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.
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.
- 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.