A Few Rainiers In Winter Leagues

October 15, 2014

One of the biggest and most competitive off-season leagues opened up play this past weekend, when the Venezuelan Winter League started.

Usually the Rainiers have quite a few players appear in this league, but this year only two have thus far:

Gabriel Noriega – Tacoma’s all-star infielder is with Cardenales de Lara, where he has already appeared in five games and collected five hits (including a triple). Right now he is the only Mariners player active with Lara, but Seattle has had a long relationship with this team and more players could join as the season progresses.

Ji-Man Choi – after a disappointing 2014 season for Tacoma, Choi looks to have continue his development while playing for Tigres de Aragua in Venezuela. Choi is 5-for-18 with a homer so far, and it is worth noting that he has played all five games in the outfield.

The Mexican League has also started, and one player has appeared so far. Another – Forrest Snow – said in late August that he plans to play in Mexico this winter, too.

James Gillheeney – the left-handed starter is playing for Naranjeros de Hermosillo in the Mexican Pacific League, and he made his first start for them on Saturday. Interestingly, Gillheeney has already played in Mexican League games held in the USA: his team participated in Mexican Baseball Fiestas held at the new ballpark in El Paso and the old one in Tucson. One-time Rainiers outfielder Jerry Owens - now 33 years old and out of affiliated ball – is one of Gillheeney’s teammates. Owens had a super-rare six-hit game for Tacoma in 2009.

The Arizona Fall League has been going on for a little more than a week, and both Taijuan Walker and John Hicks from the 2014 Rainiers are playing there – along with potential 2015 Tacoma players Patrick Kivlehan, D.J. Peterson, Stephen Landazuri, Matt Brazis, and Matt Anderson.

Walker’s two starts have gone well. Hicks has caught three games and is 3-for-11 at the plate.

The Dominican Winter League has not started yet. That league is typically loaded with Triple-A players so there will probably be a few more Rainiers reporting to duty soon.

Links:

  • Taijuan Walker had an excellent start in the Arizona Fall League on Monday.
  • In his Mariners Notebook from Tuesday, Bob Dutton notes that Rainiers infielder Gabriel Noriega is eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft if he is not added to the 40-man roster this month.
  • Baseball America released it’s list of the PCL’s Top-20 Prospects of 2014. Only one Tacoma player made the cut: Taijuan Walker at No. 9. This link is a to a free grid of all of their league prospect lists – there is more content on their site, but it is subscriber-only.

 


Playoffs Continue With Former Tacoma Players

October 13, 2014

Former Tacoma Rainiers players continue to make an impact in the MLB playoffs, which have been particularly exciting so far.

In the American League Championship Series, Baltimore’s Adam Jones has finally come alive at the plate. Jones had two hits in Game Two on Saturday, including a game-tying two-run homer. However, his Orioles have lost the first two games of the series to Kansas City (who looks like they may never lose again).

The former Rainiers player on the Royals – Jason Vargas – has not pitched yet, but his day is coming. Vargas gets the start in Game Four on Tuesday night. The way the Royals are playing, Vargas could be trying to finish off a sweep on Tuesday.

The NLCS between St. Louis and San Francisco is tied 1-1, with Game Three set for Tuesday night. The Giants activated former Tacoma infielder/outfielder Mike Morse from the disabled list prior to the series, and he came off the bench for a pinch-hit single last night.

Former Rainiers pitcher Yusmeiro Petit has not worked yet for the Giants in this series. He’s serving as a long reliever because teams don’t need five starters in the playoffs.

The NLCS had a real thriller on Sunday night, with the Cardinals getting huge home runs – including a walk-off shot – from rookies Oscar Taveras and Kolten Wong. St. Louis also suffered a crucial injury, losing star catcher Yadier Molina.

Links:

  • In order to get ready for the NLCS, Mike Morse went back to where it all started.
  • As baseball looks to pick up the pace of play, many purists are opposed to the idea of a pitch clock because baseball has no clocks. John McGrath has a good idea: use a traffic light system.
  • What does a recently retired major league star who made over $100 million in the game do with himself? Lance Berkman went back to school.

 


The Remarkable Season Of Jordan Pries

October 10, 2014

Very quietly while the team was in the thick of a pennant chase over the final weekend of the season, the Seattle Mariners announced their minor league awards.

While most of the awards went to prospects who played at lower levels of the farm system, there was one 2014 Tacoma Rainiers stalwart who gained recognition. Starting pitcher Jordan Pries shared the Mariners Minor League Pitcher of the Year award with Class-A Clinton starter Edwin Diaz.

The honor capped of a remarkable season for Pries, who in just six months improved his stock from “utterly anonymous” to “viable candidate to appear in the Major Leagues.”

With that in mind, let’s take a look at what happened to Pries in 2014.

The first time I heard of Pries was when I saw him in pitching in a Triple-A spring training game on March 26. Here’s what I wrote on this blog:

Palmer was replaced by 24-year-old right-hander Jordan Pries, who I had to look up. Turns out he is a Stanford product who was a starter for Class-A High Desert last year. I’d be surprised to see him in Tacoma next Thursday, but maybe later this year or next.

I had never heard of him, and he wasn’t on my radar as a potential Triple-A player in 2014. Whoops!

The thing is, I was kind of right. I don’t think that the Mariners player development people had any plan to have Pries pitch in Triple-A in 2014. But the organization was waylaid by early season injuries to starting pitchers, and Pries got his chance.

Come spring time, both Taijuan Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma were injured. They were expected to be Mariners starters. Instead, Roenis Elias (who was slated for Tacoma) and Chris Young (a March acquisition) took their spots in the big leagues.

Blake Beavan was Tacoma’s opening day starter. He made two starts for the Rainiers, then was called up to Seattle when James Paxton was injured. Beavan made one start for Seattle and then he also landed on the disabled list.

Meanwhile, anticipated Rainiers starter Matt Palmer was held back in extended spring training due to injury.

So let’s count the starting pitcher injuries: Walker, Paxton, Beavan, Palmer, Iwakuma… that’s five MLB/AAA starting pitchers who were down at the same time.

Somebody had to pitch in Triple-A. A glance down at Double-A Jackson’s stats showed some guy named Pries, who had made two starts and allowed only three hits and two runs in 12 innings.

Pries got the call to Triple-A out of necessity, and he really took advantage of the opportunity.

Jordan Pries made his Triple-A debut on April 20 – a damp Sunday afternoon at Cheney Stadium. He pitched six shutout innings of one-hit ball against the PCL powerhouse Sacramento River Cats. The Rainiers won the game 1-0 on a walk-off single by Leury Bonilla.

Time of game: two hours, 16 minutes.

I liked this guy.

Pries got knocked around in his second start – his first away from the friendly confines of Tacoma. He gave up five runs in 4.2 innings at Las Vegas.

But he bounced back in a big way, winning his next two starts with scoreless pitching at Sacramento and at Reno, not allowing a run over 11 total innings.

Next up was a return engagement at Las Vegas, and this time Pries conquered Cashman Field, giving up just one run over 5.1 no-hit innings.

He was off and running: in his first seven Triple-A starts, Pries allowed zero or one run in six of them. He had a 1.80 ERA in the PCL on May 26, and his spot in the Tacoma starting rotation was secured.

Pries couldn’t maintain that level of dominance for an entire season – and nobody expected him to. He had a few rough games in the usual locales – back-to-back seven-run outings in the thin air of Salt Lake City and Reno did some serious damage to his ERA in July.

Still, Pries carried a 3.69 ERA into the final day of the season. That ranked sixth-best in the PCL.

A miserable relief appearance (just his second since 2011) in a meaningless game on the final day of the season saw his final number bloat to 4.06, but that just put a light damper on an impressive season.

All told, he made 24 starts for Tacoma. Fifteen of them qualified as “Quality Starts” meaning he went six or more innings and allowed three or fewer runs. He was Tacoma’s most reliable starting pitcher.

Pries was the Mariners 30th round draft pick in 2011. The Mariners selected him after the completion of his junior year at Stanford University, and Pries elected to sign and start his pro career.

His numbers from Class-A High Desert in 2013 look bad on the surface, but once you factor in the ridiculous hitter-friendly ballpark he pitched in you realize they weren’t that bad. He went 8-6 with a 5.13 ERA in 23 starts, but the other numbers look good: 104 strikeouts and 40 walks in 124 innings pitched, only 14 home runs allowed in *that* league.

He managed to keep the ball in the park in the PCL, too. He gave up 14 homers in 142 innings for Tacoma, and he did not allow a homer in his first six starts (and just one over his first nine starts).

Pries does this by getting good sink on his fastball, which is generally in the 88-92 mph range and is not straight. In fact, everything Pries throws moves: he has good sinking movement on both his change-up and his slider/cutter thing. It’s not overpowering stuff, like a Walker or a Paxton, but it is stuff that could work in the Major Leagues as a back-of-the-rotation starter.

The Mariners need to make a decision next month about protecting Pries on the 40-man roster. If they don’t, they could possibly lose him in the Rule 5 Draft.

Barring another run of spring injuries, I expect Pries to open the 2015 season in Tacoma. Heck, he’s a good candidate to draw the opening day assignment.

None of these things were expected back in March. It was truly a great out-of-nowhere season for Jordan Pries.

Links:

  • What could have been: according to this story the Mariners front office worked out a deal to sign Nelson Cruz last winter, only to have it squashed by team ownership. This is one of those ‘hindsight is 20-20′ situations.
  • The agent for Michael Saunders was not pleased with the wording of some recent remarks about his client.
  • The Nashville Sounds unveiled a new guitar-pick logo.
  • The MILBYs are underway – vote for your favorites from the 2014 Minor League Baseball season. Make sure you vote for Ji-Man Choi & the T-Rex in the Best Photo category!
  • John Sickels looks back at the minor league career of Centralia’s Lyle Overbay, who (it seems) has retired.

Have a great weekend – enjoy the League Championship Series!


MLB Down To Four

October 8, 2014

The Major League Baseball playoffs are moving right along, with both National League Division Series coming to an end last night. The San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals advanced, and will face each other in the NL Championship Series starting on Saturday.

So far the postseason has had terrific games but has not had a great series yet. The four best-of-five division series resulted in two 3-0 sweeps and a pair of 3-1 decisions. However, there were a ton of one-run games, extra inning affairs, and games decided late.

Now we have no baseball for two full days. Once we survive this dry spell, the ALCS between Baltimore and Kansas City opens on Friday night.

Links:

  • The Arizona Fall League opened yesterday, and Taijuan Walker pitched four strong innings. Likely 2015 Rainiers player Patrick Kivlehan hit a homer. Ryan Divish has the details.
  • Baseball America has all of the Arizona Fall League rosters with some notes on the teams.
  • Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager has a chance to win a Gold Glove Award, according to Bob Dutton’s Mariners notebook.
  • John Sickels took a look at Roenis Elias.
  • Fun story from Grantland: the media has been reporting that baseball is dying since 1868.

A brief post today, I know. I’m working on something solid for Friday.


Former Rainiers Factoring In MLB Playoffs

October 6, 2014

The playoffs have been great so far, haven’t they? So many close games, and we already have two fun-to-root-for teams moving ahead into the American League Championship Series.

Kansas City and Baltimore each swept their division series, and they will play in the ALCS starting on Friday night. It has been a long time since either team advanced this far in the playoffs.

Both National League Division Series are still going, and that’s where the ex-Rainiers were in the spotlight this weekend.

San Francisco has a 2-0 lead on Washington and will go for a sweep today at 2:05 (Pacific). Washington will start former Rainiers pitcher Doug Fister in a must-win game.

The Giants took the 2-0 lead by prevailing in an 18-inning marathon on Saturday, 2-1. Former Rainiers pitcher Yusmeiro Petit was an unexpected star for the Giants, delivering six shutout innings of one-hit relief. Normally the Giants No. 5 starting pitcher, Petit was summoned from the bullpen in the 12th inning and pitched scoreless ball through the 17th. Brandon Belt homered in the top of the 18th, and Petit was credited with the win.

Washington Nationals infielder Asdrubal Cabrera has had an eventful series against the Giants. He homered in the first game on Friday, and then was ejected on a controversial call in the 18-inning game on Saturday. Cabrera was ahead in the count 3-1, and the umpire called two straight high strikes which Cabrera thought were balls. Very frustrated, Cabrera tossed his helmet and was ejected (as was Nationals manager Matt Williams). It’ll be interesting to see how Cabrera responds today.

The other NL Division Series is Dodgers-Cardinals, and that one is tied 1-1 with Game Three tonight at 6. This is the series with no Tacoma ties and this blog has no opinion on it. However, both games have been thrillers.

Links:

  • On Sunday The News Tribune published a large Mariners off-season primer. The main article looks at the Mariners needs and possible free agent acquisitions. There is an analysis of the Mariners current 40-man roster. Also, John McGrath has a column in which he suggest the Mariners need to make a daring trade.
  • Ryan Divish has some notes on the Mariners 2014 payroll, which will increase in 2015.
  • The Mariners biggest problem attracting free agents is travel, Shannon Drayer writes.
  • The Arizona Fall League begins on Tuesday and Taijuan Walker will be the opening day starter for Surprise. More here from Bob Dutton.
  • Was Clayton Kershaw tipping his pitches in Game One of the NLDS against St. Louis? What does that even mean? This article by a former MLB pitcher is the best I have read on the subject.
  • He never played in the PCL or for the Mariners, but I must link to this outstanding “goodbye” column Hal McCoy wrote about the newly retired Adam Dunn.
  • Billy Butler of the Royals is having a nice postseason, and he’s (probably) a free agent the Mariners will look at in the off-season. The stats say he once pitched in the minor leagues but that never actually happened. It was a clerical error, Tim Hagerty writes.
  • This has nothing to do with baseball, but the Seattle Times ran a surprising sports business story regarding Key Arena.
  • Lookout Landing posted a selective history of the Tacoma Rainiers.

We’ll be back with a blog update on Wednesday.


Former Rainiers Dot Playoff Rosters

October 2, 2014

Now that the one-game Wild Cards are over, we are ready for the real Major League Baseball playoffs to begin. And as always, there are several former Tacoma Rainiers players who hope to factor into a World Series run for their teams. Let’s take a look:

AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES (best-of-five)

Detroit vs. Baltimore (Game One starts at 2:30 Pacific on Thursday)

Detroit Tigers: when the Tigers traded Austin Jackson to Seattle at the deadline, they needed a center fielder. At that point they called up former Rainiers outfielder Ezequiel Carrera from Triple-A Toledo, and he has gone on to make the Tigers postseason roster. Carrera opened the 2010 season with Tacoma before being traded to the Cleveland Indians in late June for Russell Branyan.

Baltimore Orioles: the Orioles have one former Tacoma player, but he is arguably the most popular ex-Rainiers star who is not a current Mariner. That would be center fielder Adam Jones, who has found a real home in Baltimore and has been a key cog in the turnaround of the organization. Jones played for the Rainiers in 2006 and 2007, and he represented Tacoma in the Triple-A All-Star Game in 2007.

Kansas City vs. Los Angeles Angels (Game One at 6:00 Thursday)

Kansas City Royals: the Royals will not be represented by a former Rainiers player in the division series. In a move made earlier today, they announced that ex-Rainiers star Raul Ibanez will not be active for the opening series against the Angels. Ibanez will be with the team and they could activate him for the next series if they advance. Kansas City also has starting pitcher Jason Vargas, who opened the 2009 season with the Rainiers.

Los Angeles Angels: the Angels have no former Rainiers on their roster. This makes it really easy for us to root against them.

NATIONAL LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES (best-of-five)

San Francisco vs. Washington (Game One at noon Friday)

San Francisco Giants: the NLDS final 25-man rosters aren’t set yet, but the Giants are likely to carry two former Rainiers: pitcher Yusmeiro Petit won a PCL title with Tacoma in 2010, and catcher Guillermo Quiroz played parts of four seasons with Tacoma (2006, 2009-2010, 2012). While not former Rainiers, the Giants also have Washingtonians Tim Lincecum and Travis Ishikawa.

Washington Nationals: the Nats are loaded with former Tacoma Rainiers. Doug Fister (2009-2010) is a key cog in their rotation, and Rafael Soriano (2003-2005) is an important component in the bullpen (although he was removed from the closer role mid-season). They added Matt Thornton (2003-2004) on a waiver claim in August and he’ll be used against left-handed hitters. Another mid-season acquisition was infielder Asdrubal Cabrera (2005-2006), who has been playing second base.

St. Louis vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (Game One at 3:30 Friday)

This series doesn’t exist, as far as Tacoma is concerned. Both teams are completely void of ex-Rainiers.

OK, so who are we rooting for here?

I’m pulling for Adam Jones and the Orioles, Kansas City and the spirit of Raul Ibanez, the Nationals Tacoma quartet, and who cares. One thing we definitely don’t want is a Freeway World Series – that is the only possible zero-Rainiers outcome.

Links:

  • Bob Dutton goes over several off-season issues facing the Mariners in today’s installment of the Mariners notebook.
  • Ryan Divish listed the contract status of every Mariners player.
  • Larry Stone writes that the Mariners could solve a big problem by signing the No. 1 free agent of the winter, Detroit’s Victor Martinez. I agree, but there is going to be a lot of competition for him. Martinez turns 36 this winter so it will be a short but expensive contract.
  • Baseball America actually had a reporter at a Mariners-Indians instructional league game the other day, and it makes for an interesting read.
  • Maybe the M’s will take a shot on the latest Cuban defector, outfielder Yasmany Tomas. The video makes him look like a Cuban Kirby Puckett.
  • Lookout Landing suggests that Justin Smoak‘s time with the Mariners is over. I must reluctantly agree – if you know Justin a little bit, you can’t help but root for him.
  • Fangraphs has an extraordinarily detailed look at the American League Cy Young Award competition.
  • John McGrath has a column on the criticism of Royals manager Ned Yost after their wild 9-8 victory over Oakland.
  • If you are interested in how an affiliation change affects a Triple-A broadcaster, or how Triple-A broadcasters have little connection to their major league affiliate, read this story by Albuquerque Isotopes broadcaster Josh Suchon.
  • Must watch: the Library of Congress has released a four-minute newsreel of Game Seven of the 1924 World Series between the Washington Senators and New York Giants. It includes footage of Walter Johnson, a home run by Bucky Harris, Goose Goslin diving into first base, and of course the walk-off hit.

Two games today, and then Friday… uh, you might want to call in sick. We have playoff baseball on TV from 9:00 AM until 10:00 PM on Friday. It’s like March Madness in October.


Royals Win Literally Wild Card Playoff

October 1, 2014

The major league playoffs got off to a rousing start last night, when Kansas City scored a dramatic 9-8 victory on 12 innings.

The Royals had two comebacks: they were trailing 7-3 going to the bottom of the eighth inning, and 8-7 going to the bottom of the 12th.

As I sat there watching this wild back-and-forth game, I kept thinking about how excruciating it would be if I was a fan of one of the two teams. What a wild ride.

Now the Royals will now face the LA Angels in the best-of-five American League Division Series (Detroit and Baltimore square off in the other one).

Tonight we have the National League wild card game, with San Francisco at Pittsburgh starting at 5:07 (Pacific).

Once that game is settled, we’ll be down to eight playoff teams and the series format takes over. On this blog tomorrow, we’ll look at all of the former Tacoma players on the eight remaining teams.

Links:

  • Mariners General Manager Jack Zduriencik met with the media yesterday, and he said the team’s payroll will go up in 2015 – among other things. Also, the story has positive news on Danny Hultzen.
  • Jack Z’s tenure is defined by a lack of offense, Jerry Brewer writes.
  • Nice year, John McGrath writes, but the Mariners honeymoon period is over.
  • The Mariners made a roster move on Monday afternoon, activating Jesus Montero from the suspended list and releasing Corey Hart. Hart was going to be a free agent, anyway.
  • We have some interesting news regarding pace of play from MLB. They are going to try some ideas out in the Arizona Fall League, including the no-stepping-out-of-the-box rule I wrote about a while back. They also basically eliminated mound conferences – just three per game, including catcher-and-pitcher.

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