Remembering Greg Halman

On Monday, November 22nd Greg Halman‘s life came to a much too early end. He was found stabbed to death at a home in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Halman was just 24-years old. The news itself was jarring but the story that unfolded took things from tragic to tragically bizarre. As it turns out his younger brother Jason, 22, was arrested for the crime as the primary suspect. His brother still has not been charged but reports indicate that there was an altercation with loud music the cause.

Details are still sparse and how the events truly unfolded may forever remain a mystery. What we do know is that Halman’s funeral will be held on Tuesday near his hometown. We also know that Halman at one point was the top prospect in the Mariners organization, made his major league debut in 2010 and was in the mix to earn a spot on Seattle’s Opening Day roster in the coming season.

There was no shortage of reaction to this terrible news in the online community and I wanted to share a few links to the articles that I found most worthwhile to read before I honor Halman as a prospect in my own way.

John Sickels wrote up an excellent piece on Halman’s statistical trek through his minor league career the same day the news broke. Several other sites have covered Greg’s death from a number of perspectives. One of the most original and insightful was this article that Twins writer Seth Stohs published on his site. Not only did Seth give a little background into Halman’s career, he provided some quotes from Twins’ minor leaguer Tom Stuifbergen.

Stuifbergen, if you’re not aware, was born in the same area – Haarlem – in the Netherlands. He was also one of Greg Halman’s friends and played baseball with both Greg and his brother Jason growing up and more recently in international competition.

“Greg and I grew up together as young kids. I played with him until he turned 16 years old and signed (with the Mariners). We promised each other to face off in the big leagues, for a dinner! But, yeah… it’s just awful. It’s tough.”

Baseball Instinct also did an excellent article with quotes from several guys who played with Halman as well as several others in the baseball world who got to know him not just as a player but as a person.

I obviously didn’t know Greg Halman, nor do I have any “insider” access with relation to any of the guys he played with or against. What I do have is access to the internet (obviously) and a massive library of baseball books so I’m going to use those resources to remember and pay tribute to Halman’s baseball journey as best I can.

Halman was originally signed as an international free agent by the Minnesota Twins on November 21st, 2003 but the contract was voided on April 1st. On July 6th, 2004 he signed with the Mariners for $130,000 but was placed on the restricted list until October 18th and did not appear in a minor league game. As a result his minor league journey didn’t officially begin until the 2005 season which is where we begin our rundown.

2005 Arizona League – AZL Mariners (Rk)

103 PA: 0.258/.350/.449, 3 HR, 1/3 SB/CS, 10 BB, 19 SO

For a professional debut as a 17-year old it’s hard to classify Halman’s performance as anything but a notable success. It would prove to be the best SO-to-BB rate of his career.

2006 Northwest League – Everett AquaSox (A-)

123 PA: 0.259/.295/.509, 5 HR, 10/4 SB/CS, 3 BB, 22 SO

Halman had a reasonably solid season given that he was just 18 and still very raw. The speed and power were already present, as was his lack of plate discipline. The first two were encouraging while the last item was understandable given his age and limited pro experience. It was enough to land him at #25 in the Mariners Top-30 prospect rankings according to Baseball America. His 2007 Prospect Handbook write up included the following:

The popular comparison among Mariners officials is Andre Dawson, because Halman is a long-limbed, high-waisted athlete. He has a projectable frame and present strength, and Seattle envisions him hitting for power and average once he matures physically, gains more experience and tightens his strike zone.

2007 Northwest League – Everett AquaSox (A-) / Midwest League – Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (A)

265 PA (A-): 0.307/.371/.597, 16 HR, 16/8 SB/CS, 21 BB, 85 SO
202 PA (A): 0.182/.234/.273, 4 HR, 15/7 SB/CS, 8 BB, 77 SO

Getting compared to Andre Dawson sets your ceiling awfully high and while Halman struggled in his initial assignment in the Midwest League he showed significant improvement upon returning to Everett. His numbers went up across the board from his 2006 performance at the level and most encouraging was the improvement in his SO-to-BB rate.

Heading into 2008 he was elevated to #13 in the Mariners Top-30. His 2008 Baseball America Prospect Handbook profile was very similar to the previous season but did shed some light on his poor performance with the Timber Rattlers:

Because he had played well in a few big league spring training games, Halman was unhappy with his Opening Day assignment to low Class A Wisconsin. He fared so poorly, failing to make adjustments, that he was demoted to Everett in June. He said the experience has humbled him.

By this point Halman was garnering some attention from other sources outside of Baseball America. One of those was John Sickels who wrote the following in The Baseball Prospect Book, 2008:

Tremendously toolsy, he’s fast and very strong, with everything you could possibly want in a player physically, including a strong throwing arm. He also has horrible plate discipline and major problems making contact.

Sickels wound up giving him a grade of C+ noting his high ceiling but also the significant risk. While it is certainly hard to argue that position I personally felt that his assessment of Halman was a little overly critical and failed to acknowledge that he did show some measure of progress with regard to his plate discipline and contact skills with Everett. Given the insight provided by BA, it’s easy to understand – at least in part – his struggles to start the season. The way he handled his demotion and the admission that it humbled him were also positive signs, especially for a 19-year old.

2008 Cal League – High Desert Mavericks (A+) / Southern League – West Tenn Diamond Jaxx (AA)

282 PA (A+): 0.268/.320/.572, 19 HR, 23/1 SB/CS, 16 BB, 76 SO
256 PA (AA): 0.277/.332/.481, 10 HR, 8/6 SB/CS, 16 BB, 66 SO
Plus 4 games in the Dutch Major League

Obviously the pairing of 142 SO and just 32 BB is a red flag but looking beyond that it was hard not to get excited about his performance in 2008. Yes, the effect of the California League and High Desert do mitigate the overall numbers a bit but Halman hit 29 HR and finished with 31 SB a year after being demoted from Class A Wisconsin. Let me reiterate that. Less than one year after hitting 0.182 in the Midwest League while striking out in 38% of his PA, he was hitting 0.277 in the Southern League while striking out in just 26% of his PA.

That all led to Halman earning the distinction of being named the top prospect in the Mariners organization and he also broke into Baseball America’s Top-100 at #57. In BA’s 2009 Prospect Handbook they added some new information into his profile:

He already has the reflexes and whip-like bat speed to hit for plus-plus power. Seattle believes he has the confidence, hand-eye coordination and ability to make adjustments mid-swing that will enable him to be an above average hitter in time.

John Sickels bumped him up to a Grade B prospect in his 2009 prospect book giving him an A for his tools and a C for his skills. In his write-up he noted:

Greg Halman was the best athlete I saw on a baseball diamond all last year. His tools are remarkable: strength, speed, flexibility, athleticism, strong arm – he has it all.

2009 Southern League – West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx (AA)

506 PA (AA): 0.210/.278/.420, 25 HR, 9/7 SB/CS, 29 BB, 183 SO
Plus 3 games in the Arizona League

After his performance in 2008, his repeat campaign in AA was nothing short of a severe let down, though he was still just 21 for most of the season. Statistically his numbers slipped across the board but it was his regression in the SO-BB numbers that were the cause of greatest concern for me. A bit of the bloom came off the rose and as you could probably guess his standing as a prospect took a hit.

Baseball America dropped him to #10 in the Mariners Top-30 and out of their Top-100. In their 2010 handbook they wrote:

Eaten alive by a poor hitting approach, Halman was on target to set the SL’s strikeout record before a bruised heel knocked him out for two weeks in June … In contrast to years past, he struggled to put pitches in play early in counts, then seemed incapable of recognizing and maintaining enough balance to hit breaking balls.

Sickels dropped him to a grade C prospect in his 2010 prospect book and took a harsher, and more humorous stance with regard to the regression:

Halman took what little command of the strike zone he had, cut it into tiny pieces, sealed it in a lead briefcase, and dropped it into the Marianas Trench.

With the struggles he had, it seemed logical that they would have their young OF prospect open the 2010 season in the Southern League once again. Instead …

2010 Pacific Coast League – Tacoma Rainiers (AAA) / MLB – Seattle Mariners

465 PA (AAA): 0.243/.310/.545, 33 HR, 15/4 SB/CS, 37 BB, 169 SO
30 (MLB): 0.138/.167/.172, 0 HR, 1/0 SB/CS, 1 BB, 11 SO

For the second time in his brief career, the Mariners aggressively promoted Halman beyond the level he had struggled at the year before, and for the second time in his career he responded. Saying goodbye to the Southern League his numbers improved across the board while facing more advanced competition. Despite playing at the highest level in the minors he improved upon his 6.31 SO-to-BB rate from the previous year and turned it into a more palatable 4.57 SO-to-BB rate.

Due to Seattle’s rapidly improving farm system, and the fact he was another year older, Halman actually slipped one spot to #11 in the Mariners Top-30. In Baseball America’s 2011 Prospect Handbook they noted:

Halman worked on his approach at the plate, becoming less pull-happy and setting a career high in walks (37), but still had the third-worst strikeout rate among minor league qualifiers at 36 percent.

Once again John Sickels was a bit less diplomatic than BA and quite a bit more pessimistic in his write-up, but he did leave Halman’s grade as a C.

Greg Halman is one of the most frustrating players I’ve ever watched. His natural talent is obvious; he’s fast and immensely strong … But despite six years in the minors, he still has no idea what he’s doing with the bat, swinging at anything within 12 yards of home plate.

After several years of up and down performance Greg Halman had proven he could hit the ball a long way, use his above average speed to his advantage and strike out a lot. Personally he still intrigued me as a prospect at this point and I still held out hope that in time his plate discipline would become palatable.

2011 Pacific Coast League – Tacoma Rainiers (AAA) / MLB – Seattle Mariners

194 PA (AAA): 0.299/.358/.441, 3 HR, 11/1 SB/CS, 13 BB, 53 SO
91 PA (MLB): 0.230/.256/.345, 2 HR, 5 SB, 1 CS, 2 BB, 32 SO

In the PCL he improved his BA and OBP. He upped his production – and success rate – in the SB department. He also dropped his SO-to-BB from 4.57 in 2010 to 4.08 in 2011. At the major league level he also performed better than he had at the previous season outside of the 16.0 SO-to-BB rate.

Given his minor league track record and his natural ability, I have little doubt that Greg Halman would have become a successful everyday player in the majors if given enough time to adapt and adjust to the big leagues. The SO rate would have always been higher than desired, but his other talents surely would have lessened the adverse impact of that part of his profile. He was also slowly showing signs of improvement with his discipline. While I don’t hold some foolish belief that he was ever going to completely conquer that aspect of his game I do believe that incremental improvement in his SO and BB rates were almost inevitable.

Greg Halman had the work ethic, the drive, and without question, the talent. He was just 24 years old and several years away from reaching his prime on the field.

Then his light was tragically snuffed out.

Greg Halman will never get to have that dinner with Tom Stuifbergen, but his memory and baseball career will forever be immortalized in the statistics if nowhere else. It is one of the most magnificent things about baseball. Unlike in other sports, history and statistics are revered. No one who has ever played in the majors or minors will ever truly be forgotten.

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Tags: AZL Mariners Everett AquaSox Greg Halman High Desert Mavericks Seattle Mariners Tacoma Rainiers West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx Wisconsin Timber Rattlers

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