It’s time to look at the Tacoma outfield situation for 2012, and there is good news and bad news.
The good news is the Rainiers outfield is going to be full of mashers.
The bad news is that there are too many outfielders to squeeze onto the Triple-A roster, and there are going to be some unhappy outfielders in Double-A.
We’ll start with a look at the big club.
The Mariners are going to start Ichiro in right, Franklin Gutierrez in center, and a job share of Mike Carp and Casper Wells in left.
A fifth outfielder will make the team – and I believe that player will be either Michael Saunders or Trayvon Robinson, because the Mariners will want their fifth outfielder to be able to play centerfield. Darren Ford (see below) could be a sleeper candidate here.
I’m going to number these just to see how many candidates there are – this is not a ranking!
1) Saunders or Robinson, assuming that one of them makes the Mariners roster and the other does not. Both are on the Mariners 40-man roster, and both have an option. Also, you could make the argument that both of them would be better served playing everyday in Triple-A than playing once a week in the majors, since both are young, talented and hopefully improving.
2) Carlos Peguero - the slugger put up big home run numbers in the Dominican this winter (11 HRs in 45 games), but he still struck out 63 times and drew just 10 unintentional walks in 166 at-bats. Peguero still has a lot of room for improvement at the plate, but he should be an asset in the Rainiers lineup.
3) Mike Wilson – wrote about him on Wednesday, he’s pretty much a Triple-A star these days. If he’s on the Rainiers roster, he’ll find his way into the lineup.
4) Darren Ford - a speedster signed as a minor league free agent in November, Ford has MLB time with San Francisco the past two years – almost exclusively as a pinch-runner (33 games and only 14 at-bats!). He’s only played in 18 career Triple-A games, all at Fresno last year – the Giants bumped him from AA to the majors in 2010, strictly to have his speed on the bench. Ford will be fun to watch if he’s on the Rainiers.
5) Vincent Catricala – we talked about him in the corner infielder post two weeks ago. The pure hitter could start in left field for Tacoma.
6) Chih-Hsein Chiang - the outfielder from Taiwan came to the Mariners in Erik Bedard Trade #2 last July. Chiang was hitting .340 at AA Portland before the trade, but then he hit just .208 in 130 at-bats for Jackson after the deal. He could go back to AA to start the season – but the Mariners like him; he’s on the 40-man roster and they traded for him.
7) Johermyn Chavez - another outfielder on the 40-man, Chavez is coming off a very disappointing 2011 season. After destroying California League pitching in 2010, Chavez hit just.216 with 13 homers at AA last year. New farm director Chris Gwynn talked about not promoting a player until he “dominates a level,” so it would seem that Chavez is ticketed for a Jackson repeat. However, just two years ago Greg Halman was bumped from AA to Triple-A with similar statistics.
8) Johan Limonta - like Catricala, we covered him in the corner infielders post, but he played 53 games in the outfield for Tacoma last year, and of course he’s going to hit in the Pacific Coast League.
9) Jake Shaffer – Shaffer got off to a fast start at Jackson last year, but he tailed off in the summer months. Still, Shaffer ended up hitting .287 with 11 home runs as an everyday player at Double-A, and he could make a better case for promotion to Triple-A than some of the other guys on this list.
10) James McOwen - he burst onto the prospect scene in 2009 with a 45-game hitting streak at High Desert, then missed the entire 2010 season with an injury. McOwen came back last year and batted .261-4-26 at Jackson. He’s 26 years old and could end up in a Tacoma uniform sometime this season.
Other players in the mix: Brandon Haveman, Danny Carroll, Denny Almonte, James Jones.
The Triple-A outfield battle will be one of the most compelling dramas to play out on the back fields of the Mariners spring training complex in March.
- Big news from Peoria, where Eric Wedge announced that Ichiro will bat third, and that Chone Figgins is the favorite to bat leadoff. Larry Stone has all of the details here, including a description of Ichiro’s new batting stance.
- John McGrath is having trouble coming to grips with Ichiro in the 3-hole. I’ll add one to his list of unlikely three-hitters: Tommy Herr of the 1985 St. Louis Cardinals had 110 RBI with only eight homers – he batted behind Vince Coleman and Willie McGee.
- Figgins is grateful for the chance to bat leadoff again.
- Kyle Seager is going to have to play well in spring training to make the Mariners roster.
- Casper Wells is hoping to be the Mariners full-time left fielder.
- Baseball America released its Top 100 Prospects list, and Larry Stone has the run-down on the five Mariners listed. I really enjoyed Stone asking the players if they pay attention to these lists.
- David Aardsma - who spent time rehabbing at Cheney Stadium last year – has signed with the Yankees. He’s coming back from Tommy John surgery and won’t be ready to pitch until late in the season.
- Former Rainiers slugger Bryan LaHair is currently the Chicago Cubs starting first baseman. Great to see him get a chance!
- Former Mariners and Rainiers outfielder Raul Ibanez signed with the New York Yankees.
- Baseball America was caught off-guard last summer when the Mariners drafted Cavan Cohoes from Patch High School in Germany – so they went in-depth to learn his story.
- The Reds named Johnny Cueto as opening day starting pitcher. Cueto never pitched in Tacoma – I only mention this because he is the closest thing to a Curto in professional baseball.
- Want to hear your voice on the loudest stadium PA system in all of professional sports, allowing you to give a headache to 8,500 people simultaneously? The Reno Aces are hiring an on-field MC.*
- Manny Ramirez signed a minor league contract with Oakland. Lots of questions about this, so here is the order of events: 1) the A’s will look at Manny in spring training and decide if he can help them. If they want to give him a shot, then 2) he must serve a 50-game suspension – and I believe, but I’m not certain, that he must be added to the A’s 40-man MLB roster to begin serving. 3) Manny is allowed to go on a minor league rehabilitation assignment for the final ten days of the 50-game suspension. It is at this point – in the middle of May – that he would probably join Sacramento.
- Long-term PCL drama from Boise: while the city is mulling building a downtown Triple-A ballpark, the short-season Boise Cubs are threatening to leave town if the existing stadium isn’t improved. I’ve never been there, but a friend who has coached in the Northwest League compared their current stadium to Heidelberg Park.
- Mount Si High School in Snoqualmie made Baseball America’s Pre-Season Top-50 High Schools ranking.
- We wrap it up with big-time congratulations to Ryan Divish, who was recognized by the Associate Press for feature writing – I believe it was his Eric Wedge – John Wayne feature from last February that won the honor.
Check back Friday for a news round-up, and then on Wednesday we’ll break down the Tacoma Rainiers 2012 starting rotation candidates.
* I’m not kidding – it’s so loud there, the players complain about it during batting practice and outfielders wear ear plugs. They turn it up to 11 at 4:00 and don’t turn it off until 15 minutes after the game. If you complain about it, an Aces employee looks at you and says “what?” I think everyone on the Aces staff used to work as a roadie for Metallica.