Winter League Wrap-Up

January 8, 2014

The regular seasons in the Dominican, Venezuelan, and Mexican winter leagues have come to an end, so let’s check out the stats of some Rainiers players who participated.

HITTERS

Abraham Almonte played in just eight games for Escogido in his native Dominican, going 6-for-24.

Jesus Montero got 86 at-bats in Venezuela, playing for the Mariners-linked Cardinales de Lara. Montero hit .279 with one homer and 13 RBI. His OPS was .698. Worth noting that Montero played strictly DH and 1B.

Gabriel Noriega could be a Rainiers infielder in 2014. He started 50 games at shortstop for Lara, batting .239. He reportedly is a defensive wiz.

Carlos Peguero launched two dingers in seven games in the Dominican. Peguero is out of minor league options for 2014 so it’s going to be a big spring training for him.

Jesus Sucre caught 16 games for Caracas, but hit just .178. Health is the important factor here.

Nate Tenbrink managed to play in both the Dominican and Venezuela. Not sure how that happened. I think he liked Venezuela better: he batted .300 there, and .080 (only 25 at-bats) in the Dominican.

Carlos Triunfel appeared in 28 games for Tigres de Licey in the Dominican, hitting .178.

PITCHERS

Jonathan Arias pitched in the Dominican briefly, and Mexico extensively. He had a 2.16 ERA in Mexico.

Logan Bawcom pitched in ten early-winter games in Venezuela before being shut down. He had a 8.22 ERA in 7.2 innings.

Roenis Elias is a likely Rainiers starting pitcher in 2014. He made three starts in Venezuela, going 2-1, 4.26.

Stephen Kohlscheen is a name to learn (and for me, learn to spell) as he will probably be in the Rainiers bullpen after a terrific 2013 season in Double-A. He punched out nine batters over 5.2 innings in the Dominican.

Hector Noesi dominated in the Dominican. In nine starts for Tigres de Licey, he fashioned a 2.30 ERA. Like Peguero, Noesi is out of options and this is a big spring training for him.

Matt Palmer started four games for Magallanes in Venezuela, with a 4.82 ERA.

Erasmo Ramirez was dealing in Venezuela, posting a 3-1, 2.86 mark in six starts for Lara.

Ramon Ramirez pitched in 21 games in his native Dominican, posting a 3.15 ERA with nine saves for Gigantes de Cibao. One can speculate that this performance led the Mariners to sign him last week.

Anthony Vasquez made six starts for Lara, going 0-4, 6.04.

Still nothing on the Rainiers coaching staff announcement. It’s gotta be coming any day now.

Links:

You’ve probably heard by now that Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas were elected to the Hall of Fame today.

Surprisingly, none of them ever played a game at Cheney Stadium. Maddux played parts of two seasons for the Iowa Cubs, but they were in the old American Association back then. Glavine did his Triple-A time with Richmond of the International League. As for the Big Hurt, he jumped straight from Double-A to the big leagues in 1990.

The guy who missed election by two votes played in Tacoma: Craig Biggio came through town as a member of the Tucson Toros in 1988.


Winter Warriors

October 25, 2013

A handful of Tacoma Rainiers players are playing Fall/Winter baseball, and seasons have begun.

Leagues range from the Arizona Fall League (played in spring training stadiums with scouts often out-numbering fans in attendance) to the Venezuelan Winter League (played in front of tens of thousands of passionate fans and nationally televised).

We’ll look at where players who appeared for Tacoma in 2013 are playing. Additional players may join the Dominican or Venezuelan leagues later, as those teams are trying to win championships for their fans and often make in-season roster adjustments.

ARIZONA FALL LEAGUE

The Mariners contingent includes 2013 Rainiers Stefen Romero and Brandon Maurer, with potential 2014 Rainiers Chris Taylor, Kyle Hunter, Dominic Leone, and Carson Smith. They all play for the Peoria Javelinas, in the Mariners spring training park.

Romero is off to a tough start, going 4-for-32 with 10 strikeouts so far. That just doesn’t seem right; I expect him to start hitting real soon.

Maurer has made three starts and posted a 3.72 ERA. This is a hitter’s league and that is not bad. Note that in the AFL, starting pitchers often toss only three or four innings because there are a lot of guys who need to get work. Maurer has thrown 9.2 innings in three outings.

DOMINICAN WINTER LEAGUE

Three members of the Rainiers are already playing down there. Carlos Triunfel and Hector Noesi are teammates with Tigres del Licey, and Jonathan Arias pitches for Leones del Escogido.

I wrote this last winter, but Triunfel has trouble getting playing time because the shortstop position is stacked down in the Dominican (many established major leaguers who are Dominican play for their hometown teams in the winter league). He’s been in three games and is 0-for-4.

Noesi made one start and dealt, allowing one run in five innings. Arias has one relief appearance and it did not go well.

VENEZUELAN WINTER LEAGUE

This is where many Rainiers play, mostly due to the Mariners relationship with the Cardinales de Lara. The Mariners have been sending advanced players down there for years now, and the relationship is very strong – in fact, the Cardinales owner and General Manager visit Cheney Stadium every August to talk to players they are interested in, and to answer questions the Americans have about playing down there. It shows a lot of commitment on their part.

So far, only two American players from the Mariners have ventured to Venezuela: pitchers Logan Bawcom and Anthony Vasquez. One of their teammates is native Venezuelan Jesus Montero.

In the league with a different team is Rainiers catcher Jesus Sucre, who is playing for Caracas.

Bawcom has appeared in five games already, posting a 2.08 ERA and nailing down a save. He’s working to refine his command while pitching in pressure-packed, uncomfortable situations down there. He blogged about his travel to Venezuela earlier this week (scroll down to Wednesday’s links), and hopefully he’ll write about the baseball experience later.

Vasquez is recovering from brain surgery – a remarkable story – and has made three starts, going 0-2 with a 7.71 ERA.

This is a big winter league season for Montero, who barely played in 2013 due to injury and suspension. He’s playing strictly first base and is hitting .265 with one homer in eight games. A big winter in Venezuela would be huge for Montero, who needs to get back on track offensively.

We’ll check in on these guys again later in the winter.

Links:

  • Larry Stone has a column on the Mariners manager search.
  • The Mariners interviewed former Portland Beavers manager Rick Renteria for the opening, Greg Johns reports.
  • From this transactions log we learn that the Mariners re-signed would-be minor league free agent LHP Nick Hill, who is a strong candidate to be in the Rainiers bullpen in April.
  • Shannon Drayer caught up with 2013 Mariners first round draft pick DJ Peterson.
  • Former Rainiers infielder Ramon Santiago is waiting to find out if his long stint with the Detroit Tigers is over.
  • Geoff Baker has a blog post regarding the cash value of the Mariners, if you are into that sort of thing. Lacking that kind of dough, I find myself uninterested.
  • If you have a Baseball America subscription, you can read their “Mariners Draft Report Card” right here.
  • Also at Baseball America but not requiring a subscription, their business columnist has a blog post on the El Paso Chihuahuas and similar team names from around Minor League Baseball.
  • Here’s an entertaining piece on the Chihuahuas and other PCL team names.
  • Momentum continues – thank goodness – for a new ballpark in Nashville.
  • Congratulations to longtime Omaha manager Mike Jirschele, who was added to the Kansas City Royals major league coaching staff today. He managed in Omaha for 14 years!

Enjoy the World Series, it’s shaping up to be a good one.


Baseball All Year

November 28, 2012

Many of your favorite Tacoma Rainiers players are still working hard on improving their skills, even though the Pacific Coast League season ended back on Labor Day.

A few players do this in their home towns, working at their local gym and with the nearby high school or college team that they are familiar with. Others work out at specific baseball-related performance training centers – there are a few scattered around the country, typically in baseball hotbed areas like Arizona, Florida, and California.

Players who are willing to spend their off-season away from home try to land roles on various Winter League teams in the off-season. Highly competitive Winter Leagues are played around the globe, in countries such as Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and even Australia.

While I refer to these leagues often on the blog we haven’t really talked much about them. Today we’ll check out the Winter League lineup.

Triple-A players like your Tacoma Rainiers will try to land spots on Winter League teams for three reasons:

  1. to work on improving a specific part of their game
  2. to impress their own major league team, and scouts from other teams
  3. to earn extra off-season money

Some also like to see the world, but not all players are in it for that reason.

The Seattle Mariners currently have players assigned to teams in six different Winter Leagues. Let’s check ‘em out:

Venezuelan Winter League – this league, along with the Dominican League, is played at the highest level among the foreign leagues. Most of the league is made up of native Venezuelans who play in the American major leagues or minors during the summer, and then play in their home country during the winter.

This league is known for large fan support and rowdy crowds. It’s important to note that in the eyes of Venezuelan citizens, the VWL is their major league. Winning is important here – losing managers get fired, struggling players get released, and champions are celebrated.

It can be difficult for non-Venezuelan players to crack a roster in this league. The Mariners have a long-standing relationship with one of the teams, Cardinales de Lara, which helps them place advanced prospects in the circuit. It is quite an assignment when the Mariners call an American Triple-A prospect and say, “we want you to go to Venezuela this winter.”

I’ve had many American players tell me this was a life-changing experience for them, and it has helped them achieve a better understanding of what their Latino teammates go through when they are playing in the USA.

The VWL is played at a high level – the league is full of quality Triple-A level players, and there are major leaguers sprinkled in as well. Sometimes established major leaguers from Venezuela will join their local team for the stretch run and playoffs – just a few years ago, the Mariners had to specifically request Felix Hernandez to not do this, as they didn’t want to risk injury.

Typically the Mariners send a few non-Venezuelans to the Cardinales, but this year there is only one: Rainiers reliever Danny Farquhar. The Mariners do have seven players assigned to Lara, and six of them are Venezuelans.

Dominican Winter League – much of what is true about the VWL applies to the DWL as well. The league is chock-full of Dominican professionals, and they play for keeps in a baseball-crazed nation.

The league has a long history, dating continuously back to 1951, but with several of the teams pre-dating the league and going back longer than that. One team, Tigres de Licey, has been in existence for over 100 years and is considered the Yankees of the Dominican.

Because of the league’s long history, generations of baseball men have spent time in the Dominican, either as a player or a coach. For decades major league manager prospects have been asked to run a Dominican team to help prepare them for the show.

From talking to scouts, it seems that these days the DWL is known for hard-throwing pitchers – especially relievers. DWL rosters are typically full of flame-throwing pitchers who come in for short stints, often starting early in the game.

Among others, current Rainiers Carlos Triunfel and Carlos Peguero are playing in the DWL.

Triunfel is an example of an interesting but common case in the DWL: the Tacoma everyday shortstop, and a prospect of some regard, is used mostly as a pinch-hitter down there. Why? Well, the Dominican is the land of the shortstop, and his team has Hanley Ramirez and Jurickson Profar… and on top of that, the Dodgers sent Dee Gordon down there to get some work in. Shortstop is always a stacked depth chart in the DWL.

Mexican Pacific League – that’s the name of the Mexican winter league, which is a different entity from the summer-playing Mexican League (minus the “Pacific”). This is another league that has a long history, dating back to 1957 in its current form.

Like the other foreign leagues, this one is loaded up with Mexican nationals. The Rainiers/Mariners native Mexican Oliver Perez is pitching in the circuit right now, for the Tomateros de Culiacan.

I love the team names in this league. Perez plays for the Culiacan Tomato Growers, there are the Guasave Cotton Growers, and who can resist the Los Mochis Sugar Cane Growers? Sadly, the Saltillo Serape Makers play in the summer league.

Puerto Rico Baseball League – this one has recently recovered from hard times, it actually suspended operations five years ago, only to come back. I couldn’t even find an official league website to link to!

In the past the Rainiers have had many players go to this league – longtime Rainiers pitcher Andy Baldwin played multiple seasons in the league.

This year the Mariners have one player assigned to Purto Rico: Rainiers left-hander Brian Moran is currently pitching for the Manati club.

The winners of the four above winter leagues advance to the round-robin Caribbean Series, played the first week of February. The Caribbean Series is hotly contested and watched by fans from all four countries.

There are two other leagues the Mariners sent players to this off-season:

Australian Baseball League – a relative upstart that began in 2010, this league plays at a lower level than the four leagues listed above. Many teams send a few of their Class-A level minor leaguers to participate in the Australian League.

Like all of the above leagues, the Australian League is heavily populated by natives – but there is a twist here. Because Australia is geographically closer to Asia, many major league teams send their young Korean and Taiwanese prospects to Australia to get some off-season work in.

The Mariners have sent two Americans who played in Class-A last year (Andrew Kitteredge and Nate Melendres) to the league, as well as a South Koreans Ji-Man Choi and Seon Gi Kim.

There are some cool names in this league, such as the Adelaide Bite. The championship title is known as the Claxton Shield.

Arizona Fall League – OK, this one isn’t really a Winter League, it says Fall right there in the title, but I’ve gotta include it anyway. This is the American entry, it is known for top prospects of all nationalities, and each MLB team sends 6-8 players to participate in it. The games are played in October and November, in spring training stadiums.

The AFL is already over – the Mariners affiliate Peoria Javelinas won the title, and Rainiers infielder Nick Franklin had a big season hitting .338 with a .422 OBP and 22 RBI in 20 games.

Always be weary of hitting stats when looking at the AFL numbers – this is a highly offensive league, much like the PCL.

I’ve never been to the Fall League, but from what I hear the crowds are tiny and made up mostly of scouts – which sounds great to me, if you want to get your inner baseball geek on. Someday I’ll be down there in the fall and will check out a game or two.

You can see all of the Mariners statistics from the Winter Leagues in a PDF release right here.

Links:

  • The Seattle Times has a report that the Mariners wined-and-dined free agent hitter Mike Napoli, and they are using their new drawn-in fences as a selling tool.
  • Greg Johns writes that the Mariners are looking for offense at next week’s Winter Meetings. I’m sure my man Greg had to contact hundreds of sources to get that story confirmed!
  • Marvin Miller passed away yesterday at age 95. He had an enormous impact on the sport – here is his New York Times obituary. John McGrath wrote about Miller, too.
  • In the darkest depths of the off-season, straight out of nowhere, we have a Fangraphs Q&A with Rainiers pitcher Danny Hultzen. Lots of good stuff in here, including a detailed description of how he throws his change-up. His Little League coach taught him how to throw it!
  • Former Rainiers catcher… err,  make that multiple-times-over ex-Rainiers catcher and possible future Rainiers catcher Guillermo Quiroz signed a minor league deal with the San Francisco Giants. The Giants are pretty set (that’s an egregious understatement) with Buster Posey and Hector Sanchez behind the plate, so it seems that Quiroz will be injury insurance at Triple-A Fresno.
  • Old pal Jeff Clement signed a Triple-A deal with the Minnesota Twins. A good spot for him, in my opinion, as he can try to mash his way to big league DH at-bats.
  • In the PCL, Sacramento has a new manager in Steve Scarsone, promoted from their Double-A team. Previous Sacramento manager Darren Bush was added to the major league coaching staff.
  • We knew it would happen sometime: the short-season Eugene Emeralds swallowed the hook and switched to a Sasquatch logo. So far it seems that people like it.
  • ESPN’s Jim Caple is going to win the $500 million Powerball lottery later today with his selection of power hitter uniform numbers. That’s his plan.
  • Presented without comment: Bob Weir and Phil Lesh of The Grateful Dead have nominated Giants third base coach Tim Flannery for Sportsman Of The Year.
  • The Mariners announced their spring training schedule. Pitchers and catchers report on February 12th. Seems like a long way away, huh?

OK, let’s do the math here… 2+31+31+12= 76 days until spring training!


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