We continue our position-by-position look at the spring training battles to make the Rainiers opening day roster with a look at the potential relief pitchers.
Usually this is one of the toughest areas to predict, because the Mariners often have two or three major league bullpen slots that they use spring training to make a decision on. That doesn’t appear to be the case this year.
In fact, as I look at the major league situation, I see eight big-league relievers – and the team is probably only going to carry seven of them. A lot of them still have minor league options and can be sent to Triple-A without penalty; I have marked them with an asterisk on this list: Carter Capps*, Charlie Furbush*, Shawn Kelley*, Josh Kinney, Lucas Luetge*, Oliver Perez, Stephen Pryor*, Tom Wilhelmsen*.
(note: I’m unsure if Oliver Perez has an option or not; he’s in a different category due to MLB service time and having been a released player who cleared waivers).
Barring an injury or a trade, one of those eight guys is going to unexpectedly get sent to Triple-A.
So, we’ll have whoever the unlucky one is in that battle. Who else will be Rainiers relievers in 2013? Let’s group them by categories.
RETURNING RAINIERS RELIEVERS
I think we are going to see a lot of familiar faces in the Rainiers bullpen on opening day. These players finished the 2012 season in the Tacoma bullpen and are highly likely, in my opinion, to break camp with Tacoma.
- Danny Farquhar: Acquired in the Ichiro trade, Farquhar had a 0.54 ERA in 12 games with Tacoma at the end of last season, pitched well this winter in Venezuela, and earned an invitation to big-league spring training. He’s a longshot to make the Mariners opening day roster, but we’ll happily take him in Tacoma.
- Steven Hensley: Hensley had a solid first half at Double-A Jackson last year, but he took some lumps in his first exposure to the PCL after a mid-season promotion to Tacoma. I expect to see better results this year; he has good stuff. Pencil him into the Tacoma bullpen.
- Bobby LaFromboise: The Rainiers 2012 Pitcher of the Year award winner is a MLB-ready lefty relief specialist, but there is no current opening for him in Seattle. The Mariners added him to the 40-man roster in November. He could be Daren Brown‘s closer to start the season.
- Brian Moran: Purveyor of the “invisi-ball,” Moran struck out 53 batters in 37 innings for Tacoma last year, with a 3.89 ERA. I fully expect him to return to the Rainiers, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he turns up in the big leagues someday.
- Chance Ruffin: The forgotten man picked up in the Doug Fister deal with Detroit, Ruffin had a deceptive season for the 2012 Rainiers. He was awful in the first half and terrific in the second half, finishing with a 5.99 ERA that doesn’t tell the whole story: his ERA was 9.16 on June 21, and it was 2.43 for the remainder of the season (33.1 IP). The Mariners kept him on the 40-man and will look for continued improvement this year.
- Brian Sweeney: We discussed him in the starting pitcher’s post last Wednesday; the veteran should have a role on this pitching staff as the swing-man. I hope he’s on the team, because he is a PCL Dream: he works quickly and throws strikes. #PCLDream
- Hector Noesi: As mentioned in the starting pitching outlook last week, we really have no idea what the organization is going to do with Noesi this season. Major league starter? Rainiers starter? Major league reliever? Tacoma reliever? Who knows. I’m listing him here just to cover all of the bases.
With the six returning relievers, the Mystery Man, and the unlucky big league guy who doesn’t make the team we have a full Triple-A bullpen right there. But there are others who hope to make some noise:
NEWLY ADDED TO THE SYSTEM
The Mariners signed two minor league free agents I am aware of whose background indicates they could fight for a Triple-A roster spot.
- Eric Niesen: A veteran left-hander recently signed as a free agent who topped out in Double-A with the Mets. He’ll go to spring training hoping to crack the Jackson or Tacoma roster.
- Jhonny Nunez: A Triple-A veteran with some MLB experience, Nunez was signed as a minor league free agent. He put up some poor numbers in Durham last year and was released mid-season. Apparently he looked good in Winter Ball and the Mariners decided to bring him to camp. He could be a Rainiers reliever in 2013.
Kids, kids, and more kids. It’s all about the kids!
- Jonathan Arias: Originally signed as a catcher, the Mariners converted him to a reliever three years ago and he has made a move through the farm system. Arias posted a 2.97 ERA in 22 games at Jackson last year and earned a non-roster spring training invitation. He’s 24-years-old and is probably going to open the year back at Jackson – although, if he shows well in Peoria, he could get a promotion to Tacoma.
- Logan Bawcom: Picked up from the Dodgers in last summer’s Brandon League trade, Bawcom reportedly has a strong arm. He put up a 1.88 ERA in 12 games for Jackson after the trade even though he walked 15 batters in 14.1 innings. I suspect he’s headed back to Jackson to iron out that walks problem. He also received a spring training invitation.
- Yoervis Medina: A mainstay on the Mariners 40-man roster since 2011, this is Medina’s final option year. Great stuff finally translated into results last year: a 3.25 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 69.1 innings at Jackson. However, he walked 35. Because of his roster status and pure stuff, I have Medina tabbed as the most likely candidate from this group to get the promotion to Tacoma on opening day.
- Jandy Sena: Sena actually made several fill-in appearances for Tacoma last year, although he spent the majority of the season at Jackson. The big Cuban sinkerballer had a 2.88 ERA in 50 innings at Jackson, allowing only two home runs. He found that pitching in the PCL wasn’t quite as easy (11 runs allowed in 10.2 innings). It seems reasonable to think that he could be splitting time between AA and AAA again this year.
- Carson Smith: This is your sleeper, right here. Smith could be the 2013 version of Carter Capps: the guy who comes flying out of the low minors and jumps all the way to the big leagues in one season. He reportedly has a great fastball, and he had a 2.90 ERA with 77 strikeouts in 62 innings at hitter-friendly High Desert last year. I suspect he’ll start the season with Jackson – but, he’s invited to big league camp, and if that fastball impresses Eric Wedge, they might want to keep him nearby in Tacoma.
- Forrest Snow: The UW product opened 2012 with Tacoma, couldn’t find the strike zone, and was sent to Jackson. In Double-A he had a 4.43 ERA in 61 innings, with 43 strikeouts and 29 walks. He has starting and relieving experience; I’m really not sure what the organization’s plan is for Snow in 2013. At any rate, he’s another guy who could be wearing a Rainiers jersey at some point this season.
It’s an interesting group, all told. There is a complete bullpen of pitchers who can legitimately stake a claim to an opening day slot with Tacoma, plus a host of guys knocking on the door. This group may lack the older arms with MLB experience who opened in Tacoma last year (Josh Kinney, Oliver Perez, Sean Henn), but with so many expected returning relievers it makes sense.
Coming next Wednesday: a look at the Tacoma catching crew!
- Ryan Divish’s pre-spring training position-by-position look at the Mariners continued today with a glance at third base and Kyle Seager.
- Kyle, by the way, is not related to the guy who is playing the Tacoma Dome next month.
- Mariners catcher Jesus Montero‘s name has come up in the investigation of a Florida “anti-aging” clinic. So far, he has not been accused of any serious allegations. This story is in its infancy right now and we really can’t jump to any conclusions as the information trickles out.
- John McGrath took a look at the Houston Astros, who are moving to the AL West this season – which should help the Mariners won-loss record.
- I’m a sucker for any story that involves a 148-year-old baseball card found while “antiquing.”
Just breaking on Twitter right now, longtime Rainiers outfielder Mike Wilson has signed a minor league deal with the New York Mets. On Friday, we’ll have a Mike Wilson Tacoma career retrospective, as well as a news round-up. In the meantime, please stay away from your local South Florida Anti-Aging clinic.