Ibanez Accepts Hutch Award

January 31, 2014

Yesterday former Rainiers player Raul Ibanez accepted the annual Hutch Award in a ceremony at Safeco Field.

Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center presents the award annually to the Major League player who “best exemplifies the fighting spirit and competitive desire of Fred Hutchinson by persevering through adversity.”

This award honors players for their off-field contributions. From today’s Seattle Times story, check out this list of projects Ibanez donates his time to:

He chairs the annual Mariners Care Cystic Fibrosis golf tournament, supports Page Ahead Children’s Literacy Program, works with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Boys & Girls Clubs, Seattle Children’s Hospital, Treehouse, Covenant House Pennsylvania and Project H.O.M.E. and serves as a spokesman for the Mariners’ “Refuse to Abuse” campaign.

Ibanez became the third former Tacoma player to win the award. He joins Willie McCovey (1960 Tacoma Giants, Hutch Award in 1977) and Jason Giambi (1994 Tacoma Tigers, Hutch Award in 2000).

As an organization, the Mariners do a tremendous job of emphasizing to players the importance of giving back to their communities. This starts in the minor leagues, and the emphasis grows as players move up the chain. In his season-opening team meeting the past seven years, manager Daren Brown always strongly encouraged his players to participate in Rainiers community outreach programs.

Ibanez came up through the Mariners farm system, and he really took that organizational philosophy to heart and made it a part of his life regardless of which team he was playing for. I’m sure he’ll continue to do good work in the community while he’s with the Angels this season.

We’re proud to claim Raul as a former Rainiers player.

Links:

  • The News Tribune’s Bob Dutton has a unique perspective on Raul Ibanez, having covered him when he established himself in Kansas City.
  • If you are curious about Fred Hutchinson‘s story and why the award is named for him, his Wikipedia page is actually quite thorough.
  • Here is the news story on the Mariners signing Scott Baker, with quotes from Jack Zduriencik.
  • For ESPN Insiders, Keith Law’s Top 10 Mariners Prospects are right here.
  • I was a guest on the Lookout Landing podcast and if you can survive all of my rambling there are a few decent Rainiers stories.
  • The Orioles hired Brian Moran‘s uncle as a special assignment scout.
  • The new baseball cards are here! The new baseball cards are here! The new baseball cards are here! Jim Caple writes.
  • The season is approaching – I ordered my scorebook today. If you are into keeping score, these are the best books.

Have a Super weekend!


Position Previews: Tacoma Catching Candidates

January 29, 2014

Can you smell the baseball in the air? No?

I can’t either. We still have that one little football game to get out of the way.

Nonetheless, it is time to start our around-the-diamond Tacoma Rainiers position previews for 2014.

The goal of this annual series is to see which players will be battling in spring training to make the Rainiers 2014 opening day roster. This can’t be done without also looking at the Mariners major league situation, so that will be part of the process.

The position previews series will continue each Wednesday for six weeks. I’ll continue to have other blog updates around it – usually on Mondays and Fridays as we head into spring training.

We start with the catchers.

MARINERS CATCHERS

It appears that the Mariners are going to carry two catchers: John Buck and Mike Zunino.

Many observers have this duo set, although I should point out that Zunino has three option years remaining and could be sent to the minors if in spring training it looks like he needs the seasoning. I’m sure the Mariners are hoping that is not the case.

TACOMA CATCHING CANDIDATES

The recent signing of Buck must have been a bummer for Humberto Quintero and Jesus Sucre. Both spent quite a bit of time in the majors last year and surely thought they had a chance to break camp with the big league club. Now, they face long odds.

Humberto Quintero is a 34-year-old veteran with 7.5 years of Major League service time. He has not logged more than ten Triple-A games in a season since 2008 with Round Rock – the reason being, he’s been needed in the majors. A veteran of his stature probably has an “out” in his minor league contract if he doesn’t make the big league team on April 1, so it is hard to figure if Tacoma is in Quintero’s future.

Jesus Sucre is on the Mariners 40-man roster and has two option years remaining. The defensive specialist had an up-and-down season last year: he got his first-ever major league call-up, and then in his eighth big league game he broke his wrist and spent months on the disabled list, eventually coming back to Tacoma. Sucre is highly likely to be on the Rainiers roster.

Brandon Bantz is always in the picture. The affable Bantz threw out an excellent 41% of PCL base stealers while hitting .255 in a reserve role last year. He made his MLB debut, but was removed from the 40-man roster afterwards. It would not be surprising to see Bantz swing between Double-A and Triple-A this year, or even spend all season in Tacoma. A lot depends on if Quintero is still in the organization on Opening Day.

Manny Pina was signed as a minor league free agent. The 26-year-old has been a Double-A and Triple-A receiver in the Royals organization, and he has five games of major league experience with Kansas City. Pina was a good depth signing for the Mariners – he could be in Jackson or Tacoma at the start of the season.

John Hicks is the prospect. Or at least he was last spring, when the now 24-year-old opened eyes throughout the Cactus League. Then he was sent to Jackson, where he had a lot of trouble with the bat (.236 with four homers, a .632 OPS). Hicks did throw out a whopping 49% of base stealers for Jackson. My trusty Magic 8-Ball says he’ll go to Jackson in April and work on hitting, but that old Magic 8-Ball isn’t always right. You can count on seeing him in Tacoma at some point.

Mike Dowd is a 23-year-old who played in 36 games for Jackson last year. The Mariners invited him to major league spring training because of the need to have a lot of catchers there (you know – to catch all of those pitchers in camp!), so you will hear his name in February and March. However, I think he is unlikely to make Triple-A this year – but with catchers more than any other position, you never know.

That’s the catching pool as of right now. Next Wednesday we’ll look at the corner infielders.

Some news just coming across the “wire” today:

The Kansas City Royals claimed Carlos Peguero off waivers, and the teams worked out a trade – well, they will someday work out a trade. The Mariners trade Peguero to Kansas City for “a player to be named later or cash considerations.”

I knew some team would claim Peguero after he was DFA’d last week. He has too much talent to get through waivers. The risk for the claiming team is very little: bring him to spring training, see if he makes your opening day roster, and if not you just DFA him yourself (Peguero is out of minor league options).

Now we’ll see if Peguero can take advantage of this opportunity.

Peguero hit 53 home runs for Tacoma, and many of them were very impressive. I am reminded of this blog post from 2011 about a tape-measure blast he hit in Salt Lake City. We actually measured it the next day.

One other transaction: the Mariners signed veteran right-hander Scott Baker to a minor league deal. He was pretty good before elbow surgery cost him 2012 and most of 2013. Look for him to make the Mariners big league roster if he is fully recovered from the Tommy John surgery.

Links:

  • Bob Dutton has a blog post on the Carlos Peguero and Scott Baker moves. So does Ryan Divish.
  • Former Rainiers infielder/outfielder Vinnie Catricala announced he is retiring, to become a police officer in his hometown Sacramento area. Here’s more from Lookout Landing.
  • The Mariners might not be done making moves, Jon Heyman writes.
  • Keith Law ranks the Mariners farm system #21 in baseball. This is mostly due to graduations to the big leagues. His Top-100 prospects list came out today – for ESPN Insiders.
  • The Nashville Sounds broke ground on their new ballpark. I can’t wait to visit, although if the schedule trends hold the Rainiers won’t be going there until 2016 (we do get to say goodbye to Greer this year, though!).
  • Are you familiar with the batting stance of Johnny Wockenfuss? You are now. Special note to baseball coaches: don’t watch this.
  • Friend-of-the-blog Rob Neyer said goodbye to SB Nation with an interesting, twisting column about Jamie Moyer, analysis, and humanity.
  • John Feinstein is a great writer, and his newest book is about Triple-A baseball. It takes place in the International League, but that shouldn’t stop it from being really good.
  • Speaking of the IL, current Toledo Mud Hens broadcaster Jim Weber was elected to the International League Hall of Fame. Money quote: “It sure is nice to have this happen before I died.”
  • The guy running the Super Bowl once oversaw Cheney Stadium. Nice find from John McGrath.
  • Longtime Tacoma baseball employee Ron Zollo will be remembered in a service at Cheney Stadium on Saturday – details are here.

More Prospect Lists

January 27, 2014

The media build-up to the Super Bowl is really going to increase this week, but in the meantime there are a bunch of baseball items of note to pass along today.

The Mariners held their FanFest this past weekend, as some good stories came from it – they are available in the links down below.

You can add another name to the ever-growing list of potential Rainiers players. On Friday the Mariners announced they are bringing oft-injured yet intriguing pitcher Mark Rogers to spring training on a minor league deal.

Rogers was the 5th player chosen in the first round of the 2004 draft, and he has spent a ton of time on the disabled list since then. Shoulder injuries have been the culprit – yet when healthy, he flashes enough potential to keep teams interested.

Rogers spent most of 2013 rehabilitating his latest shoulder injury. If he is healthy in spring training, he could make the Tacoma roster.

A wave of prospect lists came out today, with more on the docket for later this week.

Baseball America released their Mariners Top-10 Prospects list, and Baseball Prospectus came out with their Top 101 Prospects in the game (links are below, of course). Later this week, ESPN Insiders will get Keith Law’s annual prospectpalooza.

I enjoy these prospect lists, but don’t put too much weight on them. Lists like these are merely fun diversions – players need to perform. Baseball is full of players like Abraham Almonte, who was on nobody’s prospect list last year and ended up being Tacoma’s MVP and finishing the season with an impressive run in the majors.

On to the links:

  • Baseball America’s Top 10 Mariners Prospects list came out today. This link is the free list and a round-up, and if you are a subscriber you can get their scouting reports right here.
  • The Baseball Prospectus Top 101 Prospects is right here – it’s just a list; the full write-ups are in their annual book which has just been released. Three Mariners (two 2013 Rainiers) make the list.
  • Bob Dutton caught up with Robinson Cano at FanFest, and he also has a report on the health of Corey Hart.
  • Dutton’s notebook from FanFest incudes a visit with new Mariner Logan Morrison.
  • The curveball drove Russell Wilson to stardom – in football, says the Denver Post. The story has some good quotes from current Rockies and Sky Sox players who were teammates with Wilson.
  • Former Rainiers manager Dave Myers was announced as the hitting coach for the Durham Bulls – his sixth season as the Tampa Bay Rays Triple-A hitting coach.
  • Here’s a fun story from the SF paper on former PCL player Neill Sheridan, who once hit a 613-foot home run for Sacramento.
  • After I was done reading the previous story on Sunday afternoon, I fell into a fun non-baseball wormhole and now I’m going to suck you in, too: photos from the big wave surfing contest. Enjoy.

Coming Wednesday: we start our position-by-position spring training series by looking at the potential Tacoma catchers.


Notes From Media Day

January 24, 2014

The Mariners held their annual pre-spring training media day at Safeco Field on Thursday, and I was there to get some news. Most of the focus is on the major league squad, but the Mariners make sure to always have the farm director and usually at least one Triple-A level player available.

We’ll leave the major league news for the major league writers – check the links down below. As for the Triple-A tidbits that impact the Rainiers, let’s do it bullet-points style.

  • Stefen Romero is one of four Mariners players who attended, and the only one who I think might play for Tacoma in 2014. Romero played in 93 games for Tacoma during an injury-riddled 2013 season, batting .277 with 11 homers and 74 RBI. Many of the questions Romero was asked concerned his defense and what position he would play – Romero said he sees himself as a multi-position player, and that he has worked mostly on his outfield play during the off-season. Romero also made it clear that he understands that his bat is key for reaching the major leagues.
  • Jack Z also talked about Romero, noting that the fact he is right-handed plays to his favor. Currently, the Mariners lineup is extremely left-handed.
  • Zduriencik was asked about Nick Franklin and what position he would play. Jack said he has spoken to Nick, and told him that he wanted to see Franklin come to spring training and compete for the shortstop job. This is a story that will be followed throughout spring training.
  • Mariners (and former Rainiers) trainer Rob Nodine gave the health report, and he included an update on Rainiers pitcher Danny Hultzen and his recovery from shoulder surgery. Nodine said Hultzen “is progressing, and is on the verge of starting an interval throwing program in Arizona.” That sounds good, but keep in mind he is not expected to pitch in 2014.
  • Manager Lloyd McClendon was asked an interesting question about Taijuan Walker: if in his past he had ever seen a young pitcher come up to the big leagues in September, and then have expectations placed on him the following April. He said he saw a comparable situation in Detroit, with Justin Verlander. We can only hope it works out that well for Taijuan! Bob Dutton wrote about this – the link is down below.
  • The team announced that veteran outfielder Endy Chavez has been re-signed to a minor league contract. Chavez opened the 2013 season with Tacoma and was quickly promoted to the big leagues – a scenario that does not seem far-fetched for a repeat this year.
  • I asked Director of Player Development Chris Gwynn about going outside the organization to hire Rainiers manager Rich Donnelly, and he said that Donnelly’s “resume speaks for itself.” He also noted that Lloyd McClendon is comfortable with Donnelly, and in terms of bringing in a new face he “just felt it was time.” Gwynn also added that Tacoma “should have a pretty good team, let’s see if they can put it together.”
  • I think the most important part of Gwynn’s response was Donnelly’s familiarity with McClendon. The Mariners new manager didn’t get to hire many of his own major league coaches, but he did get someone he knows and trusts in Triple-A.
  • Chatting with Gwynn at lunch, he seemed unsure about how the Rainiers roster will break down, considering the number of players in the mix. He said they’ll use the seven weeks of spring training to sort it out.
  • Gwynn did, however, indicate that the Rainiers should have a very impressive bullpen. There will be some power arms in the ‘pen.

Overall, it was another successful event run by the Mariners PR Department. This always gets me thinking about the new season.

Links:

  • The Seattle Times has a notebook from yesterday’s event.
  • On August 9, the Mariners will induct Lou Piniella into their team hall of fame.
  • As part of the event yesterday, the Mariners announced their promotional giveaway schedule. Beard Hat Night is back, thank goodness.
  • There is word from the Seattle Times that the Mariners have decided on a new team president.
  • John McGrath wrote about Lloyd McClendon and Pete Carroll.
  • Bob Dutton has a piece on Taijuan Walker‘s reaction to being named in off-season trade rumors. Good story.
  • Dutton also has a blog post on Walker and prospect rankings.
  • Fun blog post on a college player at Whitman who, while researching a paper, found a 1960 Tacoma Giants promotional roster. Pictures are here. I love the wording “Palatial Ben Cheney Stadium.”
  • I was hired to write the Mariners essay (important distinction: the Mariners essay only – I did not write the player comments) for the Baseball Prospectus annual book. Here is a preview of the book.
  • The pride of Central Kitsap High School and longtime Fresno Grizzlies outfielder Todd Linden has retired as a player – and the Giants immediately made him hitting coach for their Class-A team in Augusta, Georgia.
  • The New Orleans Zephyrs new manager is Andy Haines. Haines has coached and managed in the Marlins system for seven years, but he’ll be a rarity in the PCL: a manager who did not play professional baseball.
  • Matt Eddy reported on Twitter that the Dodgers signed former Rainiers outfielder Trayvon Robinson to a minor league contract. We could see a lot of him this year if he makes the Albuquerque roster.
  • Bay Area sports wiseass pundit Ray Ratto writes that Greg Maddux should go into the Hall of Fame as a Las Vegas 51.
  • Got an extra $750,000 in your pocket? You can buy Babe Ruth‘s 1923 World Series watch. It’s pretty awesome.
  • Red Sox star Jon Lester will be a free agent after the season, and he said he’s willing to take a hometown discount. Lester is from Tacoma, so… Jon Lester, Tacoma Rainiers ace in 2015! Wait, you mean Boston is the hometown now? Oh.

Have a good weekend – next week we’ll start the Rainiers position-by-position previews.


Tanaka To Yankees

January 22, 2014

The last major free agent signed today, when the New York Yankees inked Japanese pitching star Masahiro Tanaka to a seven-year, $155 million deal.

It was thought that the Mariners were originally in the running for Tanaka, but recently they were not named among the rumored suitors. It’s all over now – the Yankees got him, paying exactly what was reportedly their final offer to try to keep Robinson Cano.

Tanaka will be one of the most fun players to watch in 2014, simply due to the mystery. This guy went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in Japan last year. Think about that for a minute. It’s not a stretch to say that the Japanese league and Triple-A are roughly the same level (most scouts I speak to say that Japan is just slightly better, due to the presence of a few superstars like Tanaka). Can you imagine a pitcher going 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in the PCL?

Now we’ll see what – if anything – the Mariners do. They are currently looking at a starting rotation of Felix, Iwakuma, and then three very young pitchers – from a group of Erasmo Ramirez, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, and possibly Blake Beavan.

I am torn over those final three spots. As a fan and an “insider,” I like all four of those guys and it would be a lot of fun to see how the young guys do in the big leagues pitching every fifth day. But the baseball veteran inside my head is screaming “too many freshmen and sophomores! They need another veteran! It’s a long season! Kids break down!”

Which way will the Mariners go? There are still several good veterans on the market – guys who will command money, like Bronson Arroyo, Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, and Ubaldo Jimenez. The Mariners should still have plenty of payroll room to add one of these types of pitchers – if they choose to.

Tomorrow is the Mariners pre-spring media conference, and on Friday I’ll have a blog post with all of the Rainiers-related news from that event.

Links:

  • Mariners 2013 draftee D.J. Peterson made MLB.com’s list of the Top 10 Third Base Prospects in the minor leagues.
  • The Mariners will be adding their MLB-mandated metal detectors in 2014 – one year early.
  • Former Rainiers reliever Eric O’Flaherty has signed with the Oakland A’s.
  • There is another international free agent the Mariners might be interested in: pitcher Suk-Min Yoon, whom Lookout Landing dubbed “the Korean question mark.”*
  • In the PCL, the Omaha newspaper caught up with new Storm Chasers manager Brian Poldberg, and asked him about defending the PCL title.
  • The Round Rock Leader took a stab at predicting how the Express will look in April. The story notes that on paper, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is currently a member of the Round Rock Express.
  • Congratulations to Peter Barrouquere on being inducted to the New Orleans Professional Baseball Hall of Fame. Barrouquere covered Triple-A baseball for years in New Orleans, and he is highly respected throughout the PCL. Peter was always very friendly to visiting radio guys, offering to play tour guide while entertaining us with his Cajun accent.

Check back on Friday afternoon – we should have some good tidbits on the 2014 Rainiers!

* I could give that same nickname to about half the guys in my regular poker game.


Two More Additions

January 20, 2014

The Mariners are bringing two more minor league free agents into spring training camp, and both are potential Rainiers players in April.

The team announced that former Omaha catcher Manny Pina has been signed, adding more depth to the catching group. Pina has played at the Double-A level or above every year since 2008, getting brief tastes of the majors in 2011 and 2012 (for a total of five MLB games, with Kansas City).

Pina is a defense-first catcher – in fact, that might be why he has spent so much time at Double-A the past six years. He did get 99 at-bats for Triple-A Omaha last year, hitting .242 with two homers. In 68 games for Omaha in 2011, he batted .238 with five homers, and nudged his OPS over .700.

The catching depth chart is probably full now, and it’s interesting – we’ll start with the catching position when we begin our look at the spring training positional battles next Wednesday.

Potentially more important to the big league team, the Mariners have signed veteran left-handed reliever Joe Beimel to a minor league contract, presumably with an invitation to big league camp.

The 36-year-old Beimel has appeared in 567 Major League games, posting a 4.21 career ERA. His best years were 2006-to-2008 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, when he was one of the tougher left-on-left relievers in the NL.

Beimel’s career came to a halt with an elbow injury after the 2011 season, which eventually required Tommy John surgery. He missed all of 2012, then came back for the second half of 2013 which he spent with the Atlanta Braves Triple-A affiliate in the International League. Beimel had a 4.36 ERA in 30 games for Gwinett, but was not called up by the Braves in September, so he became a free agent.

Beimel is a gamble that could pay off at the major league level for the Mariners. He could be a Rainiers reliever, too – he’s pitched at Cheney Stadium before, prior to the renovation when he had a very brief stay with Las Vegas in 2010.

Links:

And that’s all we have for baseball stories today. I wonder why? Nothing else is going on…


Peguero In Limbo

January 17, 2014

Yesterday the Seattle Mariners signed free agent catcher John Buck, and they had to create room for him on the major league 40-man roster. To do that, they designated Rainiers outfielder Carlos Peguero for assignment.

Peguero is out of minor league options. He was going to have to make the opening day roster out of spring training, or else the Mariners would have been forced to designate him at the end of March. Instead, they are doing it now.

Any team can claim Peguero off waivers right now, as long as they immediately place him on their 40-man roster. I think some team out there will take a chance on the power hitter, and take a long look at him during spring training.

However, Peguero might go unclaimed. Then the Mariners can assign him to Tacoma for the 2014 season.

If Peguero ends up back in Tacoma, he will have a chance to break Tacoma’s all-time career home run record. He needs 19 homers to tie Rick Renick, who hit 72 home runs over four seasons as a member of the Tacoma Twins from 1973 to 1976.

Here is the current all-time Tacoma career home run list:

HOME RUNS
1) Rick Renick 72
2) Mike Carp 67
3) Tom Kelly 66
T4) Randy Bass 64
Danny Goodwin 64
6) Bryan LaHair 60
7) Dan Rohrmeier 58
8) Kelvin Moore 57
9) Carlos Peguero 53
T10) Jeff Clement 52
Alex Liddi 52

As for Peguero, he’s currently in baseball limbo. It could take as many as ten days before we learn his fate.

Links:

  • Here is the Seattle Times story on John Buck‘s signing.
  • Matt Eddy of Baseball America tweeted that the Mariners signed reliever Logan Kensing to a minor league contract. Kensing is a veteran who had a very good season for Colorado Springs last year – he should certainly help the Tacoma bullpen; and last year he was briefly called up by the Rockies. More on him later…
  • On Thursday the News Tribune ran a Mariners notebook that leads off with the Rich Donnelly hiring.
  • The Robinson Cano signing left Nick Franklin without a position, and he told Mariners Radio that he still hasn’t heard from anyone in the Mariners front office.
  • Mariners catching prospect Tyler Marlette was listed as one of the Top-10 Catching Prospects in the minors by MLB.com. Marlette was a part of the best-groomed team in the minors last year: the Clinton LumberKings.
  • Major League Baseball is implementing expanded instant replay this season. Jayson Stark explains how it is going to work.
  • PCL mainstay Tony DeFranceso will return as the manager in Oklahoma City.
  • The El Paso Chihuahuas are selling partial season ticket plans, but they are calling them… I don’t even want to type it… “paw-tial season ticket plans.” My goodness, this is going to be ruff. Err, rough.

Have a great weekend and enjoy the football. Yes, there will be another Cheney Stadium viewing party. Dare we promise that high winds won’t blow the power out this time? Yes, we promise.*

* please please please no wind storms. The forecast says no wind storms.