Due to some nifty schedule-shifting help from a co-worker I was able to attend the Seattle Mariners “Pre-Spring Training Media Luncheon” yesterday at Safeco Field.
This annual event is a two-hour press conference in which numerous members of the organization speak about the upcoming season. You can really get a feel for what the team thinks its outlook is for the upcoming season, based on what they say and also by reading between the lines.
For 2013, I think that the permeating feel of the organization is this: “we’ve made small improvements the last two years by breaking in a bunch of rookies, and now we are trying to make a move over .500 by adding a few veterans to the mix. ”
On the whole, it was a tone of cautious optimism.
For coverage of the major league side of the event, please check out the links below. All of the media outlets were there, and the coverage is top-notch.
Now, let’s get to the Tacoma side of the equation.
I hauled it up to Safeco specifically to talk to Mariners Director of Player Development Chris Gwynn, to get some scoop on what the 2013 Rainiers are going to look like. I have lots of details, so let’s do it bullet-point style.
- On the starting pitching prospects Brandon Maurer, Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker, Gwynn said “a lot of them could end up in Tacoma, probably all of them at some point” this season. Personally, I do think it is a reach for all four to break camp in the Triple-A rotation, but three of them plus Andrew Carraway and DJ Mitchell seems like a reasonable season-opening rotation.
- Infield prospects Stefen Romero and Brad Miller had similar seasons last year, putting up big numbers before and after mid-season promotions to Double-A Jackson. Gwynn thinks that one of the pair could open the season in Tacoma, but probably not both – and possibly neither. We’ll talk about this in the position-by-position outlook (starting next week!), but much of it will come down to who the Mariners send down at Tacoma at the end of spring training, and what openings remain on the Tacoma roster after that happens.
- Romero is a man without a position. Gwynn indicated that he’s about to become a man of many positions – it sounds like the Mariners are going to play him a lot of different spots, to increase his value via versatility.
- Carlos Triunfel (still pronounced “tru-en-fel” by people on the baseball side of the Mariners operation) and Nick Franklin will, in all likelihood, continue to flip-flop between second base and shortstop for Tacoma. However, I noticed that more people in the organization are willing to verbalize the fact that Triunfel is the superior defensive player at shortstop; it will be interesting to see if Franklin starts logging more time at second base.
- Gwynn was very cautious when talking about catching prospect Mike Zunino, reminding us that he has only 160 professional at-bats and has played in just 15 games at Double-A. He told me not to count on him opening the season in Tacoma; he suggested that Jesus Sucre and Brandon Bantz will be in the Tacoma catching mix. Also, it was noted that the Mariners still plan to sign a free agent catcher – maybe two.
- I heard even more strong reviews on Jesus Sucre’s defense behind the plate. I’m actually looking forward to seeing this.
- Gwynn – a veteran of the Triple-A Wars from his playing days – recognizes the value of a veteran rubber-armed guy like Brian Sweeney, who can be a real “pitching staff savior.” I can hear Daren Brown and Dwight Bernard releasing a sigh of relief from here.
- Center field is a potential problem area for the Rainiers. Gwynn lauded the defensive ability of Denny Almonte, who played all of 2012 at Double-A Jackson. Almonte seems primed for the promotion. Hopefully he won’t get hurt, because there doesn’t appear to be another true center fielder in the upper levels of the minor league system.
- With regards to the lack of Triple-A veterans signed this off-season (only first baseman Mike Jacobs has been acquired), Gwynn pointed to guys already in the organization as the veterans. Examples would be DJ Mitchell, Alex Liddi, Carlos Peguero, Brian Sweeney, Danny Farquhar, etc.
On the whole, the event succeeded in getting me excited about the season. Opening Day 2013, coming up on April 4 in lovely Fresno, California! The home opener is April 12 and you should mark that on your calendar right now.
- At The News Tribune, Ryan Divish wrote a recap of the event for the morning edition. For a longer recap with a few more details, check out Divish’s blog post.
- Also at the TNT, John McGrath wrote about Raul Ibanez and the leadership he is expected to provide.
- If you prefer your Mariners news to come from the Seattle Times, here is Larry Stone’s story on the event.
- Stone – who is a professional typist – typed entire transcripts of the media sessions for Eric Wedge (here) and Jack Zduriencik (here).
- Jeff Sullivan attended the event, which led to this happy result: he wrote about it.
- With rumblings that the Mariners and Felix Hernandez might work out a long-term contract extension, Rob Neyer reminds us that multiple-year contracts for pitchers rarely have a happy ending.
- Former Tacoma Rainiers owner Nick Lachey is coming back to town with his boys.
- Former Tacoma Rainiers manager and current Gig Harbor resident Dave Myers was officially announced as the returning Durham Bulls hitting coach – he’s had this position for several years now.
- In case you haven’t heard, the Arizona Diamondbacks traded Justin Upton to the Atlanta Braves for a bushel of prospects. You can always rely on Baseball America to give you the lowdown on the prospects.
- I enjoyed this Fangraphs Q&A with 1970s relief pitcher Tom Burgmeier, in which he talks about bullpen usage in his day.
- I’m happy to read that the Tucson Padres have a radio deal for 2013. I was concerned that they might go silent in their “lame duck” season.
Next week we begin looking at the 2013 Rainiers position-by-position battles. I think we’ll start on the mound this year. First up: starting pitching candidates.