Today we look at the possible starting pitchers in Tacoma – and this is the most difficult part of the roster to figure out.
There are two big problems: first, the Mariners have two open slots in their rotation, with a handful of guys competing for them this spring. We won’t know who is going to win those spots for several weeks.
The other problem is roles. Several of the pitchers who are competing for Triple-A rotation spots could end up in the bullpen at either Seattle or Tacoma. I’ll make a note of any pitcher who has recent bullpen experience.
OK, here we go…
- Felix Hernandez
- Jason Vargas
- Hisashi Iwamura
Kevin Millwood appears to be the leader for the #4 slot. The MLB veteran is in camp on a minor league contract, but I think he is unlikely to come to Tacoma if he doesn’t make the big club. Yes, he did pitch in Triple-A a bit last year, but I’ve been led to believe that is unlikely to happen again.
Blake Beavan availed himself nicely in his first MLB experience last year, going 5-6 with a 4.27 ERA in 15 starts for Seattle. Early word is that he arrived at camp in great physical shape.
Hector Noesi came from the Yankees in the Pineda trade. He was a starter in the minor leagues, but last year when the Yankees called him up they used him in relief. He did make two starts for New York. Just from my reading, I’ve heard that many scouts see him as a starter in the majors. It will be very interesting to see what Noesi is doing on opening day: big league starter? big league reliever? Triple-A starter? Triple-A reliever?
Charlie Furbush is another player in a similar position to Noesi - he could fill either a starting or a relief role, and he could be at either level. I would think that with his experience in Seattle last year, Furbush would be likely to break camp in a major league role of some kind.
Danny Hultzen was the Mariners first-round draft pick last year, the second player chosen overall. His only professional experience is 19 innings in the Arizona Fall League. However, the Mariners have said all along that Hultzen will compete for a major league spot in spring training. I think that might be a bit ambitious - if I had to speculate, I would guess that Hultzen will open the season at Double-A Jackson.
- Erasmo Ramirez
Erasmo Ramirez is the only name I am 100% confidant will be in the Tacoma starting rotation. Amazing, huh?
Of the five players who I listed above as “frontrunners” for the Mariners final two slots, three might come to Tacoma – and two could end up in the Mariners bullpen instead. Only Beavan from the above group would definitely start in Tacoma if he did not make the Mariners rotation.
There is a large group of pitchers currently competing in major league camp who profile as possible Tacoma starting pitchers. Let’s run ‘em down:
Mauricio Robles is a hard-throwing lefty with command issues. He flashed tremendous potential at the end of the 2010 season for the Rainiers, and then was battling injuries throughout 2011. Robles has often been mentioned as a possible reliever.
Anthony Vasquez seems like a likely candidate to earn a spot in Tacoma’s rotation. Indeed, he had a rough time for Seattle in September – but let’s not forget that he was very good in eight starts for Tacoma, posting a 3.21 ERA in the hitter-happy PCL.
Matt Fox is a minor league free agent signed this winter after a solid season for Pawtucket of the International League (10-4, 3.96 in 21 starts, 7 relief appearances). Fox has two seasons of Triple-A experience under his belt and one MLB start (for the Twins in 2010). He has shuffled between the rotation and the bullpen for 4 of the last 5 years.
Steve Garrison is a lefty the Mariners signed after the Yankees removed him from the 40-man roster last year. Garrison had major shoulder surgery that cost him essentially the entire 2009-2010 seasons, but he was healthy last year and made a big league cameo. Garrison pitched mostly in AA last year, and he’s always been a starting pitcher.
Jarrett Grube has started games at Double-A and Triple-A in the Mariners organization the last two years. A reliable minor league veteran, Grube could start or work as a long reliever in 2012.
Jeff Marquez is a sinkerballing right-hander who the Mariners signed as a minor league free agent. He’s pitched three seasons in the International League and had a brief call-up with the Yankees last year. He also had injury problems. Most of his career has been spent in starting rotations. He’s a strong candidate to make the Rainiers rotation.
James Paxton is the most advanced of the Mariners “big three” starting pitching prospects. He made seven dominant starts at Double-A Jackson last year (3-0, 1.85, 51 K’s in 39 innings), and he could be in line to make the Triple-A rotation to start the season. When he does come to Tacoma, he’ll be fun to watch.
Oliver Perez is a 30-year-old left-hander with 195 major league starts under his belt. He was impressive early in his career with Pittsburgh but injuries and a loss of command have spiralled him into his current status as a minor league camp invitee. If he shows improved command in spring training, he could land in any number of roles – there has been some scuttlebutt that he could resuscitate his career with a move to the bullpen.
Forrest Snow was an emergency temporary fill-in from Class-A High Desert when he first joined the Rainiers last summer – and he pitched so well that we never sent him back. Then he went to the Arizona Fall League and excelled in a difficult pitching environment, Snow could start or relieve in 2012 – and if the Tacoma staff is full, a Double-A assignment to open the season wouldn’t be unreasonable in his development.
Andrew Carraway is a control artist who had a solid season for Jackson last year: 9-5, 3.66 in 21 starts, with a 106-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He’ll wear a Rainiers uniform someday, but will it be on Opening Day?
Other names to know: Steven Hensley, Kenn (two n’s) Kasparek, James Gillheeney, and Yoervis Medina.
Go ahead and throw darts at your computer screen, and make a Rainiers rotation!
Just to answer the inevitable question about Taijuan Walker: he’s 19 years old and pitched in Low-A last year. Even an assignment to Double-A Jackson would be a very aggressive promotion, and jumping three levels to Triple-A would be unheard of. We’ll talk about him next year – or maybe late this season, if he dominates all year.
- We were stunned to learn of the death of Mariners professional scout Frank Mattox, at the far-too-early age of 49. Mattox was a former Mariners Director of Player Development, and he would often watch the Rainiers during the PCL season. Our condolences to his family.
- Ken Griffey Jr. has arrived at spring training camp.
- It may not be the New York City pressure cooker, but Geoff Baker writes that there is going to be pressure on Jesus Montero to perform.
- Larry LaRue has a feature on Mike Carp and the work he has done to keep himself in shape.
- Carlos Guillen has returned to his original team, and he wants to stay healthy.
- Justin Smoak just wants to have a normal season.
- Oh, boy am I confused. LaRue did one of his insider videos on Daren Brown, talking about giving signs from the third base coach’s box.
- The Mariners have players from 19 different countries in the organization.
- Rick Rizzs guested on the Mariners blog, reminiscing with Stan Javier.
- In the PCL, Tucson inked a radio deal. This is news – last year the “temporary” franchise only had home internet broadcasts.
Check back Friday for a news round-up, and next Wednesday we’ll look at the pool of Tacoma bullpen candidates.