Mariners Win Opener, Yet Spring Training Continues

March 20, 2019

Happy Opening Day No. 1!

The Mariners played the official MLB season opener earlier this morning in Japan, beating the Oakland A’s 9-7 at the Tokyo Homer Dome. For those of you who didn’t stay up to watch this game, the ball was jumping off the bat like it was being played in Albuquerque or Reno. There were five home runs, including a grand slam by Domingo Santana – the Mariners first opening day grand slam since Jim Presley in 1986.

The second and final game in Japan is tonight/tomorrow at 2:30 AM. Once again, it will be televised live by ESPN.

Meanwhile, spring training continues – and I’m off to Arizona in the morning. The Rainiers will be playing Cactus League exhibition games on Thursday and Friday nights, and we’ll have full reports here on the blog. Look for updates from Arizona on Friday and Saturday late mornings, and another on Saturday night or Sunday morning.

The M’s made two more roster moves prior to the game today, re-assigning LHP Tommy Milone and catcher Jose Lobaton to minor league camp. These are veteran major leaguers who will provide depth for the M’s, and give the Rainiers some needed experience.

Links:

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M’s Pre-Japan Roster Moves Included Some Surprises

March 18, 2019

We have lots to get caught up on from late last week, as the Mariners pared their roster down to 30 players before departing for Japan. They play their two official games over there later this week.

The big news for Tacoma fans was the release of former Rainiers and Mariners infielder Dustin Ackley. The M’s gave him a look on a minor league contract, but apparently they ultimately decided that they couldn’t carry him on the Tacoma roster. When the big league club is rebuilding and trying to move young talent through the system, it can be hard to keep a guy like Ackley. Hopefully he’ll latch on with another club.

In a surprise, utility man Kristopher Negron was removed from the Mariners 40-man roster and outrighted to Tacoma. I was under the impression that Negron had a spot on the Mariners opening day roster, but that impression was wrong. If Negron opens the season with the Rainiers he’ll be a big help for manager Daren Brown, with his ability to play anywhere on the field and hit just about anywhere in the lineup. Players with his flexibility have a lot of value in the PCL.

Here are the Mariners pre-Japan roster moves:

Optioned to Tacoma

RHP: Erik Swanson

LHP: Justus Sheffield

Infielders: Shed Long, J.P. Crawford

Re-Assigned to Minor League Camp

RHPs: Jorgan Cavanerio, Justin Dunn, David McKay

Infielders: Orlando Calixte, Tim Lopes, Evan White

Outfielders: Kyle Lewis, Tito PoloJake Fraley

Catchers: Joe DeCarloAustin Nola

Outrighted to Tacoma

Infielder: Kristopher Negron

The club will have to make five more cuts before the U.S. home opener next week.

This is going to be a busy week.

Later today the Tacoma Rainiers and Minor League Baseball are going to announce Tacoma’s “alter-ego” team name for the Copa de la Diversion initiative, which will occur for five home games this season. Hopefully we’ll get a cool team name and logo!

The blog will update daily for a few days when I head to spring training on Thursday and get to see the 2019 Tacoma Rainiers in person. Look for fresh posts over the weekend.

Links:

  • Marco Gonzales gets the opening day start against the A’s on Wednesday night in Japan (or Thursday 2:35 AM for us). Manager Scott Servais revealed that Ichiro will be in the starting lineup.
  • The News Tribune has a story on likely Rainiers outfielder Braden Bishop and his little brother, who is a star at Arizona State and potential high draft pick in June. Bishop made the trip to Japan and could be on the active 28-man roster for the official games later this week.
  • The Mariners are in Japan and it turns out that Ichiro and Yusei Kikuchi are quite popular there.
  • Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager had hand surgery and is going to start the season on the injured list – the first time he has been placed on the injured list in his career.
  • Teenage outfield prospects Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez are becoming friends at spring training. They’ll probably start the season at Class-A West Virginia.
  • From Wednesday of this past week, Ryan Divish has a thorough injury report from M’s camp. He also tells us that outfielder Tito Polo is likely to break camp with Tacoma in what will be his first Triple-A season, so you might as well start practicing your “Tito! … Polo!” chants.
  • What happened this week on the field: on Monday, the Mariners had a ‘bullpen day’ in a 5-1 loss to the Royals. Matt Tenuta pitched two scoreless innings in the game… Tuesday’s game was rained out… Wednesday the team knocked off the San Francisco Giants, 8-4… Thursday and Friday the club traveled to Japan… on Saturday (our time) the M’s hit three homers and beat the Yomiuri Giants, 6-4… a pair of late-game homers helped the Mariners defeat Yomiuri again on Sunday.
  • MLB announced some rules changes, pending ratification by the teams. The rules that severely impact Triple-A roster movement (10-day injured list goes to 15-days, optioned pitchers must spend 15 days in minors) don’t take effect until 2020.

M’s Closing In On Departure For Japan

March 11, 2019

It was another busy weekend at Mariners spring training camp, as the team moves closer to settling on 28 players to bring to Japan later this week.

Complicating the decision-making process are weekend injuries to third baseman Kyle Seager and reliever Gerson Bautista. We are waiting to hear the severity of both – although it has been interesting to see Ryon Healy in the lineup at third base these past two days.

The M’s made a few more spring training cut-downs over the weekend:

Re-Assigned to Minor League Camp

  • RHPs: Nabil Crismatt, Tayler Scott, Ryan Garton, Tyler Danish, Robinson Leyer
  • LHP: Matt Tenuta
  • Catcher: Cal Raleigh
  • Outfielder: Eric Filia, Dom Thompson-Williams

Most of these players are pitchers we have discussed in the last couple of posts. Crismatt appears to be a Rainiers starter, the other four righties will fight for Tacoma bullpen spots, and Tenuta is the only left-hander in the upper levels of the farm system.

Raleigh was a high draft pick last year and will go to one of the Class-A teams (Modesto or West Virginia).

Filia is in the Tacoma outfield hunt, while Thompson-Williams seems headed for Double-A Arkansas.

We’ve got a weekend’s worth of links down below, and then this blog is taking the remainder of the week off as I go on my annual preseason vacation to the Pac-12 Basketball Tournament, which is a ton of fun if you love hoops (even if your favorite team is terrible!).

We’ll be back early next week with a news round-up, and then later next week its time for a spring training trip with daily reports on how the Rainiers players are looking.

Links:


Many Candidates For Rainiers Relief Crew

March 7, 2019

We wrap up our Tacoma Rainiers spring training position previews today with a look at the bullpen situation.

As always, there are many candidates to be part of the Rainiers opening day bullpen. We’ll probably have eight relievers coming out of spring training, and below we have 14 candidates – and there may be more in minor league camp.

Let’s start with four pitchers who are in major league camp right now, and are battling for spots in the big league pen.

Chasen Bradford spent 90% of the 2018 season in the Mariners bullpen, and it seems like he’ll make the big league club. However, he does have an option year remaining, so the possibility that he comes to Tacoma does exist.

Gerson Bautista is a flamethrower acquired from the Mets in the Cano deal; he brings the heat in the upper-90s and is trying to improve his command. He could make the big league club, but if not we’ll see him at Cheney.

Nick Rumbelow spent time with both Tacoma and Seattle last season. GM Jerry Dipoto was quite high on Rumbelow when he was acquired last year, and he’s fighting for a big league spot.

Matt Festa had a strong season at Double-A Arkansas last year, and made his major league debut skipping Triple-A. It feels like he could be a back-and-forth Tacoma-to-Seattle I-5 Shuttle passenger this year.

Now, some relievers who are non-roster spring training invitees, and each has Triple-A experience:

Ruben “R.J.” Alaniz pitched in 20 games for the Durham Bulls last year; he’s on the 40-man roster and has already been optioned to Tacoma. This right-hander almost certainly has a spot in the Tacoma ‘pen.

Tyler Danish posted a 3.01 ERA as a multi-inning reliever last year for Triple-A Charlotte, covering 71.2 innings. He’s young for a minor league free agent signing, just 24.

Ryan Garton has pitched for Tacoma in parts of the past two seasons, and when he is healthy he is very effective in the PCL. He posted a 3.16 ERA in 35 appearances for Tacoma last year.

Tayler Scott is a free agent signing who worked in 44 games for Round Rock last year, pitching to a 3.26 ERA.

That’s eight names right there. Let’s add two relievers who split the 2018 season between Double-A Arkansas and Tacoma:

Matt Tenuta is the first and only left-hander on this list, which gives him an advantage. We’ve got to have at least one lefty in the pen, or else manager Daren Brown will be on the phone with the front office every day begging for a lefty. He had a 2.98 ERA in Double-A and a 3.10 figure in limited time with Tacoma.

Darin Gillies pitched in 26 games for the Rainiers as a long reliever last year, but was eventually sent back to Arkansas. It was his first Triple-A opportunity and he may get another this year.

How about some pitchers looking for their first taste of Triple-A ball after pitching well in Double-A last year?

David McKay struck out 71 batters in 50 innings for Arkansas last year, and the Mariners sent him to the Arizona Fall League as a reward. Look for him to make the club.

Matt Walker was drafted in 2015, and the M’s have been moving the 6-foot-6 righty up one level each season. Last year in Double-A he had a 3.63 ERA in 39 games.

Jorgan Cavanerio was signed as a minor league free agent and is in big league camp right now. He hasn’t pitched much in Double-A and might start the season at that level, but the big league spring training invitation means the M’s believe he is somewhat advanced and wanted to take a look at him.

Robin Leyer had a 2.59 ERA in 42 Double-A games in the Cincinnati Reds system last year, and the M’s signed him as a free agent. He is yet another Triple-A Tacoma candidate, and like Cavanerio he is in major league camp right now.

The Mariners will figure out this situation as camp progresses. It is definitely a positive that there are many legitimate Triple-A reliever candidates this year, so the Mariners won’t have to grab pitchers being released by other organizations at the end of March (which is what happened last year).

Links:


M’s Make First Roster Moves Of Spring

March 4, 2019

The Mariners are just 16 days away from the it-counts-in-the-standings opener in Japan on March 20, and the team has cut down its spring training a little bit. Four pitchers and one hitter have been moved over to the minor league side.

Roster moves:

  • Optioned to Tacoma: RHP Ruben Alaniz, LHP Ricardo Sanchez, 1B Joey Curletta
  • Reassigned to Minor League Camp: RHP Max Povse, RHP Jack Anderson

Annual spring training reminder: “optioned to Tacoma” mean the player is on the 40-man roster, and 2019 is now one of the three option years a 40-man player is allowed. The “to Tacoma” part is not binding – the player can ultimately be assigned anywhere in the farm system.

“Reassigned to minor league camp” means the player is not on the 40-man roster (he was a non-roster invitee to spring training), and these players can be assigned to any minor league affiliate come opening day.

Now that we have the spring training transaction primer out of the way, let’s look at the moves.

Curletta and Povse have not been playing due to injury. Curletta has been sidelined by a tight oblique. I spoke with Rainiers manager Daren Brown over the weekend and he said it is not serious and he does not think it will linger deep into the regular season (which is always a possibility with oblique injuries), but it’s a bummer that Curletta didn’t get to play in any games during his first major league spring training. Curletta has been pegged as the Rainiers starting first baseman all offseason.

Max Povse has had shoulder soreness and is expected to begin throwing later this week, according to a brief report in the Seattle Times. If healthy he is in contention for a spot on the Rainiers pitching staff.

Ricardo Sanchez is a very young (21) starting pitching prospect who may ultimately be ticketed for Double-A, but Triple-A starting pitching is in short supply in Peoria so maybe he’ll break with Tacoma.

Ruben Alaniz and Jack Anderson are relievers. Alaniz has pitched in Triple-A before and appears likely to be assigned to the Rainiers this year. Anderson is a submariner who pitched for Class-A Modesto last year and is probably ticketed for Double-A Arkansas.

We will be discussing the Tacoma Rainiers bullpen situation more thoroughly on Thursday, in our final position preview post of the spring. You can scroll down if you missed any of the previous position posts, which we have been rolling out for the past five weeks.

Links:

  • Rainiers manager Daren Brown did an in-game TV interview during the Root broadcast of the M’s game on Thursday and discussed a few of the prospects we’ll see in Tacoma this year.
  • The Mariners newfound minor league talent makes watching the later innings of spring training games more fun, Ryan Divish writes.
  • The Seattle Times has an in-depth look at Shed Long, who has an old-school approach at the plate and a Hall of Famer as a coach.
  • Veteran ball writer Larry Stone has spent the last week at Mariners spring training, and here are his eight key observations.
  • Felix Hernandez is being encouraged to throw his curveball more frequently this season.
  • Yusei Kikuchi continues to adjust his routine to the American style as he pitched three more innings on Saturday, allowing two runs.
  • From the exhibition games: yesterday four different possible Rainiers relievers each pitched a scoreless inning in a 7-3 win over the Diamondbacks… after a bunch of clean games in a row, the M’s played their first “clunker” of the spring in an 8-0 loss to the Royals on Saturday. Dan Vogelbach‘s hot spring is detailed in the story… Justus Sheffield pitched two scoreless innings in a 7-3 win over the Brewers on Friday… and on Thursday both Kyle Lewis and Braden Bishop homered in an 8-3 win over the White Sox.
  • Former Rainiers and Mariners infielder Brad Miller signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers, which means he could be in the PCL playing for Oklahoma City this season.

Rainiers Anticipate Young Starting Rotation

February 28, 2019

In recent years sorting out the Tacoma Rainiers starting rotation has been a challenge during spring training, due to the large number of minor league free agents signed by the Mariners. Things are a little different this year: Jerry Dipoto‘s offseason trades have brought in a handful of young pitching prospects, and we are going to see some of them at Cheney Stadium this year.

At the major league level the Mariners starting rotation is set – barring injury, of course. The M’s are looking at a rotation of Mike Leake, Wade LeBlanc, Yusei Kikuchi, Marco Gonzales, and Felix Hernandez.

That means that top prospect Justus Sheffield is probably going to begin the year here in Tacoma, working to refine his command while waiting for an opening in Seattle. The lefty was the key prospect acquired from the Yankees in the James Paxton trade, and he is ranked as the Mariners top prospect overall by most outlets.

Another pitcher acquired in that trade was right-hander Erik Swanson. He reached Triple-A in the Yankees system last season, making 13 starts in the International League with a 3.86 ERA. There was some chatter at the time of the trade that Swanson may profile as a major league long reliever/swing man, which could cause him to win a spot on the Mariners opening day roster. It’s something to keep an eye on this month.

Large human Max Povse is a candidate to break camp in the Rainiers rotation. It seems like he’s been around forever, but Povse will play this season at age 25. In a common refrain for minor league pitchers, Povse has good stuff (and size) but needs to improve his control.

The organization signed veteran left-hander Tommy Milone to a minor league contract, helping flesh out the Rainiers rotation and provide major league depth. Milone has pitched all or part of eight seasons in the majors, with a career record of 46-37, 4.42. Last year the 32-year-old made twenty starts in Triple-A for the Nationals affiliate, going 7-4, 4.11 in the IL.

Another prospect added this winter – from the Mets in this case – right-hander Justin Dunn could make the jump to Triple-A for opening day. Dunn is just 23-years-old, but he made 24 starts in Double-A last year with a 3.56 ERA in the Eastern League. He struck out 156 batters in just 135 innings, albeit with 52 walks.

Columbian righty Nabil Crismatt was signed as a minor league free agent. He was teammates with Dunn at Double-A in the Mets system last year, and also made nine Triple-A starts for Las Vegas. His first taste of Triple-A ball didn’t go very well (8.84 ERA), but he just recently turned 24 and has room for improvement.

Some additional names in the mix: lefthander Anthony Misiewicz made 21 starts for Double-A Arkansas last year, but had a rough season (3-12, 5.51) and may need to go back… free agent signee Aaron Northcraft hasn’t pitched since 2016, but the now 28-year-old was swing-man for El Paso in 2015-2016… young lefty Ricardo Sanchez made 13 starts in Double-A for the Braves organization last year. He’s on the 40-man roster, turns 22 in April, and is likely to open the season in Arkansas but is a prospect to follow.

Overall, there is not a lot of depth in this group, and the Mariners could be combing the independent leagues looking for pitching once again this season.

One name not on this list is Rob Whalen, who announced his retirement from baseball (via twitter) earlier this week. Whalen made 20 starts for Tacoma last year, going 7-7 with a 5.16 ERA, and we had him penciled into the Rainiers rotation for this season until he decided to hang ’em up.

Deciding to move on from the sport is a difficult decision. We wish Rob the best in his future endeavors.

Links:

  • Oft-injured top prospect Kyle Lewis is healthy during spring training for the first time, and the Seattle Times caught up with the young slugger.
  • Greg Johns has a story on Shed Long‘s hot start to spring training, and the Mariners plan to move him around defensively. In the article we learn he played outfield last weekend for the first time since he was 12.
  • We hear so much about the Mariners youth movement, but Larry Stone investigated the other side of the clubhouse: the veterans who know they could be traded at any moment.
  • Yusei Kikuchi made his spring debut on Monday, using deception to strike out Reds star Joey Votto.
  • Tim Booth of the Associated Press filed a story on Jerry Dipoto‘s health after his blood clot scare during the Winter Meetings.
  • Exhibition game recaps: yesterday Dan Vogelbach homered to help the Mariners to an early lead, but rookie relievers let it get away in a 6-5 loss to Cleveland… on Tuesday the M’s were trailing Texas 4-1 going to the bottom of the ninth, when minor leaguers Jake Fraley and potential Rainiers infielder Chris Mariscal hit back-to-back homers to tie the game, and then the teams decided a tie was just fine… and on Monday, Kyle Lewis launched a homer to support Yusei Kikuchi in an 11-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds.

Potential Rainiers Players Shine On Opening Weekend In Cactus League

February 25, 2019

Spring training exhibition games started late last week, and we have actual baseball results to look at. Opening day is getting closer.

Speaking of opening day, tickets for the Tacoma Rainiers home opener and the remainder of the first homestand went on sale over the weekend. The Rainiers start the season on the road, so Opening Night at Cheney Stadium will be on Tuesday, April 9 and the first homestand is a seven-gamer running through the following weekend. Act early to get the best seats for the opening week – you can get tickets online (click on the ‘T’), or visit the Cheney Stadium box office during normal business hours.

One player we are hoping to see in a Rainiers uniform during the opening homestand is infielder Shed Long, who was the story of the first weekend of Mariners spring training games. He had multiple hits, with a homer, and even had a couple of doubles “cancelled” during a game that was rained out in the second inning.

For all of the details on spring training so far, check the links down below. Later this week we’ll have a look at the pitchers battling for spots in the Tacoma Rainiers starting rotation – planning to post that on Thursday afternoon.

Links:

  • The Mariners spring training opener on Thursday got wiped out by rain in the second inning. However, the M’s scored five runs before the rain came, with Shed Long knocking a pair of doubles… the M’s won their first full game of the spring on Friday, defeating Oakland 8-1. Potential Rainiers infielder Tim Lopes went 3-for-3 in the win… Shed Long hit a, um, long home run in the Felix game on Saturday… Long came back with a game-winning RBI single on Sunday against the Rockies.
  • Felix Hernandez made his spring debut on Saturday, trying things like working exclusively from the stretch. Results were uncertain.
  • Top prospect and anticipated Rainiers starter (more on this Thursday) Justus Sheffield made his spring debut, delivering a pair of scoreless innings on Sunday. Ryan Divish has the story with reaction from Sheffield and his teammates.
  • The Seattle Times caught up with outfielder Braden Bishop, who we expect to be with Tacoma this year. However, the story notes that the Mariners lack of outfield depth could mean an opportunity for Bishop to make the big league team. Seems like the M’s could really use an experienced Triple-A outfielder.
  • Greg Johns brings us some details on the unusual walk-up routine of outfielder Eric Filia, who made our list of possible Tacoma Rainiers outfielders last week.
  • Larry Stone has a story on new Mariners coach Perry Hill, who is one of the most renowned infield instructors in the sport.
  • Stone also gets us caught up on where the Mariners rebuild stands at the moment.
  • Mariners closer candidate Hunter Strickland is looking to hit the reset button on his career, which includes several memorable moments in which he lost his cool.
  • Seattle promoted Joe Bohringer to Assistant General Manager, filling the spot that was vacated several months ago when longtime employee Jeff Kingston was hired away by the L.A. Dodgers.
  • An ESPN article on unexpected breakouts that could help their teams make a push for the playoffs includes… a Mariner? It’s true.
  • Baseball America took an early shot at projecting the ten most prospect-loaded minor league teams at the start of the season, and two PCL clubs made the list, including Rainiers home opener opponent El Paso.