Opening Night On Sale Now

February 12, 2016

A couple of quick hits on a wet Friday:

1) The Rainiers have placed tickets for Opening Night on sale, starting today. The remainder of the individual games will go on sale in the near future. Opening Night is Thursday, April 7th at 7:05 against the Albuquerque Isotopes and tickets are available online via this link.

2) ESPN’s Keith Law posted his massive Top 100 Prospects package over here. The M’s don’t fare well in his rankings: 28th best overall farm system, and just one player in his Top 100. That would be outfielder Alex Jackson checking in at #95. Jackson will probably start the season at Class-A Clinton.

3) Baseball America released the back half (No. 51-100) of their Top 100 Prospects list, and Jackson does not appear on this one.

Not much in the way of news today – all is quiet as the baseball world migrates to Arizona and Florida for the start of spring training. Pitchers and catchers report a week from today!

Links:

It’s our last weekend without baseball until… November? Go on a hike or something, I guess.


Rainiers Rotation Hard To Predict

February 10, 2016

The Tacoma Rainiers opening starting rotation is going to be determined by what happens in major league spring training, and which starting five the Seattle Mariners settle on.

One of the surprises at the Mariners Pre-Spring Training media event was when General Manager Jerry Dipoto indicated that only three starting rotation spots were settled going into spring: Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, and Wade Miley.

That means the Mariners have two open rotation spots to fill from the following group of pitchers: Nathan Karns, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Vidal Nuno, Mike Montgomery, Cody Martin, Joe Wieland. All of these pitchers with the exception of Montgomery have at least one minor league option year remaining.

Those seven names listed above are just the candidates who are on the 40-man roster. Other starting pitchers invited to big league camp include Adrian Sampson, Brad Mills, Donn Roach, and Casey Coleman.

Some of the seven contenders who are on the 40-man roster could make the Mariners as a long reliever – specifically, Nuno and Montgomery come to mind.

My gut feeling says that in the group of Karns, Walker, and Paxton whoever doesn’t make the Mariners rotation will start games in Tacoma.

Cody Martin and Joe Wieland seem all but certain to start the season in the Rainiers rotation – unless one of them blows away the competition during spring training.

We also have some holdovers from last year’s Tacoma rotation: Sam Gaviglio, Stephen Landazuri, and a healthy-again Jordan Pries figure to be in the mix.

Forrest Snow will be back in Tacoma, and he can serve as either a starter or a reliever. With all of these starter candidates, Snow will probably be a reliever to begin the year, and be ready to jump into the rotation when the need inevitably arises.

The most advanced pitching prospect in the organization is Edwin Diaz, who will pitch as a 22-year-old this season. Diaz is ranked the Mariners No. 2 prospect by Baseball America, and he’s already had an extended stint in Double-A: last year he made seven early starts for Class-A Bakersfield, then was bumped up to Jackson. He made 20 starts at the Double-A level, going 5-10, 4.57 with good peripherals: 104 innings pitched, 102 hits, only five home runs, 37 walks and 103 strikeouts.

Look for Diaz to begin the season in Double-A but if he gets on a roll they’ll probably move him up to Tacoma during the season.

Given all of the names in this post, it’s pretty much impossible to guess the Rainiers starting five right now. They’ll figure it all out during spring training.

The Mariners signed 39-year-old major league veteran reliever Joel Peralta to a minor league contract with an invitation to big league spring training.

Peralta was injured for about half of last season with the Dodgers, but he appeared in 33 games and had a 4.34 ERA in 29 innings. He was effective for Washington and Tampa Bay from 2010-2014.

Peralta has always been willing to go to Triple-A when needed: he’s pitched for Salt Lake, Colorado Springs, Omaha, Syracuse, Charlotte, and Oklahoma City. He could end up in the Rainiers bullpen if the doesn’t make the big league club.

We get to the long list of potential Rainiers relief pitchers next week.

Links:


M’s Minor League Podcast Premiere

February 8, 2016

We’re doing something new, and hopefully some of you will like it.

Class-A Clinton broadcaster Greg Mroz reached out to the rest of the Mariners minor league broadcasters with the idea of starting a podcast. Because we are radio guys and we all like to hear ourselves talk, we agreed to give it a try.

The first episode of the Seattle System Scoop can be heard right here.

Greg takes the lead. He’s joined by Short-Season Everett announcer Pat Dillon, Advanced-A Bakersfield’s Dan Besbris, Double-A Jackson’s Brandon Liebhaber, and myself.

For the first episode we decided to go through the Mariners Top-10 Prospects list as designated by Baseball America. Most of the players performed last year for Everett and Clinton so Pat and Greg handle a lot of the discussion. I literally saw just one of the Top-10 Prospects play in a grand total of four games last year!

The plan is to do new episodes with some regularity throughout the season. Maybe next episode I can sneak in my big question for Greg: how are you still alive after calling a 46-93 season? Can you share some survival tips in case it ever happens to any of the rest of us?

We hope you like the podcast. It’s a work in progress – if you have any ideas/suggestions (including a better name), let one of us know via standard internet communication methods.

Links:

  • Greg Johns has a feature on likely Rainiers centerfielder Boog Powell.
  • Ryan Divish checked in on new Mariners closer Steve Cishek, who fills an important role if the M’s are going to improve this season.
  • John McGrath has a fun column on Dae-ho Lee.
  • Here’s a good look at likely Tacoma Rainiers starting pitcher Joe Wieland from Brandon Gawlowski.
  • Former Rainiers catcher John Baker wrote about what it is like for a player at the beginning of spring training.
  • Mexico won the Caribbean Series on a walk-off home run. Former Rainiers and Mariners star Freddy Garcia started for Venezuela and pitched pretty well – he was long gone by the time it ended.

On Wednesday I’ll have a new post about the candidates for the Rainiers starting rotation.


Tacoma’s Outfield Outlook

February 5, 2016

Looking at the 2016 Tacoma Rainiers outfield possibilities, it appears that we finally have a pretty clear group of players.

The Mariners are set at the big league level: their outfielders are Nelson Cruz, Nori Aoki, Leonys Martin, Seth Smith, and Franklin Gutierrez. Barring injury, those are the guys who are going to make the team.

One among the group of possible Tacoma outfielders is competing for a Mariners spot at a different position, and he is our first player listed.

Stefen Romero is going to get a chance to compete for the right-hand first baseman platoon role, squaring off against Jesus Montero, Dae-ho Lee and Ed Lucas in spring training. Romero has played all over the infield and outfield during his career. He’s always hit well in Tacoma – last year he hit .292 with 17 home runs and 79 RBI for the Rainiers in 116 games. He has one minor league option year remaining, and if he’s sent to Tacoma he’ll probably see most of his playing time in LF or RF.

Boog Powell is the prospect the Mariners acquired from Tampa in the Brad Miller – Nathan Karns trade. Powell is going to be the Rainiers centerfielder and will probably bat leadoff. Baseball America ranks Powell the No. 9 prospect in the Mariners farm system, citing his “plus speed and fearless defense.” He played in 56 games for Triple-A Durham last year, hitting .254 but with 32 walks and a solid .360 on-base percentage. He’s not a big guy – power is not part of his game; it’s all about speed and on-base ability.

Dan Robertson is a veteran Triple-A outfielder who has a nice amount of major league experience. He’s similar to Powell in that he’s not big but he’s quick and gets on base at a good clip. Robertson has a career Triple-A batting average of .288 with a .365 OBP – that’s over all or parts of four PCL seasons. His stolen base numbers have tailed off the last two years after being a consistent 20+ steal guy; we’ll see if Pat Listach can get him going again (history says he will).

Mike Baxter was brought in as a minor league free agent. We covered him in the corner infielders post because he has a lot of experience at first base, but Baxter also plays left field. Baxter is a line drive, gap-to-gap doubles hitter with plenty of Triple-A and MLB experience. Baxter is lauded as a player with strong makeup and character.

Leon Landry is someone I hope makes the Rainiers roster – he hit a first inning leadoff home run in back-to-back games last July, and that’s a lot of fun for the radio guy. Landry played well for Tacoma last year, out-performing his Double-A numbers, but hit a slump while playing through a shoulder injury and was sent back to Double-A when there was a roster crunch. Landry hit .262-8-27 with 11 stolen base in 187 Triple-A at-bats last season.

Daniel Paolini made his Triple-A debut for Tacoma last August, after a solid Double-A stint in which he hit .271 with a .362 OBP. Paolini plays left field and first base. His best chance of breaking with the Rainiers probably hinges on Romero making the big league club, but lots of things can happen during spring training.

Dario Pizzano was invited to major league camp as a reward for “controlling the strike zone” at Jackson last season. I’ve been told that Pizzano can really hit but needs to improve his defense. He batted .308 with a .366 OBP and .457 slugging percentage for Jackson last season; he’s a left-handed batter who plays left field and designated hitter. We have a DH in Tacoma, so perhaps there is room for Pizzano.

One name to know for later is Ian Miller. He’s a speedy centerfielder who played a good chunk of last season at Double-A Jackson, hitting .254 with 29 stolen bases in 87 games. He’s so fast that he’s considered a fringe prospect who may reach the majors on speed alone someday. If he hits well in Jackson he could find himself promoted to Tacoma at some point this year.

It’s a pretty good outfield group. There isn’t a 30-homer threat, but it’s a nice assortment of players with on-base skills and plenty of Triple-A experience.

Links:

  • Lookout Landing has an interesting story on the 1995 Replacement Mariners. For you younger readers, this is not yet another of LL’s oddball fiction pieces – it actually happened.
  • If you don’t mind the ping of the aluminum, college baseball starts two weeks from today. Here is Baseball America’s Pac-12 Preview.
  • In the PCL, the Round Rock Express are inducting Roy Oswalt into their Hall of Fame.

M’s Add Big Bat From Overseas

February 3, 2016

Today we were scheduled to preview the 2016 Tacoma Rainiers outfielders, but that post has been pushed back to Friday. We have some interesting news at a different position, instead.

The Mariners announced the signing of Korean first baseman/designated hitter Dae-ho Lee to a minor league contract, with an invitation to major league spring training.

Lee hits bombs.

A 33-year-old right-handed batter, Lee spent the first 11 years of his professional career playing in the Korean league (the KBO). Looking for a bigger challenge, he ventured to the Japanese major leagues in 2012, and has spent four seasons as one of the top home run hitters in Japan.

He hit 24 home runs his first year in Japan, 2012 – here are all of them.

In 2015, Lee batted .282 with 31 home runs and 98 RBI for Softbank. His OBP was a robust .368 and he slugged .524. Also, he doesn’t strike out much for a slugger: 109 strikeouts in 510 at-bats last year, which was a career-high strikeout total for him (first time he cleared 100).

Lee will compete with Jesus Montero, Stefen Romero and Gaby Sanchez to be the right-hand side of the Mariners first base platoon. Since it’s a minor league deal, the Mariners can take a look at Lee in Tacoma for an extended stretch. Regardless, this deal really ratchets up the pressure on Montero, who is out of minor league options.

Reports from Asia indicate that Lee turned down a lot of money from teams in Japan in order to take a stab at playing in the majors.

Lee has an impressive list of accomplishments – here are just a few:

  • Originally signed out of high school as a pitcher, but an arm injury moved him to the first base.
  • He won the Triple Crown in the KBO in 2006, when he hit .336-26-88.
  • Won a gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics; hit three home runs for South Korea during the tournament.
  • In 2010 he homered in nine consecutive games, a professional baseball record (the US record is eight; Ken Griffey Jr. has a share of it).
  • He won another Korean Triple Crown in 2010, repeated as batting champ in 2011, and then decided to go to Japan for a bigger challenge.
  • His first year in Japan, he won the Home Run Derby by beating former Rainiers outfielder Wladimir Balentien.
  • Named the Japan Series MVP after leading Softbank to the championship in 2015. Was the first Korean-born player to win that award.

It’s an interesting signing for Seattle. Maybe Lee’s hitting skills will translate to the American League and he’ll become a major league threat. If not, he should at least be a highly entertaining slugger for us in Tacoma.

The Mariners also officially announced the signing of veteran Triple-A catcher Steve Lerud. We’ll get his locker ready.

Links:

  • Bob Dutton has more on today’s signings.
  • Mariners broadcaster Dave Sims is recovering from successful prostate cancer surgery. Get well soon, Dave!
  • Ryan Divish caught up with Kyle Seager and others at FanFest.
  • If you want to do some stats, Dae-ho Lee got the Fangraphs treatment.
  • Ex-Rainiers and Mariners great Raul Ibanez has joined the Dodgers front office.
  • A scout who has been with the Mariners for a decade and a half was voted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
  • Outfielder Carlos Quentin, who announced his retirement in the Cheney Stadium clubhouse last summer, has apparently had second thoughts. He signed a minor league deal with the Twins.
  • In the PCL, Las Vegas announced that Wally Backman is returning as manager. This is good news – the league is more fun when Wally is in it.

Check back on Friday for our 2016 Tacoma Rainiers outfield preview. You can blame Dae-ho Lee for the two-day delay.


Two More Potential Rainiers

February 1, 2016

With the start of spring training just 19 days away, the Mariners have added a pair of players who could find themselves on the Rainiers opening day roster.

As mentioned last week, the organization needed another veteran catcher after the injury to Jesus Sucre. The News Tribune has reported that they filled that hole by signing Triple-A veteran Steve Lerud.

Lerud, 31, has nine games of major league experience with the Phillies in 2012 and 2013. He’s spent the last two seasons in the International League, so 2016 is shaping up to be his first PCL campaign.

At the Triple-A level, Lerud has hit .229 with nine home runs and 25 doubles in 571 at-bats. That’s spread over several seasons – he’s usually split time or been a back-up in Triple-A.

Lerud is hoping to back up Mike Zunino to start the season.

The Mariners other signing which could impact the Rainiers is from out of left field – perhaps literally. They signed 32-year-old* fresh-off-the-island Cuban Dainer Moreira. Gotta say, I know virtually nothing about him: he defected from the Cuban National Team during the Caribbean Series when it was played in Puerto Rico exactly a year ago.

From Bob Dutton’s report (it’s at the bottom), apparently Moreira is a fast runner and is capable of playing numerous positions. He recently played in a few games in the Puerto Rican winter league, hitting 11 singles in 38 at-bats (.279) with no walks but only three strikeouts.

Moreira was a starting shortstop in Cuba, and a lifetime .316 hitter in the Serie Nacional. Dutton’s report indicates that the Mariners are going to look at him all over the diamond, including the outfield.

Links:

  • Bob Dutton took a closer look at Mike Zunino‘s situation entering spring training.
  • James Paxton showed up at Fanfest twenty pounds lighter and determined to stay healthy for an entire season.
  • A healthy Charlie Furbush might be the key to a rekindled Mariners bullpen. In the notes below this story is the initial report that the Mariners signed veteran Triple-A catcher Steve Lerud to take the spot of the injured Jesus Sucre.
  • John McGrath has a column on a former major league reliever (Jerry Dipoto) trying to put together a major league bullpen.
  • A seventh grader won our design-the-Rainiers-uniform contest for Tacoma Public Schools Night. The argyle sweater look – sweet!
  • In the PCL, the newspaper in Colorado Springs speculates that the city may be part of a multiple-layers franchise shift in a few years.
  • The Sacramento Bee caught up with new River Cats manager Jose Alguacil.

*Moreira’s age is reported differently everywhere; 32 is the highest number I’ve seen. Also, his first name is alternately spelled Dayner and Dainer. He’s a man of mystery – let’s embrace the unknown.


Triple-A Takeaways From Thursday’s Media Event

January 29, 2016

The Mariners held their annual Pre Spring Training Media Luncheon yesterday at Safeco Field. Lots of major league news came out of the event and it’s all covered in the links down below, but for this post we’ll focus on the news involving the Tacoma Rainiers.

Because I’m feeling like a lazy writer today, let’s do this bullet-points style.

  • The injury to projected Rainiers catcher Jesus Sucre is more serious than originally thought: fractured right fibula, sprained right ankle, out for six months. Don’t be surprised if the Mariners add another veteran catcher to the Triple-A mix via free agency.
  • Mariners front office staff made it very clear that Mike Zunino will start the season with Tacoma, with General Manager Jerry Dipoto saying “the goal is to have Zunino open in Tacoma and watch him develop.”
  • The team officially announced the signing of veteran first baseman Gaby Sanchez to a minor league contract. He, Jesus Montero, and Stefen Romero were mentioned as candidates to be the right-hand side of the first base platoon with Adam Lind.
  • Despite all of the media reports, it doesn’t appear that the Mariners and Federal Way native Travis Ishikawa are going to come to terms.
  • Improved communication throughout the organization was a major theme of the day, and it includes the minor leagues. The new front office has been in contact with many of the minor league players.
  • One of the few holdovers from Zduriencik’s staff, Assistant GM Jeff Kingston had some interesting remarks about how communication breakdowns and mixed messages had a negative impact on players, particularly Zunino and Chris Taylor.
  • The newly publicized but longtime organizational philosophy of “controlling the strike zone” impacted the major league spring training invitations: Kingston said that Double-A shortstop Tyler Smith and outfielder Dario Pizzano were rewarded with invitations to big league camp because of their excellent strikeout-to-walk ratios last year.
  • Kingston lauded starter Adrian Sampson and reliever Paul Fry for controlling the strike zone from the mound. Both were invited to big league camp, and I have both penciled onto the Rainiers opening day roster for now.
  • While some in the media are fascinated by new farm director Andy McKay‘s sports psychology background, my takeaway from his session was that he does not want to rush prospects through the minor league system. At one point he said “hopefully you have enough talent in the system, so you don’t have to rush prospects based on need.”
  • VP of Player Personnel Tom Allison said that the Mariners have increased their scouting force. To wit, he mentioned that the team signed likely Rainiers pitcher Casey Coleman after scouts saw him work in an international tournament in Japan.

For the major league tidbits from the event, hit the links.

Links:

Have a nice weekend. When our next post goes up on Monday, we’ll be less than three weeks from spring training!


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