoma last season, batting .291 with 24 home runs and 84 RBIs in 124 games. He also went 2-for-3 with one home run and four RBIs for the Mariners in a September cup of coffee. But with the outfield starters already etched in stone -- Raul Ibanez in left, Ichiro Suzuki in center and Brad Wilkerson in right -- there was nowhere for Balentien to play. "I told you all coming into camp that when we made the Adam Jones trade, a lot of our people thought [Balentien] had a higher ceiling than Adam," McLaren said. "With that said, he's going to go down there and play every day and keep working on his game. "He left a real nice impression. He stayed inside the ball, used the whole field and showed some power. I want him working on his defense, try to steal a few bases, and improve on his all-around game." Though Balentien had one option year remaining and could be sent to the Minors without the risk of losing him to another organization, McLaren said Monday's move had nothing to do with the option and everything to do with playing regularly.
Johnson, meanwhile, rejoins his catching buddy Clement with the Rainiers. They most likely will share the catching and designated-hitter duties, which they did last season.Johnson, further along defensively than Clement, went 5-for-13 with three RBIs this spring. Woods' departure leaves 18 pitchers in camp, including three non-roster invitees -- left-hander Arthur Rhodes and right-handers Chris Reitsma and Roy Corcoran. "I could see the writing on the wall," said Woods, who appeared in seven Cactus League games, going 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA. "You always hope for the best, but expect the worst. The odds of me making the team coming into camp were slim." Woods reached that conclusion based on the fact he wasn't on the 40-man roster and had a mediocre season at Tacoma last season, when he went 5-7 with a 6.91 ERA in 25 games -- 18 of them as a starter. He had two stints with the Mariners -- April 10-19 and June 11-14 -- going 0-0 with a 5.91 ERA. "I see him as a reliever," McLaren said. "Then again, left-handers can do just about anything given the opportunity. I thought he threw much better this spring. He is on the radar screen and we'll be watching him closely. He left a nice impression."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.