M’s Add Pitching Depth As Meetings End

December 8, 2016

The Winter Meetings ended today, with the early morning Rule 5 Draft so everyone could fly home afterwards.

The Mariners were a minor players in the Rule 5 Draft. They didn’t select anybody in the Major League phase of the draft – they couldn’t, because their 40-man roster was full. They did add two players in the minor league phase, and each could play for Tacoma this year or perhaps next year.

They selected a left-handed reliever from the Mets named Paul Paez. He was terrific in the first half of last year for Advanced-A St. Lucie, posting a 1.00 ERA in the Florida State League. Then he got promoted to Double-A Binghamton and his ERA bloated to 9.15, albeit in fewer than 20 innings pitched.

Seattle also grabbed outfielder and shoe mogul Chuck Taylor from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Taylor hit .273 with a .377 OBP for Advanced-A Visalia last year, got promoted to Double-A Mobile and hit .238 in 84 at-bats.

Both players will, in all likelihood, open next year with the Mariners new Double-A Arkansas affiliate.

More importantly for us in Tacoma, the Mariners traded a player to be named later to San Francisco in exchange for starting pitcher Chris Heston.

Heston had a successful rookie campaign for the Giants in 2015, going 12-11 with a 3.95 ERA and pitching a no-hitter against the Mets. I remember the no-hitter well: the game was wrapping up shortly before a Rainiers game at Sacramento was starting, and there were about 15 people huddled around the TV in the Raley Field press box seeing if he could finish it.

Last year Heston was plagued with injury problems – oblique, not arm – and spent most of the season with Sacramento, where he was not as effective as usual.

Heston has an option year remaining. He’ll compete for the Mariners No. 5 starter spot and if he doesn’t get it, we’ll see him in Tacoma.

As you know if you simply walk around town and look at what people are wearing, Tacoma Rainiers gear is selling very well since the team switched to the R-themed logo.

Our front office staff at the Winter Meetings were surprised to see it on a national level when checking out the annual Baseball Trade Show, which is an enormous event held in a massive convention hall.

The New Era hat company – official hat makers for Minor League Baseball – was using the Rainiers hat in their advertising.

hat-ad

Rainiers gear was also prominently featured in this t-shirt company’s display (sorry, not sure who the manufacturer is here)

sample-shirts

It’s pretty cool to have Rainiers gear being used as samples by companies trying to display their best items.

Links:


Chipper, Javy, Klesko, and Thome: the 1993 Triple-A All-Star Game

December 7, 2016

It’s a slow day at the Winter Meetings as far as the Mariners and Rainiers are concerned.

But do check out the first link down below, as The News Tribune ran an article on possible Tacoma Rainiers players for 2017.

With nothing else occurring (yet), it’s 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.

1993

The 1993 Triple-A All-Star Game was held at Sport Stadium in Albuquerque, a true launching pad.

The stadium lived up to its reputation, as the all-stars combined to hit seven home runs in the National League’s 14-3 victory.

While at least one future Hall of Famer (Chipper Jones) and possibly another (Jim Thome) played in the game, it was Atlanta Braves prospect Ryan Klesko who had a record-setting day.

Klesko went 4-for-4 with two home runs, a double, four runs scored, and three runs batted in. He is one of just two players in Triple-A All-Star Game history to collect four hits in one game, joining Luis Sojo (1990). He was the first player to hit two home runs in the game, and the only one to do it until Adam Dunn hit two bombs in the 2001 affair.

The Richmond Braves dominated the proceedings.

Chipper Jones started at shortstop and led off for the NL, going 1-for-3 with an RBI single. Javy Lopez was the starting catcher, going 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI. Richmond reliever Billy Taylor (who would eventually become the Oakland A’s closer) delivered two scoreless innings – no easy feat in this game.

1993 Triple-A All-Star Game Fun Facts:

  • Both all-star managers were big league skippers just a few years later. NL manager Bill Russell (Albuquerque) piloted the Dodgers for three years, and the AL’s Charlie Manuel (Charlotte) amassed 12 seasons as a major league manager.
  • Jim Thome was a third baseman for Charlotte back then. He went hitless and was charged with an error. He managed to make it as a big league third baseman for his first four seasons before moving across the diamond to first base in 1997.
  • Tacoma – still the Tigers in 1993 – was represented by infielders Kurt Abbott and Webster Garrison. Abbott started at shortstop and went 1-for-2, Garrison came off the bench to play second base and went 0-for-2.
  • We sent our first trainer to the all-star game: Tacoma’s Walt Horn handled the AL training room. Horn was the Tacoma Tigers trainer from 1983 to 1994.
  • Current Tacoma Rainiers pitching coach Lance Painter was an all-star, representing Colorado Springs. He did not pitch in the game. Painter had made his Major League debut earlier in the season, in May, and returned to the big leagues in August. The day he returned, August 29, he pitched a complete game five-hitter at Shea Stadium to earn his first big league win.
  • Other notable future major leaguers in the 1993 game included Rob Ducey, Keith Lockhart, Troy O’Leary, Eduardo Perez, Rick Reed, Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes, and Steve Trachsel.
  • This was probably a really fun Home Run Derby. It included a future 600 HR Club member in Thome, Klesko was a big power prospect at the time, and then there were classic PCL sluggers like Billy Ashley and J.R. Phillips in the event. Norfolk’s Ryan Thompson took home the trophy.

Check back tomorrow – hopefully we’ll get some good Winter Meetings news.

Links:


Meetings Day Two

December 6, 2016

The latest from the Winter Meetings:

We have a blockbuster: the White Sox sent top-shelf starting pitcher Chris Sale to Boston in exchange for the entire Red Sox  Top-10 Prospect List. OK, not quite, but close. The White Sox received uber-talented infielder Yoan Moncada, 105-mph pitcher Michael Kopech, high-ceiling teenager Luis Basabe, and a young pitcher named Victor Diaz. Sale has three years left on his very cheap contract, so the Red Sox were willing to give up the farm.

Seattle continues to pursue an experienced starting pitcher, and The News Tribune’s Bob Dutton suggests that the Los Angeles Dodgers could make a good trade partner. The Dodgers have a surplus of pitching and could make veterans Scott Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy available. Both come with some serious injury risk but have had success when healthy. It’s hard to see the Mariners giving up much in the way of prospects for either – unless the Dodgers agree to pick up their salaries.

The Mariners have been quiet so far, but they did announce the signing of catcher Jesus Sucre to a split contract. Sucre was in an odd spot: he was arbitration eligible, and he’s out of minor league options, and he’s the No. 3 catcher behind Mike Zunino and Carlos Ruiz. A “split contract” means he has one salary when he is in the majors and another when he is in the minors (and each is prorated). The minor league salary is extremely high by Triple-A standards, reportedly $300,000, which shows how much the Mariners value having a player with Sucre’s experience and defensive skills available in Triple-A. The split contract makes a Triple-A assignment much more palatable for Sucre, too. I’m not sure how the lack of minor league options works in a case like this – perhaps that is addressed in the deal, or maybe the Mariners figure that the high minor league salary will scare teams away from claiming him off waivers.

Extra Links:

  • Here’s the Seattle Times running blog from Day Two of the Winter Meetings.
  • Dutton has an article covering the Mariners roster as it stands now, discussing at length the fact that the M’s will be relying on three rookie position players.
  • A recent link on Lookout Landing reminded me to remind you that if you are a baseball nut and you’ve never watched the ten-minute episode of Pretty Good about Mets reliever Koo Dae-Sung, well, you should do so right now.

Winter Meetings Begin

December 5, 2016

Baseball’s Winter Meetings start today, when representatives from all of the major league and minor league teams congregate at one massive convention center. This year it’s right outside of Washington, DC in National Harbor, Maryland.

The Mariners main goal at the meetings this year is to find another reliable starting pitcher, either via trade or free agency. But who knows what Dealing Dipoto might pull off.

Over the weekend, the team officially announced the signing of major league relievers Marc Rzepcznyski and Casey Fien, adding more bullpen depth.

As always, the Rainiers have a contingent of front office members at the meetings. Team president Aaron Artman sits on some of the PCL executive committees and they meet to discuss a range of league-wide issues. Rainiers Baseball Operations/Merchandise guru Ashley Schutt is always very busy at the convention, meeting with vendors about new items for the team store, talking with reps from the uniform and hat companies, and discussing league-wide PCL operations issues. Our PR man Brett Gleason is there, learning from others who have hosted a Triple-A All-Star Game before. There are always hundreds of job seekers at the meetings, and Rainiers VP of Sales Shane Santman is scouting them out looking for quality salespeople.

I’ll have blog updates each day during the meetings, so check back daily. For now, let’s get to the pre-meetings links.

Links:


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.