With Spring Training at full swing now, it is time to see how the players from the Kingdom of the Netherlands will do in the upcoming season. Of course there is no crystal ball and it is still up in the air, but in general you can make a decent prediction based on the performance of previous years.
Wladimir Balentien was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Seattle Mariners in 2000. It took him until 2003 before he made his first steps in professional baseball as he debuted with the AZL Mariners. He moved rather quick through the minors as he was promoted to A Full Season in 2004 and to A Advanced in the very same year. After spending the entire 2005 season at the Inland Empire (A Advanced California League), he was promoted to the San Antonio Missions (AA Texas League). After hitting a respectable .291 in the previous year with the Inland Empire, his batting average dropped dramatically at AA (.230). Nevertheless he was promoted to the Pacific Coast League in the next year (2007). Near the end of the 2007 season, Wladimir was called up to Seattle where he hit .667 in three games. Wladimir split the 2008 season between Tacoma and Seattle. For the latter he hit .202 for the remainder of the season. He hit a three run homerun in his firsr MLB game of that season off Cliff Lee.
In 2009 Wladimir was designated for assignment as he struggled at the plate. Cincinnati picked up his contract and he hit better when with the Reds (.264). With the Reds he hit the longest homerun of the 2009 season as he belted a pitch midway the upperdeck, an estimated 500 feet. After spending the entire season in Louisville, where he hit a decent .282, he went to Japan where he signed with the Yakult Swallows from Tokyo.
In his first season with the Swallows (2011) the Curacao native hit 31 homeruns and drove in 76 runs, but his batting average stayed behind with only .228. After another 31 homerun season in 2012, Wladimir participated with the Dutch team in the 2013 World Baseball Classic in which he hit .304 with a .360 OBP.
The NPB season that would follow would be Wladimir’s greatest so far. With more than a month to go, the Coco meter, as the counter at the website of the Swallows was called, stood at 51. On September he tied Sadaharu Oh’s record of 55 homeruns. Five days later he would break the record by hitting his 56th and 57th homerun. Eventually Wladimir set the season record at 60.
The 2014 and 2015 season were easy to forget as he was injured for a big part of both. Hitting wise, 2014 was still rather successful as he hit .301 but in the 2015 season he hit only .186.
So what can we expect from Wladimir?
After two injury riddled seasons, Balentien has started the 2016 season where he belongs to be: at the diamond instead of rehabbing at home. He and his manager has spoken how to stay healthy. The Swallows may repeat as Central League champions, but to do so, they will need Balentien’s bat as one of their weapons.
If he stays healthy and finds his groove in the batters box he may have a thirty homerun season and that is just a conservative estimation. He may finish the season with a batting average that hovers around .300.
Perhaps it is wise to use him as a DH to keep the chances of getting injured limited. As he is in the final year of his contract, expect some spectacular things. Like every player in the final year of his contract, Wladimir wants to get in the picture to draw interest so he can test the FA market. But perhaps, Wladimir is happy where he is, so he will stay with the Swallows.