Mariners outfielder Greg Halman seemed destined for stardom, the only question was when.
When the Mariners look back at the tragically short career of Greg Halman, two realizations jump to mind: how far he had come, and how high he could have gone.
Just 16 years old when he signed with Seattle out of Hoofdkklasse Honkbal — the Dutch major leagues — Halman endured some growing pains through his minor-league career. But the Mariners treasured his upbeat personality and remained bullish on his potential after seeing flashes of star ability from the outfielder.
“He had a lot of talent,” said Daren Brown, manager of Class AAA Tacoma, and Halman’s major-league manager in 2010 when he got his first call-up. “Probably more often than not, he was the best athlete on the field. It was just a matter of putting everything together. He worked at it. He wanted to be the best person, and best player, he could be.”
“He had all the tools, and he was still so young,” added Roger Hansen, an organizational instructor throughout Halman’s Mariners tenure, which began when they signed him to a reported $130,000 bonus in June 2004 while playing for Kinheim.
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“It was going to come together. None of us had the crystal ball to say when, but sooner or later, he was going to be a great player.”
Halman regularly appeared on lists of Mariners top prospects, topping Baseball America’s Top 10 ranking in 2009. The magazine compared him to Andre Dawson and Alfonso Soriano, while giving him the ultimate baseball compliment — five-tool player.
But Halman struggled throughout his career to make contact, striking out 768 times in 2,191 minor-league at-bats and 43 times in 116 major-league at-bats. Last season, he went 6 for 7 in his first two games after a June call-up, but ended up hitting just .230 in 35 games with two homers and six runs batted in.
“He was a freak for an athlete,” former Mariners minor-league manager Jim Horner said.
Horner was Halman’s first professional minor-league manager with rookie-level Everett in 2006, and also managed him in 2007 with Class A Wisconsin, one of the turning points of Halman’s career.
As Halman explained in a 2007 Seattle Times article, he thought he had performed well enough in spring training that year to get assigned to a higher league. He didn’t react well to being sent to Wisconsin, and after hitting .182, was demoted to Everett.
“I thought I was better than that, and I didn’t think I should be there,” he told The Times. “To be honest, I was being arrogant. … I went in there thinking I was too good to be there, and then I fell flat on my face.”
Halman rededicated himself, and was superb with Everett, hitting .307 with 16 homers in 62 games. He blossomed in 2008 to earn recognition as Mariners minor-league player of the year. Horner believes he grew from his 2007 struggles.
“He realized that unless he worked, he wasn’t going to get any better,” Horner said. “I had him in ’08 in the California League, and he was a changed kid. I said, ‘My gosh, now we have ourselves a big-leaguer.’ “
Added Alonzo Powell, former batting coach with Tacoma: “I saw a lot of growth in Greg. He was a very intelligent kid. That came out in the first two minutes of a conversation. He could speak four languages — that tells you how smart he is. … You knew if he could ever figure it out and be consistent, he had as much talent as anyone in the Seattle organization.”
Hansen was involved in another turning point for Halman a few years ago, when he was asked by the outfielder’s mother to come to the Netherlands for a meeting. Hansen flew over and met with Halman and his parents, outlining the Mariners’ expectations.
“It just helped put us all on the same page, get him moving in the right direction,” Hansen said. “He was a good kid, a really good kid with a good heart. After that, he was off and running. He made tremendous strides. His whole future was in front of him.”
Hansen added, “His whole family was so proud of him for all he had accomplished.”
It all started with Halman’s father, Eddy, a former Dutch professional player.
“He really put the love of the game into me,” Halman told The Times in that 2007 interview. “For me it wasn’t just a sport, and from early on, I knew I wanted to make it (as a professional). I did well in school, but for me it was only one thing and that was baseball. I set baseball above school, above everything.”
And at age 24, Halman was on the verge of establishing himself at the highest level.
“He was a really good kid, someone who grew up in the organization,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “Coming from Europe, it was a complete challenge. To get to the major leagues said an awful lot about his God-given ability. He was going to come into spring training and have a chance to compete for one of the outfield positions. We were really hoping for the best.”
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or email@example.com. On Twitter @StoneLarry.