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Franchise Spotlight: Honolulu Rain

Top to bottom, it's hard to put together a franchise that wins. The website only gives credits for major league winners, but for those who just can't put it together at the highest echelons, creating a successful farm system can be rewarding in its own right. Nobody can deny that the Honolulu Rain have something special growing down on the farm. Although it has yet to benefit the parent club, Honolulu's talent in the minor leagues has displayed excellence and consistency across all levels.

The Rain that calls Aloha Stadium home has just one playoff appearance to its name, but the feeder clubs have all experienced success. At the Rain's triple-A facility hang two divisional banners and a World Series pennant, and they have won the wild card three times. One of those wild card teams, the season five entry, won 100 games en route to its championship. The Rain have several key players resting in the offseason at triple A, including shortstop Dennys Shinjo. The Tokyo native was the AA Silver Slugger and Gold Glover in season five and carries a big-leaguer presence about him in the field. His countryman, pitcher Paul Nakamura, has shown that Rain consistency at triple A the past two seasons out of the bullpen and got a cup of coffee with the big club in season six.

At double A, Honolulu has essentially figured out how to win. In the last four seasons, the team has four playoff appearances and twice has reached the World Series. Shinjo's AA club in season 5 won, won, and won some more: 116 regular-season wins and 13 playoff wins got them a .800 record and a World Series championship. This year's double A squad camped with the very consistent J.D. Miller leading a pitching staff that could handle a triple A lineup on some days. Miller is 36-5 at double A over parts of three seasons, partially because he can hand the ball to guys like Bobby White with confidence when he gets into trouble. White was the eighth pick in season 4's draft and scouts still rave about his curveball, which is beautifully set up by a sharp cut fastball. A full third of the everyday lineup does sick things with pitching on a regular basis even if they do grotesque things in the field, too. Brian Russell, Jeff Jones, and Donaldo Barajas feast on double A pitching; just don't ask them to play anywhere except catcher, first base, or designated hitter.

Honolulu's high A team has made the playoffs every year and they won 90 games and won the division every campaign after the first season. In seasons 3, 4, and 5, the high A Rain won 314 games and a World Series. Bright spots for season 7 should include shortstop Esteban Abreu, who did nothing but improve after his senior year of high school last year. He's on the fast track to Hawaii. Dick Jenkins is manning the hot corner but his stay at high A could be brief if his past record holds true. Nobody at Rain Central regrets his selection in the supplemental round of season 5's draft. In the rotation, George Beckwith has major-league stuff already at age 20, but his inability to extend his outings has hurt his progress. Japanese high schooler Tito Martin was nothing but effective at rookie ball last season, but he should see a lot better hitters by skipping low A.

The aforementioned low A team had experienced success up until last year, when it abruptly ended a three-year span of 299 wins with a 52-92 stinker. Honolulu can boast that the record last year was a hoax since it is was the first sub-.500 record put up by a Rain minor league team, although the second one also came with the rookie campaign of season 6. Players like Anthony Franco, Bruce Quinn, and Kurt Gilmore pack the stands with their offensive flair for the dramatic, but if the team is not a winner, it hardly stands up to the Rain name.

For certain, the Honolulu franchise has a storied tradition of winning and playing the right way. Every time the press has sent a scout down to the minor leagues to report on these winners, they ranted and raved about the team chemistry and winning atmosphere. Is season 7 the year that the lower-level success rubs off on the Islands of Aloha? Can players like Hector Gomez and Kevin Hernandez, who experienced so much success in the minors, put the parent club over the top? We'll find out in about six months.


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