New CBA Could Have Small Impact On Triple-A

December 2, 2016

The Major League Baseball players and owners reached a new five-year Collective Bargaining Agreement yesterday, avoiding any sort of work stoppage.

The big part of the deal divides up the billions of dollars of revenue generated in the majors, but there are a few aspects of the deal which could trickle down to Triple-A.

One change that could affect us: the minimum major league disabled list stay has been changed from 15 days to ten days. This could lead to more roster moves and short-term promotions. Let’s say a major league shortstop sprains his ankle and is expected to miss about five games. In the past, a team would have just played short-handed rather than put the player on the 15-day disabled list. Now, with a ten-day disabled list, the team might be more likely to use the DL and promote a fill-in.

The majors decided to no longer award World Series home field advantage to the winner of the All-Star Game; it will go to best record instead. I didn’t despise the all-star rule as much as many others did, but it simply wasn’t going to work if the all-star managers didn’t deploy their players in an attempt to win the game. This rule would have been a lot more popular if the Mike Trouts played all game, and the starting pitchers had normal outings instead of going just two innings so everyone could play, etc. They gave the game meaning but continued to play it like an exhibition. Thus, it failed.

Currently, the winner of the Triple-A All-Star Game gets to bat last in the Triple-A National Championship Game. I’m not sure if that is going to continue now – or if anyone really cares, since the game is played at a neutral site.

There are also reports that in 2018 the major leagues will open their season four or five days earlier. Currently MLB has the “soft opening” on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, with the majority of the teams opening on Monday. Then all of the minor leagues start a couple of days later on Thursday. If MLB starts earlier, will the minors follow suit, or will they hold all of the minor league players in spring training longer?

Speaking of the PCL schedule, the league officially announced the entire 2017 schedule, with games times, on Thursday.

Two games were shaved off this year – the league is playing 142, and reportedly will drop down to the Minor League Baseball standard of 140 games in 2018. The PCL had been playing 144 games since – as far as I can tell – 1982.

Looks like my favorite road date in 2017 is going to be May 3: a rare midweek day game in Las Vegas, which means… a rare night off in Vegas!

Links:

  • Here’s the Pacific Coast League schedule press release, and a league-wide schedule grid.
  • Seattle has reportedly signed major league left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski to a two-year contract. He’s a “LOOGY” – Left Handed One Out GuY; he’s really good at getting left-handed batters out but right-handed hitters lick their chops when stepping into the box. Still, teams need a guy like this. He also has one of the best nicknames in modern baseball: Scrabble.*
  • The Mariners face an unusual contract situation with catcher Jesus Sucre, Bob Dutton writes. Also, switch-pitcher Pat Venditte and right-handed reliever Ryan Weber each cleared waivers and was assigned to Tacoma’s roster.
  • Baseball America held an online chat about the Mariners Top 10 Prospects list, and you can read the transcript.
  • Jerry Dipoto is the last of a dying breed: a player-turned-general manager.
  • Former Rainiers and Mariners outfielder Jeremy Reed is now the minor league hitting coordinator for the Angels.
  • Some PCL managers were announced in the American Conference: Stubby Clapp is the new Memphis Redbirds manager, and Jason Wood will return to manage Round Rock.
  • If you are really into the details of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, Jeff Passan has you covered. Interesting to note that there is already an opinion that the 2021 negotiation is going to be a lot more difficult.

*the irony is that you can’t even spell Rzepczynski in Scrabble, because a standard Scrabble set has just one ‘z’. Well, I guess you could if you had a blank, and eight tiles, and “ski” already on the board. I’ve spent too much time thinking about this. I already regret it.


Top Ten Mariners Prospects

November 30, 2016

Baseball America released its annual list of Seattle Mariners Top Ten Prospects today. Here’s how it looks:

  1. Kyle Lewis, OF
  2. Tyler O’Neill, OF
  3. Luiz Gohara, LHP
  4. Nick Neidert, RHP
  5. Mitch Haniger, OF
  6. Andrew Moore, RHP
  7. Drew Jackson, SS
  8. Max Povse, RHP
  9. Dan Altavilla, RHP
  10. Dan Vogelbach, 1B

This list required some late adjustments due to recent trades – including one made just yesterday which netted the No.8 prospect.

The Mariners sent 2014 first round draft pick Alex Jackson to the Atlanta Braves for two advanced pitching prospects: RHP Rob Whalen, who reached the majors for five starts for Atlanta last year, and RHP Max Povse (pronounced “posey” according to Southern League broadcasters).

Jackson had been disappointing (that’s an understatement) since the 2014 draft, when he was heralded as the top high school hitter in the country. Both Whalen and Povse could contribute in the majors in 2017.

Several members of the above list could end up in Tacoma uniforms next year.

I expect Tyler O’Neill and Andrew Moore to be opening day Rainiers, and we can get the team seamstress to work on those jersey nameplates right now.

Mitch Haniger, Dan Altavilla, and Dan Vogelbach will all be Rainiers if they don’t make the Mariners opening day roster. At this point in the offseason it appears that all three have a good chance to make the big club – but it’s still early.

The two new pitchers, Povse and Whalen, could be Rainiers on April 6 as well.

Here’s the total Baseball America Mariners Top-10 package. Player scouting reports are behind a subscriber paywall, but there are also some free elements – such as a season summary with a farm system “Best Tools” chart.

Links:


About That Trade

November 28, 2016

Welcome back, I hope you had an enjoyable Thanksgiving weekend. So, about that trade…

Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto made his biggest move of the offseason late on Wednesday night, after most of us had begun our holiday preparations.

He sent popular pitcher Taijuan Walker and shortstop Ketel Marte to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for shortstop Jean Segura, outfielder Mitch Haniger, and left-handed reliever Zac Curtis.

I think a lot of us Rainiers fans were initially stunned by the move. We’ve seen a lot of Walker and Marte at Cheney Stadium over the last three seasons, watched them grow, and have rooted for them to have success with Seattle.

The Mariners saw this as a chance to upgrade at the shortstop position. Segura had a huge season in 2016, a career year in which he batted .319 with 20 homers, 41 doubles, and 102 runs scored while leading the National League with 203 hits. That is some serious production, and even if he falls back a bit, it will be a massive upgrade from what the M’s received from Marte in 2016. Heck, he even received some down-ballot MVP votes this year.

Seattle gives up Walker, who still has the potential to become a No. 1 or No. 2 starter – although the Mariners were probably frustrated by the recent slow pace of his development. Walker has the talent to be better than he has so far (he was 8-11, 4.22 in 2016), and maybe he’ll be able to harness it with a new team. He just had surgery to clear up his lingering foot injury, which should help him moving forward.

It’s a lot to give up: the dream of Walker becoming a top-of-the-rotation starter. The M’s are banking on Segura being worth it.

There are other parts of the trade which could have an impact in Seattle.

Mitch Haniger is a nothing-left-to-prove-in-the-minors outfielder with some pop. He demolished PCL pitching this year while playing for Reno, hitting .341 with 20 HRs and 64 RBI in a half-season (74 games). Included were two home runs against the Rainiers at Cheney Stadium – one of them a grand slam on September 4.

Home/road splits are crucial for Reno players, because Greater Nevada Field is a launching pad. Haniger actually hit better in road games: .325 with seven HRs at home, .355 with 13 HRs on the road.

Haniger is 26 years old, and a right-handed hitter. He’s been on a slow development path since he was drafted in 2012, and this past season was a breakout year. The Mariners are hoping he becomes more than a reserve outfielder at the major league level.

The M’s also added to their slim reserve of left-handed relievers by acquiring Curtis, who managed to go directly from Class-A Visalia to the major leagues.

This deserves more attention, because of how rare it was. Let’s dive in:

Zac Curtis broke spring training camp in April and was assigned to Advanced-A Visalia of the California League. This was a natural progression for him – he had spent the entire 2015 season at Low-A Kane County.

On April 28, Curtis pitched a scoreless inning at Visalia’s Recreation Park against the Modesto Nuts. After that game, he had a 5.23 ERA but with 22 strikeouts in 10.1 innings pitched. He probably felt like he was 100,000 miles away from the big leagues.

Two days later he made his Major League Baseball debut, facing the Colorado Rockies at Chase Field in Phoenix. He got the only batter he faced – Gerardo Parra – to ground into a double play.

Curtis ended up pitching in 21 major league games for Arizona, with a 6.75 ERA. When they needed to send him to the minors, they optioned him to Double-A Mobile. He has yet to pitch in a Triple-A game.

Haniger and Curtis both have a chance to help in the majors in 2017 and beyond.

So, what do I think of the trade? People kept asking me all weekend. After four days of thinking about it, I have come to my conclusion:

I don’t know.

The move fills one hole, shortstop, while creating another one in the starting rotation.

Segura could help push the Mariners into the playoffs and we’ll point at this trade as a key moment, even if Walker reaches his full potential. Or Walker could become a star, while Segura craters to his 2015 level and leaves as a non-tendered free agent in two years. That’s the disaster scenario. Maybe Haniger will become an average starting corner outfielder for a few years. Marte will move to second base with Arizona (Nick Ahmed is their shortstop; he’s a fielding wizard); he could emerge as a quality starting infielder.

There are a lot of possible outcomes. I have no idea how this is going to work out.

One thing we know is that now the M’s need to add another solid starting pitcher in a market that is very thin on starting pitching.

Dipoto is creative. He knew when he made this trade that he needs to add a starter. We’ll find out what he has up his sleeve.

Links:

Check back later in the week for a Triple-A All-Star Flashback or two, and Baseball America’s Top 10 Mariners Prospects comes out on Wednesday. The Winter Meetings begin on Monday, December 5.


Star-Studded 1992 Triple-A All-Star Game Included A Hall Of Famer

November 23, 2016

Time for another… Triple-A 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.

1992

The 1992 Triple-A All-Star Game was the fifth one played. This game was loaded with future major league stars, including a first for the Triple-A All-Star Game: a player who is now in the Baseball Hall of Fame – although please pardon any viewers who weren’t aware that they were watching a future Hall of Famer at the time.

Albuquerque catcher Mike Piazza got in the game late, going 0-for-1 in his only plate appearance. Just to show where he stood at the time: he was the third catcher used by the National League, behind starter Bob Natal (Indianapolis) and Steve Decker (Phoenix).

Piazza was not considered much of a prospect in the minors. His story is actually incredible: he was picked in the 62nd round of the 1988 draft, and the main reason he was chosen at all was because his father was friends with Tommy Lasorda.

But 1992 was the year Piazza’s career changed. He opened the season at Double-A San Antonio and batted .377 in the first 31 games of the year, so he would have joined Albuquerque in early/mid-May. In the two months before the Triple-A All-Star Game was played on July 15, he made a big enough impression to make the roster.

Piazza hit .344 with 16 homers in 94 games for Albuquerque, got called up on September 1st, and the rest is history.

After playing the 1992 All-Star Game, Piazza went on to win the National League Rookie of the Year award in 1993. Remarkably, he was not the only one to win a ROY award the next year.

Edmonton outfielder Tim Salmon started for the American League in the 1992 Triple-A All-Star Game, going 1-for-3 with a double and an RBI. In 1993, Salmon hit .285 with 31 home runs for the Angels and took home the AL Rookie of the Year trophy.

Yet another future superstar appeared in the 1992 game: Columbus outfielder Bernie Williams came off the bench for the AL and went hitless in his only at-bat. He became one of the anchors of the New York Yankees dynasty of the late 1990s, appearing in six World Series (and winning four).

And that’s not all for future major league stars in the 1992 game. The Mariners were represented by Calgary second baseman Brett Boone, who started and went 0-for-3.

The Mariners actually traded Boone to the Cincinnati Reds when he was a young player, then re-acquired him later in his career. The M’s had Boone in his prime, during the early 2000s, and he was a key member of the 2001 Mariners team that won 116 games.

1992 Triple-A All-Star Game Fun Facts:

  • This game was loaded with future major leaguers. In addition to the stars noted above, the game featured Ed Sprague (who was a starting catcher for the AL; he converted to third base and a MLB career was born), Jeff Conine, Damion Easley, Henry Rodriguez, and Bob Wickman.
  • Despite all of those hitting stars, the game was a pitcher’s duel. The American League won it, 2-1.
  • The game was played at The Diamond in Richmond, Virginia – a stadium which was never able to get updated to modern Triple-A standards, and currently serves as a Double-A ballpark. The game drew a nice crowd of 12,186.
  • The Atlanta Braves had a big pitching prospect who was supposed to start the game in front of the hometown fans: Richmond Braves right-hander David Nied. But a pregame rain delay of 1 hour, 32 minutes ended that plan. Nied had already warmed up twice before the game was finally able to start, so the Braves pulled him. Nied gained fame the following year when the Colorado Rockies selected him with their first pick in the expansion draft. Nied was the starting pitcher in the first game in Rockies history, but he was felled by arm troubles and retired a few years later.
  • The managers were Denver’s Tony Muser and Richmond’s Chris Chambliss. Muser became a major league manager for Kansas City, while Chambliss had a lifetime of playing and coaching in the majors, and managing in the minors. Chambliss even spent some time as the Mariners hitting coach.
  • Our guy Bob Robertson – the Voice of the Tacoma Tigers – did the national radio broadcast along with Richmond announcer Bob Black.
  • Other than Bob, Tacoma’s all-star was infielder Gus Polidor. At this point in his career Polidor was trying to get back to the major leagues – a goal he briefly achieved in 1993. He met an unfortunate demise.
  • The 1992 game was the only one ever to not have a Home Run Derby scheduled. The reason why is lost in the annals of time.

Links:

Have a great holiday weekend!


Roster Round-Up

November 21, 2016

The Mariners were very busy on Friday afternoon, making a number of moves which added depth to the 40-man roster.

The moves involved players who may make more of an impact for Tacoma than for Seattle next year – although the players acquired do have some major league experience.

First up was a trade with Tampa Bay. The Mariners sent three minor league players, including Rainiers reliever Andrew Kittredge, to the Rays in exchange for corner infielder Richie Shaffer and utility player Taylor Motter.

Shaffer was the Rays first round draft pick in 2012. He’s appeared in 51 major league games over the past two seasons, hitting .213 with five home runs in 122 at-bats. With the Triple-A Durham Bulls, Shaffer hit 19 homers in a half-season in 2015 – but tailed off in 2016, hitting .227 with 11 homers in over 400 at-bats.

Motter plays everywhere, from middle infield to third base to outfield. He even pitched in a blowout game for Tampa last year. Like Shaffer, Motter had a big season with Durham in 2015 (.292, 14 home runs, 43 doubles) but couldn’t match it in 2016 (.229 with 13 home runs, 17 doubles). He made his major league debut with Tampa last year.

Both Shaffer and Motter have minor league options remaining, and seem like candidates to be back-and-forth players between Tacoma and Seattle next year.

The Mariners lost Kittredge in this deal, the Spokane native who pitched for the University of Washington before signing with the Mariners. Kittredge had a velocity spike in 2016 and saw his numbers improve as a result – Rainiers manager Pat Listach even used him as the closer down the stretch. We wish him the best with his new organization.

The Mariners made another trade, sending breakout Class-A pitching prospect Zach Littell to the Yankees in exchange for left-handed reliever James Pazos.

Seattle is hoping that Pazos can make an impact at the big league level. He was called up by the Yankees in each of the last two seasons, but was used very sparingly. At Triple-A Scranton last year, Pazos struck out 41 batters in 27.1 innings, but he also walked 19. He’s always been tough to hit – in his minor league career, he’s allowed 159 hits in 215.1 innings.

The Mariners also signed some minor league free agents, according to Baseball America’s transactions.

They re-signed catcher Steve Baron, who was removed from the 40-man roster after the season and briefly became a free agent. Baron is a former Rainiers player, but he spent (nearly) the entire 2016 season with the Double-A club. He’s a candidate to play for Tacoma this coming season.

A pitcher who might help the Rainiers was signed: right-handed reliever Peter Tago. Tago was a supplemental first round draft pick of the Colorado Rockies in 2010, from a high school in southern California. Last year in Double-A he struck out 78 batters in 59.2 innings, with 33 walks. Reports say he is a “throws hard, needs to improve his command” type of reliever.

They also signed Class-A right-handed pitcher Blake Perry, who was the Arizona Diamondbacks 6th round draft pick out of high school in 2010. He pitched for Visalia in the California League last year, moving from the starting rotation to the bullpen. This is likely a player GM Jerry Dipoto is familiar with from his time with the Diamondbacks.

With all of these additions, there were some losses.

Rainiers star Stefen Romero was released so that he could pursue an opportunity in Japan.

This has been in the works for a while. Romero was scouted heavily by the Japanese teams in 2016, and at one point it was possible he might make the jump during the season.

It’s a great opportunity for Romero, hopefully he makes the best of it. He’ll go down as one of the most productive hitters in Tacoma history.

The Mariners also lost left-handed reliever David Rollins, who was claimed off waivers by the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs (not a typo – that really happened, the Cubs won the World Series). Rollins pitched very well for Tacoma last year, but had an ERA of 7.68 in 34 major league innings for Seattle. Rollins was one of the Rainiers co-winners of the team community service award, and he’s a fun character to have on the team.

Finally, Seattle added three players to the 40-man roster, protecting them from the upcoming Rule 5 Draft. Tacoma first baseman D.J. Peterson, Rainiers lefty Paul Fry, and 100-mph reliever Thyago Vieira were selected.

Peterson was the Mariners first round draft pick in 2013, and he had a nice bounce-back season in 2016 to earn a spot on the roster.

Fry was the Mariners minor league reliever of the year in 2015, but he struggled with his command during the first half of his first Triple-A season. After the all-star break last year, Fry posted a 1.17 ERA with 29 strikeouts and just 14 hits allowed in 23 innings. He’s someone who could jump to the big leagues in 2017.

Vieiera is a Brazilian who throws very, very hard. He harnessed his control in 2016 and had a breakout season, finishing the year with Advanced-A Bakersfield. We may see him in Tacoma at some point next year – or he could go the Edwin Diaz route and skip us. When a reliever throws 100+ mph, he can move up the ladder very quickly.

Whew, done. Just another busy weekend in the Dipoto-era offseason!

Links:

Check back Wednesday for a Triple-A All-Star Flashback.


What’s Up, Baby Cakes?

November 17, 2016

Goodbye Zephyrs, hello Baby Cakes.

The New Orleans franchise announced its new name on Tuesday evening, and it’s a whopper. The Miami Marlins Triple-A affiliate is now known as the New Orleans Baby Cakes.

Now before I go on my rant – yes, there will be a rant – Baby Cakes has some local flavor. In New Orleans, king cake is part of the Mardi Gras celebration, and a small, plastic baby baked into the cake is good luck to the person who finds it.

Regardless what you think of the Baby Cakes name – early returns are polarizing, to say the least – this is part of a continuing trend in minor league baseball.

Spearheaded by a San Diego promotional company called Brandiose, teams around the nation have developed new names and “cute” logos. Brandiose developed the name and logo for our favorite team to kick, the El Paso Chihuahuas.

They also created other team name changes this year in the minor leagues – I believe they had a hand in each of these:

  • Binghamton Rumble Ponies
  • Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp
  • Down East Wood Ducks
  • Florida Fire Frogs

Here’s the thing, minor league team owners: you don’t have to permanently change your name in order to cash in on a new cute logo. The Fresno Grizzlies taught us this.

Fresno has developed an alternate reality, playing all Tuesday home games as the Fresno Tacos. The players wear Tacos uniforms and Tacos hats, and there is a full array of Tacos memorabilia available for fans to eat up in the team store. And the stuff sells.

The thing is, it is not permanent. The team is still the Grizzlies, and the Tacos are a silly and fun twice-a-month sideshow.

We could do this here in Tacoma.

What is Tacoma most famous for in our region? Easy: our never-ending freeway construction project.

Let’s do it. One day a week we’ll change our name to the Tacoma NeverEnding Freeway Construction. We’ll do this each Friday, and we’ll start the games during the heart of rush hour – say, 5:35. We’ll have Brandiose create special uniforms with the Tacoma NeverEnding Freeway Construction logo: a lane closed sign, with cute flashing arrows pointing toward a home plate. The hat will feature the Google traffic map – it will look terrific, lots of red. Games will be brought to you by Waze. The team store will be loaded with NeverEnding Freeway Construction gear. It will sell like hotcakes.

Six days a week we’ll be the Tacoma Rainiers, and on Fridays we’ll the Tacoma NeverEnding Freeway Construction.

Then, if the fans ever get tired of the Tacoma NeverEnding Freeway Construction logo (or if the freeway construction project is actually completed – sorry that was just too ridiculous, even for this post), we’ll quietly stop using it and become the Rainiers 24/7/365 again.

This way, we never actually committed to changing our name to the Tacoma NeverEnding Freeway Construction, or the Akron RubberDucks, or the Omaha Storm Chasers, or the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, or the New Orleans Baby Cakes. It was just temporary, and we could get away from it.

OK, that’s it, I’m done. You can catch the Baby Cakes at Cheney Stadium for a four-game series this coming season, May 6-9.

Baby Cakes Links:

The Usual Links:


Trades, Signings, Assignments, Etc.

November 15, 2016

Checking in on a Tuesday with some notes and links from the past few days:

The Mariners made a trade, acquiring corner infielder/outfielder Danny Valencia from the Oakland A’s in exchange for Double-A starting pitcher Paul Blackburn.

Valencia is an established and oft-traded major league hitter. He hit .287 with 17 home runs last year overall – and against left-handed pitchers, he hit .318 with a .924 OPS.

At the moment, the trade appears to set up a likely first base platoon with Valencia and Dan Vogelbach. We’ll see if general manager Jerry Dipoto is willing to give the rookie Vogelbach a shot next year, or if he acquires another left-handed first baseman to replace the free agent Adam Lind.

Blackburn had a good year in Double-A and we had him penciled in the 2017 Rainiers starting rotation. As a prospect, most analysts have him projected as a future No. 4 or No. 5 starter at the major league level.

Left-handed reliever Kraig Sitton, who was a minor league free agent, signed with the San Francisco Giants.

Sitton pitched in 35 games for Tacoma last year, with a 2.93 ERA. In 43 innings pitched, he struck out 31 and walked just seven batters while only giving up two homers.

The M’s have a shortage of left-handed relievers at the major league and Triple-A levels. I thought they might bring Sitton back – and for all we know, they may have tried to – but he’s gone now.

Dipoto will be trying to acquire LHPs at both the major league and Triple-A levels this offseason.

According to Baseball America’s Minor League Transactions, the Mariners have assigned Rainiers reliever Andrew Kittredge to the Arizona Fall League. It does not indicate which pitcher he is replacing.

The AFL has Pitch FX data in (all or some of) the stadiums. I’ll be curious to see if Kittredge has maintained the increased velocity he developed during the 2016 season.

The folks at MiLB.com have posted the Park Factors for all 30 Triple-A stadiums, and once again Cheney Stadium has proven to be a great pitcher’s park.

Tacoma ranked as the 4th-best pitcher’s park among the 16 PCL stadiums, in terms of runs scored. Cheney ranked 4th-friendliest for pitchers in 2016, and also over a three-year window from 2014-2016.

Interestingly, Cheney Stadium ranked well below average in home runs in 2016 – but the stadium saw so many home runs hit in 2014 and 2015, that the ballpark’s three-year home run factor still ranks 6th-highest in the league. This is because of Cheney’s short distances down the lines.

The article can be found right here. The write-up on the bizarre numbers coming out of Colorado Springs is fun stuff. And check out the 2016 home run factor for the new park in Nashville!

Links:

Check back for a new post on Thursday, which will hopefully be a Triple-A All-Star Flashback, and hopefully won’t be a rant about the New Orleans Zephyrs new team name which is supposed to be announced later today.