Outfield Outlook

This is the last of our position-by-position previews of the spring training battles – going on now! – to make the Rainiers opening day roster. Today, we look at the outfielders.

There are a lot of outfielders in the mix, so with this one we need to start at the top: Seattle.

The Mariners are probably going to carry five outfielders. The “locks” are Franklin Gutierrez, Michael Saunders, Raul Ibanez and Michael Morse. The battle for the fifth outfielder seems to be between Jason Bay, Casper Wells, Carlos Peguero, and Eric Thames.

Of the those last four players, only Thames and Peguero have an option remaining – meaning they are the only ones who can be sent to Tacoma without passing through waivers first (and being offered to the other 29 teams for free).

We’re going to have Thames in Tacoma if he doesn’t make the big league club – and I think we can expect him to be an impact bat in the PCL if he is here; he hit .330 with a .935 OPS for Las Vegas in 54 games last year.

As for Peguero, we know what he can do: destroy PCL pitching and launch highly entertaining home runs. We’ll welcome Carlos back in Tacoma if he gets sent here.

Unless they force their way on to the Mariners roster, Thames and Peguero will hit in the middle of the Rainiers lineup on opening day.

Thames and Peguero will play the corner outfield positions, with Alex Liddi and Vinnie Catricala (both covered in the corner infielders post two weeks ago) getting spot starts in left field. Perhaps Stefen Romero and Eric Farris could get into the left field picture, too.

Center field is where we will see someone new – and his last name will be Almonte. But which one?

Center field candidates

Denny Almonte: The Mariners second round draft pick in 2007 out of a Miami high school, Almonte made big strides last year in pitch recognition, boosting his status in the organization. A switch-hitter with speed and power, Almonte always had a ton of strikeouts and very few walks. Last year – his first at Double-A Jackson – he nearly doubled his career-high walk total, drawing 52 free passes. He also set a career (full-season) low with 135 strikeouts. Almonte hit .249 with 12 homers and 24 stolen bases. My sources say he’s very good on defense in center – something very important in the deep pasture at Cheney Stadium.

Abe Almonte: The new guy, Abe was acquired from the Yankees when the Mariners traded reliever Shawn Kelley. Abe is a little guy with great speed – he is listed at 5’9″ and he has stolen 30+ bases in each of his last three full seasons. He’s been with the Yankees Double-A Trenton affiliate for the past two years. In an injury-slowed 2012 campaign, Almonte hit .276 with a .350 on-base percentage and 30 stolen bases in just 78 games. He doesn’t offer much power – he’s a get-on-base and use-his-speed type of player. If he makes the Rainiers, I can only assume he’ll be batting leadoff. As for his defense, I know nothing. I’ll be closely watching him when I go to spring training at the end of the month.

Other outfielders in the mix

Francisco Martinez is a former third baseman who is being moved to center this year. He’s on the 40-man roster and was the big prospect acquired from Detroit in the Doug Fister trade. He’s also coming off a dreadful 2012 season with the bat in Jackson, and we can only assume that he is going back there for 2013. He was good in 2011 and a bounce-back season is not out of the question.

Joe Dunigan mashed 25 taters for Jackson last year, playing 23 games in the outfield but mostly DH-ing. He also struck out 175 times in 426 at-bats and hit .254. Sounds like more Double-A seasoning is on tap for Dunigan.

I figured we would have seen Danny Carroll in Tacoma by now, but fate has intervened. The speedy centerfielder hasn’t been able to escape the injury bug, which limited him to 22 games last year for Jackson. First he had a shoulder strain, then he broke his hamate bone. If he’s healthy, he’s a potential Rainiers outfielder.

Going deeper, outfielders who may jump from A-ball to Jackson this year include Julio Morban, James Jones, and Leon Landry. If any of these guys tear it up in the Southern League, we could potentially see them in Tacoma after the all-star break.

We have some interesting stories to read today – several of the national baseball writers visited the Mariners camp recently, and their articles have been published.

Links:

  • The one-and-only Jon Heyman of CBS Sports checked in on the M’s and wrote about their power surge and fresh outlook. Heyman also shared his Mariners camp likes and dislikes.
  • Tracy Ringolsby put on his cowboy hat, hit the Mariners camp and checked in on Mike Zunino. There is a lot of good background on the Zunino family in this article.
  • ESPN analyst Keith Law watched Taijuan Walker struggle with his location on Monday (subscription required).
  • Here’s a look at where the Mariners roster battles stand as of today, courtesy of Mr. Larry Stone.
  • John McGrath weighed in on the red-hot Mariners.
  • The mysterious marc w of USS Mariner won the internet this week (I know, it’s only Wednesday) by showing us that the prevailing opinion on Carlos Peguero – that he can only hit fastballs – is totally wrong.
  • Kyle Seager always has a good approach to this whole baseball thing.
  • Larry Stone caught up with Mr. Mariner himself, Alvin Davis.
  • Mariners reliever Oliver Perez is fired up to be pitching for Mexico in the WBC.
  • A note on a couple of ex-Rainiers: Johan Limonta has re-signed with the York Revolution of the independent Atlantic League, and Sean Kazmar signed a minor league deal with the Braves (h/t to Big Mike).
  • Another former Rainier, Luke French, has retired and is now working for the Twins helping with their video scouting, according to Larry Stone’s twitter.
  • Former Tacoma Twins star Tom Kelly is helping former Tacoma Rainiers star Jeff Clement improve his first base defense in Twins camp. Former Tacomans rejoice!
  • I don’t have an iPad, but if I did I would spend 99 cents on Baseball America’s WBC guide. They are killing it with their coverage of this event, even sending Ben Badler to Japan so he could lay eyes on the rarely seen Cuban team.
  • In the PCL, fellow Pavement fan Marek W. of the Fresno Bee took a stab at predicting the Fresno Grizzlies opening day roster. The Rainiers open the season at Fresno on April 4.
  • A writer for MiLB.com worked out his own park factors for minor league stadiums, and as expected Cheney Stadium still comes out as a pitcher’s park. They really, really need a humidor in Reno – the only one of the top three PCL launching pads to not have one for 2013.

Check back for an update on Friday.

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