Second, Third and Short

February 26, 2010

Well, here we go – the area of the most concern for the Mariners, as far as minor league depth goes. The second base and shortstop positions are clearly the area where the Mariners organization is weakest at the upper levels of the system.

This was more than evident last year, when the Rainiers often had players playing out-of-position up the middle, and the lack of infield depth forced the front office to make mid-season acquisitions of guys like Alex Cintron and Josh Wilson.

Even third base was a problem. Once Matt Tuiasosopo hit the disabled list, the Rainiers were forced to ask 29-year-old Chris Shelton to learn to play third base on the fly.

Shelton did the best he could, but nobody ever planned for him to be the everyday third baseman in Triple-A.

This winter the Mariners have made some acquisitions to provide depth up the middle.

Specifically, the club brought back minor league free agents Chris Woodward and Josh Wilson. Both are above-average defenders at the Triple-A level, and both can play second, third, and shortstop.

Matt Tuiasosopo is on the 40-man roster and has an option year remaining. He plays second and third base.

While all three infielders have been invited to major league spring training, it’s difficult to see how any would make the Mariners opening day roster without a rash of injuries.

The Mariners acquired Chone Figgins as a free agent, effectively blocking Tuiasosopo. It doesn’t matter if Figgins plays third or Jose Lopez plays third; Tuiasosopo is the odd-man out.

The Mariners will carry a utility infielder, but most of the sportswriters and bloggers feel that Jack Hanahan has this spot locked up.

So, barring injury, it looks like it will be Tuiasosopo, Woodward, and Josh Wilson in the Tacoma infield on April 8.

The potential problem with this is the same as it was last year: what if injuries occur?

There are no players from Class-AA who are ready to be promoted after last year, except possibly third baseman Matt Mangini.

In fact, last year the West Tenn club had the same problem as the Rainiers in the middle infield, and the organization had to add infielders from independent leagues just t0 fill the Class-AA roster at mid-season.

Here’s a scary thought: the best hitting middle infielder at West Tenn last year was Oswaldo Navarro.

Injuries were part of the problem at West Tenn last year, too. Top prospect Carlos Triunfel broke his leg in the second game of the season; he’s likely to spend the majority of this season back in AA.

At any rate, the Mariners need infield depth at the Double-A and Triple-A levels. Three of the players who provided that depth last year left the organization as free agents: Navarro signed with the Houston Astros, Cintron signed with the Mets, and Callix Crabbe inked a deal with Toronto.

Look for the Mariners to quietly bring in a couple of experienced AA/AAA infielders when minor league spring training camp opens March 7.


First Basemen Fest

February 23, 2010

 “Have you seen the lineup card today?” asked Rainiers manager Daren Brown, making no effort to disguise his smile.

No, I had not.

It was a Sunday morning in Sacramento, a crisp 70 degrees on June 14, and I had just arrived at the park.

I stepped outside his office doorway in the clubhouse at Raley Field and looked where the lineup card hangs on the wall in the hallway.

I started scanning through the names and then it hit me: Brown had put all six of his first basemen in the lineup.

He had been threatening to do it for a month, and today was the day.

“We’re gonna bash ‘em,” said Brown, breaking into a full laugh.*

It’s a testament to Brown’s character that he was able to good-naturedly handle the position players he was assigned throughout the 2009 season. Because while the Mariners were busy assembling the best defensive team possible in the major leagues, they were not making a similar effort in Triple-A.

In fact, what the Mariners were doing was collecting Triple-A first basemen. 

Here’s the lineup that day in Sacramento: 

                                       ‘Best’ Position    June 14 Position

  1. Michael Saunders      CF                       CF
  2. Mike Morse                1B                        2B
  3. Jeff Clement               1B**                   DH
  4. Chris Shelton             1B                        3B
  5. Mike Carp                   1B                        LF
  6. Brad Nelson               1B                        RF
  7. Adam Moore                C                         C
  8. Bryan LaHair              1B                        1B  <<<< winner!
  9. Chris Woodward        SS                        SS

This was a season-long defensive puzzle for Brown and the Rainiers in 2009, but early indications are that it won’t be the same in 2010.

Right now the likely Triple-A first basemen in spring training camp are Mike Carp, Tommy Everidge, and Brad Nelson.

Everidge has played third base before and can make starts there – especially if Matt Tuiasosopo continues to see action at second base.

Furthermore, Brown can rotate one of his first basemen through the designated hitter slot.

Everidge could become a fan favorite at Cheney Stadium – especially if he hits like he did in 2009.

Unheralded going into ’09, Everidge opened the season with the Oakland A’s Class-AA team in Midland, Texas. He played in 53 games and hit .308-8-55 with a .380 on-base percentage before getting promoted to Sacramento.

With the River Cats, Everidge put up even more impressive numbers: a .368 batting average, a .428 on-base percentage, and a .632 slugging percentage. He earned a call-up to Oakland, where he hit .224 in 22 games and was eventually placed on waivers, with the Mariners claiming him.

Everidge is a stocky fellow listed at 6 feet, 240 pounds. He uses the whole field with his hitting approach, and he can drive the ball out of the ballpark – something he did 22 times last year.

Carp and Nelson are returning players, both should hit very well in the PCL in 2010.

Another first baseman might be in the mix: Johan Limonta, 26, who hit 297/376/443 at Class-AA West Tennessee last year. He has played at West Tenn two straight seasons but it looks like he’s going to have to be an outfielder to crack the Triple-A roster.

Unless, of course, the Mariners want to continue collecting Triple-A first basemen.

* the June 14 “let’s bash ‘em” plan didn’t work. After scoring two quick runs in the first inning, the Rainiers had the bases loaded and one out. But Sacramento starter Chad Reineke got out of the jam with no further damage, and the Rainiers had just three hits the rest of the way. The River Cats went on to win, 3-2.

** Clement was certainly a better catcher than 1B at this time, but this was during the time he was supposed to be learning to play first base.

Be Back Tuesday

February 18, 2010

Folks, I’m leaving town for a few days and because the laptop does not go to Vegas, the next post won’t come until Tuesday.

On Tuesday I’ll cover the first base situation – and I’ll also sort through my scorebook from last year, so we can re-live the game when Daren Brown had six first basemen in the starting line-up. I recall he had a first baseman playing left field, right field, third base, second base, DH, and of course first base.

This season, we’ll find out if Jack Z truly enjoys collecting Triple-A first basemen, or if that was a one-year aberration.

The “And Catchers” Part

February 17, 2010

One of the few position-player battles for a Seattle Mariners roster spot this spring is at the catcher position. And this is going to directly affect the Rainiers catching situation.

It is understood that Rob Johnson has one of the Mariners two catcher spots locked up. However, he had two hip surgeries in the off-season – yet, he expects to be ready to play by opening day.

The real battle is for the other catching spot. Will it be highly-regarded prospect Adam Moore, or one of the three veterans in camp: Josh Bard, Eliezer Alfonzo, and Guillermo Quiroz?

Rainiers fans are certainly aware of Moore, who handled the brunt of Tacoma’s catching last year. He can hit and is athletic behind the plate, but some feel he needs more time to learn the finer points of calling the pitches. If he ends up back in Tacoma on April 8, that will be the reason why.

Bard may win the major league spot. He hasn’t hit much the last two years, but he had a strong offensive season in 2007. Bard will be 32 years old on opening day and he has not had an extended minor league stay since 2004.

While Bard was signed to a minor league contract, there is some question whether or not he would accept an assignment to Tacoma. I am not privy to his contract details, but often a player with his MLB experience is granted an escape clause in his minor league contract at the end of spring training, so he can try to hook on with another major league team.

Alfonzo is a 31-year-old Triple-A veteran who I feel is highly likely to be on your 2010 Tacoma Rainiers opening day roster. In his last two seasons with Fresno and Portland, Alfonzo has had 320 PCL at-bats and hit .310-19-60 with a .900 OPS – numbers which I found rather surprising, seeing how the Rainiers pitchers consistently got him out with a steady diet of neck-high fastballs.

Alfonzo also has quite a bit of MLB experience as a back-up (155 games), mostly with San Diego last season, and the Giants in 2006-07.

As for Quiroz, he was the epitome of a team player last year. He spent time in Triple-A, got into four games with the Mariners, and when Moore came to Tacoma to play every day, Quiroz agreed to a Double-A assignment that was, frankly, beneath him. Quiroz spent all of 2008 as the Orioles major league back-up catcher and has been invited to major league camp.

At any rate, the Rainiers will probably open the season with two of these guys on the roster. Personally I’m hoping Moore wins the Seattle job – he’ll be 26 in May and needs to get his career going – but hey, if he’s with the Rainiers, that’s good for us, right?

Pitchers and Catchers

February 15, 2010

On Wednesday, the Seattle Mariners pitchers and catchers officially report to spring training camp in Peoria, Arizona.

The Mariners have really loaded up the invite list for major league spring training this year, and the competition for spots on both the Mariners and the Rainiers roster is going to be fierce.

The Mariners have officially invited 31 healthy pitchers to spring training. That’s a lot.

Figure that the M’s are going to carry 11 or 12 pitchers on opening day. Then the Rainiers are going to have 12 pitchers on opening day. That means that about seven pitchers are going to be invited to major league spring training – and then won’t even make the Triple-A roster.

In Peoria, the biggest battles will be for the Mariners #5 starter role, and the long men in the major league bullpen.

Candidates for the Mariners fifth starter include Doug Fister, Luke French, Garrett Olson, Yusmeiro Petit, Jason Vargas, and Nick Hill.

Unless injuries hit during camp, there is only going to be one winner in that battle. The remainder will fight for a major league bullpen job, or else head to Tacoma and be in the Rainiers rotation.

There is additional competition to make the Rainiers rotation. Chris Seddon is back and in camp. Triple-A veteran David Pauley was signed to a minor league contract. Ryan Feierabend is progressing in his return from elbow surgery, and he is still only 24 years old. Danny Cortes is a hard thrower who might be ready for a promotion from Double-A.

And then there is Steven Shell. Some of you may remember the scary moment when he was hit in the cheek by a line drive late last season. Well, Steven healed up, and he spent the winter pitching in the highly competitive Venezuelan League. Shell was used as a starter there, and the Mariners re-signed him and brought him to camp.

As for the catchers, well… let’s save that or Wednesday.

Test, test – Is this thing on?

February 8, 2010


Whoa! Too loud – sorry!

And on that note, welcome to the newest feature of the Tacoma Rainiers website: the Mike… Off-Mic blog.

In this space I will be sharing my observations and insights throughout the 2010 season. Once the season begins, I will post daily thoughts regarding the Tacoma Rainiers and the Pacific Coast League. There will be a variety of types of posts: series previews, game analysis, roster moves, updated starting rotations, prospect reports, and some general items from around the PCL and the Seattle Mariners organization.

And since I travel with the team, there will certainly be some “life on the road” items that will come up often. I’ll try to keep those stories funny and interesting, which means no boring complaints about airlines and hotels. That being said, I am sure there will be at least one epic travel-related blow-up post.

I go to spring training on March 28 and the daily posts will begin at that time. Up until then, I will chime in occasionally as the Tacoma Rainiers 2010 opening day roster begins to take shape.

At the start we are going to leave comments open, and I invite you to ask questions or simply comment on posts. There are only two rules: Keep it clean, and be nice (that’s actually one more rule than former Rainiers manager Dan Rohn had for the entire team – his rule, scrawled on a cocktail napkin, was “be on time”).

I’ll try to answer questions when I can. Also, I’ll be collecting questions for a FAQ that will be posted at some future date.

Well, that’s it for now. I’ll try to weigh in with some “names to know for 2010” early next week.

Thanks for checking out the site!