Today we’ll look at the first basemen and third basemen who will be competing for jobs in Tacoma this spring.
I’m doing these two positions together, because it looks like there is going to be some across-the-diamond job-sharing in the Rainiers line-up this year. You’ll see what I mean.
First, we have to look at the big league club.
At first base, we have Justin Smoak. That was easy.
At third base, we have Kyle Seager, Chone Figgins, and Carlos Guillen. While unlikely, it is possible that Figgins bounces back, Guillen is healthy and spry in spring training, and Seager gets optioned to Tacoma. This would really create a nasty log-jam of Triple-A third basemen.
The player to watch here is 21-year-old third baseman Francisco Martinez.
You might not know his name yet, but Martinez was the key prospect the Mariners acquired when they traded Doug Fister to the Detroit Tigers last July. After the trade, Martinez hit .310 and slugged .481 for Double-A Jackson.
There is a consensus among the prospect analysis people that Martinez is the top third base prospect in the Mariners farm system – ahead of both Alex Liddi and Vincent Catricala. Furthermore, the analysts - including industry leader Baseball America – all have Martinez slated to open the season with Tacoma this year.
If Martinez is the everyday third baseman in Tacoma, what becomes of Alex Liddi? Can a guy who just hit 30 home runs with 104 RBI in Triple-A in his age-22 season really lose his job?
I’m hearing some rumblings that Liddi may play a lot of first base this season. This would be out of necessity more than anything else – it would also be kind of a waste of his talents, since he is a perfectly adequate defensive third baseman. Remember, this is a guy who had enough mobility to play 24 games at shortstop last year.
(Let’s play a game of “what if?”: What happens if on May 15th Mariners third basemen aren’t hitting, Martinez is not ready for the majors, and Liddi has cut down his strikeouts, raised his batting average, and continued hitting bombs in his second Triple-A season? This is a possible scenario. Do you call him up and stick him at third base, even though he’s been playing first base all season?)
Also in the Tacoma infield corners mix: Vincent Catricala. Another Triple-A rookie, Catricala will certainly break camp with the Rainiers after hitting .347 with a .613 slugging percentage in a half-season at Double-A Jackson last year.
Last year Catricala played third base, first base, and left field. Reportedly he struggled defensively at third base (that’s what I’ve read; I have never seen him play). If I had to guess, I’m thinking that Catricala will be the Rainiers left fielder and occasional first baseman in 2012.
So, we’ve got Martinez at third, Liddi at first, Catricala playing left field and sometimes first base… but wait, there’s more!
Johan Limonta: all he did was bat .319-14-84 in his first Triple-A season last year. He’s a first baseman, but he could be the Rainiers designated hitter and reserve outfielder in 2012.
Luis Jimenez: the big first baseman and designated hitter had another huge season in the Venezuelan Winter League, but he’s going to have to look good in spring training to earn a Triple-A job this spring.
Rich Poythress: the Mariners Double-A first baseman last year, Poythress batted .267-11-64 for Jackson. It’s hard to imagine him making the jump to Triple-A for the season opener – but we’ll probably see him in Tacoma down the road.
In conclusion, we have a lot of bodies for a limited number of spots here. Also, there is no guarantee that the DH will come from this 1B/3B group – when we get to the outfielders in two weeks, we’ll see that there will be enough players for the DH to possibly come out of the outfield group.
- The News Tribune has an article on the Mariners unusual spring training, which starts Saturday.
- Fangraphs posted its Mariners Top 15 Prospects list. No surprises here – it’s another list with Martinez ranked ahead of Catricala and Liddi.
- Keith Law has the Mariners farm system ranked #11 in the majors – which is pretty good, once you consider that they graduated the top two prospects to the majors last year (Dustin Ackley and Michael Pineda).
- Lots of rumblings this week about the NBA and NHL coming to Seattle. Geoff Baker has a blog post about how this could help the Mariners.
- From the Seattle Times, we have an in-depth profile of new Mariners pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma.
- Rainiers DH Luis Jimenez launched a three-run homer for his Venezuelan team in the Caribbean Series, but Escogido Leones of the Dominican Republic won the title.
- Ex-Rainiers in the latest round of Baseball America’s minor league transactions: former UW pitcher Sean White signed with the Red Sox, Manny Delcarmen signed with the Yankees, and Gaby Hernandez is now a Washington National.
- Here is a truly amazing story: the top Negro Leagues Baseball researcher is a 17-year-old kid in the Boston suburbs.
- Big PCL story: El Paso and Boise are stepping up their efforts to land the Tucson franchise. More here. I’m a huge Boise fan in this battle – which is odd, since I’ve actually been to only one of the cities, and it’s not Boise.
Check back Friday and Monday for news round-ups, and then next Wednesday we’ll cover the 2012 Rainiers middle infielders.