Ex-Rainiers & Locals In The Wild Card Games

October 6, 2015

The Wild Card games start tonight, with the Houston Astros facing the New York Yankees at 5:00. The National League game between the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates is Wednesday at 5.

We’ve got a few ex-Rainiers in these games, so let’s take a look.


Houston Astros

The Astros included three ex-Rainiers players on their just-announced roster for the wild card game.

Relievers Josh Fields and Oliver Perez each had fairly brief careers in a Tacoma uniform, while infielder Luis Valbuena was here quite some time ago.

Fields – a Mariners first round draft pick in 2008 – reached Tacoma for nine appearances in July of the 2011 season. He was traded to the Red Sox, and then made his way over to the Astros who gave him his first big league opportunity in 2013.

The Mariners receive credit for resuscitating Perez’s career. A former starting pitcher in the major leagues, Perez saw his performance fall apart. He remade himself into a relief specialist after the Mariners plucked him from the Mexican League in 2012. Perez pitched in 22 games for Tacoma in 2012, performing so well against left-handed hitters that he was summoned to Seattle where he was a regular in the bullpen for a season-and-a-half.

Valbuena made his first appearance with the Rainiers in May of 2005 – he was one of those emergency fill-ins from extended spring training because the Rainiers had a roster problem. He joined Tacoma for real in 2008, hitting .302 with two homers in 58 games before getting called up by Seattle. He finished that season with the Mariners, then was traded to Cleveland in Jack Zduriencik‘s first big trade – that huge, 11-player, three team deal with the Mets which involved JJ Putz, Franklin Gutierrez, Jason Vargas, Mike Carp, a couple of batboys, an umpire, and I think even some fans were moved. Valbuena was a slappy singles hitter with the Rainiers in 2008. Now he’s a stocky, power-or-nothing guy. A very odd transformation.

New York Yankees

The Yankees have two former Rainiers players on their roster for tonight’s game – and they are both very well-known to Mariners and Rainiers fans.

Dustin Ackley hit .288 with four homers in just 52 at-bats for the Yankees after being traded at the deadline – he was not an everyday player, appearing in 23 of approximately 60 Yankees games after the deal. Ackley played in 143 games over three season with Tacoma, from 2010-2011 and 2013 – he always hit very well in Triple-A.

A-Rod played for Tacoma in 1995. I laughed at this line I saw at Baseball Prospectus yesterday: “Alex Rodriguez is likely to be the first player to win Comeback Player of the Year immediately after winning Goaway Player of the Year.”

A word about Michael Pineda: the gigantic former Rainiers pitcher is not on the Yankees roster for the wild card game, because he wouldn’t be used. If the Yankees win tonight he’ll be added to their roster for the AL Division Series, in which he could even be the Game One starter.


Chicago Cubs

The Cubs and Pirates don’t have to set their rosters for the one-game playoff until tomorrow morning (I think), but it seems unlikely that the Cubs will have an ex-Rainiers player on their club.

They could put reliever Yoervis Medina on the roster, but he spent most of the season with Triple-A Iowa after being traded in June – although he did get called up in September.

The Cubs will certainly have a local flare, with Jon Lester (Puyallup/Bellarmine Prep) and Jason Hammel (Port Orchard/South Kitsap HS) starting playoff games should they advance.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates have two ex-Rainiers players who may make the cut for the wild card game roster: reliever Bobby LaFromboise and pinch-hitter Mike Morse. Both players could have value in a key moment in tomorrow’s game.

Morse hit .275 in 69 at-bats for Pittsburgh after being picked up at the trade deadline. He was 8-for-22 (.364) in pinch-hitting roles. He should make the cut – he’s still a big threat against a left-handed pitcher. Morse played shortstop for Tacoma from 2005-2007, and we had him again in 2009, and he even had a handful of rehab games for Tacoma in 2013.

The lefty LaFromboise pitched nearly the entire season at Triple-A Indianapolis, but he shined down the stretch for Pittsburgh after a September call-up. Used almost entirely against left-handed hitters, LaFromboise held them to 3-for-19 with eight strikeouts. You could picture him coming in to face a left-hander like Rizzo or Coughlan in a key situation on Wednesday. LaFromboise pitched for Tacoma in 2012 and 2013.

The Pirates also have some local guys: Travis Ishikawa (Federal Way HS) and Travis Snider (Mill Creek/Jackson HS) could be on tomorrow’s roster.

Finally, a Cheney Stadium note: Pirates reliever Joe Blanton served up the first ever in-game home run over the giant wall in center. AJ Zapp took Blanton – then with Sacramento – over the wall on September 1, 2004.

Have fun with these games. The win-or-go-home structure makes for some thrills.


On Thursday we’ll take a look at the ex-Rainiers on the other playoff teams.

Mariners Announce Minor League Awards

October 5, 2015

The Mariners handed out their minor league awards on Saturday night, and a couple of Tacoma Rainiers players were honored.

The Minor League Player of the Year award went to co-winners: Tacoma’s Jesus Montero and Bakersfield’s Tyler O’Neill.

Montero set a Tacoma franchise record with a .355 batting average. He hit 18 home runs and drove in 85.

The 20-year-old O’Neill hit .260 with 32 home runs and 87 RBI.

Tacoma’s Jabari Blash was named winner of the Mariners Heart & Soul award for his “exemplary play and leadership.” Between Double-A Jackson and Triple-A Tacoma, Blash batted .271 with 32 homers and 81 RBI. He also drew 59 walks and posted a .370 OBP.

The award for the top starting pitcher went to Edwin Diaz, who put up a 3.82 ERA with 145 strikeouts and 46 walks in 141.1 innings split between Bakersfield and Jackson.

Paul Fry won the award for best relief pitcher. The lefty had a 2.03 ERA in 80 innings between Bakersfield and Jackson. He struck out 113 while issuing only 24 walks.

While it’s a little early for this sort of thing, I suspect we’ll see Blash, Diaz, and Fry in Tacoma at some point next year. Montero is out of minor league options, and O’Neill currently projects to spend the season in either Bakersfield or Jackson – although you never know.


Check back tomorrow for a look at ex-Rainiers in the MLB Wild Card games.

Jerry Dipoto Was A PCL Champion

October 2, 2015

I received some interesting notes on new Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto from Chris Moyer, who is the Colorado Springs Sky Sox team historian and a treasure chest of modern PCL history.

As mentioned on Wednesday, Dipoto spent the entire 1992 season pitching for the Sky Sox. That year, the Sky Sox won their first (of two – they won again in 1995 and haven’t been to the playoffs since) PCL Championship.

Dipoto recorded the final out of the PCL Championship Series, and in all likelihood was in the center of the celebration mob in the middle of the diamond. The Sky Sox swept Vancouver in the series, 3-0, with Dipoto striking out Derek Lee for the final out of Game Three – a 9-7 win at Vancouver’s Nat Bailey Stadium.

Moyer also notes that in his lone appearance at Cheney Stadium, Dipoto took the loss in relief against the Tacoma Tigers. That was July 25, 1992 – the Tigers won, 2-0, scoring both runs against Dipoto in the late innings.

It’s neat that the Mariners have a general manager with some PCL history. It will be fun to talk to him about these things, when the time comes.


  • The News Tribune has a detailed story on the immediate future of the Mariners, and key roster decisions that are looming.
  • The Seattle Times has a full transcript of the “side session” Jerry Dipoto did with reporters after the main press conference on Tuesday. This includes his remarks about the minor league system.
  • The Mariners had a big league bullpen day on Wednesday and lost to the Astros, 7-6. Tony Zych made his first professional start and delivered 2.2 scoreless innings.
  • Bob Dutton’s Mariners Notebook from Thursday informs us that Felix Hernandez is done for the season. Here’s today’s notebook, prior to the final series of the 2015 season.
  • In his so-long-it-will-kill-your-entire-Friday-afternoon notes column, Jon Heyman discusses rumors surrounding the Mariners manager position.

Have a great weekend!

Mariners Name Dipoto General Manager

September 29, 2015

The Seattle Mariners introduced Jerry Dipoto as the team’s new General Manager in a press conference on Tuesday.

Dipoto, 47, is a former major league reliever who immediately started working in the front office when his career ended. He’s been a scout, a farm director, and a GM previously in his carer. He was the Los Angeles Angels GM from October 2011 until earlier this season, presiding over some winning Angels clubs.

Of course his No. 1 priority is to put a winning team on the field in Seattle, but he did say a few things about the minor leagues yesterday.

Early in the press conference, he said the team “wants to have a steady stream of minor league players coming through the system”

He spoke of acquiring players internationally – not just through the draft. He wants to tap into Cuban and Far East markets – areas where the Mariners have been only mildly (but successfully!) active in recent years.

When Dipoto was GM of the Angels, his Triple-A Salt Lake clubs posted the following records:

  • 2012: 73-71, third place.
  • 2013: 78-66, lost in PCL Championship Series.
  • 2014: 60-84, last place.
  • 2015: 58-86, last place.

A mixed bag, eh?

At the major league level, his Angels teams (including this year – he might be gone, but he built the club) had winning records in three of his four seasons, including a division title in 2014.

Most of the talk at the press conference was about major league goals, the status of Lloyd McClendon, and his background. He did make a comment of interest in a side interview which Larry Stone tweeted.

“I was a little disheartened at the overall strikeout rate in the minor leagues.” Dipoto indicated that improving contact will be a developmental priority.

Well, that would be a big change for the Rainiers from recent years – but not 2015. Tacoma was 11th in team strikeouts in the PCL this season – or stated another way, they were the sixth-toughest team to strike out among the 16 teams in the league. Dipoto was talking about the lower levels, where Advanced-A Bakersfield easily K’d the most in the California League, and Low-A Clinton had the second-most strikeouts in the Midwest League.

I find myself wondering how Dipoto’s hiring will impact a single player: Shawn O’Malley. Last year, O’Malley played for Salt Lake and was a September call-up (by Dipoto). He played sparingly as the Angels were busy winning 98 games, and then after the season Dipoto designated him for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster. That’s when O’Malley became a free agent, ultimately signing with the Mariners.

Now here O’Malley is again, having played his way into another September call-up. But this time O’Malley is seeing more action, he’s played pretty well, and he appears to be a viable option to be the utility player in 2016. Will Dipoto give him that chance?

Dipoto spent a season pitching in the PCL. He went 9-9, 4.94 in 50 appearances (nine starts) for the 1992 Colorado Springs Sky Sox. That was the final year that the Cleveland Indians had their affiliate in the Springs – the Rockies came into existence and moved in the following season.

So even if he never scouted at Cheney Stadium, we know he’s pitched here before.


We’ll be back with a fresh post on Friday.

Montero’s Club Record

September 28, 2015

It occurred to me over the weekend – while watching Jesus Montero get robbed of a three-run homer by Mike Trout in what is probably the catch of the year – that we hadn’t properly credited Montero’s new team record here on the blog.

On the final day of the PCL season, Montero went 2-for-2 with a homer and was pulled from the game, leaving his final batting average at .355. He had entered the game with an average of .352.

Montero’s final, official batting average of .355 is the highest in Tacoma franchise history (dating to 1960) for a batter who had enough plate appearances to qualify for the league leaders. He broke Brian Raabe‘s mark of .352, set in 1997.

Here’s a look at the updates Top Ten Batting Averages in Tacoma franchise history:

Montero, Jesus 2015 .355
Raabe, Brian 1997 .352
Neel, Troy 1992 .351
Gray, Gary 1980 .335
Bostock, Lyman 1974 .333
Holt, Jim 1972 .333
Davis, Brock 1970 .332
Moore, Kelvin 1981 .327
Fanzone, Carmen 1971 .327
Powell, Hosken 1977 .326

Troy Neel in 1992 remains the only Tacoma player to ever win a PCL batting title. Montero finished second this year, to Omaha’s Jose Martinez (Carmelo’s kid) who set a modern-era PCL record by hitting .384.

Raabe had a 17-year run in the top spot on the list. I wonder how long Montero will hold the No. 1 position.

(Quick shout-out to No. 4 Gary Gray, who has one of those rare names that is a total breeze for broadcasters but a nightmare for newspaper writers and editors!)

Apparently the Mariners search for a new General Manager is about over, with most of the rumors this morning focused on former Angels GM Jerry Dipoto. We’ll wait for an official announcement, which could come later today or tomorrow.


If this GM situation gets resolved later today, we’ll have a fresh post with all of the pertinent links tomorrow. Otherwise, our next post will come on Wednesday.

On Clinching

September 25, 2015

Yesterday the Kansas City Royals clinched the AL Central division title with a win over the Mariners. This means the Mariners players had to watch while they all celebrated on the field.

It has been my experience that players and managers of opposing teams do not want to watch the other team celebrate – no matter how bad the season has been. A team can be 30 games under .500 and mathematically eliminated since May, and they don’t want to see the other team celebrate when they clinch a title.

Many years ago – I can’t recall the exact details; and this is the type of thing that is tough to look up – the Rainiers saw two teams clinch against them in less than a week. Tacoma was playing one team, they clinched the division with a win, and then a couple of days later was playing another team that clinched. I do recall the Rainiers manager being quite peeved about this.

You know who else doesn’t like clinching celebrations? The home team’s stadium operations crew, when the road team clinches.

Tacoma has a clubhouse manager who takes care of the visiting team at Cheney Stadium. If the Rainiers are playing Las Vegas, and Vegas can clinch the Pac-South with a win, the clubhouse manager has to get the champagne ready, he has to hang up plastic in front of the lockers, and worst of all… he has to clean up the mess later. Every visiting-side clubbie in the league would just as soon see a team clinch in some other city.

These aren’t problems when the home team clinches – that’s what everyone has been pulling for all season. But when it’s the road team, the general thought is “not in my backyard.”


Have a great weekend, and we’ll have a fresh post for you on Monday afternoon.

Fresno Takes It All

September 23, 2015

The Fresno Grizzlies won the Triple-A National Championship Game on Tuesday night in El Paso, shutting out International League champion Columbus, 7-0.

Fresno starter Chris Devenski tossed seven scoreless innings – and he didn’t allow a baserunner until the sixth inning. He struck out nine while allowing only one hit.

Meanwhile, Fresno scored three runs in the first inning and kept piling on early to coast to the win.

And with that, minor league baseball is done for 2015. Congratulations to Fresno for winning the whole ball of wax all of the marbles just plain everything.

Hall of Famer Yogi Berra passed away late last night, at age 90. So much has been made of his famous quotes that people forget how good he was. He won three American League MVP awards – receiving at least one MVP vote every year from 1947 to 1961 – and was an 18-time All-Star. Before becoming a Yankees star, Berra was in the D-Day invasion in World War II.

I read a great biography of Berra last offseason: “Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee” by Allen Barra. If you enjoy biographies of interesting Americans, check it out.


There are going to be a lot of really good remembrances of Yogi Berra written by elite-level baseball scribes in the next few days. I’ll link to some that come across my desk, starting with these today:

With the minor league season coming to an end, we’ll continue updating the blog but on a more regimented schedule. Look for new posts on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays through the end of the World Series.


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