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!


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