Triple-A All-Star Tickets On Sale Today

January 17, 2017

We’ve got some Rainiers news to pass along today.

First and foremost, individual tickets for the Triple-A All-Star Game and Home Run Derby are on sale now.

To get good seats, get your tickets right away – this is going to sell out. I just opened up the Ticketmaster seat map, and there are excellent locations available now.

The two events are bundled together. You get the Home Run Derby on Monday, July 10 and the All-Star Game on Wednesday, July 12.

Here’s the link to buy tickets.

On another note, we have changed the game time for Opening Night on April 11 to 7:05 pm. Early copies of the schedule had it listed at 6:05, but we realized that with all of the pregame ceremonies that didn’t seem right. 7:05 it is – mark your schedules accordingly.

In an important transaction for the Rainiers, on Friday afternoon the Mariners outrighted pitcher Cody Martin to Tacoma. Martin was removed from the 40-man roster earlier last week, cleared waivers, and remains in the Mariners organization.

Martin had a strong 2016 season and will enter spring training camp with a realistic chance to be the Rainiers opening day starting pitcher. Martin went 10-7 with a 3.62 ERA for the Rainiers last year, with an excellent strikeout-to-walk ratio. In 114.1 innings pitched, he struck out 114 batters while walking 33 – and he also allowed only six home runs.

Most importantly to your local blogger, Cody Martin is a radio guy’s best friend: he works quickly and throws strikes. He’s from the Brian “The PCL Dream” Sweeney school of pitching. I’ll be petitioning manager Pat Listach to schedule Martin for every getaway day start in 2017.

Links:

We’ll resume the Rainiers pre-spring training positional previews on Thursday.


M’s Get Their Starter and How It Affects Tacoma

January 12, 2017

Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto completed his quest to add a starting pitcher yesterday, making two trades to acquire left-hander Drew Smyly from the Tampa Bay Rays.

Dipoto had to pull some strings. He knew Tampa wanted Atlanta Braves outfielder Mallex Smith, and apparently the Rays couldn’t work out their own trade to get Smith.

So Dipoto traded two young left-handed pitching prospects to Atlanta in order to acquire Smith. Pitchers Luiz Gohara and Thomas Burrows went to the Braves, with the Mariners getting Smith and pitcher Shae Simmons.

Then Dipoto flipped Smith, expected Rainiers starter Ryan Yarbrough, and teenage infield prospect Carlos Vargas to Tampa to get Drew Smyly.

Smyly is established in the American League, and in the articles linked below Dipoto says he has been targeting him all winter.

To get Smyly, the M’s gave up a top prospect in Gohara, who is very talented but a long way away from the major leagues. Carlos Vargas received a huge signing bonus and hit for power in the Dominican Summer League, but he’s even farther from the majors. We had Yarbrough inked into the Rainiers rotation, but now he’s gone – he’s a polished lefty who was really good at Double-A in 2016. Burrows is a relief prospect.

The M’s also added Simmons, who is a potential major league reliever this season. Simmons reached the majors in 2014, hurt his elbow and required Tommy John surgery, and made his comeback last year. Simmons could pitch for Tacoma or Seattle (or both) in 2017.

In all of this shuffling, the Mariners removed Cody Martin from the 40-man roster and he is currently on waivers. If he doesn’t get claimed by another team, the Mariners will outright him to Tacoma. Martin was terrific for the Rainiers last year, and he is a PCL dream: he works quickly and throws strikes.

Despite the loss of Yarbrough and the potential loss of Martin, the moves don’t do too much damage to the Rainiers starting rotation. By adding Smyly, others got pushed down a spot on the ladder. Suddenly pitchers who looked like major league rotation candidates are now Tacoma possibilities. Ariel Miranda and Chris Heston are two pitchers with recent major league starting experience who might find themselves in Tacoma in April. A lot of it will depend on team health coming out of spring training.

The Mariners rotation (not in order) is looking like Felix, Iwakuma, Paxton, Gallardo, Smyly. Tacoma will probably have Heston, Miranda (if he’s not in the Seattle bullpen), Rob Whalen, Christian Bergman, Sam Gaviglio, and maybe one of the prospecty-guys like Andrew Moore or Max Povse.

I was planning to preview the potential Rainiers middle infielders today but that subject deserves its own post. We’ll look at Tacoma’s middle infielders next week.

Links:


Recent Trades, and Derek Jeter’s AAA All-Star Game

January 10, 2017

We’ve got a few things to cover today: the recent trades and a flashback.

On Friday, Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto made two major league trades involving veteran players. He sent outfielder Seth Smith to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo, and then he traded pitcher Nathan Karns to the Kansas City Royals for outfielder Jarrod Dyson.

Add them together, and they replaced Karns with Gallardo, and Smith with Dyson.

Gallardo has been a pretty good starting pitcher for a long time, but his 2016 season was a nightmare. If he bounces back to his career norm, the M’s will probably be pleased with this trade.

Dyson and Smith are both left-hand hitting outfielders, and the similarity ends right about there. Dyson is a speed player, he can be electrifying on the bases, and he plays good defense. Dyson is two years younger than Smith. But he does not possess the plate discipline and power of Seth Smith.

Dipoto cited outfield defense as a key reason for the trade. The team should have some terrific glovework, with Dyson, Leonys Martin, Mitch Haniger, Ben Gamel, and Guillermo Heredia each capable of playing center field.

There is some serious analysis of the trade from USS Mariner in the links below.

It’s been a while since we had a Triple-A All-Star Flashback, so let’s do one!

Tacoma is hosting the 30th annual Triple-A All-Star Game at Cheney Stadium on July 12. We’ll spend the winter looking back at the previous years, to give fans an idea what they can expect in Tacoma this summer.

1995

Today, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is the home of the New York Yankees Triple-A affiliate. But in 1995, when Scranton hosted the Triple-A All-Star Game, the Red Barons were the Philadelphia Phillies affiliate.

That didn’t stop them from hosting one of the most famous New York Yankees of all time.

Derek Jeter was the starting shortstop for the American League in the 1995 Triple-A All-Star Game, representing the Columbus Clippers. He went 2-for-3 at the plate, including a double, and scored a run before being replaced by New Orleans shortstop Mark Loretta.

Jeter had recently made his major league debut for the Yankees, but was sent back to Triple-A and made the all-star team. The 21-year-old hit .317 with two homers in 486 at-bats for Columbus in 1995. He took over as the Yankees starting shortstop in 1996 and won the Rookie of the Year award.

Despite his strong performance in the all-star game, Derek Jeter was not the MVP. Buffalo first baseman Luis Lopez had three hits, including a double and a homer, and drove in four runs to take home the trophy.

Seven American League pitchers combined to toss a two-hit shutout as the AL won the game, 9-0.

1995 All-Star Fun Facts:

  • Fans of a certain age will remember the hype surrounding the New York Mets “Generation K” pitching prospects: Bill Pulsipher, Paul Wilson and Jason Isringhausen. Isringhausen was the starting pitcher for the NL, representing Norfolk, and get this: a top prospect at the time, Isringhausen was notified that he would be making his MLB debut after the all-star break – and the Mets let him start the Triple-A All-Star Game anyway. That would never happen today! Isringhausen had the best career of the trio, collecting exactly 300 major league saves.
  • The starting pitcher for the AL was Toledo’s Pat Ahearn, who would later pitch (quite well) for the Tacoma Rainiers in 2000.
  • Managers were Grady Little of Richmond and Chris Bando of New Orleans. Little became manager of the Boston Red Sox, and, well… you know what happened.
  • The 1995 season marked the first year of our Mariners affiliation and our new name, the Tacoma Rainiers. The first Rainiers all-star was relief pitcher Jeff Darwin. He worked a scoreless inning.
  • Albuquerque’s Ron Coomer topped a field of five to win the Home Run Derby. Slugger Brooks Kieschnick was a runner-up.
  • Player who had long careers in the majors included Derek Jeter, Mark Loretta, Jeromy Burnitz, Ron Coomer, John Marzano, Eric Owens, Eddie Perez, and Mark Sweeney.
  • Two current PCL broadcasters worked the game: Iowa’s Deene Ehlis and Phoenix’s Russ Langer (now with Las Vegas).
  • The television broadcast aired on ESPN2, with current MLB Network host Matt Vasgersian on the call.

Our Usual Links:

Check back Thursday for a 2017 Rainiers pre-spring training position preview.


An Early Look: 2017 Tacoma Catchers

January 5, 2017

Today we start our annual spring training positional previews, in which we take a look at the players who head into spring training with a chance to break camp as members of the Tacoma Rainiers.

We start with the catchers.

So much of the Rainiers roster depends on who makes the big league club, but in the case of catchers there is another huge factor: injuries.

Catchers are so much more injury prone than the other position players, strictly because of the nature of the position (unpredictable foul tips! Baseballs flying at you at all times! A grown man swinging a large stick right in front of your face! All of that squatting!).

We expect the Mariners to carry two catchers on the opening day roster, and if there are no injuries in the Cactus League they will be Mike Zunino and Carlos Ruiz.

Here in Tacoma, we’ll have two or three catchers when the season starts on April 6.

Seattle re-signed Jesus Sucre to a complicated contract which pays him a lot of money (by Triple-A standards) if he is in the minor leagues. This was a strategic play by the Mariners: they value Sucre and want to keep him, but he is out of minor league options. The hope is that the high Triple-A salary will prevent other teams from claiming him off waivers if the M’s have to send him to Tacoma. So, Sucre is a possible Rainiers catcher on Opening Day.

Another likely Tacoma catcher is Marcus Littlewood, who had a strong 2016 season at Double-A Jackson and finished the year with a three-week stint in Tacoma, including the playoffs. A switch-hitter, Littlewood batted .307 with a .404 OBP for Jackson last year, albeit in just 192 at-bats. He was a second round draft pick as a high school infielder in 2010, and the M’s converted him to catcher knowing it would be a slow development path.

Steve Baron is also in the mix, but there are injury concerns. His 2016 season ended in August with shoulder surgery, and at this time I’m not sure what his health situation is going into spring training. I’ll let you know when I learn anything.

The Mariners signed former Phillies prospect Sebastian Valle to a minor league contract, and he can slot in at either Double-A or Triple-A. Valle has Triple-A experience with Lehigh Valley in 2012 and 2014, but mostly has been playing at the Double-A level recently. His profile looks like that of a good defensive catcher – you just kind of assume it, since he hasn’t hit much.

One other player to add here: midway through last season, the Rockies released Ryan Casteel and the M’s signed him and sent him to Jackson for the stretch run. Seattle recently re-signed him for 2017. Casteel caught 51 games for Albuquerque over the last two seasons, but after Seattle acquired him last year he played strictly first base for Jackson.

A late acquisition at the catcher position is always a possibility – especially if one of the top three (Zunino, Ruiz, Sucre) gets injured in spring training. Last year, the M’s acquired Rob Brantly at the very end of March, and he spent the entire season in Tacoma and was a key contributor on a playoff team.

Links:


New Year, New Rainiers Outfielder

January 3, 2017

Hey guys, we’re back!

I hope you had a good holiday season, and are ready to get on with 2017. We expect to have a super-fun season at Cheney Stadium this year, highlighted by the defending division champion Rainiers, and the Triple-A All-Star Game in July.

Spring training opens in just six weeks. To build up to spring training, we’ll start a weekly series of blog posts looking at which players are going to camp with a chance to open the season in Tacoma. The first post will come on Thursday.

The Mariners were very quiet over winter break, and still need to acquire a starting pitcher (or two) for the big league club.

On the minor league front, the M’s signed free agent outfielder Kyle Waldrop, who is kind of interesting.

A 25-year-old outfielder, Waldrop has hit in the lower-level minor leagues but struggled with Triple-A Louisville in 2016, batting .252 with five homers and a .300 on-base percentage. What’s interesting is that he put up much better numbers in Double-A, and he is young enough to improve.

In 133 Double-A games for Pensacola of the Southern League, Waldrop has hit .295 with 14 homers and a .473 slugging percentage, while keeping his strikeouts at reasonable levels. He’s a left-handed batter.

Waldrop appeared in 15 major league games for the Reds last year, going 5-for-22, but was removed from the 40-man roster after the season and became a free agent. He’ll be a player to keep an eye on this season for Tacoma.

Links:


Triple-A All-Star Flashback: 1994

December 22, 2016

It’s been a slow week for baseball news involving the Mariners and Rainiers, so let’s do another… All-Star Flashback!

Tacoma is hosting the 30th annual Triple-A All-Star Game at Cheney Stadium on July 12. We’ll spend the winter looking back at the previous years, to give fans an idea what they can expect in Tacoma this summer.

1994

Nashville’s Greer Stadium was the site of the 1994 Triple-A All-Star Game, which serves as a reminder of where we are on the timeline.

Greer Stadium is no longer in play – Nashville built a new ballpark for the 2015 season.

Nashville wasn’t even in the PCL in 1994, it was an American Association city. The Triple-A merger and expansion of the PCL didn’t come until after the 1997 season.

And 1994 was the final season of the Tacoma Tigers and the Oakland A’s affiliation. After that season, the Seattle Mariners affiliated with Tacoma and we changed the name to the Rainiers.

The final Tacoma Tigers player to appear in a Triple-A All-Star Game was outfielder Scott Lydy, who came off the bench to go 0-for-2 for the American League in an 8-5 NL victory.

The game opened up when the National League sent its leadoff man to the plate, Tucson Toros outfielder Brian Hunter, and… wait a minute, that’s our new coach for 2017! We were just talking about him on Tuesday. He went 1-for-3 with a double and a run scored in the game.

Future superstars were in short supply in the 1994 contest. I suppose outfielder Garrett Anderson was the biggest future star, or maybe second baseman Ray Durham. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez had a long career after breaking in with Toronto. Carl Everett played in the game, he was pretty good for a while before things went south.

Polar opposites served as the starting pitchers. The NL started 34-year-old veteran Craig McMurtry of Tucson, who was trying to get back to the big leagues. He had finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting way back in 1983! The AL starter was 21-year-old Julian Tavarez of Charlotte. Tavarez was a big Indians prospect at the time, and while he did not reach stardom he did pitch in the majors until 2009.

1994 Triple-A All-Star Game Fun Facts:

  • The AL manager was Nashville skipper Rick Renick, who is Tacoma’s all-time home run leader. He hit 72 homers for the Tacoma Twins over a four-season span, 1973-1976.
  • Rick Sweet managed the NL, representing Tucson. This was the first of a record three Triple-A All-Star managing assignments for Sweet, who served as the Colorado Springs Sky Sox skipper last year.
  • Friend Of The Blog and former Rainiers pitcher Andrew Lorraine made his first Triple-A All-Star appearance, working two innings for the NL. A White Sox prospect at the time, Lorraine represented Vancouver of the PCL.
  • Richmond’s Terry Clark pitched a scoreless inning. He was a Mariners minor league pitching coach during the Jack Zduriencik era.
  • Playing in front of a hometown crowd, Ray Durham went 3-for-3 and won the MVP award.
  • Louisville’s Scott Coolbaugh won a shortened version of the Home Run Derby. Not sure what happened that year, but only four players participated and none were from the PCL. We’ll do a little better at Cheney Stadium this summer, I promise.
  • One of the announcers on the national radio broadcast was Edmonton’s Al Coates. He was an unforgettable character.

After a couple of all-star games featuring future Hall of Famers, the 1994 game was a little light on future household names. That would change in a big way with the 1995 game, which we’ll get to after the holidays.

Link:

  • Rainiers reliever David Rollins was claimed off waivers for the fourth time this winter yesterday. The Texas Ranger claimed him again – they had him a few weeks ago, and tried to sneak him off the roster only to have Philadelphia grab him.

That’s it, one link. It’s the slowest time of the year for baseball news. In fact, many teams – including the Rainiers – close their front offices for the week between Christmas and New Year. Along those lines, we won’t have any blog updates until the new year – unless Dealin’ Dipoto makes a big move. Which he might. Anyway, happy holidays and we’ll see you in January!


Rainiers Staff Set – Two New Coaches

December 20, 2016

The Seattle Mariners announced their minor league coaching staffs on Monday afternoon, including the Rainiers.

We’ve known for a while that manager Pat Listach is returning for his third year, and that he needed a new hitting coach since Scott Brosius was promoted to the major league staff.

The Mariners announced the Rainiers will bring back pitching coach Lance Painter, while adding two new coaches: hitting coach Dave Berg, and coach Brian L. Hunter.

We’re very happy to have Listach coming back. He was disappointed in his 68-76 record in 2015, which was his first year with the Rainiers and his first season managing since 2008. Listach bounced back in terrific fashion, leading the Rainiers to an 81-62 record in 2016, the team’s first division title since 2010, and finished runner-up for the PCL’s Manager of the Year award.

The Rainiers had excellent pitching this season under coach Painter, finishing with the third-best team ERA in the Pacific Coast League. The team’s 3.92 ERA was Tacoma’s lowest since 2001.

New to the organization, Dave Berg is making the switch from manager to hitting coach this year. He managed the Miami Marlins Double-A Jacksonville Suns affiliate (now known as the Jumbo Shrimp; Berg escaped before the name change) in 2015 and 2016, and he piloted some lower-level minor league teams before that. Berg played at Sacramento City College, where Mariners farm director Andy McKay was head coach, although they were not there at the same time. Berg reached the majors as a utility infielder for the Marlins and Blue Jays, 1998-2004.

Seattle decided to increase the size of the coaching staffs with the minor league clubs, which falls in line with what many teams are doing these days. The Rainiers fourth coach is former major league speedster Brian L. Hunter, who worked with the Everett Aqua Sox last year.

Hunter played all or parts of ten seasons in the majors, from 1994 to 2003, which includes the 1999 season as a Mariner. He led the American League in stolen bases two times, setting a career high of 74 in 1997 with Detroit.

Brian L. Hunter was identified with a middle initial because there was another Brian Hunter in the majors at the same time: Brian R. Hunter was the opposite style of player, a slower guy who came off the bench and hit home runs.

Our Brian Hunter is a Northwest native, born in Portland and raised in Vancouver, WA. He graduated from Ft. Vancouver High School.

For fun, here are the Baseball Reference pages of the Rainiers coaching staff. We’ve got a lot of big league experience on this staff!

We’re also pleased to have our entire training staff return: athletic trainers Tom Newberg and B.J. Downie, and strength and conditioning guru Derek Mendoza.

Links:

  • Here’s the story on the Rainiers coaching staff from The News Tribune.
  • The Times provides a list of all Mariners minor league development staff, including a new all-time baseball record: four mental skills coaches.
  • The Seattle Times has a feature on hard-throwing Mariners relief prospect Thyago Vieira. I was unfamiliar with him until reports started to emerge that he was throwing 102 mph in the Arizona Fall League. Hopefully we’ll see him in Tacoma at some point this year (he’ll probably begin the season at Double-A).
  • The Mariners payroll in 2016 increased by nearly 25% over the 2015 figure.
  • After ten years managing in the International League, former Tacoma Rainiers manager Dave Brundage is returning to the PCL in 2017. Brundage was named manager of the Sacramento River Cats on Thursday. Brundage managed Tacoma in 2006, then managed the Gwinnett Braves for six years before spending the last four years managing the Philadelphia Phillies’ Lehigh Valley affiliate. Ex-Rainiers pitching coach Dwight Bernard returns to the Sacramento staff.

Check back for a new post on Thursday.