They call it the “Mariners Pre-Spring Training Media Luncheon” and its a late-January staple for Seattle baseball reporters. The team schedules it to coincide with the Hutch Award dinner and the Mariners FanFest, which always makes for some baseball news during Super Bowl week.
The Mariners Media Relations & Player Development Departments invite representatives from the local minor league affiliates to attend. I drove up with three Rainiers co-workers, and members of the Everett Aqua Sox front office also attended.
This event is always a wake-up call for me, as it means that it is time to really get cracking on my preparation for the upcoming season.
The event is mostly about the Mariners, and manager Eric Wedge, General Manager Jack Z, Felix Hernandez, and trainer Rick Griffin all spoke. However, this year it appears that the Mariners are going to begin a youth movement, and there was more talk about minor league prospects than in the past.
You can get all of the info on Wedge, Jack Z, and Felix from The News Tribune or Seattle Times, or by tuning into sports radio. But I’ll share a few tidbits that came up regarding the minor leagues.
First, the Mariners Director of Player Development Pedro Grifol told an interesting anecdote that gives credence to the organization’s new emphasis on winning in the minor leagues.
Grifol spoke about Michael Pineda’s playoff start in the California League two years ago. Pineda was pitching for High Desert against Rancho Cucamonga in a Class-A playoff game – part of a best-of-three series.
Grifol said that Pineda – always a picture of calm and composure on the mound – looked jumpy, anxious, and nervous. Grifol spoke to Pineda after the game, and asked him why he looked nervous. Michael told him that it was “the biggest game he had ever pitched.”
Yes, a best-of-three first-round playoff game in the Class-A California League.
Grifol went on to say (I paraphrase) that unless a minor leaguer played college ball in the Big-12, Pac-10 or SEC, he’s never played in a true pressure-packed situation. Minor league playoffs create that pressure element, which helps prepare a player for the major leagues.
He went on to say that it’s particularly important for US players coming right out of high school, and for Latin American players who come out of tryout camps and sandlots. They need the experience of professional playoffs to help prepare them for the pressure of the major leagues.
It was the first time I ever heard a MLB front office member really give a reasoned explanation why they wanted to win in the minor leagues. Usually it seems like they are paying lip-service to the idea, and you come away thinking all they really care about is that the first-round draft pick hits .300. This was refreshing.
There were some other tidbits regarding recent Tacoma players:
- Griffin in his injury report said that Mike Carp (foot) and Matt Tuiasosopo (right elbow) each had minor surgeries right after the 2010 season, and both players are ready to go for spring training.
- Griffin also said that the current timetable for closer David Aardsma to return from hip surgery is the second week of the season. Since the Rainiers open on the road, that makes it unlikely that Aardsma would rehab at the new Cheney Stadium.
- There was lots of talk about Dustin Ackley and his acclimation to second base (last year was the first season he had ever played the position). Jack Z alluded to the addition of Robby Thompson to the major league coaching staff. Thompson is a player I watched a lot while growing up: he was an outstanding defensive second baseman who was known for his excellence in some of the minute details of the position – specifically making cutoff throws, and turning the pivot on the double play. Thompson’s instruction could really help refine Ackley’s defense.
- Ryan Divish grilled Grifol about the shortstop prospects: first, Grifol made it sound like Nick Franklin may jump to Double-A from low-A Clinton. Then Divish asked if Franklin had passed Carlos Triunfel on the “depth chart” and Grifol said “no.” So what does it mean? Perhaps Triunfel gets promoted to Tacoma even though he had an understandably rough 2010 season (he missed all of 2009 with a broken leg – Grifol was just happy that he played all year in 2010). Or maybe Triunfel stays at AA, and Franklin goes to High Desert. Who knows? That’s what spring training is for.
- We’ll talk more about the prospective Rainiers in position-by-position breakdowns over the next two months, but right now starting pitching looks especially backlogged: I count ten potential Tacoma starting pitchers before we even discuss promoting players who finished 2010 at Class-AA.
- Mariners Minor League Operations guru Hide Sueyoshi told me that catcher Eliezer Alfonzo signed as a free agent with Colorado. That one slipped under my radar.
- The Mariners were supposed to play an interleague series at Florida in June, but the series will be moved to Safeco because the Marlins got booted from their stadium in favor of… a U2 concert. The series will be at Safeco, but the Marlins will bat last, and pitchers will hit. It’s going to be kind of surreal, like the Rainiers PCL Championship Series “home” games in Memphis were.
- This Lookout Landing entry has more news from the event, including a picture of the patch that the Mariners will wear on their right sleeve to honor Dave Niehaus.
- A tasty lunch was served.
A few links:
- For ESPN.com Insiders (subscription required*), Keith Law posted his thorough Top 100 Prospects package. Four Mariners made the cut: Ackley (7), Pineda (21), Franklin (53), and… at #100… Class-A outfielder James Jones.
- Mariner Central has a great Q&A with Conor Glassey of Baseball America. The topic is the Mariners farm system, and Glassey talks a lot about the younger kids at the lower levels.
- Here’s the proper news story on the Tucson Padres new logo and business operation.
* on his Twitter, whenever anyone asks Law for the rankings for free, he tells them to “buy the cow.” I have no idea what this means, but I know that I love it.