Tacoma Middle Infield Appears Set

February 27, 2013

The middle infield is perhaps the easiest of all of the position-by-position previews that I will write about this spring.

Unless there is an unexpected trade or injury, we know that Carlos Triunfel and Nick Franklin will be playing at shortstop and second base this year. Heck, we’ve known this since the end of last season.

At the Mariners pre-spring training event in late January, Director of Player Development Chris Gwynn said that the plan was to continue to flip-flop Triunfel and Franklin defensively, giving both players experience at second and short. This is exactly what happened in the second half last year, when Franklin was promoted from Jackson (Triunfel was already here).

So, we have:

Starting SS/2B

Carlos Triunfel: It seems to be standard form when writing about Triunfel to mention the fact that he will play the 2013 season at the age of 23. It seems like he’s much older because we’ve been hearing about him since the Mariners signed him for big bucks at age 16. Triunfel spent the 2012 season with Tacoma, leading the team with 131 games played and getting a September call-up. With the Rainiers he batted .260 with a career-high 10 homers, and a slash line of 260/308/391. Triunfel has major league range at shortstop and one of the strongest arms you will ever see on an infielder, but he needs to refine his game and cut down on the 30 errors he made last year.

Nick Franklin: Despite hitting just .243 in his first taste of Triple-A last year, Franklin is the better offensive prospect of the middle infield duo. The switch-hitter has legitimate power from the left side of the plate – and that was before he put on 35 pounds during the off-season. Last year Franklin started the season at Jackson and hit 322/394/502, and then in 64 games for Tacoma he hit 243/310/416. The Mariners are going to continue to allow him to switch-hit despite the fact that he has been far more dangerous from the left side. Defensively, Franklin can certainly handle second base, although the opinions on his shortstop play are mixed. Franklin will play the 2013 season at age 22 and has plenty of room for improvement – just like Triunfel.

Rainiers utility infielder candidates

The back-up situation is a little more unsettled. Typically you want a utility infielder who is capable of playing a serviceable shortstop, but really with Triunfel and Franklin on the roster the Rainiers utility man doesn’t need to play shortstop. If either Triunfel or Franklin is unavailable for whatever reason, manager Daren Brown will start the remaining player at shortstop and plug someone else in at second base.

Eric Farris: an Triple-A starter for Nashville the last two-and-a-half seasons, Farris was picked up by the Mariners in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft. Farris even has MLB experience, appearing in 14 games for the Brewers the last two years. He’s played a whole lot of second base in his career, including 217 games at second for Nashville the last two years. He’s a speed player (35 steals last year; career-high of 70 steals at Class-A in 2009) and he has been tried in the outfield occasionally in the past. Farris could serve as an infielder/outfielder for the Rainiers this year, shuffling around the diamond defensively while hitting first or second in the lineup.

Scott Savastano: the jack-of-all-trades spent the entire 2012 season with the Rainiers, seeing time at first base, second base, third base, and left field. He also specializes in 18th inning pitching and 18th inning walk-off homers – when you get to the 18th inning, Savastano is your man and you should accept no substitute. The acquisition of Farris means it is not a lock that Savastano will be coming back for 2013 – a good spring training camp is important for him.

Leury Bonilla: the longtime organizational utility man is back for another season in the Mariners system. Bonilla has set up shop in Jackson the last few seasons, where he once played all nine positions in a single game. Bonilla usually makes an appearance in Tacoma at some point during the season, and I expect that 2013 will be no different.

Then there is Stefen Romero, who I wrote about last week with the corner infielders. Romero has lots of experience at second base, so if he is on the Rainiers roster he can play the keystone when needed.

Others to know

Brad Miller: an interesting shortstop prospect, Miller is hoping to build on a very strong 2012 season. He began the year at High Desert, and hit 339/412/524 in 97 games. Big deal – everybody hits in High Desert. Well, Miller went up to Jackson for the final 40 games and batted .320 with four homers and a .406 on-base percentage. Hmmmm, very in-ter-es-ting. Miller will be waiting in the wings down at Jackson.

Gabriel Noriega: a throwback of sorts, Noriega is an all-glove, no-bat shortstop. They say he is a wizard defensively. The stats say he hit .208 with zero homers and a .266 OBP in Jackson last year. We could see him in Tacoma someday and when he shows up, we should all enjoy watching him play defense.

Those are our middle infielders to watch for Tacoma in 2013. Next Wednesday, we’ll move to the outfield.

Links:

  • Six Mariners prospects – including several prospective Rainiers – are living together in Peoria.
  • Good reporting from Geoff Baker on the politics of Mariners players seeking instruction from outside of the organization. I’m not sure if this is a growing trend, or if it’s always happened but now it’s being reported.
  • Another strong piece from Baker, on the tough youth of new infielder Robert Andino.
  • On Monday, Jeremy Bonderman pitched in a game for the first time since 2010. Results were inconclusive.
  • Ryan Divish writes that Tom Wilhelmsen is looking to use his change-up more this year, and he threw a good one the other day to Chase Headley.
  • Justin Smoak is on a tear down in Peoria.
  • Not sure how I feel about this one: we’ll be in Reno for Brett Butler Championship Bobblehead Night.
  • Down in Hillsboro (right on the outskirts of baseball-hating Portlandia), they had the topping-out ceremony as they build a new ballpark for the short-season Northwest League. It’s great for local baseball fans just to get back in the game, but it’s also a shame. This is a Triple-A market.

Our next blog update will be Friday.


Cactus League Underway – Results May Be Meaningless

February 25, 2013

The Mariners exhibition season got into full-swing over the weekend, with Seattle beating the Padres twice in three games. Today, the Mariners play somebody else for the first time: the Los Angeles Angels.

With players starting to get hits and homers and strikeouts, I wanted to mention something that I feel is important when looking at spring training results and trying to determine if a player is playing his way onto the team.

Match-ups are crucial.

In these spring training games, you have players of all levels of experience getting a chance to play. This leads to some strange match-ups, like on Saturday, when Mike Jacobs – a potential Rainiers first baseman who has over five years of MLB experience and 100 big-league homers – launching a two-run homer off a Padres reliever who pitched at Low-A Fort Wayne last year. The difference between talent level and experience is just huge in instances like this, and these types of complete mismatches happen all of the time in spring training exhibitions.

So the next time that guy you are rooting for to make the Mariners crushes a homer, take a look and see who he hit it off. Did it come against a big league pitcher? A top prospect with some upper-minors experience? Or a kid from the low minors who was getting some work in at the end of his first-ever major league exhibition game? These things matter.

OK, on to the weekend links wrap-up. On Wednesday, we look at potential Rainiers middle infielders.

Links:

  • Baseball Prospectus released their Top 101 Prospects list. Mariners rankings: (9) – Taijuan Walker, (33) – Mike Zunino, (50) – Danny Hultzen, (72) – Nick Franklin, (92) – James Paxton.
  • Geoff Baker has a piece on Rainiers pitcher Anthony Vasquez. It sounds like the brain surgery and recovery has slowed down his shoulder rehabilitation process – understandably so.
  • Jason Bay hit a homer on Saturday – off a borderline big-leaguer, Tyson Ross – and he officially kicked off the battle to be the Mariners fourth outfielder.
  • Dave Cameron reminds us that spring training results are utterly meaningless, yet still they have caused the Mariners to make some poor personnel decisions in the past.
  • Larry Stone spoke with Rainiers infielder Vinnie Catricala. Vinnie talked about how last year changed his mental approach.
  • Stone has a look behind the scenes at the Mariners spring training camp. Former Rainiers clubhouse manager Jeff Bopp makes an appearance!
  • Ryan Divish wrote a brief feature on the fast-tracked Mariners relief prospect Carson Smith.
  • Again from Divish, a fun story on pitcher Erasmo Ramirez, who found himself to be a bit of a celebrity at home in Nicaragua over the winter.
  • Jerry Brewer was the latest to write about Jon Garland and his comeback attempt with Seattle.
  • Another column from Brewer, an interesting one in which he writes about lessons learned from giving up on Mike Morse, and then trading to acquire Michael Morse just a few years later.
  • Blake Beavan put in a lot of work over the off-season, changing his delivery to try and take advantage of his tall frame.
  • The World Baseball Classic has not lived up to expectations, John McGrath writes.
  • John Manuel of Baseball America writes that the only thing holding the WBC back is Major League Baseball teams.
  • Some great anecdotes in this John Shea story on Joe Garagiola and Willie Mays.
  • Former Rainiers and Mariners pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith was a late sign by the Boston Red Sox. We wish him the best with his new team.
  • Joe Posnanski wrote about former Rainiers shortstop Alex Rodriguez, investigating how he went from loved to hated.
  • Haven’t seen this before: an animated rendering of the new ballpark in El Paso (complete with what appears to be smoke from a tire fire rising above the home plate facade).

A friend and former Rainiers employee now operates the Tampa Bay Rays Florida State League affiliate in Port Charlotte. The Florida State League is a whole different animal, business-wise: they draw small crowds during the season, even though it is a quality Advanced-A level league. However, they host major league spring training and make all of their money during February and March.

So right now, Port Charlotte is hosting MLB spring training games – and today the Rays played Boston, and my friend sent along a picture of Mike Carp at first base for the Red Sox. You can blow it up by clicking on it – it’s not exactly Walter Iooss, but it is Mike Carp in a Red Sox uniform.

Mike Carp with the Red Sox

Mike Carp with the Red Sox


Cactus League Starts Today

February 22, 2013

Sort of, anyway. The Mariners and Padres meet today in Peoria, Arizona in their annual charity game.

The game doesn’t count in the official Cactus League standings. And of course, the Cactus League doesn’t count for anything, anyway. What does it mean? Does it have any meaning at all? I need a psychiatrist over here. Or maybe a philosopher. Does anybody know a practicing philosopher?

Anyway, it’s baseball! A real game, between two MLB teams. Spring training baseball is happening.

Today is the last day of the Ivar’s Opening Weekend deal, where you get a reserved ticket plus a meal for just ten bucks. This deal is internet only, and I’m guessing it comes down around 5:00 today. Grab it right here if you are interested.

Links:

  • We start with a news video from a Phoenix television station on Rainiers pitcher Anthony Vasquez and his return from emergency brain surgery.
  • Todd Dybas wrote a feature on Rainiers pitcher Danny Hultzen trying to overcome the struggles he went through last year.
  • Have you seen the new look at the Rainiers official website? Big improvement, it’s not as “busy” as before. Nice job by this guy and MiLB.com!
  • Larry Stone has more on the defensive position of Stefen Romero, the potential Rainiers infielder we looked at on Wednesday. Stone also noted Romero’s similarity to Vinnie Catricala.
  • It sounds like Michael Morse is already a leader on this Mariners team.
  • The News Tribune caught up with Mariners closer Tom Wilhelmsen.
  • Michael Saunders is using his noodle. Hey, whatever works. This story has some details on the mysterious hitting coach generally known as Josh Bard’s Brother.
  • PCL news: it has been announced that the Durham Bulls will host the 2014 Triple-A All-Star Game. This year it will be in Reno.
  • To get you into the weekend, MLB released a ton of video clips from the 1980s and 1990s today. Here’s Pedro Martinez drilling Reggie Sanders on purpose – ruining his own bid for a perfect game. I always loved Pedro – he needs to start a comeback attempt in the PCL this year.

Have a great weekend!


Corner Men

February 20, 2013

We continue our weekly pre-season series on the positional battles to make the Tacoma opening day roster with a look at corner infielders.

Tacoma manager Daren Brown is going to have a group with Triple-A experience manning the corners. He’ll also occasionally slip one of his third basemen into left field, or use one to fill the DH slot in the lineup.

Mike Jacobs: A veteran of both Triple-A and Major League Baseball, Jacobs was signed by the Mariners as a minor league free agent. Jacobs hit .279 with 18 homers and 60 RBI for Reno last year, and was a September call-up to Arizona. He’s 32 years old and has had a 30-homer season in the big leagues. He’ll probably fill the Luis Jimenez role for Tacoma, playing first base and DH while hitting in the middle of the lineup.

Alex Liddi: The forgotten man in Mariners spring raining camp right now, Liddi seems likely to be in the Rainiers opening day lineup. Liddi is the best defensive option at third base, but don’t be surprised if he moves around from third to first to left field. Offensively, Liddi worked hard to cut down his strikeouts last year, but it came at the expense of power. It will be interesting to see how he does this year – I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he put up some big numbers in the PCL this year.

Vinnie Catricala: Vinnie will return to the Rainiers in 2013 and looks to have a strong campaign after never really getting on track in 2012. Triple-A proved difficult for Catricala, as he hit .229 with ten homers in 122 games. This came right after being named the Mariners Minor League Player of the Year in 2011. Catricala played mostly third base last year, but also saw time in left field. The 2013 season is an important one for Catricala; he needs a bounce-back year.

Stefen Romero? Romero has a question mark because his defensive position seems to be, well, a question. He played second base last year – first at Advanced-A High Desert, and then at Double-A Jackson. However, the Mariners seem intent on moving him to a different defensive position. Player Development Director Chris Gwynn said he’s going to play second base, third base, and outfield. Hopefully he’ll find a home defensively, because apparently he can hit: Romero batted .357-11-51 in 60 games at High Desert, and .347-12-50 in 56 games at Jackson last year. His season was very similar to Catricala’s 2011 campaign.

Rich Poythress: The Jackson first baseman for the last two seasons, Poythress may be looking at another assignment to Tennessee come April. Last year he batted .304 with six homers in 86 games. My hunch is that the Mariners would like to see a little more power from Poythress; he’s hit 17 homers in 208 Double-A games the last two years. However, he doesn’t strike out much and draws a lot of walks – and that is something that has been sorely missing from the Tacoma lineup the last few seasons.

Nate Tenbrink: Tenbrink has been slowed by injuries in recent seasons, but he’s worthy of a mention here. Tenbrink played 31 games at third base for Jackson last year, and he hit .283 with eight homers and a .539 slugging percentage. I’m not sure if there is room for him on the Rainiers roster come April, but he’s certainly someone to keep an eye on if he starts the year down at Jackson.

In case you missed it the other day, Ryan Divish reported that the man who logged the most games for Jackson at third base last year – Francisco Martinez – has been moved to center field. We’ll get to him in the outfield group.

Next Wednesday, we’ll look at the middle infielders.

Mike Carp was traded to the Boston Red Sox for the good old Player To Be Named Later.

Carp made a real impact on the Tacoma career statistical leaders. He ranks second on the all-time home run list, with 67 – just five behind Tacoma home run king Rick Renick. He drove in 221 runs for Tacoma, which ranks him ninth on the all-time list. He also appears on the lists for hits (15th), runs (11th), doubles (16th), and total bases (9th).

We wish him the best with the Red Sox; hopefully he’ll make the big league roster.

Links:

 


BA Top 100

February 19, 2013

Today Baseball America released its Top 100 Prospects list, and here is where the Mariners prospects fall on the ranking:

  • 17 – Mike Zunino
  • 18 – Taijuan Walker
  • 29 – Danny Hultzen
  • 79 – Nick Franklin
  • 87 – James Paxton

What’s interesting about this is that we are likely to get three or four of them in Tacoma to start the season – and there seems to be a solid chance that we will have all five of them on the team at some point this season. That’s pretty amazing.

On Twitter, Chris Crawford set the over/under on these players to make the Rainiers opening day roster at 3.5. I’m taking the under, for now: I like the bottom three, with the top two perhaps arriving later in the season.

You can see the entire free version of the Baseball America list right here. The free version is just a list of names, you need to be a BA subscriber to get all of the added content.

Links:

Coming tomorrow: Rainiers corner infielders.


Good Food Coming!

February 18, 2013

Lots of links to get to today, but first a little bit of Cheney Stadium news that should benefit all of us who go to the ballpark: the Rainiers announced a new concessionaire for the 2013 season.

Ivar’s, Inc. will be the new food service provider at Cheney. That means we’ll get their fish ‘n’ chips and clam chowder, plus we’ll have Kidd Valley burgers (which I am a fan of, and will need to install some sort of personal weekly limit on in order to remain in tip-top broadcasting condition).

I’m excited about the new food options and I hope you will be, too. One group who I know will be in favor is the visiting PCL radio guys – they’re gonna crush that clam chowder.

You can read more about the new food deal right here. Also, please note that Ivar’s is sponsoring that ridiculous opening weekend ticket special, where you get a reserved seat and a meal for just $10. The deal is internet-only and only available through Friday so jump on it quickly if you want it.

Now, lots of Mariners-related links from the first weekend of spring training:

  • Don’t get jealous, but Rainiers infielder Nick Franklin spent the off-season eating everything in sight, and he put on 35 pounds. If you see a guy in full uniform at the Ivar’s stand this season, it’s probably Nick.
  • The Rainier formerly known as Mike Morse now goes by Michael – and Greg Johns explains why in this notebook. It’s typical Morse reasoning. Also, in the blurbs at the end, Johns reports that Alex Liddi and Vinnie Catricala will rotate between third base, first base, and left field this season.
  • On his blog, Ryan Divish reports that the Mariners are moving Double-A prospect Francisco Martinez from third base to the outfield. Martinez is on the 40-man roster and was highly regarded when the Mariners acquired him in the Doug Fister trade, but he did not have a good season last year. I expect him to be in the Jackson outfield this year.
  • Divish also had a piece on Kendrys Morales in Sunday’s print edition.
  • Todd Dybas has a Q&A with Mike Zunino.
  • For you swing-tech guys, here’s a blog post on some subtle changes that Dustin Ackley and Brendan Ryan have made.
  • Geoff Baker writes in the Seattle Times that the Mariners roster has a new feel to it.
  • Larry Stone arrived in camp and has some pithy observations from his first day.
  • Stone also sat down with Dustin Ackley and filed this story.
  • The Mariners are going to take it slow and easy as they get Felix Hernandez ready for opening day.
  • Here’s a fun column from Jackson Generals broadcaster Chris Harris about the cross-country driving trip that Kyle Seager and his wife made to spring training.
  • Former Rainiers ace Michael Pineda is still coming back from shoulder surgery and won’t return to the Yankees until at least June.
  • From the latest round of Baseball America’s minor league transactions, we learn that ex-Rainiers pitcher Sean Henn signed with Boston, while Sean White and Mark Lowe both signed with the Dodgers.
  • Cool story on Nate Robertson, the former Rainiers and MLB starter. He’s now a sidearm-slinging reliever.

On Wednesday we look at the candidates to make the Rainiers opening day roster at the infield corner positions.


New Face In Outfield Mix

February 15, 2013

The Mariners made a trade this week that could have an impact on the 2013 Tacoma Rainiers.

Relief pitcher Shawn Kelley, who was designated for assignment earlier, was traded to the New York Yankees. In exchange, the Mariners received minor league outfielder Abe Almonte.

Almonte played in Double-A with the Yankees Trenton affiliate last year. He had some injury issues and appeared in just 76 games, hitting .276 with four home runs and a .350 on-base percentage.

The big thing Almonte brings to the table is speed. He stole 30 bases in just a half-season last year, and he was caught only five times. The 23-year-old apparently has some pretty good wheels.

We’ll talk more about this when we get to the outfield in our position-by-position preview, but it seems all but certain that the Rainiers opening day center fielder will be named Almonte. The first name, however, is unknown: will it be the newly acquired Abe Almonte, or last year’s Double-A center fielder Denny Almonte? We’ll find out on April 4.

One thing is for certain: if Abe Almonte plays for Tacoma, somebody needs to make sure he gets a Lincoln Abes t-shirt.

We have some interesting news in the PCL today: the Albuquerque Isotopes – in conjunction with their parent club the Los Angeles Dodgers – are installing a baseball humidor at their ballpark.

The humidor was first used at Coors Field in Colorado, to try to temper the effect of high elevation on the game. It worked there, so last year the Rockies had one installed at their Triple-A Colorado Springs affiliate. That appeared to work also, so now Albuquerque is jumping on board.

I imagine that Reno and Las Vegas are also candidates to add the humidor. We may eventually see one in El Paso when they open up in 2014, too.

The Rainiers have put together an Opening Weekend special that is a terrific deal: you pick the game (April 12, 13, or 14) and you get a reserved ticket, plus a hot dog, chips, and a drink for $10. That’s an awesome deal – a reserved seat alone is normally priced at $11. The deal is for a short time only so hit it right here.

Links:

Have a great weekend!


Tacoma Catching Candidates

February 13, 2013

The Tacoma catching situation is an interesting one heading into spring training. With veteran Guillermo Quiroz gone and top prospect Mike Zunino on his way (and possibly not staying long when he gets here), Tacoma is in a transitional period behind the dish.

At the major league level, the Mariners appear set with a combination of Jesus Montero and Kelly Shoppach. Last year they carried three catchers (Montero, Miguel Olivo, and John Jaso), but this year it appears that they are going to drop down to the standard two catchers.

Let’s look at the catching candidates for Tacoma:

Ronny Paulino broke into the majors with Pittsburgh in 2005, and has spent most of the last seven years in the big leagues – including a couple of seasons as the Pirates starting receiver. Last year he played in the majors and in Triple-A in the Baltimore organization. The Mariners brought him in on a minor league deal, and it certainly appears right now that he will be the guy providing veteran catching depth in Triple-A.

Jesus Sucre is a 24-year-old Venezuelan the Mariners signed in the middle of the 2011 season, after he was released from Atlanta’s Double-A team. Sucre has been with the Mariners Jackson affiliate for over a year. From what I have heard, he shines defensively and has a strong throwing arm. Last year he hit .271 but with little power or on-base ability. Defense is his calling card – at the very least, I’m told it is fun to watch him whip throws down to the bases.

Brandon Bantz you probably know. The affable backstop was Tacoma’s No. 2 catcher last year, and he hit .229 with two homers in 109 at-bats. Bantz (nicknamed “Bagger” Bantz in a bullpen epiphany from the mouth of Chance Ruffin) has a strong arm and good receiving skills. He’s also one of the hardest workers you’ll see at this level. Where he lands on opening day is a mystery – he could be in Tacoma, or elsewhere in the organization where there is a need.

Flying below he radar we have John Hicks. Hicks was Danny Hultzen’s college catcher at Virginia and the Mariners 4th round draft pick in 2011. Hicks had an excellent season for High Desert last year and will be bumped up to Double-A Jackson to start the year. The Mariners believe Hicks has a major league future.

OK, now let’s talk about Mike Zunino. He’s the biggest piece of this puzzle, and where he lands out of spring training is going to cause a ripple effect.

Zunino was the 3rd overall player chosen in the draft last year, after three years (and three College World Series appearances) at the University of Florida. He won just about every college baseball award a catcher can win.

The Mariners quickly signed Zunino and sent him to Everett, the rookie-level team where they send most of their fresh college draft picks. Zunino absolutely annihilated the Northwest League, blasting ten homers in just 110 at-bats, hitting .373 with a ridiculous .736 slugging percentage. So, the Mariners bumped him up to Double-A Jackson for the final two weeks of the season, and he played in 15 games there, adding three more homers. Combined he hit .360 with 13 homers in 161 at-bats.

Mariners fans are right to be excited about Zunino. That was one heck of a pro debut.

However, I think that we should slow down our expectations. He has played in just 15 games above rookie ball. For comparison’s sake, let’s take a look at the development of the best catching prospect to come out of a US college in recent years, Buster Posey:

  • huge college star at Florida State
  • drafted No 5 overall in 2008
  • signed later than Zunino; had just 37 at-bats in rookie ball after draft
  • opened first full season at Advanced Class-A San Jose
  • promoted to Triple-A in July of first full season, after 346 plate appearances in San Jose
  • finished first full season in PCL at Fresno*, earned September call-up.
  • begins second full season at Fresno, got May call to SF, won Rookie of the Year

Posey is the best catcher in the majors. He’s played three seasons and has two World Series championships and an MVP award already. Obviously, we’re not expecting Zunino to be that good (although it sure would be nice!). But it’s worth noting that Posey – the best catcher with Zunino’s background in recent years – did not reach Triple-A until the all-star break of his first professional season, and did not stick in the majors until May of the following year.

If Zunino copies the Posey development plan – a very strong suggestion, to say the least – he wouldn’t reach Tacoma until the all-star break, and wouldn’t impact Seattle until 2014.

Just some food for thought.

There was a lot of news on the first day of training camp yesterday.

  • The Felix Hernandez contract extension is done – links down below.
  • The club officially signed Joe Saunders, and designated Mike Carp for assignment. Carp will probably get claimed on waivers.
  • The team announced the signing of veteran Jon Garland to a minor league deal, which I noted on Monday.
  • Veteran reliever Kameron Loe was brought in on a minor league deal, pending a physical. Loe could be with the Rainiers.

All of that happened on the first day of physicals. Today, the pitchers and catchers actually took the field for the first time.

On the Rainiers front, I spoke with manager Daren Brown last night. He said he passed his physical (yes, coaches take them too) and then went golfing. Tough first day, huh? He hit the field this morning. Brown, pitching coach Dwight Bernard, and hitting coach Howard Johnson will all help out in big league spring training camp until mid-March when they will begin to focus on the Triple-A club.

Links:

  • The Felix Hernandez contact extension is a done deal.
  • Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times writes that the Mariners have to do more than just lock up Felix Hernandez.
  • Larry Stone lists some long-term contracts for starting pitchers that worked, and some that didn’t work.
  • For a more thorough analysis of long-term deals for starting pitchers, here is a nice piece of research by Dan Szymborski (ESPN Insider access required).
  • Nothing brings out optimism like the start of spring training, Ryan Divish writes.
  • Speaking of Divish, here is his notebook from the first day of training camp.
  • Geoff Baker caught up with new Mariners pitcher Joe Saunders.
  • The News Tribune’s position-by-position spring training preview concluded with a look at the Mariners bullpen.
  • New reliever Kameron Loe hasn’t been in Triple-A in a while, but the Mariners reportedly got him on a minor league deal. Here’s a link to his career statistics, including his Triple-A numbers.
  • No link, but Connor Glassey of Baseball America noted on twitter that former Rainiers players Jamal Strong and Michael Garciaparra are both scouts for the St. Louis Cardinals.
  • The Indians signed Michael Bourn, causing Larry Stone to wonder if Cleveland had the off-season that Mariners fans were hoping for.
  • I’ve never seen this study before, generated by MLB pitching guru Rick Peterson: if you face 39 or more opposing batters in a game, you’re probably going to lose. It makes a lot of sense.
  • Here’s a first: an article on the Memphis Redbirds financial issues that I can actually understand.
  • When the Rainiers visit Las Vegas, the team hotel is two blocks away from the Heart Attack Grill. I’ve always been too scared to eat there – probably a good thing, seeing how their unofficial spokesman just died from a heart attack.

We’ll be back with a news round-up on Friday. Our next Tacoma position preview will be February 20, when we look at the corner infielders. That’s going to be a tough one – third base is a real mystery right now, plenty of candidates!

* some Rainiers fans may recall that Posey hit his first Triple-A home run at Cheney Stadium August 4, 2009 (off the Rainiers Justin Thomas).


Mariners Bring Jon Garland To Camp

February 11, 2013

The Mariners have reportedly come to terms with former major league starting pitcher Jon Garland. The deal is supposed to be a minor league contract, so we can add Garland to the list of potential Rainiers starting pitchers.

Garland has not pitched since the summer of 2011, when he suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery. He’s 33 years old and has a career major league record of 132-119, with a 4.32 ERA. His best year was 2005, when he went 18-10, 3.50 and won a World Series championship with the White Sox.

Check out the link below from Ken Rosenthal, who talked to Garland and produced a glowing report. That’s a pretty positive story.

One thing we don’t know right now is if Garland is willing to put in some Triple-A time with the Rainiers as he tries to come back from the injury. Yes, he is supposedly signing a minor league deal – but often these types of deals include a clause in which the player can become a free agent if he doesn’t make the big league roster out of spring training. Garland is exactly the type of player who has earned the right to have that clause in his contract.

Unfortunately, it usually is not reported if a player has that contract option – so we probably won’t ever find out, unless one of the beat writers in spring training tracks down the info. Regardless, it will be interesting to track Garland’s progress during the Cactus League.

Speaking of spring training, it starts tomorrow. Woo!

Links:

Coming up Wednesday, we look at the Tacoma catching situation. I haven’t started writing it yet, but I can already tell the word “if” is going to be used a lot.


Wilson Era Ends; Felix Era Extends

February 8, 2013

Wow, we have a lot of Mariners news today, but we’re going to start with some ex-Rainiers news. Outfielder Mike Wilson – a mainstay on the Tacoma Rainiers since the end of the 2009 season – signed a minor league contract with the New York Mets yesterday. It’s safe to assume that we will see him with the Mets new Triple-A affiliate Las Vegas this season.

Wilson made his Tacoma debut on July 27, 2009, finally reaching Triple-A after parts of three seasons in Jackson, Tennessee. In fact, Wilson is the Jackson career home run leader: he hit 50 dingers for them.

Mike struggled in his first Triple-A experience, although he had a big sac fly to drive in a crucial run in the final game of the 2009 season, when Tacoma beat Colorado Springs to advance to the playoffs (shortly after Wilson’s sac fly gave Tacoma a 4-2 lead, the Rainiers erupted for seven runs in the eighth inning and turned the game into a blowout).

The 2010 season was Wilson’s first big year in Tacoma. He was forced to go back to Double-A for a while, but he hit .273 with 17 homers for the Rainiers before starring in the Rainiers championship run. Wilson homered in all three games of the PCL Championship Series sweep of Memphis, and he was named MVP of the series. In the locker room after the Rainiers won it all, PCL president Branch Rickey told the team that Wilson won the award.

Wilson hit .331 with 16 home runs during the 2011 campaign, which included his first call-up to the majors. Wilson was not expected to get the call, he wasn’t being talked about for a promotion publicly at all. It was an emotional moment when the organizational soldier got the call to the big leagues – Wilson has been playing in the Mariners minor league system since 2002.

He got his first big league hit on May 10, 2011 – a 13th inning RBI single off Baltimore reliever Jeremy Accardo at Camden Yards. He ended up going 4-for-27 in eight games as a bench player, and was sent back to Tacoma.

Last year, Wilson hit .239 but with 12 homers and 34 walks in 230 at-bats. All told, Wilson hit 50 home runs for Tacoma (the exact same number he hit in Jackson), which ranks him tied for tenth place (with Bob Perry) on the all-time Tacoma home run list.

We wish Mike the best with his new team, and hopefully he’ll get another taste of the major leagues.

Mike Wilson swinging

That ball is GONE

Lots of Mariners news yesterday, and you can read all about it in the links below. A quick recap:

  • There are many reports from highly reliable news outlets (USA Today broke the story) that the Mariners and Felix Hernandez agreed to a 7-year contract that makes him the highest paid pitcher in baseball. The Mariners have yet to confirm this story.
  • Also, there are many media reports that the Mariners have signed veteran left-handed pitcher Joe Saunders to fill out their starting rotation.
  • Finally, the team announced the signing of catcher Kelly Shoppach. They made room for him on the roster by designating Shawn Kelley for assignment – a curious move, one that leads many to believe that they are going to trade Kelley to another club.

Links:

  • The News Tribune has a news story on all of the Mariners stuff, including reported salary information on the Felix deal.
  • John McGrath writes that the Felix deal serves as a message to baseball that the Mariners are willing to spend money.
  • Larry Stone has a column on the Felix extension.
  • Dave Cameron wrote that the Felix deal was a gamble the Mariners had to make.
  • John Sickels looked back at Felix Hernandez’s minor league progression.
  • Ryan Divish has a brief blog post on the Joe Saunders report.
  • The TNT continued its position-by-position spring training advance look at the Mariners with first base and the enigmatic Justin Smoak.
  • At his Seattle Times blog, Larry Stone compiled a grouping of several different Mariners top prospects lists.
  • The Times was able to speak with Jesus Montero, who said he has no idea how his name came up in the Biogenesis investigation. A thorough read of this story reveals how little news there actually is – at this time there is no connection to PEDs, no evidence of anything at all – yet Montero’s name is being dragged through the mud. Then again, if a “smoking gun” were to emerge…
  • Greg Johns posted a Mariners spring training primer looking at the various story lines heading into camp.
  • From Baseball America’s minor league transactions we learn the fate of some ex-Rainiers. All are minor league contracts: Joel Pineiro signed with the Orioles, Miguel Olivo to the Reds, and Scott Atchison to the Mets.
  • Also from the above link, we learn that the Mariners re-signed Felix‘s older brother Moises Hernandez. Moises spent the last two years with the Jackson Generals, pitching in middle relief. While you never know what might happen, it will be a struggle for him to crack the Tacoma bullpen which – as we outlined on Wednesday – is stacked.
  • The Caribbean Series championship game was crazy last night: Mexico won the title in the 18th inning, on a home run by former Fresno Grizzlies outfielder Doug Clark.
  • College baseball gets underway real soon. Here is Baseball America’s preview of the Pac-12 Conference - it includes notes on both Washington and Washington State.
  • Big news on the PCL radio front: Albuquerque broadcaster Robert Portnoy switched jobs, and the Isotopes are hiring a new radio guy. Send in your demos!
  • Broadcasting news: here’s a round-up of crazy things ESPN announcer Bill Walton said during college basketball games this week.

Spring training starts next week!


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