Q&A Time

March 25, 2020

The wait continues, with no new knowledge about when we will return to our normal lives, and a return of baseball. It’s gonna be a while.

Despite having no idea at the moment when baseball will return, discussions have begin about how to handle the re-start. ESPN has a wide-ranging article on the many issues that have to be hammered out once we are cleared to play. In the story, it is revealed that the owners and players are quietly targeting/hoping for an early June opening day.

Meanwhile, the Mariners made some paper moves that will impact the Rainiers, once we get started:

Optioned to Triple-A Tacoma

Infielders (2): Donovan Walton and Patrick Wisdom

Right-Handed Pitchers (2): Zac Grotz and Taylor Williams

All of these players we expect to get Triple-A assignments once the season starts. Wisdom, in particular, is a nice add for the Rainiers as he is a proven powerful bat in the PCL. Walton should be Tacoma’s starting shortstop, while Grotz and Williams are relievers with good recent track records.

With little news to talk about right now – I was supposed to fly home from spring training today after four days of watching our team, which never happened – I put out a request for a Q&A last week. Got a few, so let’s hit ’em.

Hi Mike…

Thanks for sharing all the Mariner updates in your blog as well as your great work broadcasting Rainier games.

We often hear in the latter weeks of spring training that players are either optioned, or reassigned to minor league camp. I’ve spent many days the last few years watching workouts, sim-games and minor league games on the back fields. And regardless of current status, several minor league players not on MLB 40 or Non-roster camp invites, still get called up to play in MLB exhibition games.  Is this declaration just a procedural, contractual related announcement ?  What actual changes occur.  Do players move to different clubhouses on the Peoria complex?…if so what does that entail.

-Pat from Olympia

Thanks for the kind words, Pat – that gets you to the top of the line. To answer your question, the minor leaguers who get called to play in the occasional MLB exhibition game are usually selected as a reward, or in the case of pitchers because it is their day to throw. It’s not contractual, and they don’t change locker rooms or anything. The locker rooms are right next to each other in the Peoria complex, so there isn’t much change there. The players do get the experience of being closer to the major leaguers during the game, and benefit from that learning setting. Sometimes they play in the last inning or two.

Do you anticipate a change to roster limits, at both the MLB and minor league level, once the 2020 season starts? Perhaps more pitchers will be needed, and so rosters will be expanded. What might be some other structural changes to the 2020 season, due to the reduced schedule, disrupted spring training, etc.? In 1981 they improvised a split season with a division series.

-Arne

MLB is already moving to 26-man rosters, although we have not received official word about an increase for Triple-A. I could see a temporary increase if spring training is brief and there is an industry-wide belief that more pitchers are needed until the starters build up to full strength.

One change I could see being implemented is a schedule extension beyond the traditional Minor League Baseball end date of Labor Day. Adding another week or two could benefit all parties: player development to make up for lost time, minor league teams to recoup some of their financial losses, and fans who want to see more ball. Many cities in our league have great weather in September.

hey! my name is Jay! who is your favorite baseball player?

Hi Jay! My favorite player as a kid growing up was Darrell Evans. He played third base for my local team, the San Francisco Giants. He became my favorite because at the first game my dad took me to when I was eight years old, he hit a home run and had several of rockets hit to him at third base. I remember my dad explaining to me that’s why third base is called the “hot corner,” and I thought that was cool.

Today I don’t really have a single favorite player, but I root for guys who played for Tacoma and are now in the major leagues – even if it’s not with Seattle. If I get to know the player a little bit while they are Rainiers, I end up rooting for them down the line.

I’m sure Bishop is disappointed, that being said he is a tremendous asset for the Rainiers. Tacoma it seemed to me was playing much better last year when he was here. He reminds me of Daniel Robertson (2016) both were kind of a catalyst for their respective teams.

-Mark

I pulled this from the comments section in a previous blog post about Braden Bishop being optioned to Tacoma, because I thought it was interesting and made me wonder: is Mark right? Did the Rainiers play better when Bishop was in the lineup?

Bishop played in 43 games for Tacoma last year. Adding it up, Tacoma went 20-23 in the games he played in and 41-55 without him. That’s a winning percentage of .465 with Bishop, and .427 without him.

So yes, Mark, the Rainiers definitely played better with Bishop in the lineup.

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In the PCL:


Now, We Wait.

March 17, 2020

I hope all of you are practicing your social distancing. Anything we can do to get things under control and bring back normalcy to our lives is a good step.

The Rainiers have sent all the front office employees home, of course. We even closed the team store – although the website is open for online orders.

We’re just waiting, like everyone else, for time to pass and the spread of the coronavirus to slow down.

As for baseball games, we in Triple-A will operate in the footsteps of MLB. Eventually the spring camps will re-open for the players. Some exhibition games will be loosely organized, the government will permit large gatherings once again, MLB and PCL schedules will be hastily thrown together, and a new season will begin.

That’s the hope, anyway. Let’s keep following advice from our health professionals and try to prevent as much further spread of the disease as possible.

When baseball does return, we are really going to need it.

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Not real sure what we’re going to do on this blog during the hiatus. If any baseball news develops, we’ll have it here of course. I thought about making it a personal space and tell you what books I’m reading and music I’m enjoying the most during The Distancing, but that’s not really what any of us are here for.

Maybe we should try a questions and answers post? Let’s see if that works. If you have a question or two, fire ’em off: mcurto@wertacoma.com.


M’s Make Roster Moves

March 10, 2020

Let’s catch up on the Mariners last round or roster moves, along with a bevy of links.

Optioned to Triple-A Tacoma (3):

Outfielder (1): Braden Bishop

Left-Handed Pitcher (1): Nick Margevicius

Right-Handed Pitcher (1):   Art Warren

Optioned to AA Arkansas (1):

Outfielder (1): Jose Siri

Re-Assigned to Minor League Camp (6):

Outfielders (2): Rymer Liriano, Julio Rodríguez

Catchers (2): Joseph Odom, Joe Hudson

Left-Handed Pitchers (2): Manny Bañuelos, Ian McKinney

These moves leave 52 players in Major League camp.

The surprise here is the early option of outfielder Braden Bishop, who figured to have a strong chance to make the club as a reserve outfielder. Tim Lopes’ chances of making the squad improved a lot today.

It was unexpected to see Jose Siri optioned to Double-A instead of Tacoma, but we swiftly found out why: he had been placed on waivers, and today he was claimed by the San Francisco Giants. Siri, we hardly knew ye.

The M’s now have a spot on the 40-man roster to play with, in case a non-roster player makes the M’s opening day squad or they want to claim a player off waivers from another organization.

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Friday Afternoon Links

March 6, 2020

Posting today just to share all of these links from the past few days – do we call this a Friday afternoon links dump? Something like that.

Expect a round of roster cuts over the weekend. Mariners opening day is less than three weeks away and they still have 62 players in camp. so it’s about time for them to start trimming down.

For the soccer fans, the Tacoma Defiance home opener is tonight – check the WeRTacoma.com site for more info.

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  • Infielder/outfielder Alen Hansen – who we expect to be with the Rainiers next month – is playing for Team France in a World Baseball Classic qualifying tournament played in Tucson next weekend. Team France will be generating a lot of interest because it is managed by future Hall of Famer Bruce Bochy, who was born in France.
  • Projected Rainiers first baseman/outfielder Jose Marmolejos has had a strong camp so far.
  • Larry Stone returned from Mariners spring training and tells us that its going to be a rough 2020, but he can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
  • Tuesday was an off day in M’s camp, so Ryan Divish decided to project the Mariners 26-man opening day roster.
  • After imagining it many times, Justin Dunn faced Mike Trout in real life.
  • The News Tribune has a feature on first baseman Evan White.
  • Dan Vogelbach is locked in on improving in 2020.
  • Mallex Smith is hoping to bounce back from an “embarrassing” season.
  • Game reports: Yesterday the Mariners were shut out by Cincinnati, 3-0, although Yusei Kikuchi pitched well… the M’s pitched well but didn’t hit in a 2-0 loss to the Angels on Wednesday… Tuesday was a rare spring training off day, so everyone probably went golfing…. and on Monday the Mariners scored some runs but lost to the Rockies, 9-6, as The Future had a big day with both Evan White and Jarred Kelenic having good games.
  • In the PCL, the home of the Nashville Sounds was hit by tornados earlier this week. Minor damage was done to the ballpark and the famous guitar-shaped scoreboard.

Roster Moves, An Injury, And A New Lefty

March 2, 2020

We have the first round of spring training roster trimming today, as the Mariners have made some moves.

A reminder on the wording: players who are on the 40-man roster are “optioned to” a specific minor league team, and we can be fairly certain that is the team they will open the season with. Players in major league camp who are not on the 40-man roster are “reassigned to minor league camp” and will open the season with an affiliate which will be determined later.

In the first round of moves there were no options – just reassignments.

Reassigned to Minor League Camp (9):

  • Right-Handed Pitchers (4): Jack Anderson, Darren McCaughan, Wyatt Mills, Penn MurfeeMatt Festa
  • Infielders (2): Jordan Cowan, Connor Hoover
  • Outfielders (2): Eric Filia, Luis Liberato

These moves leave 62 players in Mariners big league camp.

The first major injury of spring training involving a Tacoma Rainiers player has occurred, with Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto announcing this morning that reliever Matt Festa requires Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. He’ll be out for the year.

We had Festa projected unto the Rainiers bullpen and possibly the closer at the start of the season. We wish him a full recovery and hope to see him on the mound in 2021.

Baseball America’s latest installment of Minor League Transactions informs us that the M’s have signed left-handed pitcher Dietrich Enns to a minor league contract.

Enns pitched for El Paso last year, making 25 starts among his 28 appearances with an 11-11 record and a 6.70 ERA.

El Paso, of course, plays its home games in an absolute launching pad. It is surprising to check the stats and see that Enns’ ERA was a full two runs lower in home games (5.56) than in away games (7.77). He led the PCL with 37 home runs allowed last year – and oddly, only 14 of those came at home.

Enns, like all pitchers (and many fans, and this broadcaster) in the PCL, are hoping the ball isn’t as juiced this year as it was last year.

Enns pitched in two major league games for the Minnesota Twins in 2017, logging four innings. While he did not get his first major league win, he did get his first major league hit by going 1-for-2 in an interleague game against the Brewers. He’s a lifetime .500 hitter in the big leagues. Hopefully he reminds people of that all the time.

Some recent former Rainiers who have new teams:

  • Gordon Beckham – San Diego/El Paso
  • Ryan Court – Oakland/Las Vegas
  • Shirtless Rob Brantly – San Francisco/Sacramento
  • Erasmo Ramirez – New York Mets/Syracuse
  • Rob Whalen – New York Mets/Syracuse
  • Tuffy Gosewisch – Milwaukee Brewers/San Antonio
  • Jose Lobaton – Los Angeles Dodgers/Oklahoma City

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Rainiers Bullpen Outlook & Latest Moves

February 26, 2020

Baseball is on the radio again, and sometimes on TV. The exhibition games have begun in Arizona and Florida, and we are getting closer to another Pacific Coast League season.

Let’s complete our 2020 Tacoma Rainiers Position Previews© with a look at the bullpen.

This is always the toughest category to project. Late spring roster moves are frequently made with relievers (especially during the Dipoto era, but this was the case even before then). This is also the position in which there is most likely to be an unreported veteran or two in minor league spring training who is unknown to us at the moment. Many years I’ve been watching the Triple-A game on the backfield in Peoria and had a “whoa, they signed that guy?” moment.

Here are the relievers I know are in the Tacoma mix. We’ll list them alphabetically.

Jack Anderson: a submariner who had a 1.50 ERA for Double-A Arkansas last year, giving up just one home run in 54 innings. The high-elevation PCL ballparks will provide a great testing ground to see if his submarining style will work in homer-happy MLB.

Manny Banuelos: we listed him with the starters, but the lefty could also be used as a multiple-inning reliever – which is his more likely role in the majors, should Seattle call him up.

Gerson Bautista: lights up the radar gun. Has the returning Rainiers righty improved his command enough to have success this year? When the ball goes where he wants it to go, he’s really tough to hit.

Brandon Brennan: last year’s Rule 5 pick can now be optioned to the minors, but it looks like he’s good enough to make the major league roster. We’ll see how the next month plays out.

Nestor Cortes: a lefty who spent most of last year in the Yankees big league bullpen, the M’s claimed him off waivers this winter. I could have listed him among the potential Tacoma starting pitchers, because he has started a lot when he’s in the minors. His opening to make the big league club is as a long man.

Sam Delaplane: any list of Mariners “sleeper” prospects includes Delaplane, who struck out 110 batters in 68.2 innings pitched between Class-A Modesto and Double-A Arkansas last year. He’s only pitched in 25 Double-A games, but his 0.49 ERA there indicates he is in line to move up.

Matt Festa: ink him in to the Rainiers bullpen to start the season. Festa pitched in 23 games for Tacoma last year, posting a 2.64 ERA with five saves. He could be Tacoma’s closer to start the season.

Darin Gillies: he’s had stints with Tacoma each of the past two seasons. Gillies throws hard and gets a good number of strikeouts, but has had trouble preventing runs in the PCL.

Zac Grotz: after battling through multiple organizations and the independent leagues, Grotz reached the majors and appeared in 14 games for Seattle last year. A Tacoma assignment to start the year seems likely, but he’s trying to make the big league club.

Taylor Guilbeau: the lefty acquired from Washington at the trade deadline last summer, Guilbeau has strong stuff and has a good chance to make the M’s bullpen. If not, we’ll have a locker for him at Cheney.

Wyatt Mills: a Gonzaga product who has been at Double-A Arkansas for the last year-and-a-quarter, but hasn’t really dominated that level yet. He does one thing really well: keep the ball in the ballpark, with just three career home runs allowed in 126 innings pitched.

Erik Swanson: listing him here because he has options and pitched a bit for Tacoma last season, but he seems likely to make the big league club. All reports indicate that his starting days are over for now.

Art Warren: often injured and not often allowing runs, Warren had a 1.71 ERA in 29 appearances for Arkansas last year, and then did not give up a run in six major league games in September. Seems likely to open the season in Tacoma until called upon.

Those are quite a few interesting relief prospects who could open the season with Tacoma – and another one, Joey Gerber, could come during the season if he pitches like he did in 2019. The bullpen could really be a strength for the Rainiers.

The Mariners made a 40-man roster move which hurt the Rainiers pitching depth, but may help the big league bullpen.

Seattle claimed reliever Taylor Williams off waivers from Milwaukee, and designated projected Rainiers starter Phillips Valdez for assignment. Valdez was immediately claimed by the Boston Red Sox.

Williams had a 2.83 ERA in 46 games in the PCL last year for San Antonio, which sounds very promising for the Rainiers except for one thing: he’s out of minor league options.

A native of Camus, WA who pitched one season for Washington State University, Williams is probably really excited to get a chance to pitch for the Mariners. However, he’s unlikely to pitch for Tacoma.

The M’s had to take care of an outfield depth issue, due to an injury.

Outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams – one of the prospects acquired in the James Paxton trade with the Yankees a year ago – is probably out for the season with a ruptured achilles that required surgery.

We had Thompson-Williams listed as a potential Rainiers outfielder to start the season, although that was no sure thing. Unfortunately he won’t be with us now, so the Mariners went out and signed veteran Triple-A outfielder Rymer Liriano to add some depth to the position.

Liriano, now 28 years old, played for Salt Lake and Colorado Springs in 2018, and before that was with El Paso in 2014-15. Last year he was with Syracuse in the International League, hitting .209 with ten homers in 201 at-bats. His career stats can be found here.

In case you come to this site without looking at the Tacoma Rainiers main page, there a couple of important items you may have missed.

The team announced that the 2020 Promotional Calendar is now available. Sadly, my push for “Fans Call The Game So Curto Can Sit At The R-Bar And Drink Beer Night” was once again not approved. Maybe next year.

We also posted two more interviews with the Rainiers coaching staff: part two of the interview with new pitching coach Rob Marcello Jr is here, and the story on hitting coach Roy Howell can be found here.

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An Early Look At Tacoma’s Starting Rotation

February 19, 2020

Spring training is now in full force, as the position players reported earlier this week and the Mariners full squad is in Peoria. That includes all of the players who will open the season with the Rainiers on April 9.

Our 2020 Tacoma Rainiers Position Previews™ series continues with a look at the potential starting rotation to open the season.

The big league rotation is pretty much set. Barring injury or something unforeseen, the Mariners will be going with Marco Gonzales, Yusei Kikuchi, Taijuan Walker, Kendall Graveman, and Justus Sheffield. The first four are on major league contracts, and Sheffield is out of minor league options (he can’t be sent to Tacoma without being exposed to waivers).

If everything goes smoothly with the above starters during spring training, highly-regarded prospect Justin Dunn will probably get optioned to Tacoma for the start of the season. Things can change, of course – one of the starting five could get injured, or the Mariners may want to have Dunn break into the majors as a long reliever – but right now on February 19th it looks like Dunn will be with us.

We can go ahead and ink lefty Anthony Misiewicz into the Rainiers rotation. After a rocky introduction to the PCL upon his promotion to Tacoma in May last season, Misiewicz finished the season on a real strong run. He allowed just six earned runs in 34.2 innings over his final six starts, for a 1.56 ERA during that time. He participated in the Mariners “Gas Camp” this winter, and I’m excited to see what he does this season.

Right-hander Phillips Valdez was claimed off waivers from Texas back in November, and he looks like a possible Rainiers starter. He made his MLB debut out of the bullpen for the Texas Rangers last year, but when he was with Triple-A Nashville he worked as both a starter and a reliever. In 2018 he was used primarily as a starter for Syracuse in the International League and posted a 2.75 ERA over 124.1 innings pitched. The Mariners will watch him this spring and decide what role is best for him.

The M’s signed a couple of veteran left-handers who may be in the Rainiers rotation in April. One is a longtime major leaguer trying to get back on track, and the other is a former top prospect still looking to establish himself in the bigs.

Wei-Yin Chen has been in the majors since 2012. The lefty from Taijuan Taiwan had four strong seasons in Baltimore’s rotation, signed a big free agent contract with the Marlins before the 2016 season, and then was hit with injuries and ineffectiveness. The Mariners brought him in to camp to take a look – he was once very good, so why not. Chen has not pitched in the US minor leagues before, other than a handful of rehab starts, so we don’t really know if the 34-year-old is willing to pitch in Triple-A to try to get back. He’s made plenty of money in the game. If he doesn’t make the big league club it will come down to his desire to continue.

Manny Banuelos was a highly-ranked Yankees prospect when he was dominating the Class-A levels in 2009 and 2010. Since then he has bounced through several organizations, seeing major league time with the Atlanta Braves and last year with the Chicago White Sox. He’s in spring training hoping to win a bullpen job with the Mariners, but if he is assigned to Tacoma he will likely pitch out of the rotation. Banuelos pitched for Oklahoma City in 2018 – his last full Triple-A season – and went 9-7 with a 3.73 ERA, striking out 127 batters in 108.2 innings. He made 18 starts and 13 relief appearances that year.

This is starting to look like a pretty left-hand dominant rotation, so let’s add another southpaw. The M’s acquired hard-to-spell and let’s-not-even-get-into-the-pronunciation Nick Margevicius from the San Diego Padres recently. Despite making a dozen starts in the big leagues last year, Margevicius has never appeared in a Triple-A game: the Padres moved him straight from Double-A Amarillo to the majors last season. This April he could be anywhere from Double-Arkansas to Tacoma to Seattle.

Seattle just inked former Cleveland Indians starter Cody Anderson to a minor league contract. Anderson made 24 starts for the Cleveland Indians in 2015-16, but elbow problems put him on the injured list and he eventually required Tommy John surgery. 2019 was supposed to be Anderson’s return to health, and he got back into things with 32 innings pitched, but then he required additional surgery in June and did not pitch in the second half. We’ll have to keep an eye out and see how much he is able to pitch in camp.

Five from the seven pitchers listed above figure to comprise the Rainiers opening day rotation, but we can’t stop without mentioning top prospect Logan Gilbert, whom we will hopefully see at some point this season. Gilbert’s progression through the system makes it pretty clear that he’ll open the campaign at Double-A Arkansas. The Mariners would like him to reach the majors later this season, and that will hopefully include a stop in Tacoma on the way. Baseball America ranks Gilbert as the top pitching prospect in the M’s farm system – he was the team’s first round draft pick in 2018.

The 2020 Tacoma Rainiers Position Previews® series concludes next week when we sort throw a whole bunch of relievers.

We have an addition to last week’s post on potential Rainiers outfielders. Veteran PCL player Collin Cowgill has been signed to a minor league contract.

Cowgill was one of the best players in the league when he first appeared in the PCL, way back in 2011 with Reno. Since then he has played for five other teams: Sacramento, Las Vegas, Salt Lake, Colorado Springs, El Paso, and Fresno.

He spent the entire 2019 season with Fresno, batting .228 with a dozen homers and a .330 OBP in 84 games.

Now 33 years old, Cowgill last played in the majors in 2016. He appeared in 317 big league games over six seasons from 2011-2016, with a career .234 average in the majors.

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