From The Mariners Pre-Spring Training Media Event: Could We Be Ready To See More Pitching Prospects In Tacoma?

January 24, 2020

The Mariners held the annual Pre-Spring Training Media event yesterday at T-Mobile Park, in which top front office personnel and several players spoke. A few of us from the Rainiers attend each year – it’s a well-run event that gets you ready for baseball.

The major news outlets in our area are present at the event and they report on the big stories; you can find that in the links down below. I’m always on the lookout for tidbits that impact our team in Tacoma, and there were a few items this year.

The overwhelming theme was that the 2020 season for the Seattle Mariners organization will not be about winning in the majors currently, but will be about “the development of our young players,” according to general manager Jerry Dipoto. The team is continuing its rebuilding plan with an expectation to return to winning in 2021. And this, you guys, is 2020.

Players we saw in Tacoma last year will get the opportunity to continue to develop at the major league level. Specifically, J.P. Crawford, Shed Long, Justus Sheffield, and Jake Fraley were named as players who are expected to be in the big leagues.

There was a lot of talk about the Mariners much-improved farm system and the prospects recently ranked in Baseball America’s Top 100. Director of Player Development Andy McKay singled out the impressive self confidence that Jarred Kelenic possesses, and the pure joy Julio Rodriguez plays with. Both McKay and Dipoto encouraged cautious optimism when thinking about the prospects, making it clear that just being a top prospect doesn’t guarantee a player will become a long-term winning major league player. Long-term Mariners fans already know this.

Dipoto mentioned anticipated Rainiers starting catcher Joe Odom, stating that many people are unfamiliar with Odom but that he has been “perhaps one of the best pitch receivers in baseball.” Odom handled the Double-A pitching staff last year, and we project that he’ll be in Tacoma this year. That may mean the organization is more open to the idea of having top pitching prospects work in the PCL.

Which brings us to the big news of the day that impacts the Rainiers, and oddly enough it doesn’t directly involve the Rainiers: the Double-A leagues are going to be using the MLB baseball this season, too, so there is no longer a reason to hold back pitching prospects due to fear of psychological damage stemming from pitching with a juiced baseball.

(For those new to this, MLB has historically used a different baseball than the minor leagues, manufactured by a different company. The difference has become more profound in recent seasons, as the MLB ball appears to be more “tightly wound” and has lower seams than the minor league ball, causing it to fly farther. In 2019 the Triple-A leagues began using the MLB ball for the first time, and scoring shot through the roof while home runs records were shattered all around both leagues.)

With the Double-A leagues using the MLB ball, the point on the minor league ladder where the game changes is now the jump from Advanced-A Modesto to Double-A Arkansas. Both Dipoto and McKay sounded genuinely curious to see if the pitcher-friendly Arkansas ballpark suddenly becomes a home run palace when the MLB ball is introduced. As for the pitching prospects, McKay said “you’re going to have to pitch somewhere.”

The Rainiers will enter this season with a highly regarded young pitching coach in Rob Marcello Jr, a catcher known for his receiving skills in Odom, and no more perceived threat of pitcher psychological damage due to a different baseball. We should see deserving pitching prospects moved up from Arkansas to Triple-A during the season in 2020.

*it is possible that MLB will “deaden” the baseball for 2020, after much outcry about how juiced it has been in recent seasons, which will impact us as well. I don’t think they’ll do it. I think the commissioner’s office prefers the large number of homers we are seeing today.

Links:

  • The big news at the event came when Jerry Dipoto announced the Mitch Haniger had a setback and requires core surgery, and will miss spring training and possibly the start of the season.
  • The Mariners 2020 season will be about watching young players develop while creating salary relief to allow spending for the 2020-2021 offseason, Larry Stone writes.
  • The Houston Astros cheating scandal was a topic of discussion. Also in this link: some extra Mariners notes from the event.
  • The News Tribune’s report from the event focused on the Haniger injury and subsequent dominoes.
  • There are reports that the Mariners have signed outfielder/infielder Alen Hanson to a minor league contract with an invitation to major league camp. This would be a response to the Haniger injury, it appears. Hanson did some damage against the Rainiers when he was playing for Sacramento in April, 2018.

Position Previews: Tacoma’s 2020 Catching Situation

January 22, 2020

We start our weekly Tacoma Rainiers 2020 Position Previews™ series today with a look at the catchers who are in the mix to break camp with Tacoma.

There is not much existing catching depth in the upper levels of the organization, so it was expected that the M’s would sign at least one veteran Triple-A/MLB receiver to boost the position. We waited and waited… and this morning, the day this post was scheduled to be written, we got word that a catcher had been signed. Perfect timing!

Here are the Rainiers potential catchers for the 2020 season:

Joe Odom – a man with a bit of experience in Tacoma, Odom should expect a lot of playing time for the Rainiers in 2020. Odom joined the organization prior to the 2018 season after originally being drafted by the Atlanta Braves, and he has spent the majority of the last two years with Double-A Arkansas. He has played in a few games for the Rainiers: six in 2018, and 17 this past season. The 28-year-old is known to be a good handler of pitchers, but he did hit .306 with two homers in 17 games for the Rainiers last year in his first chance to hit with the juiced Major League baseball.

Joe Hudson – the veteran catcher whose signing we learned about this morning. Hudson, also 28, is a bit more experienced at the upper levels than Odom, and he even has some big league time. Hudson reached Triple-A with Salt Lake in 2018, hit .311 with three homers in 26 games, and suddenly found himself in the majors due to a series of injuries. He appeared in eight games for the Angels that year, notched his first big league hits, was DFA’d when the injured catchers got healthy, and finished the season in Louisville. Last year he signed with the Cardinals as a minor league free agent and played for Memphis, hitting .223 with a career high 10 homers in 197 at-bats with the juiced MLB baseball, and also appeared in one big league game for St. Louis. He’ll be in major league camp on a Triple-A contract.

As it stands right now, it’s possible that one or both of the Joe’s could end up breaking camp with the Mariners, because the Mariners catching corps right now is as thin as I have seen in my 21 years with the Triple-A club.

Seattle has just one listed catcher on its roster: Tom Murphy. Austin Nola is the back-up catcher, although he’s listed as an infielder. Nola has caught seven major league games. Much of Nola’s value comes from his ability to play many positions – a value that disappears if he is the only back-up catcher on the roster, since baseball managers hate having both of their catchers in the lineup at the same time more than they hate trips to the dentist or paying their taxes. With the MLB active roster expanding to 26 this season it makes sense for the Mariners to carry another catcher, freeing Nola to optimize his value as a super-sub.

Other catchers in the organization who could be Rainiers in 2020:

Brian O’Keefe – acquired in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft, O’Keefe played for Double-A Springfield in the St. Louis Cardinals system last year. He hit .229 with 13 homers in 301 Double-A at-bats, and that power came without the help of the super-juiced MLB baseball. The prevailing thought is that he was brought in to caddy top prospect Cal Raleigh at Double-A Arkansas, but that could easily change during spring training.

Cal Raleigh – the top catching prospect in the organization hit 29 home runs between Advanced-A Modesto and Arkansas last year. He’ll open the season with Arkansas – he played just 39 games at that level last year – but we will see him in Tacoma sometime down the road.

Ryan Scott – signed as a minor league free agent, Scott was in the M’s system in both 2017 and 2018, serving as an organizational fill-in catcher. He played for four different Mariners affiliates in 2017 alone, including four games for Tacoma, helping out with whatever team had a need behind the plate. In 2019 he played in the Angels system, appearing in 50 games for Advanced-A Rancho Cucamonga and 11 games for Salt Lake in the PCL. He’s familiar with all levels of the minors and could see playing time for Tacoma.

The signing of Joe Hudson helps the catching crew quite a bit, but the M’s may not be done. It wouldn’t be surprising at all if the M’s signed an experienced MLB reserve catcher in the next few weeks – along the lines of Jose Lobaton from last year’s Rainiers club.

Next in our Position Previews series will be the corner infielders, which should be posted Wednesday. Before that, expect a fresh post on Friday rounding up any Triple-A news that may come out of the Mariners annual Pre-Spring Training Media Event which I’ll be attending tomorrow. So, please check back early Friday afternoon.

Links:


Rainiers Field Staff Set For 2020

January 21, 2020

Daren Brown‘s quest for 500 is on. And it better not take very long.

The Seattle Mariners announced that Brown will return as Tacoma’s manager for 2020, marking the ninth year in which he has begun the season as Tacoma’s skipper.

Brown enters the season with more wins that any manager in Tacoma franchise history, with 494. If he doesn’t get that 500th win in the first two weeks of the season, we’ve got issues.

The Rainiers begin the season April 9th with a five-game home series against Fresno before hitting the road for a six-game road trip. He should get his 500th win on that initial road trip, or at the very start of the Rainiers second homestand.

Joining Brown will be returning hitting coach Roy Howell, who is a “baseball lifer” as we like to say, and young pitching coach Rob Marcello. Howell has decades of experience in the game, while Marcello will be beginning his second professional season. Quite the juxtaposition, eh?

As noted in last week’s post, the training/performance staff remains intact from last year.

Overall, the staff features continuity from last year with the exception of the change of pitching coaches. The experience of Brown and Howell will help guide Marcello, who is coming off a highly successful first year as a pitching coach at Class-A Modesto.

Coaching stability is a good thing in Triple-A baseball, and not easily attained.

Former Mariners ace and ex-Rainiers pitcher Felix Hernandez has signed with the Atlanta Braves. It’s a minor league contract with an invite to spring training – he’ll have to perform well in the Grapefruit League and earn a spot in the Braves rotation.

This will not be an easy team for Felix to make. Atlanta is one of the top contenders in the National League, and they expect to win this year. Furthermore, the strength of the Braves farm system is starting pitching prospects – many of whom reached Triple-A last year and are on the cusp of the big leagues. Hopefully Felix is up for the challenge.

We’ll be back tomorrow with the first (and shortest!) installment of our annual position previews series, with a look at potential Tacoma catchers.

Links:

  • The Mariners announced all of their minor league coaching staffs – you can see them here. Of note: former Rainiers hitting coach David Berg is now the manager at Double-A Arkansas, and former Rainiers outfielder and old pal Shawn O’Malley is the hitting coach for Class-A Modesto.
  • The Seattle Times has more on Felix signing with the Braves.
  • Baseball America’s latest round of Minor League Transactions notes that the team has signed Triple-A reliever Kevin Munson, who pitched for the team in 2016. A pair of catchers were added (more on that tomorrow), and the team quietly released former major leaguer Max Povse.
  • The Reno Aces announced that the entire coaching staff from 2019 will return, led by manager Chris Cron.
  • El Paso will bring back manager Edwin Rodriguez for his second season.

A Utility Man For Tacoma & Another Top Prospects List

January 15, 2020

An executive decision has been made, and we are postponing our 2020 Tacoma Rainiers positional previews by one week. We’ll start next week, with the catchers.

The Mariners are hosting their annual Pre-Spring Training Media Event next week, and usually we learn about some new Triple-A signings at that event. It’s better to hold off on the positional previews until we get more information.

Spring training is coming, but Minor League camp opens late this year, due to the unusual two-week gap between MLB opening day (March 26), and MiLB opening day (April 9). The first full squad minor league workout day is March 15.

Seattle did make a little news impacting the Rainiers.

The Mariners claimed utilityman Sam Haggerty off waivers from the New York Mets. Haggerty, 25, spent most of last season with Double-A Binghamton. However, he got some time in Syracuse, and then was a September call-up to the Mets. He’s a fast guy who steals bases and plays both infield and outfield. Haggerty appears likely to break camp with the Rainiers – you can see his career stats here.

The Mariners also announced the athletic training staffs and performance coaches throughout the organization. There were no surprises in Tacoma – in fact, we have the exact same crew we had in 2019. Welcome back trainers Tom Newberg and Josh DiLoreto, and performance specialist Derek Mendoza.

Baseball America released its Mariners Top Ten Prospects package today. BA has become rather ferocious with its paywall, so the only free page is the projected 2023 Mariners lineup. If you are a subscriber, you can access the rest of the content from that page.

Here’s how they ranked them:

1) Julio Rodriguez
2) Jarred Kelenic
3) Evan White
4) Logan Gilbert
5) George Kirby
6) Noelvi Marte
7) Justus Sheffield
8) Justin Dunn
9) Brandon Williamson
10) Kyle Lewis

Links:

  • Seattle settled with all of its salary arbitration eligible players, so everyone on the 40-man roster is signed for 2020.
  • The Mariners hired a new major league head trainer, Kyle Torgerson.
  • Evan White – who may or may not ever walk in to Cheney Stadium (more on that coming soon) – did a Q&A for MLB.com.
  • Congratulations to Mariners TV announcer Dave Sims, who won the state of Washington Sportscaster of the Year award for the second year in a row.
  • MLB handed out its punishments for the Houston Astros sign stealing in 2017: the loss of their next two 1st and 2nd-round draft picks, one-year bans for GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch, and the maximum allowed fine of $5 million. The Astros went a step further and canned both Luhnow and Hinch. Former Astros coach and Red Sox manager Alex Cora was let go by Boston for his role in the Astros scheme, while his 2018 Red Sox team is still under investigation. The entire document written by commissioner Rob Manfred is interesting.
  • In the PCL, defending champion Sacramento will return manager Dave Brundage.
  • Iowa welcomes back Marty Pevey as manager, and he has a new pitching coach: former Rainiers and Mariners lefty Ron Villone.
  • Omaha announced its coaching staff, with Brian Poldberg returning for his seventh season as manager. He has some new coaches.
  • This is fun: which minor league team has the oldest name? My instant guess was close, but not right – No. 6 on the list. If I had thought about it a bit more I think I would have settled on No. 2. Don’t click on this until you have made a guess!

New Year, New Season

January 6, 2020

Happy New Year!

We’re back in action. The Rainiers offices are open again, and we are gearing up for the 2020 season. Spring training begins in… holy mackerel, less than six weeks? Pitchers and catchers report on February 12. The Mariners season opener is on March 26, and the Rainiers start on April 9. We better get to work!

Our annual position previews for the 2020 Tacoma Rainiers will begin next week – I think we’ll post them on Wednesdays this year. We always start with the catchers and right now I know of exactly one catcher, so hopefully they sign the other one before next week. Help me out, Jerry.

Here’s a round-up of news and notes from the holiday season:

*We expect the Rainiers coaching staff to be officially announced soon. I’m hearing we’ll have a fourth coach this year, perhaps in lieu of a bullpen catcher. Overall, not expecting any sort of shakeup other than the pitching coach position we have previously covered.

* The Mariner signed corner infielder Mitch Nay to a minor league contract, and he becomes a potential Rainiers player. Nay was a supplemental first round draft pick out of high school back in 2012 (by Toronto), and he’s been on a slow boil in the minor leagues since then. He had his best year as a pro last season, posting an OPS of .927 in Double-A with the Reds affiliate before getting his first taste of Triple-A ball. Nay appeared in 32 games for Louisville, batting just .210 with four homers, but in Double-A he hit .304 with 13 homers in 253 at-bats. Could be a late bloomer?

*Some PCL teams have named new managers – check the links down below.

*Don Larsen passed away last week, at age 90. You know that he pitched the most famous game in World Series history, but did you know he pitched for the Tacoma Cubs in 1968? He appeared in six games for Tacoma that season, trying to hang on at the end of his career. Larsen was a true journeyman who lived an enigmatic life and had that one perfect day – this SABR bio is a good read if you have a few minutes.

Links:

  • Baseball America has a round-up of minor league transactions from the last six weeks. The Mariners were pretty quiet, but you can find a number of former Rainiers players signing with other teams.
  • Ryan Divish returned from the Winter Meetings and did a Mariners Q&A, which mainly focused on the possibility of a Kyle Seager trade.
  • marc w of USS Mariner wraps up the decade with a look at what went wrong for the M’s. This serves as a cautionary – and timely – tale about putting your faith in prospects.
  • Greg Johns writes that this will be the year of the rookie for the Mariners.
  • Lauren Smith of The News Tribune has a Mariners Mailbag.
  • Former Rainiers outfielder Ian Miller has signed a minor league deal with the Chicago Cubs.
  • Ex-Rainiers reliever Tyler Higgins has gone to Japan, signing with Orix.
  • In the PCL, the Albuquerque Isotopes announced their new manager is Warren Schaeffer, who was promoted from the Colorado Rockies Double-A affiliate.
  • Fresno will be returning manager Randy Knorr, but has a new pitching coach.
  • Former PCL infielder, major league Gold Glove winner, and Oregon State Beaver Darwin Barney will be the manager in Nashville.

Winter Meetings Recap

December 13, 2019

The 2019 Winter Meetings will be remembered for three massive major league contracts that were handed out. Locally, however, there was little to report.

On Monday the Washington Nationals re-signed Stephen Strasburg to the largest contract for a pitcher in MLB history. His rule lasted about 24 hours.

Tuesday the New York Yankees blew Strasburg’s deal out of the water, signing Gerrit Cole to a massive deal that is now the biggest pitcher contract in history.

That left the Los Angeles Angels in the dust. They wanted one of the two big free agent pitchers. Instead, they spent their money on a huge contract for third baseman Anthony Rendon that gives the Angels an even more formidable starting lineup. Their pitching remains suspect.

The three biggest free agents on the market signed right in a row, one per day, during the meetings in San Diego.

As promised by general manager Jerry Dipoto, the Mariners were quiet, making no moves except for a selection in the Rule 5 Draft. I guess we should have believed him.

Seattle selected hard-throwing right-hander Yohan Ramirez in the major league Rule 5 Draft, adding him to the 40-man roster. This is the deal where Ramirez must remain in the major leagues all season long, or be returned to his previous organization (the Houston Astros).

Ramirez has three stats that tell you pretty much everything you need to know: 106 innings pitched, 158 strikeouts, and 74 walks. He amassed those totals while pitching at Advanced Class-A Fayetteville and Double-A Corpus Christi last season.

The Mariners will work with him in spring training, see if they can get his control improved, and will have until opening day to make a decision about keeping him in the majors during the regular season.

The team selected three players in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft. These players do not have to appear at particular levels of the farm system in 2020 – without getting too detailed because it is quite confusing, the minor league portion of this draft is best described as an opportunity to purchase select qualified veteran minor leaguers from another organization.

Only one of the three players has a good chance to appear with the Rainiers in 2020: catcher Brian O’Keefe, who reached Double-A in the St. Louis Cardinals organization last year. He’s probably targeted for Double-A Arkansas (along with top prospect Cal Raleigh), but he is an older player at age 26 and could end up in Triple-A at some point this coming season.

The Mariners also selected Advanced Class-A outfielder Jhonny Santos from the Miami organization, and a first baseman named Dariel Gomez who played short-season ball in the Cardinals organization last season. Neither figure into Tacoma’s plans for 2020 at this point.

In one of his media sessions at the Winter Meetings, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred indicated that a couple of long-discussed rule changes are going to be put into effect this season.

Manfred expects the major league roster size to increase to 26. He expects a three-batter minimum rule for relief pitchers to be put in place. He also stated that the minimum stay on the Injured List will increase from ten days to 15 days for pitchers only.

The last rule should decrease the number of transactions we have in Triple-A, which is a good thing for all. Roster continuity benefits the fans at all levels of the game.

Longtime major leaguer and former Rainiers star Adam Jones made a surprising deal as the Winter Meetings occurred in his hometown: he signed to play in Japan, with Orix, for the next two years.

Jones, 34, played in 197 games for Tacoma in 2006 and 2007. He’s been in the majors ever since: 11 years with Baltimore, and last season with Arizona. Jones has four Gold Glove awards, was MLB’s “Man of the Year” in 2015, and is a five-time All-Star.

The move to Japan shows the adventurous side of Jones: he’s a sharp guy with worldly interests, and the idea of playing in a foreign country certainly appealed to him. He definitely would have gotten a major league job this season, had he been willing to wait out the market.

We learned that milestone statistics don’t matter to Jones. One more major league season would have allowed him to reach 2,000 hits (he’s 61 short), 1,000 RBI (needs 55), and a shot at 300 homers (needs 18).

Already a good Instagram follow, the @simplyaj10 account should be quite interesting in 2020.

Links:


Baseball Winter Meetings Underway

December 9, 2019

The Baseball Winter Meetings are officially underway down in San Diego. Free agent signings and trade rumors will start flying around the internet this week – although Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto insists that it’s going to be a quiet week for the M’s.

The underlying story throughout the convention will be the relationship between MLB and MiLB regarding the major’s plan to eliminate 42 minor league teams. A final deal is unlikely to be struck this year, but it will be a continuous point of discussion throughout the week at the only event that is attended by every major and minor league team.

It will also be interesting to see how frosty the other 29 MLB teams are towards executives of the Houston Astros, now that the details of their sign-stealing project have been revealed. Will MLB announce its punishment this week?

As always, the Rainiers have a contingent of front office employees there. The PCL holds several key operations meetings during the event, and the Baseball Trade Show is a must-attend for some Tacoma staffers. Additionally, the Winter Meetings are a great place for minor league teams to do some hiring.

The Mariners have already moved their primary trade chip prior to the Winter Meetings, sending catcher Omar Narvaez to the Milwaukee Brewers for 22-year-old class-A pitching prospect Adam Hill, and a draft pick. The draft pick is likely to be No. 70 or 71 this coming June.

The trade is somewhat controversial, as the Mariners gave up a very strong hitter for little return, but apparently the M’s decided they couldn’t live with Narvaez’s defense any longer. Tom Murphy will be the Mariners No. 1 catcher moving forward.

Look for Seattle to sign a veteran Triple-A catcher with MLB experience before spring training. They’ll need someone to share Tacoma catching duties with Joe Odom. Last year Jose Lobaton filled this role.

We don’t get too many changes among the radio announcers in the Pacific Coast League, but suddenly we have a pair of moves.

Longtime Omaha Storm Chasers broadcaster Mark Nasser has stepped away from the booth, but will continue to work for the team in the front office. A growing family made the road trips less appealing to Nasser.

Omaha’s ownership group has several minor league teams at different classifications, including the Double-A Richmond team, so they promoted within their organization and moved up Jake Eisenberg from the Flying Squirrels.

Another opening has developed in Reno, where lead voice Ryan Radtke has resigned from the booth due to his booming career. Radtke does national radio broadcasts for Westwood One, including NFL and college football games, and the NCAA Tournament. If you listen to national broadcasts on the radio, you have probably heard him – he was on the mic for the SEC Championship Game on Saturday. Haven’t heard anything from the Aces on their plans to fill the opening.

Both Mark and Ryan are good friends and I wish them the best in the future.

Links: