Raul Ibanez in the Minors

June 3, 2009 by  
Filed under Fan News

Most Phillies, Mariners, and Royals fans know Raul Ibanez just as a left fielder, but he actually started out as a catcher in the Mariners’ farm system. After graduating high school in Miami as an outfielder, he switched to catcher. Back in 1995, the Tacoma News Tribune explained the reason for the switch: “Left-handed, power-hitting catchers are highly coveted by the front office brass, and Ibanez is just that.”

It’s an understatement to say Raul tore up the California League with Riverside in 1995; he had 108 RBI in 95 games with a 1.007 OPS and 52 extra-base hits. He was named Mariner minor-league player of the year. He won four player of the week honors, hit .419 (13-for-31), scored nine runs, hit two triples, three home runs, and drove in 16 runs in a single week in late August. Ibanez had 29 RBI in two weeks in the second half of August.

These are pretty incredible numbers, but Ibanez spent the entire year in A ball and then was converted back to the outfield during the winter. The Mariners had a pretty young Dan Wilson blocking his path to the majors and chronic instability in left field to resolve. And, an article at the end of 1995 said Raul “still has a long way to go defensively.” But the failure to promote Ibanez in ’95 was the start of several years of mishandling him by the Mariners.

Seattle could have had an Ibanez-Ken Griffey Jr.-Jay Buhner outfield in the late ‘90s as the centerpiece of an outstanding offense. Instead, after the 1997 season the M’s nearly sold him off to Ichiro’s team in Japan, the Orix Blue Wave. In 2006, the Seattle Times reported:

“Seattle was so close to selling Ibanez to Orix, Blue Wave manager Akira Ogi came to Puerto Rico to visit him. Orix backed off when it was apparent Ibanez was hurting, and he wound up on the 60-day disabled list: his progress derailed and manager Lou Piniella’s patience along with it.”

Raul said of joining Ichiro and Orix: “It would have been something, I didn’t really know what to think then. All in all, I’m glad it didn’t happen.”

Jamie Moyer said of Ibanez’s first tour with the Mariners: “He was quickly given the label he wasn’t going to hit in the big leagues. He’d get at-bats against a front-line pitcher or maybe as a pinch-hitter against a closer. From those situations, it was decided that he wasn’t going to hit.”

Well, you probably know the rest of the story, or at least the part that’s set in Philadelphia. But here are a couple more nuggets about Ibanez in the minors. In August 1993, with the Bellingham Mariners, Raul batted three times in one inning: the M’s had 20 batters, scored a Northwest League-record 17 runs, and had 10 singles, a double, a home run, a hit batter, and four walks. Raul had two of the singles and one of the outs.

More significantly, near the end of the 1995 season, Jim Skaalen, Mariners coordinator of minor-league instruction, said: “You’re going to find a place for him. He hits lefties, he hits righties. He has no fear at the plate. Better than anybody else in our organization, he goes up with the expectation to hit the ball hard and far every time. And if he doesn’t, he’s some kind of teed off…If he doesn’t double, homer, or absolutely smoke something, he’s not happy. And that’s what it takes to be a successful Major-League hitter.”

And here’s Ibanez giving a sign of why he’s adjusted so well to life in Philadelphia: “I want to earn the respect of my peers and the respect of my opponents. Being respected is better than being liked. And I’ve always made a practice of trying to not be concerned with stuff I can’t control.”

Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies

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