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Dutch Duo

Greg Halman Wladimir Balentien
On Friday, the Netherlands passed Japan and Canada to become the most frequent international visitor to my blog. I'm not entirely convinced it isn't a counting error by Blogger, because I got 54 hits from the nation simultaneously, without any data about referring links or posts visited.

But whatever. I'll take what I can get, and regardless, a noticeable amount of my international traffic comes from the Netherlands. In celebration, I couldn't think of a better thing than to do a Netherlands post.

Remember Wladimir Balentien? It wasn't too long ago that he was one of the Mariners better outfield prospects. Originally from Curacao (a territory of the Netherlands), he is bringing his talents to the land of the rising sun this upcoming season, per this article published a few days ago.

Now that Balentien is officially out of the majors, it seems safe to call him a bust (for the time being at least, unless he goes all Colby Lewis on us).

Currently, the Mariners have a young outfielder that reminds me quite a bit of Wladimir. His name is Greg Halman. He happens to also be from the Netherlands (though the actual Netherlands, not Curacao). Wladimir and Greg's skillsets have always struck me as similar too, and it seems that as Greg develops he is progressing in a similar way to Wladimir.

The Friday surge in Netherlands hits gave me a good excuse to explore further.

Although separated by three years in age, Halman and Balentien hit several levels in the M's organization at the same age. So, there are several points where pretty straightforward comparisons can be made.

To start with, both players hit Tacoma for the first time at 22 years old. Halman posted a .243/.310/.545 line with 169 strikeouts, but also 15 steals. Balentien's first season at Tacoma yielded a .291/.362/.509 with 105 strikeouts - and interestingly enough 15 steals.

Frankly, aside from the steals, Balentien and Halman weren't very similar players in Tacoma. Wladimir seemed to focus on contact more, but at the cost of his power.

In both their age 21 seasons, they were in AA. The M's switched affiliates between Balentien and Halman's respective stints, but some interesting parallels can still be drawn. Greg had a brutal season, posting a paltry .217/.278/.420 line. Balentien wasn't quite as bad, but had a similarly uninspiring .230/.337/.435 season. Interestingly, both players rebounded the following season, despite also jumping up to AAA competition.

Their age 20 seasons are the last ones I will compare. Halman actually split time between High Desert and West Tennessee, and together produced a triple slash line of .272/.326/.528. Sticking at Inland Empire the entire season, Balentien batted .291/.338/.553. Given that Greg jumped up to AA during the season, these are arguably their most comparable seasons. The one major difference is stolen bases. Halman grabbed 31 bags, while Wladimir got just 9.

This was far from a rigorous comparison, but it is enough of one to illustrate some problems with my eyeballs.

I always liked Balentien as he came through the system; not in a surefire, can't-miss kind of way, but I liked him. He started to show patience in the upper levels of the minors, and I thought that would be enough to let his power shine.

I have always been tepid on Greg Halman. He has raw tools, but has always seemed so raw to me. I have this vision in my head of some old, scrappy junkballer getting him to expand his strike zone and flail. Based on his first taste of the majors, I might not be too far off, either.

However, looking at the numbers, Halman is a superior prospect. He clearly has more speed, and has also maintained much more prodigious power rates in the upper levels of the minors. While he is not showing the same kind of plate discipline or ability to make contact that Balentien did at similar ages, he seems to more or less be making up for that on talent alone.

Greg Halman is a more exciting prospect than many give him credit for. He is a boom-or-bust type, and it is easy to be visualize a bust when a franchise is rather bad, like the Mariners are right now. It is also easier to see the downside when a similar player, like Wladimir Balentien, comes through the system just a few years beforehand and does not live up to the hype.

However, the numbers say that Halman is a more talented prospect than Balentien was, and that the Mariners will be a better team this year. Neither guarantee future success for Greg Halman, but what if he develops? He could be the right-handed power threat that the Mariners could really use. He is more than athletic enough to cover Safeco's spacious left field defensively. He could be a big answer.

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