Halman ready for Classic challenge

Halman ready for Classic challenge

Just two years ago, things weren't looking so rosy for Mariners outfield prospect Greg Halman.

The native of the Netherlands who had signed with the Mariners back in June 2004 was giving full-season ball his first try. To say the 19-year-old struggled would be like saying the United States is having slight economic issues.

He hit .182 and struck out 77 times (against just eight walks) in 52 games in '07. He got sent back to short-season Everett for a second tour of the Northwest League. And that's probably when the Mariners realized they had a special player -- and person -- in their organization.

Rather than sulk, Halman was a Northwest League All-Star, batting .307 with 16 homers and 16 steals. He's been hitting for power and running since, making a big leap up to the California League in '08. He was there for only half a season, getting a bump up to Double-A at age 20. He was the closest Minor League player to put up a 30-30 season with 29 homers and 31 steals.

"He's come a long way and he's still young," said Pedro Grifol, the Mariners' director of Minor League operations. "He's an extremely talented kid who's come a long way both on and off the field. He's a high character kid who has the chance to do great things in this game and one day lead this organization."

His first order of business will be to help lead the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic. Halman showed he still has things to learn -- he hit .217 and struck out 37 times (against just two walks) in 83 Arizona Fall League at-bats -- but as the '07 season showed, he certainly doesn't shy away from challenges.

"I think it'll be a great experience for him," Grifol said about the Classic. "He'll face great competition. The things he needs to improve on offensively and defensively, they might get exposed there. That's where the adjustments will have to be made.

"The best in the world will be playing. They will identify, and try to take advantage of, your weaknesses. How he makes adjustments will determine what kind of experience he'll have. It's a great development tool for us, to put this kid in this kind of environment and let him experience all of this."

It may not be that long of an experience for Halman and the Netherlands, as they prepare to compete in a pool with the Dominican Republic, Panama and Puerto Rico. But whatever the duration, it will undoubtedly be another step as Halman learns to harness all of his potential and become the player the Mariners are sure he can develop into.

"He's a potential five-tool player, though he's not there yet," Grifol said. "He's a thrill to work with because he's a worker and a learner, a great combination to have when you have those kinds of tools.

"The talent is there, the makeup is there, the intangibles. All he needs to do is continue to do what he's doing and continue to improve and good things will happen for him."

Other Mariners on Classic rosters
RHP Phillippe Aumont didn't seem destined to pitch for Team Canada, but the combination of him throwing well early on and the opportunity to pitch a few innings out of the bullpen was presented, so the 2007 first-round pick said yes. The 6-foot-7, 20-year-old righty threw just 55 2/3 innings last year, though he did have a 2.75 ERA and 50 strikeouts in that span.

RHP Manuel Campos has yet to pitch competitively in the United States. The 6-2 Panamanian, age 19, pitched in relief for the Mariners' club in the Venezuelan Summer League last year, his second straight summer there. He had four saves and a 3.90 ERA in 32 1/3 IP, walking nine and striking out 24.

3B Alex Liddi is on Team Italy and, get this, was actually born there. The 20-year-old from San Remo played in the Midwest League last year, hitting .244 over 447 at-bats with 17 steals.

INF Anthony Phillips will turn 19 this April, but that's not keeping him from being on the South African Classic roster. The middle infielder played mostly shortstop in '08, with some second base mixed in. He struggled with the bat, hitting .186 across 68 games, most of them with short-season Everett.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.