Team Effort Makes Eight Straight

May 2, 2013

The Rainiers won their eighth game in a row on Wednesday night, and everybody on the roster is contributing to this hot streak.

Yesterday the Rainiers were trailing at the 7th inning stretch, 2-1. Andrew Carraway had delivered another strong start, but the offense was surprisingly quiet – shut down by veteran Tim Stauffer of Tucson.

By the end of the sixth, both starting pitchers were finished. Jhonny Nunez relieved for Tacoma, working a scoreless top of the seventh.

In the bottom of the inning, Carlos Triunfel was hit by a pitch from Padres reliever Tommy Layne with one out. Scott Savastanto singled to left field, and Denny Almonte pulled a two-run double down the left field line to give the Rainiers a 3-2 lead.

Savastano and Almonte were hitting 8th and 9th in the lineup, and they came up big for the team last night.

Nunez – who entered the game with a 9.00 ERA – stayed in and pitched an easy 1-2-3 top of the eighth, and then Bobby LaFromboise nailed down his first save of the year. Nunez was credited with the win.

From June 29 to July 8, 2010, the Rainiers won nine straight games. The team will try to match that streak tonight.

We had another roster move yesterday before the game: the Mariners optioned pitcher Blake Beavan to Tacoma, and called up reliever Lucas Luetge.

Beavan is going to return to the starting rotation, and he will start on Saturday against the Reno Aces. Brian Sweeney will move back to the bullpen.

Tonight’s game is at 7:05, and it is Thirsty Thursday at Cheney Stadium – that means $2 beers, y’all. Tacoma starts RHP Jeremy Bonderman (1-2, 4.61) against Tucson RHP Sean O’Sullivan (1-1, 5.00). The broadcast is on 850 AM and streaming online right here.

On the broadcast front, I’ve been informed that MiLB now has a deal with TuneIn making Rainiers broadcasts available through their iPhone and Android apps. So, check it out if that’s your thing.

Links:

  • We start with the Rainiers game story written by Todd Milles of The News Tribune. The story includes some quotes from Nick Franklin on his fast start.
  • Franklin made Baseball America’s All-Prospect Team as the second baseman for the month of April.
  • Aaron Harang had a needed strong start, the Mariners scored eight runs, and things are looking up in Seattle.
  • John McGrath has a column about how the Mariners fan base is dwindling (or perhaps just hibernating).
  • The Arizona Republic has a feature story on former Rainiers hitting coach Jeff Pentland.
  • In the PCL, Sacramento pitcher Sonny Gray tossed a complete game 4-hitter and beat Fresno, 4-1. Gray needed only 94 pitches.
  • Fresno outfielder Francisco Peguero is big-league ready, according to their manager.
  • Hold the phone, the Salt Lake Bees have won a baseball game! Their seven-game losing streak is over.
  • Las Vegas is giving Reno a real work-over at Aces Ballpark, collecting 20 hits in a 14-8 win yesterday. Vegas goes for a sweep tonight.
  • In the small print, we learn that Reno will be adding outfielder Adam Eaton on a rehabilitation assignment starting… tomorrow in Tacoma. Yikes.
  • Round Rock’s Josh Lindblom shut out Iowa, 1-0. The Express added former Rainiers lefty Ryan Feierabend to the rotation. Iowa is moving Josh Vitters to the outfield.
  • Oklahoma City’s Wes Musick silenced the Sounds in Bricktown.
  • Omaha and New Orleans got suspended due to rain after exactly one half-inning yesterday in the Big Easy.
  • The internet is useless when it comes to trying to find a report on yesterday’s game in Albuquerque, a 6-4 win over Memphis.
  • Salt Lake RG and friend-of-the-blog Steve Klauke is a fan of the TV show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” and he has a hobby of hitting all of the featured restaurants in PCL towns. He blogged about his recent trip to Tacoma and the two “Triple-D” meals he enjoyed. Crown Bar! It’s not Triple-D (yet), but I’m taking Klauke to 1111 next time he comes to town.

More great weather in Tacoma – hope to see you at the ballpark!


Sweeney Delivers Six

April 30, 2013

Brian Sweeney tossed six shutout innings as the Rainiers won their sixth straight game on Monday night, 4-1 over the Tucson Padres. It was the opening game of an eight-game homestand.

Sweeney, Brian Moran, and Lucas Luetge combined to limit Tucson to four hits and one unearned run. It was the fourth game in a row in which the Rainiers pitching staff had allowed three runs or fewer – a remarkable feat considering that three of those games were played in the Las Vegas launching pad.

Tacoma’s team ERA is down to 3.93. That ranks 6th-best in the 16-team PCL, and is the best among the eight Pacific Conference teams.

Offensively, Tacoma had seven hits and four runs. Eric Thames continues to swing a hot bat, going 2-for-4 to extend his hitting streak to 13 games. He has played in every game this year, reaching base with either a hit or a walk in all 25.

Mike Zunino hit a long triple to center in his first at-bat, collecting his first career Cheney Stadium hit.

Nick Franklin contributed an RBI single, extending his hitting streak to ten. He has reached base in all 16 games he has played in, and he has a six-game streak of games with an RBI.

Tacoma is 15-10 going into the final game of the month. This is the most victories for the franchise in the month of April since the 2001 PCL Championship team went 18-5 in the first month of the season.

Roster moves: yesterday the Mariners activated Michael Saunders from the disabled list, and optioned Carlos Peguero to Tacoma.

Today the Rainiers officially added Jimmy Gillheeney to the roster, with utility man Leury Bonilla going back to Double-A Jackson.

The second game of the Tucson series is tonight at 6:05, and you can listen on South Sound Sports 850 AM and streaming online right here (yes, the online audio stream was fixed yesterday and we should be all set moving forward). Tacoma starts LHP Jimmy Gillheeney (Triple-A debut) against Tucson RHP Wilfredo Boscan (0-0, 0.00).

Links:

  • Don Ruiz had the pleasure of covering last night’s 2 hour, 18 minute Rainiers game. His story for The News Tribune has lots of reaction from Mike Zunino.
  • Story of the day: historian David Eskenazi has an article on our stadium namesake Ben Cheney and his impact on sports and the American lumber and housing industries. This seems like a good time to remind everybody that the Cheney family pronounces it “CHEE-nee.”
  • Michael Saunders came off the disabled list and made an instant impact for the Mariners. The other Saunders – Joetossed a rare complete game in the Mariners win last night.
  • The A’s beat the Angels in the 19th last night, after a 6 hour, 32 minute game. Brandon Moss was the hero, and everyone was so exhausted that he just pied himself. <<< watch this video, it’s hilarious.
  • In the PCL, Fresno walked-off Sacramento in the bottom of the 11th in a fierce battle between rivals. One of the PCL’s top hitter, Sacramento’s Stephen Vogt, returned to his homeland.
  • Erick Aybar is rehabilitating with Salt Lake, but he couldn’t prevent the Bees from losing their seventh game in a row last night.
  • Former Rainiers pitcher D.J. Mitchell tossed a gem in his first start for Las Vegas, earning a win in Reno. Aces speedster Tony Campana tied the record by stealing three bases in one inning – which included a straight steal of home. Make sure you watch the video on there, which includes fantastic calls by too-good-to-be-in-Triple-A Reno broadcaster Ryan Radtke.
  • New Orleans pounded out 14 hits in a 6-3 win over Omaha.
  • Oklahoma City leadoff man Trevor Crowe had three hits, two walks, three steals, and scored four runs in a 9-8 win against Nashville. Brett Wallace is trying to find his rhythm with the Red Hawks.
  • Albuquerque’s pitching rotation is a mess, but the Elian Herrera saved the day with a walk-off hit against Memphis. A crowd of 6,948 ‘Topes fans ate an incredible 17,071 dogs on their annual 50-cent hot dog night. That’s 2.47 hot dogs per person.
  • Former Rainiers slugger Brad Nelson went 4-for-5 but his Iowa Cubs lost to Round Rock, 10-9.

It’s a beautiful day in Tacoma, and the weather is supposed to be nice all week. Come join us at the ballpark!


No Sweep For Tacoma, Home Opener Tonight

April 12, 2013

Tacoma was unable to complete its first four-game sweep of Sacramento since 2001, falling on Thursday night by a score of 5-4.

The Rainiers certainly had an opportunity – mostly because the River Cats defense seemed intent on giving the game away. Sacramento made four errors in the game, directly leading to three of Tacoma’s runs. But in the end, River Cats reliever Mike Ekstrom stranded the tying runner on third (with no outs!) and nailed down a difficult save.

Despite the loss in the final game, it was an excellent road trip for Tacoma. A 5-3 mark on the road, including a 3-1 series win at always-tough Sacramento, is a great way to start the season.

Now it’s the home opener – one of my favorite days of every calendar year. We expect a very nice crowd, although tickets should be available at the door if you are making a last-minute decision. The latest forecast says we have a chance of rain so be prepared. Shocking in April, I know. Don’t worry – it will be a fun night regardless!

We’ve got the great new food options, post-game fireworks, and the team looks good right now, too.

Tonight’s game is at 7:10, and if you can’t make it to Cheney Stadium please tune in to South Sound Sports 850 AM or the online stream. Tacoma starts LHP James Paxton (0-0, 4.50) against Salt Lake RHP A.J. Schugel (0-0, 3.60).

For clarity, a run-down of the flurry of Rainiers transactions from the last 48 hours:

  • LHP Bobby LaFromboise and OF Endy Chavez were called up to Seattle.
  • RHP Steven Hensley was traded to Colorado and he’ll report to Double-A Tulsa.
  • LHP Lucas Luetge optioned to Tacoma and he should join the team today.
  • OF Joe Dunigan activated from the disabled list and he is ready to play.
  • INF Stefen Romero sent on a rehab assignment to High Desert; he’s been out since early March with a strained oblique. We should see him soon.
  • RHP D.J. Mitchell was designated for assignment and the team is hopeful that he will clear waivers – possibly in time to make his scheduled start for Tacoma tomorrow.

That was a busy stretch!

Links:

  • For all of the details on last night’s Rainiers game, check the story from The News Tribune.
  • Guess which Rainiers player ranks on Baseball America’s first Prospect Hot List of the year. OK, that was too easy.
  • The Mariners lost to Texas, and Felix Hernandez is having a hard time getting career win No. 100. Michael Morse was hit on the hand and is going to be out for a few days.
  • Here is the news story on the Mariners trade of Steven Hensley for Aaron Harang.
  • Michael Saunders is on the 15-day disabled list. Hopefully that is all the time he’ll miss.
  • Jerry Brewer wrote a column on  Felix Hernandez being the face of the franchise.
  • Ji-Man Choi is a hot hitter for the Mariners Class-A Advanced High Desert affiliate.
  • Admit it: you are surprised that the foul-ball-in-beer-cup guy is a Washington alum, and not a Coug.
  • In the PCL, several teams have their home openers tonight. The Reno newspaper has a preview of the Aces, and a look at top prospects around the league.
  • Salt Lake is off to a 6-2 start. They are an older team, and yesterday it was veteran catcher Chris Snyder who had a big game and led them to a win.
  • Colorado Springs had two walk-off wins in a doubleheader against Tucson yesterday.
  • Fresno got lambasted by Las Vegas, 14-3. Las Vegas plays its home opener tonight, and it’s time for 51s fans to meet the Mets. Vegas just added former Rainiers left-hander Sean Henn.
  • Shortstop Dee Gordon did everything except pitch in Albuquerque’s 3-2 win over Omaha.
  • Congrats to former Isotopes broadcaster Robert Portnoy, who landed a plum job down in the Duke City.
  • The Omaha Storm Chasers unveiled a Bob Gibson statue at Werner Park (picture included).

I am saddened to hear about the passing of Hall of Fame basketball coach Marv Harshman, who was a legend in these parts. I only met him late in his life, but I have heard from scores of people who’s lives he impacted. He was a giant in a game of giants.


Rainiers Add A Bat, Win Game, Lose Relievers

April 11, 2013

Infielder Nick Franklin made his belated 2013 debut last night in Sacramento, and his impact was immediately felt.

Franklin went 2-for-5, collecting hits from both sides of the plate. His RBI double in the top of the 7th off left-handed reliever Jordan Norberto was a big hit in Tacoma’s six-run rally that led to a 7-4 come-from-behind victory.

The recovery of Franklin (he was out with an illness) improves the team defensively, too – he was involved in three of Tacoma’s five double plays last night. The club was playing Nate Tenbrink at second base, and he has very little experience at the keystone. Now Tenbrink can slot in at the corner positions he is more comfortable playing.

Tacoma (5-2) is going for a rare four-game road sweep at Sacramento tonight at 7:05. Tacoma starts RHP Jeremy Bonderman (0-0, 5.40) against Sacramento RHP Dan Straily (first PCL appearance of the year). The broadcast is on 850 AM and streaming right here – tune in at 6:50, as I expect to have Mike Zunino on the Alaska Airlines Pregame Show.

Now we have a trade: just announced, the Mariners traded Tacoma reliever Steven Hensley to the Colorado Rockies for major league starter Aaron Harang.

Hensley appeared in two games for Tacoma this year, allowing one run in 2.2 innings for a 3.38 ERA. He had his ups and downs last year, with the highlight being his 4.1 shutout innings in that crazy 18-inning game against Sacramento.

Steven is a super-friendly guy and we wish him the best with the Rockies. Presumably, he’s going to Colorado Springs. I hope he packed his winter coat on this road trip!

Tacoma is short in the bullpen tonight. Lucas Luetge does not report until tomorrow (he couldn’t pitch tonight anyway due to his prolonged outing on Tuesday versus Houston), and both Hensley and Bobby LaFromboise are gone. The Mariners designated Kameron Loe for assignment, he might clear waivers and come to Tacoma but that won’t be known for ten days.

The Rainiers now have an open roster spot. I’ll let you know when it gets filled.

The Rainiers home opener is Friday at 7:05, with fireworks after the game. There are still some tickets left for all of opening weekend – come out and see these guys, this is a really good team right now.

Links:

  • We start with the Rainiers game story from The News Tribune.
  • The Mariners lost to Houston, and Michael Saunders injured his right shoulder.
  • Greg Johns writes that if Saunders has to go on the disabled list, Endy Chavez could get the call-up.
  • Bobby LaFromboise did get called up, and he pitched a 1-2-3 inning with a pair of strikeouts in his major league debut. Nice job, Bobby!
  • For ESPN Insiders, Buster Olney has more on Mike Zunino.
  • Chicago Cubs top prospect Jorge Soler charged the opposing dugout wielding a bat. He’s going to get suspended for a while.
  • In the PCL, former Rainiers infielder Luis Rodriguez drove in seven runs, hit a grand slam, and had the go-ahead RBI in both games of Salt Lake’s doubleheader sweep of Reno. Wowza.
  • The ball was flying out of Chukchansi Park – there were five homers in Fresno’s 6-3 win over Vegas.
  • The Sacramento Bee has a feature on new River Cats manager Steve Scarsone.
  • Oklahoma City’s Jarred Cosart was dealing in a 3-1 win over Nashville.
  • Round Rock starting pitcher Justin Grimm got the call to the big leagues.
  • Omaha swept a doubleheader at Albuquerque, winning both games by a score of 6-3. That makes it very difficult to determine which one was game one and which one was game two.
  • New Orleans scored four runs in the top of the 12th inning and was still batting when the game was suspended due to rain in Memphis.

Goodness gracious, we’re going to have good food at Cheney Stadium this season. First Ivar’s and Kidd Valley, now pizza from The Hub? Awesome!


Rainiers Roster & Rotation Set

April 3, 2013

We have an opening day roster! The PDF with player info and a few stats is right here.

Starting Pitchers: Danny HultzenAndrew CarrawayJeremy Bonderman, James Paxton, D.J. Mitchell (listed in order of starting rotation – Paxton lines up for the home opener next Friday).

Bullpen: Logan Bawcom, Danny Farquhar, Steven Hensley, Bobby LaFromboise, Brian Moran, Yoervis Medina, Jhonny Nunez, Brian Sweeney.

Catchers: Jesus Sucre, Mike Zunino.

Infielders: Nick Franklin, Alex Liddi, Rich Poythress, Scott Savastano, Nate Tenbrink, Carlos Triunfel.

Outfielders: Denny Almonte, Endy Chavez, Carlos Peguero, Eric Thames.

Disabled List: Erasmo Ramirez, Stefen Romero, Joe Dunigan, Anthony Vasquez.

The first surprise is that Erasmo Ramirez is on the disabled list. He battled some triceps tightness in spring training, and when I saw him last week in a minor league intrasquad game he did not look sharp. He staying back in Arizona to work things out – hopefully this is nothing serious.

Next surprise: no Vinnie Catricala or Hector Noesi. Both of them are going to Double-A Jackson to start the season – kind of an odd move, since both are on the 40-man roster. However, they both struggled in Tacoma last year, so perhaps the Mariners are hoping to jump-start them with a comfortable assignment.

As expected, Chance Ruffin is going to Double-A for the purpose of transitioning to the starting rotation.

I know a lot of Rainiers fans liked last year’s back-up catcher Brandon Bantz. He is in Jackson to open the season.

As you know by now, Jason Bay won the battle for the final Mariners roster spot, and Casper Wells was designated for assignment. Wells is in “baseball limbo” for ten days – it is possible that he could join the Rainiers when this period is up if no team claims him on waivers.

I spoke to manager Daren Brown briefly today, and he says he thinks that this will be a fun team to watch. He wondered if it is even younger than last year’s team, and it might be. The two elder statesmen (Brian Sweeney and Endy Chavez) may keep the average age a bit higher.

Tomorrow around noon I’ll have a post about opening day and the radio broadcast. First pitch is 7:15 Thursday night! Danny Hultzen against Fresno’s Yusmeiro Petit.


Jacobs Out, Endy Chavez In

March 25, 2013

There was an unexpected turn in the composition of the Tacoma Rainiers roster over the weekend.

The Mariners announced that veteran first baseman Mike Jacobs asked to be released, and the Mariners agreed. So Jacobs – who I expected to start at first base and bat in the middle of the lineup – is out of the picture.

Just as I was contemplating how this would change the team, the Mariners announced that they had signed veteran outfielder Endy Chavez to a minor league deal. In a news story (linked below), Chavez said that he expects to open the season in Tacoma.

The 35-year-old Chavez has a ton of big league experience (stats). He’s always been a defense-first outfielder, and I assume he can still hold his own out there in center field. That seems to be where he’ll be playing; we were previously looking at playing a Triple-A rookie in center field (either Abe Almonte or Denny Almonte).

Unless I’m reading the tea leaves incorrectly, we’re looking at a Tacoma outfield of Eric Thames, Endy Chavez, and Carlos Peguero.

First base could go two ways. Manager Daren Brown could run Vinnie Catricala and Alex Liddi through first base – although, as I have stated many times, I think that is a waste of Liddi’s defensive talents. Liddi is a good third baseman and it would be nice to see him actually play his best position.

The other possibility is that longtime Double-A first baseman Rich Poythress could finally get promoted to Tacoma. Last year Poythress posted a huge on-base percentage (.404) but did not show much over-the-fence power (six HRs, although he did have 21 doubles in 303 at-bats).

They’ve got a week to figure this out.

I’m off to Peoria, Arizona early on Tuesday morning. I’ll be blogging daily from spring training for the remainder of the week, although the new updates will come at unusual times – I’m guessing late in the afternoon, or perhaps later in the evening. As usual we’ll have notifications of new posts going out via Facebook and Twitter.

Links:

  • The Mariners could not commit a starting rotation spot to non-roster veteran Jon Garland, so he took advantage of his contract right to become a free agent. This helps clarify the Mariners starting rotation plans (a little bit).
  • It appears that Erasmo Ramirez is not going to start for the Mariners and he may pitch from the bullpen.
  • Outfielder Endy Chavez knows he is opening the season in Tacoma.
  • New Mariners reliever Kameron Loe talked about how a sports psychologist has helped him.
  • From Baseball America’s minor league transactions we learn that the Mariners released ten low-level minor leaguers.
  • Veteran pitcher Nelson Figueroa lost to Reno in the Triple-A Baseball National Championship Game last year. This year, he’s going to play for Reno. Figueroa has 103 career Triple-A wins – pretty amazing, if you think about it.
  • Many analysts have Texas Rangers infielder Jurickson Profar ranked as the top prospect in the minors. He may open the season in Round Rock.
  • The Angels sent down eight players, which I mention here because these guys are going to be on our division rival the Salt Lake Bees.

As long as I don’t have any flight delays, I’ll be at the Tacoma Rainiers vs. Omaha Storm Chasers game tomorrow in Surprise, Arizona. Surprise! Hoping to have a blog post up on that game sometime Tuesday evening.


Maurer Makes His Bid

March 20, 2013

Brandon Maurer pitched well again last night in Arizona, lasting five innings and giving up just one run on three hits to the world champion San Francisco Giants.

Maurer has been getting good results all spring. He’s pitched 15 innings, allowing two runs for a 1.20 ERA. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is 15-5, and he’s allowed only 13 hits.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. Spring training stats don’t mean anything – that’s been proven over the years. But still, Maurer is making an impression in camp.

Say what you want about the stats, Maurer has the major league look on the mound. He has a big-time slider, which was his go-to pitch last night. He was composed and not rattled at all when a couple of Giants reached base in the first inning, getting a double play grounder to end the threat.

Maurer’s strong showing in the Cactus League is further complicating the Mariners starting rotation battle.

LOCKS: Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Joe Saunders.

SHOULD BE A LOCK BUT SOMEHOW ISN’T: Erasmo Ramirez.

FIGHTING FOR A SPOT: Blake Beavan, Jon Garland, Jeremy Bonderman, Brandon Maurer.

It will be interesting to see how this shakes down. Who will be the starting five?

Spring performance is far from the only factor. Contract status, roster status, injury history, and experience are also weighed.

Ramirez, Beavan, and Maurer are each on the 40-man roster, and each can be optioned to Tacoma. Garland and Bonderman are on minor league contracts, are MLB veterans, and are coming off injuries. Neither Garland nor Bonderman is on the 40-man roster, so a move would have to be made to bring either one to opening day.

I suppose at this time I am expected to be an “expert” and tell you how it’s going to shake down. The truth is, I have no idea what goes on behind the closed doors of the Mariners front office. Personally I side with youth over the veterans, but the Mariners have made veteran leadership a real priority this off-season. My hunch is that they will commit to Garland or Bonderman (probably not both) and send down the younger guys.

We also have a starting pitcher back-up in Tacoma. Your Triple-A rotation will consist of five of the following names: Erasmo Ramirez, Blake Beavan, Jeremy Bonderman, Brandon Maurer, Danny Hultzen, Andrew Carraway, James Paxton, DJ Mitchell, Taijuan WalkerHector Noesi, and Anthony Vasquez. That’s a ton of guys – heck, I may have even forgot someone.

No decisions regarding the Tacoma starting rotation can be made until the Mariners make their decisions about the big league rotation. This may go down to the final day of March.

Add another name to the Rainiers roster: after last night’s game, the Mariners optioned outfielder Eric Thames to Tacoma.

Thames has played very well in the PCL in the past (with Las Vegas) and we should expect him to thrive here. He’ll be a key cog in the Rainiers lineup.

Also, the Mariners reassigned two players to minor league camp: reliever Logan Bawcom and catcher Mike Zunino.

Bawcom is a potential member of the Rainiers bullpen, although he could end up at Double-A Jackson on opening day.

We talked about Zunino a little bit yesterday. His assignment will launch a big domino effect among the catchers in the minor league system, resulting in roster shuffling of other receivers and possibly even lost jobs.

There seems to be a general feel among media members in Arizona that Zunino is going to start the season at Jackson. I’ll try to dig around on this some more when I get to Arizona next week.

Rainiers single-game tickets are on sale now – here is the link to the online sale. If you know you are going to attend the July 3rd game, or a few Friday and Saturday nights during the summer, or Opening Day, buying now will get you better seats.

Links:

  • Ryan Divish has this report on Brandon Maurer‘s strong performance last night.
  • Nice story from Geoff Baker on pitching prospect Taijuan Walker and his mother.
  • Larry Stone checked up on a bunch of former Mariners players, including Mike Carp.
  • One of the new guys at Lookout Landing has an interesting piece on the future of Hector Noesi. The article suggests that Noesi will be in the Tacoma bullpen.
  • For those into prospecting, here is a valuable piece from John Sickels: his “prospect retrospective” on Randy Johnson.
  • Friend-of-the-blog Jonah Keri has a massive, fun article on Grantland about the art of base stealing.
  • Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em? Not in Colorado Springs.

March Madness starts tomorrow!


Getting Closer To A Rainiers Roster

March 19, 2013

The 2013 Tacoma Rainiers took some form over the last five days, as the Mariners have made a bushel of roster moves. Let’s take a look at them:

Optioned to Tacoma: Danny Hultzen, Hector Noesi, Alex Liddi, Bobby LaFromboise, Yoervis Medina, Vinnie Catricala, Carlos Triunfel.

Reassigned to minor league camp: James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, Jhonny Nunez, John Hicks, Ronny Paulino, Stefen Romero, Andrew Carraway.

The players “reassigned to minor league camp” can be sent to any minor league affiliate, and the organization will determine which team they are going to during the next two weeks. My opinion is that Carraway and Paxton are certain to come to Tacoma. I’m not so sure about the free agent signings Nunez and Paulino (for more on Paulino see link No. 2 below); and Romero is currently injured (strained oblique). Hicks appears ticketed for Double-A, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Walker joins him there.

The Mariners also optioned young outfielder Julio Morban to Double-A Jackson in what had to be one of the most awkward conversations of spring training.

On Friday the 21-year-old Morban – in his first big league spring training camp – hit two home runs in an exhibition game against the Angels. After the game,  he was optioned to Double-A Jackson.

That must have been a strange meeting in Eric Wedge‘s office. Obviously, he should have hit three homers. Or maybe four?

Morban played at Class-A High Desert last year and a promotion to Jackson is a natural progression for 2013. We’ll see him in Tacoma down the road a bit.

I had a blast attending the Pac-12 basketball tournament in Las Vegas this past weekend. If you are a fan of one of the teams and a hoops junkie I highly recommend it – even if your team gets knocked out early (like mine did), it is a ton of fun.

Now I am locked in on baseball. Next week (Tuesday) I go to spring training and will have daily reports from the Rainiers camp. There are 16 days until the PCL opener and it is time to get in gear.

The season must be coming, because this is the best collection of links we have had in quite a while:

  • Baseball America has a look at park factors from around the minors, including an “in-focus” look at Cheney Stadium. After two years in the new park, Cheney ranks as the best pitcher’s park in the PCL despite an increase in homers since the renovation. We have more home runs but fewer total runs scored per game (park factor) relative to the league average. To get that weird mix of results Cheney must have fewer walks, singles, doubles (and definitely triples) than the majority of the league.
  • Ryan Divish has some thoughts on the Tacoma catching situation – no answers here, yet. It all hinges on the Mike Zunino placement.
  • Reliever Danny Farquhar is still in big league camp, fighting to make the Mariners roster. If he ends up getting sent to Tacoma, manager Daren Brown may use him as the Rainiers closer. Here’s video of Farquhar talking about a new pitch he’s working on.
  • I was going to recommend Baseball America’s google maps view of every minor league stadium, except the Cheney Stadium marker points you to some guy’s back yard in Fircrest. Whatever.
  • Double-A Jackson broadcaster Chris Harris is in spring training camp right now, and he blogged about some Tacoma players today.
  • Contrary to popular opinion,  Larry Stone writes that the Mariners are loaded with veterans.
  • Jeremy Bonderman impressed on Friday. At the end of the story, Bonderman says he has not yet decided if he is willing to open the season in Tacoma.
  • Jim Caple wrote a story for ESPN about catcher Mike Zunino.
  • Geoff Baker wrote a feature on Mariners minor league outfielder Kalian Sams, who grew up with the late Greg Halman.
  • Former Rainiers reliever Steve Delabar could end up as the Toronto Blue Jays closer.
  • The Mariners invested in a teenage pitcher from the Dominican Republic.
  • If you haven’t checked out Lookout Landing since Jeff Sullivan left, they have introduced their new team of writers who are already providing some good content.
  • I’ll admit that the reason I was looking at the San Francisco Chronicle sports section was for Cal NCAA Tournament news, but instead I found a feature on Silverdale native and UW baseball product Todd Linden. He’s in Giants camp and is probably going back to Fresno to start the season; he seems to have a good outlook on life.
  • From Reno, five things to watch with the Aces this year. They’ll have WBC star Nelson Figueroa in the starting rotation.
  • The news that some MLB owners want to abolish the pension plan for front office workers and scouts is rather disgusting.
  • From disgusting to heart-warming, News Tribune columnist Larry LaRue returned to his baseball-writing roots with this piece on a University Place man who brings baseball equipment to Cuba every year.

Check back often – the push to opening day is on!


Outfield Outlook

March 6, 2013

This is the last of our position-by-position previews of the spring training battles – going on now! – to make the Rainiers opening day roster. Today, we look at the outfielders.

There are a lot of outfielders in the mix, so with this one we need to start at the top: Seattle.

The Mariners are probably going to carry five outfielders. The “locks” are Franklin Gutierrez, Michael Saunders, Raul Ibanez and Michael Morse. The battle for the fifth outfielder seems to be between Jason Bay, Casper Wells, Carlos Peguero, and Eric Thames.

Of the those last four players, only Thames and Peguero have an option remaining – meaning they are the only ones who can be sent to Tacoma without passing through waivers first (and being offered to the other 29 teams for free).

We’re going to have Thames in Tacoma if he doesn’t make the big league club – and I think we can expect him to be an impact bat in the PCL if he is here; he hit .330 with a .935 OPS for Las Vegas in 54 games last year.

As for Peguero, we know what he can do: destroy PCL pitching and launch highly entertaining home runs. We’ll welcome Carlos back in Tacoma if he gets sent here.

Unless they force their way on to the Mariners roster, Thames and Peguero will hit in the middle of the Rainiers lineup on opening day.

Thames and Peguero will play the corner outfield positions, with Alex Liddi and Vinnie Catricala (both covered in the corner infielders post two weeks ago) getting spot starts in left field. Perhaps Stefen Romero and Eric Farris could get into the left field picture, too.

Center field is where we will see someone new – and his last name will be Almonte. But which one?

Center field candidates

Denny Almonte: The Mariners second round draft pick in 2007 out of a Miami high school, Almonte made big strides last year in pitch recognition, boosting his status in the organization. A switch-hitter with speed and power, Almonte always had a ton of strikeouts and very few walks. Last year – his first at Double-A Jackson – he nearly doubled his career-high walk total, drawing 52 free passes. He also set a career (full-season) low with 135 strikeouts. Almonte hit .249 with 12 homers and 24 stolen bases. My sources say he’s very good on defense in center – something very important in the deep pasture at Cheney Stadium.

Abe Almonte: The new guy, Abe was acquired from the Yankees when the Mariners traded reliever Shawn Kelley. Abe is a little guy with great speed – he is listed at 5’9″ and he has stolen 30+ bases in each of his last three full seasons. He’s been with the Yankees Double-A Trenton affiliate for the past two years. In an injury-slowed 2012 campaign, Almonte hit .276 with a .350 on-base percentage and 30 stolen bases in just 78 games. He doesn’t offer much power – he’s a get-on-base and use-his-speed type of player. If he makes the Rainiers, I can only assume he’ll be batting leadoff. As for his defense, I know nothing. I’ll be closely watching him when I go to spring training at the end of the month.

Other outfielders in the mix

Francisco Martinez is a former third baseman who is being moved to center this year. He’s on the 40-man roster and was the big prospect acquired from Detroit in the Doug Fister trade. He’s also coming off a dreadful 2012 season with the bat in Jackson, and we can only assume that he is going back there for 2013. He was good in 2011 and a bounce-back season is not out of the question.

Joe Dunigan mashed 25 taters for Jackson last year, playing 23 games in the outfield but mostly DH-ing. He also struck out 175 times in 426 at-bats and hit .254. Sounds like more Double-A seasoning is on tap for Dunigan.

I figured we would have seen Danny Carroll in Tacoma by now, but fate has intervened. The speedy centerfielder hasn’t been able to escape the injury bug, which limited him to 22 games last year for Jackson. First he had a shoulder strain, then he broke his hamate bone. If he’s healthy, he’s a potential Rainiers outfielder.

Going deeper, outfielders who may jump from A-ball to Jackson this year include Julio Morban, James Jones, and Leon Landry. If any of these guys tear it up in the Southern League, we could potentially see them in Tacoma after the all-star break.

We have some interesting stories to read today – several of the national baseball writers visited the Mariners camp recently, and their articles have been published.

Links:

  • The one-and-only Jon Heyman of CBS Sports checked in on the M’s and wrote about their power surge and fresh outlook. Heyman also shared his Mariners camp likes and dislikes.
  • Tracy Ringolsby put on his cowboy hat, hit the Mariners camp and checked in on Mike Zunino. There is a lot of good background on the Zunino family in this article.
  • ESPN analyst Keith Law watched Taijuan Walker struggle with his location on Monday (subscription required).
  • Here’s a look at where the Mariners roster battles stand as of today, courtesy of Mr. Larry Stone.
  • John McGrath weighed in on the red-hot Mariners.
  • The mysterious marc w of USS Mariner won the internet this week (I know, it’s only Wednesday) by showing us that the prevailing opinion on Carlos Peguero - that he can only hit fastballs – is totally wrong.
  • Kyle Seager always has a good approach to this whole baseball thing.
  • Larry Stone caught up with Mr. Mariner himself, Alvin Davis.
  • Mariners reliever Oliver Perez is fired up to be pitching for Mexico in the WBC.
  • A note on a couple of ex-Rainiers: Johan Limonta has re-signed with the York Revolution of the independent Atlantic League, and Sean Kazmar signed a minor league deal with the Braves (h/t to Big Mike).
  • Another former Rainier, Luke French, has retired and is now working for the Twins helping with their video scouting, according to Larry Stone’s twitter.
  • Former Tacoma Twins star Tom Kelly is helping former Tacoma Rainiers star Jeff Clement improve his first base defense in Twins camp. Former Tacomans rejoice!
  • I don’t have an iPad, but if I did I would spend 99 cents on Baseball America’s WBC guide. They are killing it with their coverage of this event, even sending Ben Badler to Japan so he could lay eyes on the rarely seen Cuban team.
  • In the PCL, fellow Pavement fan Marek W. of the Fresno Bee took a stab at predicting the Fresno Grizzlies opening day roster. The Rainiers open the season at Fresno on April 4.
  • A writer for MiLB.com worked out his own park factors for minor league stadiums, and as expected Cheney Stadium still comes out as a pitcher’s park. They really, really need a humidor in Reno – the only one of the top three PCL launching pads to not have one for 2013.

Check back for an update on Friday.


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.


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