Continuing our sporadic look at players in Mariners spring training camp who have a chance to open the season with the Tacoma Rainiers, today we look at the corner infielders – first and third base.
The Mariners entered 2011 spring training with a plethora of candidates at these spots – particularly at third base. This is a little strange, because the major league spots are essentially determined: the Mariners are going to start Chone Figgins at third base, and Justin Smoak at first base. I don’t think the Mariners will carry a true backup at either position – the utility infielder will back up third base, and DH Jack Cust can play first base in a pinch.
There is a Triple-A logjam at third base. This is because the farm system has steadily advanced talented players to the Triple-A level:
Matt Tuiasosopo - has been up-and-down between Seattle and Tacoma the last two years; hasn’t been able to stick in Seattle. Tuiasosopo has one option year remaining, so if he doesn’t win a Mariners bench role he could find himself back in Tacoma.
Matt Mangini - one of the most improved players in the Mariners farm system, Mangini excelled in his first Triple-A season last year, eventually earning a September call-up. Mangini can hit – but, his defense needs work and he might be in line for a position change, to first base or left field. Mangini has three option years remaining.
Alex Liddi – the 22-year-old Italian had a good season at Class-AA West Tennessee and is due for a promotion – and I think he will get one, and be the Rainiers everyday third baseman.
So, if Liddi gets the job, what will they do with Tui and Mangini? That’s the big question. Tuiasosopo became more of a utility player last year – he saw time at third, second, and left field for Tacoma. Mangini might be forced to learn a new position as well.
First base is also a bit clogged.
Mike Carp is the incumbant. Carp is my spring training “sleeper” candidate to make a strong push for the Mariners opening day roster. He changed his hitting approach last year to generate more power, and hit 29 home runs. He decreased his body fat and became more agile. He learned to play left field and was acceptable out there by the end of the season. Reports are that he came to camp this spring 15-20 pounds lighter after working out all off-season. Carp is 24 years old and on the roster; he has one option year remaining.
Luis Jimenez is a minor-league masher that the Mariners signed to a Triple-A contract. Jimenez just won the home run crown in the highly competitive Venezuelan Winter League. He’s a thick, left-handed basher who would probably DH quite a bit if he ends up in Tacoma (that’s speculation by me - I really have no clue about his defensive skills).
Johan Limonta is the co-mayor of Jackson, Tennessee (along with Robert Rohrbaugh). A native of Cuba, the 27-year-old Limonta has played three full seasons at Class-AA, hitting roughly 300/375/470 during his time there. He joined the Rainiers for the Triple-A Championship Game last fall, after Smoak was called up. Limonta has flexibility – he has played a lot of corner outfield, as well as first base.
Liddi played 23 games at first base in Class-AA last year. Also in the mix is Nate Tenbrink - but my feeling is that Tenbrink will open the season at Jackson, and if he hits we’ll see him at some point in the summer.
Usually Tacoma manager Daren Brown fills his DH slot with his extra outfielder, but this year he may have to fill it with one of these corner infielders.
- Geoff Baker wrote an excellent article on your probable 2011 Tacoma Rainiers third baseman, Alex Liddi. Liddi was born and raised in Italy; he’s hoping to become the first Italian-born major leaguer in over 50 years. If the Rainiers have both Liddi and Greg Halman, we will lead all of professional baseball in Europeans.
- Here’s another story from Baker, this one on Rainiers catcher Adam Moore and his difficulty adjusting to major league pitching.
- Want more on Moore? Larry LaRue wrote about him, too.
- The News Tribune has a story on David Pauley, who is aiming for the Mariners #5 starter role.
- Jason Churchill wrote a thorough draft preview, in which he looks at the candidates for the Mariners top selection (#2 overall), and also runs down some of the local draft-eligible high school and college talent.
- Here’s a long story from St. Louis about new Mariners infielder Brendan Ryan.
- In my time with the Tacoma Rainiers, we’ve had countless players promoted to the major leagues. But it’s not just players going to the show – the Seattle Mariners and other major league teams have hired away Rainiers ticket sellers, corporate sponsorship salesmen, scoreboard operators, a head groundskeeper, a concessions manager, an official scorer, an office manager – the list goes on. But, I’ve never seen this one before: the Fresno Grizzlies mascot was promoted to the big leagues. As someone who sees mascots every day for five months and has seen it all, let me tell you that this guy deserved it: the Fresno mascot was the only one in the PCL that would do something original and different every game that would make me laugh.
- I could do a whole blog post on the people who play mascots. But instead, let’s just say that they are in a different crowd. I mean, these are people who want to dress up as Zinger The Acorn.
- NFL draft expert Rob Rang wonders if Jake Locker will play baseball if the NFL owners lockout the players.
- When I first started reading this story about a minor league hockey announcer going way, way over the edge, I figured it was an emotional young kid who was learning the ropes. Whoops! (I wonder if “Greasy little punk” will be the next “boom goes the dynamite”).
It’s Academy Awards weekend. For a fun read, check out Jim Caple’s Baseball Movie Academy Awards – his own nominations and awards, looking solely at baseball movies. I’m a Bull Durham guy. Which is your favorite?