Friday Reading

November 11, 2011

A few quick hits for your holiday Friday:

  • In his News Tribune column, John McGrath hopes that the new Husky Stadium will follow the path blazed by the new Cheney Stadium, and retain its old-school charm after the renovation.
  • In the wake of the disturbing news about the abduction of Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos, Geoff Baker remembers his time in Venezuela and exactly how dangerous it was.
  • Former Rainiers shortstop Ramon Santiago has been a mainstay with the Detroit Tigers as a utility man, but now he’s a free agent. Apparently Pittsburgh is considering signing him to play every day.

Peace to all of the veterans out there. Have a great weekend!

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Awards And Recognition

November 9, 2011

We still don’t have a name here at the blog*, but Cheney Stadium was named a big winner, and Baseball Prospectus named the Mariners top prospects.

Ballpark Digest – the top website for stadium construction news, reviews, etc. – named Cheney Stadium “Renovation of the Year” for 2011.

In the full story on the website, they talk about the things you already experienced this year, getting down to the core fact: the renovation successfully updated the fan and player conveniences, providing modern amenities, without sacrificing the old-time right-on-top-of-the-field feel that fans have always had in the seats at Cheney. They also mention, quite realistically, that the project probably saved Triple-A baseball in Tacoma.

It’s pretty cool to get recognized by a national web publication that is read by baseball front offices throughout the game.

As noted in the story, Mortensen Construction also won a national award from the Design-Build Institute of America for their work on the project.

Speaking of recognition…

Baseball Prospectus is the first of the major outlets to release its Mariners Top Prospects list for the 2012 season. You need a subscription to see the list and read the scouting reports – this is one of my favorite websites, worth subscribing to if you have a thirst for baseball knowledge.

The whole list with the scouting reports and ETAs is right here. It’s proprietary information, but BP partner Kevin Goldstein has kindly allowed me to print the ranking:

Five-Star Prospects
1. Taijuan Walker, RHP
2. Danny Hultzen, LHP
Four-Star Prospects
3. James Paxton, LHP
4. Nick Franklin, SS
Three-Star Prospects
5. Jose Campos, RHP
6. Guillermo Pimentel, OF
7. Francisco Martinez, 3B
8. Vinnie Catricala, 3B/1B/OF
9. Chih-Hsien Chiang, OF
10. Chance Ruffin, RHP
11. Phillips Castillo, OF

A couple of thoughts: First, there are no Rainiers on the list (although he had Alex Liddi as #12). This is because the Mariners called all of our potential candidates up, and they received too much major league playing time to qualify. Second, based on where he expects the top players to open the season, it appears that Double-A Jackson is going to be *loaded* this year. This will be very good for us down the road, with a wave of talent right below – that was how the season started in 2010, and we all saw how that worked out.

Here is Goldstein’s summary:

Summary: The Mariners organization has some of the best starting pitching around, but there is a lack of depth among position players and a dependency on very young players. Still, there is more than enough help on the way to provide optimism in the Pacific Northwest.  

We even have a few Mariners-related links today:

  • The Mariners hired former major leaguer Jack Howell to be Minor League Field Coordinator, filling a position that had been empty since Andy Stankiewicz left to become head coach at Grand Canyon University last May.
  • Larry LaRue riffed on the Baseball Prospectus list over at The News Tribune’s Mariners Insider blog.
  • So you want to be a minor league RG? We learn from Ballpark Digest (again!) that the Mariners Class-A Clinton affiliate apparently needs a new radio guy. That’s Clinton, Iowa, folks – a great place to start. Note: the Mariners don’t hire for this; either the Clinton LumberKings or their radio station does it. Best of luck to their former RG Dave Lezotte, who is moving on to do PR at Triple-A Gwinett of the International League, where he will work closely with former Rainiers manager Dave Brundage.
  • This will make some of you feel old: Led Zeppelin IV was released 40 years ago today.

I know I’m a crazy person, but I watched six-and-a-half hours of live heads-up poker on ESPN last night, and I found it riveting. German pro Pius Heinz is this year’s person who lived my dream and won the Main Event at the World Series of Poker.

* I hope that the Rainiers marketing gurus come up with a name soon – just to end the stream of unprintable blog name suggestions being texted to my phone by clearly bored Rainiers manager Daren Brown.


M’s Prospects Have Big Weekend

November 7, 2011

We’re still the No-Name Blog, but here are a couple of names to know:

Danny Hultzen and Nick Franklin had big-time performances in the Arizona Fall League’s all-star game, which they call the Rising Stars Game.

Hultzen, the Mariners #1 draft pick this year, was the starting pitcher and he tossed two scoreless innings. Hultzen has had a string of impressive outings down there, and he’s getting glowing scouting reports. I may have to re-asses my previous position on him – he could start next year higher than Double-A.

Franklin started at shortstop and went 4-for-5 in the game, including a two-run opposite field homer and a pair of doubles. The home run came off 2011 #1 overall pick Gerrit Cole. Franklin drove in four runs.

Franklin is a switch-hitter with a ton of power for a shortstop. He finished the 2011 season at Double-A Jackson, but he had only 83 at-bats there. I suspect he will open next season back at Jackson – we’re set in AAA with Carlos Triunfel at shortstop – and we may see Franklin in a Rainiers uniform at some point mid-2012.

Links:

  • Geoff Baker has an informative report on the Rising Stars Game, and he and I share some opinions on where these guys will open 2012.
  • ESPN baseball analyst Keith Law is very bullish on Danny Hultzen, as he writes in this report (ESPN Insider access required).
  • Baseball America has a round-up of the Rising Stars Game.
  • Mariners beat writer Kirby Arnold of the Everett Herald is retiring. Kirby is one of the nicest people you will meet in the Safeco Field press box, and he did a great job on the beat. His farewell column is full of good Mariners anecdotes, and in his final blog post he talks about how he got into sportswriting.
  • Rick Randall at Scout.com has an interview with Rainiers pitcher Forrest Snow, who continues to dominate in the Arizona Fall League.
  • Last week our guy Alex Liddi got released from the Venezuelan Winter League, due to lack of performance. It’s easy to forget that this is *the* major league in Venezuela, and if you don’t hit, you’re sent packing. Big picture, this isn’t a big deal for Liddi. He had a long, successful season, and now he can chill in Italy for a bit before gearing up for 2012.
  • The St. Louis Cardinals are hiring a manager to replace retiring Tony LaRussa, and they interviewed Memphis manager Chris Maloney. I can assure you that all 16 PCL radio guys have an opinion about this.

Radiohead announced their initial tour dates. If they don’t reach the Pacific NW before the PCL season starts on April 5, I’m gonna flip. Wait a minute, I have an idea – why not just book them at the ballpark, AJ?


Re-Branding

November 2, 2011

Changes at the top, here at the blog and in the Mariners minor league system.

As you can see, there is no blog name up above. It’s being changed – to what, I’m not sure yet, but the Tacoma Rainiers marketing gurus are working on it. I suggested “Ramblings of an Idiot,” but the gurus denounced that title for being “too accurate.”

Eventually something will appear up there.

Anyway, the actual plan of the blog remains the same. I’ll pass along off-season news, plenty of Rainiers tidbits, links to the baseball stories of the day, and occasionally I’ll tell an entertaining story. We’ll still update 2-3 times a week during the offseason, increasing frequency in the spring until we get to daily updates during the season.

The blog isn’t the only thing with a new masthead around here.

The Seattle Mariners made a big front office change, hiring Chris Gwynn away from the San Diego Padres to be Director of Player Development.

The Director of Player Development – also known as the Farm Director – hires all minor league coaches and managers, oversees the roughly 200 minor league players, heads up the process of assigning players to the various minor league teams, and decides when players will be promoted or demoted during the season. In the off-season, he oversees the Mariners agreements with the various minor league affiliates. He travels throughout the farm system, visiting all of the teams.

It’s a big job that requires top-notch people skills. A good farm director will be on a first-name basis with the shortstop in Clinton, the trainer in Jackson, the radio guy in High Desert, and the office manager in Pulaski.

Gwynn should be good at this. He held the same job with San Diego the past two seasons, and before that he was a pro scout for the Padres. When he was a scout, he had coverage of the Mariners affiliates, and part of his job was to write reports on Tacoma Rainiers players. I saw Gwynn a lot in press boxes around the PCL during those years, and he is an outgoing, gregarious guy who should fit in well with his new role.

Chris, of course, is the younger brother of Tony Gwynn. He actually looks a lot like his brother, and his voice is kind of similar to Tony’s as well. I’m sure we’ll see him – Chris, not Tony – at Cheney quite often this season.

Chris Gwynn is no stranger to the PCL. Not only has he scouted the league for years, he also played two-and-a-half seasons for Albuquerque, from 1987 to 1989.

Gwynn takes the job formerly held by Pedro Grifol, who apparently asked to get back into coaching and will manage Class-A High Desert this year. That’s a “demotion” in the baseball hierarchy – Gwynn will be Grifol’s boss – but if Pedro wants to get back into coaching, this is the way to do it. Grifol is currently managing in the Venezuelan Winter League, for the Cardinales de Lara team that has many Mariners minor leaguers on the roster.

Links:

  • We’ll start with Larry Stone’s story on the Chris Gwynn hire.
  • The Mariners have been doing some roster clean-up moves: infielder Luis Rodriguez was removed from the 40-man, and he chose to become a free agent. Injured reliever David Aardsma is also a free agent, but he still may re-sign with the Mariners.
  • Larry LaRue asks the question which will be repeated throughout the 2012 season: will the Mariners treat Ichiro like the older player that he is?
  • I have heard, through my personal contacts, that big Rainiers DH Luis Jimenez has re-signed a minor league contract with the Mariners.
  • Mariners international scouting head Bob Engle will be honored as Scout of the Year. This is a big award in the scouting community. In his career, Engle signed Roy Halladay, Chris Carpenter, Felix Hernandez, and Michael Pineda, among many others.
  • Here we have the story and list of MLB Gold Glove Award winners. No Mariners or ex-Rainiers appear.
  • Former Rainiers pitcher R.A. Dickey is climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in January. If you ever run into R.A., ask him about the time he tried to swim across the Missouri River after a particularly disastrous start at Rosenblatt Stadium… hopefully that will be one of the stories in his memoir, which is going to be released in March.
  • Three dudes in Nashville went on a last-second road trip to St. Louis for Game 7, and they had quite an adventure. It’s a long read, but… they tried to gamble their way into enough money to scalp tickets. Intrigued yet?

That’s it for a few days – I’m off on a family trip. I’ll be back Monday afternoon with a news round-up, and then we’ll have that long-promised look at Cheney Stadium park effects later in the week.

And maybe we’ll have a new name, too!