The middle infield is perhaps the easiest of all of the position-by-position previews that I will write about this spring.
Unless there is an unexpected trade or injury, we know that Carlos Triunfel and Nick Franklin will be playing at shortstop and second base this year. Heck, we’ve known this since the end of last season.
At the Mariners pre-spring training event in late January, Director of Player Development Chris Gwynn said that the plan was to continue to flip-flop Triunfel and Franklin defensively, giving both players experience at second and short. This is exactly what happened in the second half last year, when Franklin was promoted from Jackson (Triunfel was already here).
So, we have:
Carlos Triunfel: It seems to be standard form when writing about Triunfel to mention the fact that he will play the 2013 season at the age of 23. It seems like he’s much older because we’ve been hearing about him since the Mariners signed him for big bucks at age 16. Triunfel spent the 2012 season with Tacoma, leading the team with 131 games played and getting a September call-up. With the Rainiers he batted .260 with a career-high 10 homers, and a slash line of 260/308/391. Triunfel has major league range at shortstop and one of the strongest arms you will ever see on an infielder, but he needs to refine his game and cut down on the 30 errors he made last year.
Nick Franklin: Despite hitting just .243 in his first taste of Triple-A last year, Franklin is the better offensive prospect of the middle infield duo. The switch-hitter has legitimate power from the left side of the plate – and that was before he put on 35 pounds during the off-season. Last year Franklin started the season at Jackson and hit 322/394/502, and then in 64 games for Tacoma he hit 243/310/416. The Mariners are going to continue to allow him to switch-hit despite the fact that he has been far more dangerous from the left side. Defensively, Franklin can certainly handle second base, although the opinions on his shortstop play are mixed. Franklin will play the 2013 season at age 22 and has plenty of room for improvement – just like Triunfel.
Rainiers utility infielder candidates
The back-up situation is a little more unsettled. Typically you want a utility infielder who is capable of playing a serviceable shortstop, but really with Triunfel and Franklin on the roster the Rainiers utility man doesn’t need to play shortstop. If either Triunfel or Franklin is unavailable for whatever reason, manager Daren Brown will start the remaining player at shortstop and plug someone else in at second base.
Eric Farris: an Triple-A starter for Nashville the last two-and-a-half seasons, Farris was picked up by the Mariners in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft. Farris even has MLB experience, appearing in 14 games for the Brewers the last two years. He’s played a whole lot of second base in his career, including 217 games at second for Nashville the last two years. He’s a speed player (35 steals last year; career-high of 70 steals at Class-A in 2009) and he has been tried in the outfield occasionally in the past. Farris could serve as an infielder/outfielder for the Rainiers this year, shuffling around the diamond defensively while hitting first or second in the lineup.
Scott Savastano: the jack-of-all-trades spent the entire 2012 season with the Rainiers, seeing time at first base, second base, third base, and left field. He also specializes in 18th inning pitching and 18th inning walk-off homers – when you get to the 18th inning, Savastano is your man and you should accept no substitute. The acquisition of Farris means it is not a lock that Savastano will be coming back for 2013 – a good spring training camp is important for him.
Leury Bonilla: the longtime organizational utility man is back for another season in the Mariners system. Bonilla has set up shop in Jackson the last few seasons, where he once played all nine positions in a single game. Bonilla usually makes an appearance in Tacoma at some point during the season, and I expect that 2013 will be no different.
Then there is Stefen Romero, who I wrote about last week with the corner infielders. Romero has lots of experience at second base, so if he is on the Rainiers roster he can play the keystone when needed.
Others to know
Brad Miller: an interesting shortstop prospect, Miller is hoping to build on a very strong 2012 season. He began the year at High Desert, and hit 339/412/524 in 97 games. Big deal – everybody hits in High Desert. Well, Miller went up to Jackson for the final 40 games and batted .320 with four homers and a .406 on-base percentage. Hmmmm, very in-ter-es-ting. Miller will be waiting in the wings down at Jackson.
Gabriel Noriega: a throwback of sorts, Noriega is an all-glove, no-bat shortstop. They say he is a wizard defensively. The stats say he hit .208 with zero homers and a .266 OBP in Jackson last year. We could see him in Tacoma someday and when he shows up, we should all enjoy watching him play defense.
Those are our middle infielders to watch for Tacoma in 2013. Next Wednesday, we’ll move to the outfield.
- Six Mariners prospects – including several prospective Rainiers – are living together in Peoria.
- Good reporting from Geoff Baker on the politics of Mariners players seeking instruction from outside of the organization. I’m not sure if this is a growing trend, or if it’s always happened but now it’s being reported.
- Another strong piece from Baker, on the tough youth of new infielder Robert Andino.
- On Monday, Jeremy Bonderman pitched in a game for the first time since 2010. Results were inconclusive.
- Ryan Divish writes that Tom Wilhelmsen is looking to use his change-up more this year, and he threw a good one the other day to Chase Headley.
- Justin Smoak is on a tear down in Peoria.
- Not sure how I feel about this one: we’ll be in Reno for Brett Butler Championship Bobblehead Night.
- Down in Hillsboro (right on the outskirts of baseball-hating Portlandia), they had the topping-out ceremony as they build a new ballpark for the short-season Northwest League. It’s great for local baseball fans just to get back in the game, but it’s also a shame. This is a Triple-A market.
Our next blog update will be Friday.