With opening day set for tomorrow, let’s take a look at some “big picture” things to keep an eye on during the Rainiers season.
Road Warriors: the Rainiers play only 24 of the first 55 games at home, a trend which ends on June 1st. Obviously this is good considering early-season weather concerns in Tacoma, but where will the Rainiers be in the standings on June 1? The Rainiers have a lot of home games in June and July.
Cheney Uprising: last year the Rainiers set a franchise attendance record in the renovated Cheney Stadium. However, it seemed like a lot of the big crowds didn’t appear until later in the season, as word of the stadium improvements spread through the community. Now that more people have experienced the new ballpark, will attendance increase again?
Daren Brown Win Watch: the Rainiers manager needs 23 wins to pass Dan Rohn as the winningest manager in Tacoma baseball history. Brown has 353 wins in 4.5 years as Rainiers skipper – he’d probably already have the record if he hadn’t gotten himself promoted to Seattle midway through the 2010 season.
Moore Revival: this is a crucial year for catcher Adam Moore, who missed virtually all of the 2011 season with an injury. I expect that we will see a lot of Moore in Tacoma this year, as he regains his health and tries to once again prove that he is ready for the majors. I’ll be pulling for Moore in a big way, as he’s been pummeled by bad luck the last few years.
Who’s On Third? Chone Figgins, Kyle Seager, Alex Liddi, Vince Catricala, Francisco Martinez… who is the Seattle Mariners Third Baseman Of The Future? Or the M’s Third Baseman Of Right Now? This will be playing out on the field in both Seattle and Tacoma all summer long. The Rainiers will have Catricala manning the hot corner to open the season.
Shortstop With Upside: the Rainiers starting shortstop will be Carlos Triunfel, who will be one of the most compelling players to watch in 2012. It seems like he’s been around forever because the Mariners signed him to a big bonus when he was only 16 years old. He’s 22 now, in his first year on the 40-man roster, and playing everyday in Triple-A. Triunfel lost a whole season to a severely broken leg in 2009, and in 2010 he played like a man recovering from a severely broken leg. He began to regain his form in 2011. Reports from spring training have been even more positive. Can he take a big step forward in 2012?
Contact Please: the Rainiers shattered the team record for striking out in a season last year, with Carlos Peguero and Alex Liddi leading the way. Liddi has made the Mariners opening day roster, but we’ll have Peguero in Tacoma. Peguero has incredible power and tremendous talent. If he can just cut down the strikeouts and stop chasing pitches out of the zone, he could be an impact player in the majors. Much of the same applies to Trayvon Robinson. Let’s hope for more contact in 2012.
The Big Zero: that’s how many of the Mariners “Big Three” pitching prospects opened the season in Tacoma. James Paxton, Danny Hultzen, and Taijuan Walker all open the season in the starting rotation of the Double-A Jackson Generals (link below). I’m hearing rumblings that we might see some promotions to Tacoma in June if things are going well. Patience, people, patience!
Sixth Starter: With the “Big Three” not yet knocking on the door of the majors, who is the Mariners sixth starter – the guy who fills in when the inevitable injuries hit the major league rotation? Tacoma’s rotation – in order - will be Matt Fox, Jeff Marquez, Mauricio Robles, Forrest Snow, and Anthony Vasquez. Opportunity is there to be the Mariners fill-in starter – although M’s long-man Erasmo Ramirez is also a candidate.
Lefty Watch: both of the left-handers in the Rainiers rotation are trying to overcome adversity. Robles was injured and couldn’t find the strike zone when pitching last year – but he has a power fastball when healthy. Is he back? And then Vasquez.. he was outstanding for Tacoma down the stretch last year, earning a call-up to Seattle that just didn’t go well at all. Can he regain his confidence and continue to excel in the PCL?
- Shawn Kelley was surprisingly optioned to Tacoma, and Jack Z explains the reasoning in this blog post from Greg Johns.
- While he isn’t exactly going all Old Hoss Radbourn on the league, Jason Vargas is starting back-to-back games against the A’s – with some time off between, of course, due to this strange bit of scheduling. Larry Stone has the scoop.
- Here is the starting rotation for the Mariners Double-A Jackson affiliate.
- If you want to get lost on the internet for an hour or two, ESPN.com has its Major League Preview up today. Good luck escaping its clutches.
- Salt Lake is the Rainiers opponent tomorrow. The Bees have a pitcher who is 7 feet, 1 inch tall. Really. Here is a full preview of the hated Bees. Former Rainiers pitcher David Pauley will be in the Salt Lake bullpen. In a broadcaster’s nightmare, each team will have a Luis Jimenez. I think I’m getting the sniffles.
- Boom! We have a humidor in Colorado Springs. I bet my boy Mike Hobson is storing his cigars in there, too.
- Nashville’s roster includes several of the Brewers top pitching prospects.
- The Tucson Padres installed new technology to allow them to pour 50 beers in less than a minute. I plan to do some investigative journalism on this when the Rainiers go to Tucson on May 1.
- The sponsor name on Oklahoma City’s Bricktown Ballpark has changed so many times, I don’t even reference it on the air or in print anymore. Ho-hum, it changed again. “Bricktown Ballpark” is an excellent name and I just use that.
- Continuing the trend of loaded PCL teams, Memphis is going to feature top Cardinals talents Shelby Miller, Matt Adams, and Zack Cox. That, the Cardinals World Series title, and a new Autozone Park video board have created some momentum for the Redbirds.
- Here’s a PCL sleeper prospect for you: Albuquerque outfielder Scott Van Slyke, son of former MLB star Andy. Kind of a late bloomer, Scott has put up big numbers at the lower levels and could be a monster in Albuquerque.
- No link, but just saw a tweet saying that former Rainiers pitchers Justin Thomas and Scott Atchison have both made the Boston Red Sox opening day roster. Congrats, guys!
- If you haven’t yet seen the video for “The Ballad Of Rey Ordonez” it’s right here.
- Look out for the whooping cough – seriously. I was going to make a joke about the radio guy who caught the whooping cough, but then I realized that would be tempting fate just a little too close to opening day. Whoops!
Rainiers roster post coming later…