Team Of The Decade – Left Field

March 16, 2010

OK, we’ve finished the voting for catcher and all four of the infield positions. Now it’s time to move to the outfield in our Rainiers Team of the Decade polls. Make sure you vote on the Tacoma Rainiers homepage. Hey, have you seen the new homepage? Totally different, not as busy, much better – yes!

Here is the lowdown on the candidates:

  • Chad Alexander – a minor league free agent who came to the Rainiers in 2000, Alexander had two productive seasons at the plate. In 2000 he batted .270 with 12 home runs and 55 RBI, but that was just a taste of what was to come. Alexander was a dangerous hitter in the lineup of the 2001 PCL champions, batting .290 with 14 home runs, 77 RBI, and a whopping 45 doubles – the 3rd highest single-season total in franchise history.
  • Chris Snelling – one of the most popular Rainiers players of the last decade, Snelling was constantly battling injury problems during his time with both the Rainiers and the Mariners. In 65 games in 2005, Snelling hit .370 with a 1.005 OPS. In 2006, he played in 69 games and batted .216 while recovering from injury. Last year Snelling played in the Mexican League.
  • Jeremy Reed – we saw all sides of Jeremy Reed in Tacoma: the hot prospect who joined the Rainiers right after being acquired from the White Sox in the Freddy Garcia trade, and the veteran trying to return to the majors after a broken wrist cost him his major league job. In total, Reed batted .309 for Tacoma over three seasons (2004, 2007-08) and 234 games, and he ranks 16th on the all-time Tacoma career batting average list.

Those are the left field candidates – get out there and vote!

Roster Moves and Advice From Ichiro

March 13, 2010

I woke up on this Saturday morning with my ears ringing from last night’s Mike Watt & The Missingmen show to find out that the M’s trimmed their roster a bit.

The Mariners optioned outfielder Greg Halman to Tacoma, and they re-assigned outfielder Mike Wilson and first basemen Brad Nelson and Tommy Everidge to minor league camp.

All four players were discussed in the positional posts I had in the last couple of weeks.

And a word of caution: just because it says that Halman was optioned to Tacoma, it doesn’t mean he will be on the Rainiers opening day roster. The Mariners could transfer him to Class-AA West Tennessee before April 8.

Finally, a word of wisdom from the sage Ichiro.

It has been widely reported that due to their ongoing stadium issues, the Portland Beavers may “temporarily” relocate to Tucson next season.

We here at the Mike… Off-Mic blog suggest that the Beavers listen to Ichiro and obey his mantra, as reported today by Larry LaRue of The News Tribune:

Ichiro and Figgins have become close in the past few weeks, and when someone asked Figgins if he was going to Tucson for the Sunday-Monday Mariners trip, he turned and asked Ichiro.

“Are we going to Tucson?” Figgins asked.

“Hell no!” shouted Ichiro.

“There’s your answer,” Figgins said, and both men laughed.

Top Shortstop Of The Decade

March 12, 2010

Here’s a quick look at the candidates for the shortstop position on the Team of the Decade poll. Vote here!

Ramon Vazquez – the anchor of the middle infield on the Rainiers 2001 championship squad, Vazquez was the smoothest fielding shortstop of the decade. He made only 12 errors in 127 games. Vazquez was also dangerous at the plate, batting .300 with 10 home runs and 79 RBI. Made the PCL All-Star Team. Was traded after the season; has spent the majority of the last nine years as a major league utility infielder.

Aaron Holbert – Triple-A veteran batted .311 with 7 home runs and 42 RBI in his one Tacoma season of 2002, and he made the Pacific Coast League All-Star Team. Holbert retired as a player in 2006 and is now the manager of the Cleveland Indians Class-A team in Kinston, North Carolina.

Ramon Santiago – Appeared in exactly 200 games for Tacoma in 2004-05. Played shortstop the majority of the time – except when Yuni Betancourt was here, he slid over to second base. Santiago provided surprising power on the 2005 playoff team, batting .252 with 10 homers and 50 RBI. Has settled into the role of defensive specialist and utility infielder for the Detroit Tigers under Jim Leyland.

Asdrubal Cabrera – appeared in only 66 games for Tacoma, but is on this ballot for his contribution during the 2005 playoffs. Promoted from Class-A to play shortstop in the playoffs after the Mariners raided the Rainiers middle infield corps, Cabrera was expected to do one thing: field ground balls. Instead, at age 19, he drove in the tying and winning runs in game four and had two more RBI in game five of a series win against Sacramento. Was traded to the Indians for Eduardo Perez in one of the many candidates for Worst Trade Of The Bavasi Era*.

Those are your shortstop candidates. Get in there and vote!

* Cabrera is now a budding star for the Indians. Eduardo Perez is a host on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight. Yup, they traded Cabrera for a Baseball Tonight host.

Third Baseman Of The Decade

March 10, 2010

This will be an interesting vote. Two players with lots of major league experience, a popular player who saw an injury end his opportunity with the Mariners, and a local boy trying to make good.

  • Greg Dobbs – let’s toss a cliché out there: professional hitter. Dobbs did nothing but hit in Tacoma – .271 with 8 homers in the second half of 2004, then .321 in 2005 and .314 in 2006. Finally moved to the Phillies in 2007 and has been a mainstay as the club’s top option off the bench; hit .301 with 9 homers for 2008 World Champions.
  • Justin Leone – was on pace to threaten Adrian Garrett’s Tacoma franchise-record 43 home runs (1971) when the Mariners called him up in 2004. Had 21 home runs in 68 games, hit .269. Broke a wrist on a HBP in the majors, and has not hit for similar power since. Returned to Tacoma in 2005 and struggled, has kicked around a variety of Triple-A teams since then.
  • Matt Tuiasosopo – Woodinville native and Son of a Seahawk has played a season-and-a-half of third base for Tacoma the last two years. Hit .281 with 13 homers and 73 RBI in 2008, and .261-11-35 in 59 games last year. Currently in the midst of his annual Cactus League hot streak at Mariners spring training camp, Tui has a shot to crack the M’s opening day roster.
  • Chris Shelton – not a third baseman, but that’s where he played in 2009 when Tuiasosopo got injured. Shelton learned the position on the fly and still managed to bat .314 with 15 home runs and 85 RBI in his one season with the Rainiers. Passed over for a September call-up, Shelton elected to try his luck elsewhere and is currently in Houston Astros camp.

There you go – the polls won’t be open for long – we’re moving to the shortstops late Friday afternoon, so get in there and vote.

Mariners Make First Roster Moves

March 10, 2010

Eight Mariners arrived at spring training today only to get the bad news – they were cut from the big league squad.

Pitcher Ryan Feierabend was optioned to Tacoma.

Pitchers Nick Hill, Josh Fields, Steven Shell, Chris Seddon, and Mauricio Robles, along with catchers Luis Oliveros and Steve Baron were re-assigned to minor league camp.

A word about the semantics: since Feierabend is on the Mariners 40-man roster, he must be “optioned” to the minor leagues – using one of his three option years. When a player is optioned, the club must name where he was optioned to – thus, Feierabend was “optioned to Tacoma.”

The remaining players were all non-roster invitees to major league spring training. The Mariners do not yet have to assign them to a particular minor league team – thus, they are “re-assigned to minor league camp.”

Of the group that was re-assigned to camp today, Seddon, Fields, Shell, Hill, and Oliveros will all be battling for Triple-A roster spots. Robles and Baron are young players of some promise who will start lower in the farm system.

On another subject…

Today is the last day to vote for your second baseman of the decade. Vote here – the poll is on the lower right. Late this afternoon we’re switching the poll to third base, which should be a tight battle.

Team of the Decade Candidates – Second Base

March 8, 2010

Four second basemen to choose from, and four pretty different players. The poll is on the homepage.

  • Jermaine Clark – Member of the Rainiers 2001 championship team, and returned to steal 42 bases and put up a .370 on-base percentage in 2002. Clark was a leadoff man with the selectivity to grind out at-bats and he was a cunning thief – he is still the last Tacoma player to steal four bases in one game. Clark also excelled in his role of Official Team Comedian and he wasn’t afraid to break out his dance moves while fielding ground balls during batting practice.
  • Mickey Lopez – One of longtime manager Dan Rohn’s favorite dirtbags, the vertically-challenged (I can say that, I’m short too) Lopez was a team leader in 2003-04. Lopez hit .280 with 17 home runs combined over two full seasons, and he received a September call-up to the Mariners in 04. Appropriately enough for the fiery Lopez, his only major league hit was a line drive off Rangers closer Francisco Cordero’s backside.
  • Jose Lopez – The current Mariners infielder, Jose totalled about 450 at-bats for Tacoma during the 2004 and 2005 seasons. He hit .304 with 18 home runs and 38 doubles in his Tacoma days. Lopez was clearly a Mariners prospect while with the Rainiers, he spent most of his time in Tacoma trying to learn to hit to all fields. Did you know that with the Rainiers Lopez played 53 games at second base, 42 games at shortstop, and 21 at third base?
  • Tug Hulett – Hulett had the best single-season by a second baseman in the decade, hitting .298 with 14 home runs and a .380 on-base percentage in 2008. The son of former major leaguer Tim Hulett got into 30 games for Seattle that season, and last year he spent time with the Royals.

That’s it for second base – remember our motto: Vote Early, Vote Often!

Team Of The Decade Poll – First Basemen

March 4, 2010

The polling for the Tacoma Rainiers Team of the Decade first base position is now up and running over on the Rainiers homepage. Here’s the low-down on the candidates:

  •             Brian Lesher – he was the Rainiers first baseman in 2000 and he had an outstanding season. Lesher hit .288 with 25 home runs and 92 runs batted in, and he also drew 70 walks and had an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of .898.
  •             Todd Betts – the starter for Tacoma’s championship 2001 team, Betts was sort of a Triple-A version of John Olerud: Betts was left-handed, hit for a high average with singles and doubles, drew walks, and played good defense. Betts hit .308 with 14 home runs, 40 doubles, and a .372 on-base percentage. Betts never played in MLB but he did spend a season in the Japanese major leagues, with the Yakult Swallows.
  •             A.J. Zapp – conquered the center field wall while having perhaps the greatest single-season of any hitter this decade in 2004. Zapp batted .291 with 29 home runs and 101 RBIs that year, but is most remembered for his home run over the center field wall on September 1 of that year – the first documented home run hit in a game over the giant wall (Jose Canseco did it in batting practice – never in a game). Zapp also had 9 RBI in one game that season.
  •             Bryan LaHair – no, he did not play first base for the entire decade; it just seemed that way. LaHair took the first base job in July of 2006 and held it until he was moved to the outfield in 2009. LaHair ranks among the Tacoma all-time career leaders in games (6th), runs (4th), hits (4th), total bases (4th), doubles (1st), home runs (5th), RBI (tied for 3rd with Tom Kelly – yes, that Tom Kelly), and…. strikeouts (1st).

Those are the first base candidates; the poll will be up for a couple days. Our motto: Vote early, vote often!

The Tacoma Outfield Situation

March 3, 2010

A couple of notes, and then we’ll discuss the Tacoma Rainiers 2010 outfield situation.

  • The Rainiers and the City of Tacoma publicly revealed the design plans for the Cheney Stadium renovations yesterday. They look pretty awesome to me. Of course, I’m biased – I currently work in a moldy 1960 mobile home trailer that was airlifted onto a rickety roof 50 years ago. You can check out the renderings here on the new-and-improved Rainiers Facebook page.
  • Voting for the Rainiers catcher of the decade ends early Thursday morning, and then we are going to put the first base poll up. The poll is on the homepage – vote early, vote often!
  • The Mariners opened Cactus League play today. The minor league games won’t begin until March 18, on the backfields of the Peoria complex.
  • It has been suggested by others – notably Jason Churchill at Prospect Insider – that the new Cheney Stadium broadcast booth should be named after me. However, I feel it should be named after Bob Robertson. And if you ask Bob, he’ll probably say it should be named after Don Hill. Those two guys spent many more years calling Tacoma baseball than me.
  • This blog is currently being updated 2-3 times a week. I’ll start updating it daily when the season starts.

OK, on to the outfield situation – an area of great strength in the upper levels of the Mariners system.

The Mariners have a lot of outfield candidates for Tacoma this year, and the major league left field situation is going to help dictate it.

It appeared that when the Mariners acquired Milton Bradley and Eric Byrnes, and then re-signed Ryan Langerhans, that Michael Saunders was destined to open the season in Tacoma.

However, word out of Peoria is that Saunders is going to be given the opportunity to win a major league spot. He hit for average and power in the Venezuelan Winter League, and his left-handed stroke is perfect for Safeco.

If Saunders doesn’t make the Mariners opening day roster he will certainly play every day in Tacoma, and he’ll probably float between left, center, and maybe right.

Ezequiel Carrera is a name to know for Rainiers fans. Acquired in the JJ Putz/Franklin Gutierrez trade (dubbed by Geoff Baker as “The Gift That Keeps On Giving”), Carrera is a 22-year-old slap-hitting speedster. Carrera hit .327 and won the Southern League batting title last year at Class-AA West Tennessee. And check this out: he also drew 59 walks and had a .441 on-base percentage. Hello, leadoff man!

Right-fielder Mike Wilson has a chance to open with Tacoma. Wilson, you may recall, finished an injury-plagued season with the Rainiers last year and struggled mightily in his first exposure to Triple-A pitching.

However, Wilson had a terrific 2008 season in Class-AA (.276, 27 home runs, .388 OBP), and if he is healthy he can provide some serious power – if he adjusts to the higher level. That’s two big “ifs” but the possibilities are tantalizing.

Then there is Corey Patterson. The M’s brought the one-time top prospect in for outfield depth, and he might open the season with the Rainiers. Patterson played in 111 Triple-A games last year, with Syracuse and Nashville. He’s a career .286 hitter in the minor leagues with a mix of speed and power, and he was a major league starter from 2002-2008.

If nothing else, maybe Corey could help the Rainiers pitchers get his little brother Eric out. Eric Patterson has been wearing out Tacoma while playing for Sacramento the last two seasons.

I wrote a little bit about Johan Limonta when discussing the first basemen; he also plays corner outfield and he has a shot to make the Rainiers.

Don’t forget that both Mike Carp and Brad Nelson made starts in the outfield last year – although that was more out of necessity than any sort of plan to field a rangy outfield defense.

So, we have a lot of Triple-A outfield candidates, and many of these guys are ready to help the major league team, too.

Followers of the Mariners farm system will notice that I have omitted Greg Halman. While anything is possible, I just don’t see how Halman can be promoted to Tacoma after hitting .210 with 183 strikeouts last year at West Tenn. Sure, he’s a five-tool player, and he did launch 25 homers, and he’s on the 40-man roster, but… my opinion is that the a player has to earn a promotion, and my impression is that the new Mariners front office feels the same way. I think everyone involved would like to see Halman have a big first half at West Tenn, and then get promoted mid-season.

That’s it for now. Tomorrow morning I’ll write up the first basemen for the Team of the Decade poll (also known as the Bryan LaHair category).

Rainiers Team Of The Decade – CATCHERS

March 1, 2010

We’re going to take a break from our around-the-diamond spring training round-up to introduce a new feature of the Tacoma Rainiers website: the fan voting for the Tacoma Rainiers Team of the Decade.

Right now, voting is open for the catcher position over at The poll is in the lower right corner of the homepage; you will probably have to scroll down to find it.

Every three days or so we will change the poll and put up a new position, and I will write-up the candidates here.

Here are a few notes on the catchers:

            Rob Johnson – currently the Mariner starting catcher, Johnson served as the Rainiers catcher from 2006 to 2008. Johnson made an almost unprecedented jump from Class-A Wisconsin to Triple-A Tacoma, making the Rainiers opening day roster in 2006. His finest season was 2008, when he hit .305 with nine home runs. A Montana native, Johnson often spent his off-days fly-fishing around Puget Sound with hitting coach Terry Pollreisz.

            Jeff Clement – the Mariners first round draft pick in 2005, Clement joined the Rainiers in 2006 and was a mainstay in the line-up until he was traded in July of 2009. A power hitter, Clement ranks in Tacoma’s all-time top-10 in hits (10th), total bases (8th), doubles (2nd), home runs (8th), and runs batted in (8th). Clement’s line drives dented the right field wall at Cheney Stadium, and his long home runs jeopardized Foss High School tennis players.

            Blake Barthol – a vote for Barthol is really a vote for Jim Horner and Blake Barthol, who were the Rainiers catching tandem of 2001-2002. I couldn’t list both (although I almost put “Jake Hornthol” on the ballot). Manager Dan Rohn gave equal playing time to the duo throughout the championship 2001 season. Barthol got the nod on the ballot for his game-calling skills: he caught two no-hitters in 2001, including John Halama’s perfect game.

            Pat Borders – a long-time major leaguer and former World Series MVP, Pat Borders just wasn’t ready to retire. A favorite of then-Mariners GM Pat Gillick, Borders played for Tacoma in a couple games in 2001, and then regularly from 2002 to 2004. Borders had some great on-field moments including a 6-hit game at Colorado Springs, although Cheney Stadium denizens will remember him for many other reasons: he slept in the clubhouse and walked to Fred Meyer’s for groceries, the stunning fact that he caught every day in Triple-A at age 40, and his famous quote saying that he preferred playing in Tacoma to Seattle, because his six children could run around the park unimpeded.

Those are the catching candidates. As my friends who run Major League Baseball’s all-star balloting say, vote early and vote often! We’ll announce the complete Team of the Decade around Opening Day.

And a quick programming note: I’ll do an item on the Triple-A outfield situation later this week. The Mariners have a ton of upper-level minor league outfield depth; this is an area of organizational strength.