Baseball In Tacoma Today

February 27, 2014

Hey, we’ve got games at Cheney Stadium this weekend!

The University of Washington is using our ballpark for a four-game series against U.C. Davis this weekend. The Huskies are renovating their ballpark and it won’t be ready until March 21.

Game times:

  • Friday (tonight!): 5:00
  • Saturday (doubleheader!): 1:00 and 6:00
  • Sunday: 1:00

Tickets are six bucks, you can buy ’em at the box office. Seniors and military get in for four bucks. There is free parking for these games.

Any rain-related issues will be operated just like a Tacoma Rainiers game: they are going to try real hard to play, and decisions will be made by the two head coaches and the umpires right at game time if it is bad.

Rainiers player from the University of Washington: Forrest Snow.

Rainiers player from UC Davis: Ty Kelly.

Special shout-out to former Rainiers pitcher & TV analyst Jeff Heaverlo, who is a Husky.

Play ball!


Rainiers Rotation Roulette

February 26, 2014

Trying to predict the Rainiers starting rotation right now is a fool’s errand.

Even thought that guy in the picture over there on the right looks like a fool, he’s not. I will not be predicting the Rainiers rotation, and here is why:

The Mariners only have two of their rotation spots locked up, and one of them is injured and won’t be ready until mid-to-late April.

Mariners rotation:

 

  1. Felix Hernandez
  2. Hasashi Iwakuma (out until mid-to-late April)
  3. Taijuan Walker (in pencil)
  4. TBD
  5. TBD

 

I’m penciling in Walker because of comments that Lloyd McClendon made before spring training, basically saying that he would be very disappointed if Walker didn’t make the rotation. So let’s stick him in there, but with the caveat that he has to perform well in the Cactus League to turn that writing from pencil to ink.

Then we have a host of people fighting to make the other three spots (including Iwakuma’s – that spot is available at the start of the season).

Jack Zduriencik has been extremely aggressive bringing lots of cheap arms into spring training, to get a look at a number of guys for these rotation spots.

The list of candidates to fill out the Mariners rotation, and to pitch in Tacoma, is long. Let’s hit it, in alphabetical order:

Scott Baker: a once-successful starter for the Minnesota Twins, Baker is coming off Tommy John surgery and hasn’t pitched much the last two years. The Mariners signed him to a low-risk, incentive-laced minor league contract. I get the feeling that the Mariners want Baker to earn one of the big league rotation spots, but if not he could end up with Tacoma.

Blake Beavan: had a nice run in the Mariners rotation in the second half of the 2012 season, but followed it up with a disappointing 2013 season. Blake’s mechanics looked very different while he was in Tacoma in 2013 – he looked like he was pushing the ball towards the plate. Not sure what we’ll see from Beavan this year.

Andrew Carraway: a non-roster invitee to spring training, Carraway could end up in the Rainiers rotation for a third season this year. He was really good at the start of last year for Tacoma, then he pulled one of those upper-back-near-the-shoulder muscles and wasn’t the same after. The Mariners would love to see a return of the early-season Carraway from last year.

Roenis Elias: remember this name; he’s gonna be a Rainier at some point. The left-hander from Cuba had a real strong season at Jackson last year and was invited to big league camp. I’ve heard scouts say that if starting doesn’t work out, Elias profiles as a possible major league left-on-left relief specialist. Either way, he’ll make his way to Triple-A… but when?

Anthony Fernandez: a 23-year-old lefty, Fernandez is on the Mariners 40-man roster. He made 22 starts for Jackson last year, going 9-8, 4.43. Has not yet appeared in a Triple-A game – Fernandez isn’t really a candidate to make the Mariners rotation out of spring training, but a good impression could land him in Tacoma.

Jimmy Gilheeney: left-hander made 20 starts in Jackson and five for Tacoma last year, and earned an invitation to big league camp. He’ll need to have a strong spring training to crack the Tacoma rotation, but it could happen.

Brandon Maurer: jumped from Double-A to the big leagues last spring; can he win a rotation spot again? Well, he’s done it before. I suppose Brandon is also a candidate for Mariners long relief since he did that for a while last year, but it doesn’t make sense to me for him to be in the bullpen at age 23.

Zach Miner: starter, reliever, Triple-A, or MLB – Miner has done it all recently. He returned to the big leagues with the Phillies last year in a relief role – his first MLB work since 2009 with Detroit. Miner is one of those types of pitchers that GMs love to stash away in Triple-A for depth purposes. And Triple-A managers love guys like this, because they can both start and relieve, and they usually have a professional attitude about the role.

Hector Noesi: for Noesi to play for the Rainiers this year, he’ll have to clear waivers because he is out of minor league options. It’s not a forgone conclusion that he would clear: Noesi has a live arm and classic pitcher’s body; some team might take a chance on him. Noesi can start or relieve.

Matt Palmer: a true PCL veteran, Palmer has also pitched parts of five seasons in the majors. The 35-year-old has plenty of experience as both a starter and a reliever. He profiles to take the Brian Sweeney swing-man spot in Triple-A, and he has enough big league experience to serve as a valuable insurance policy if the Mariners need bullpen help or a spot-starter.

James Paxton: man, those four starts in September for the Mariners after his call-up were terrific, weren’t they? I like Paxton’s chances to stick in the Seattle rotation come opening day. However, if he gets optioned to Tacoma, we’ll take him!

Erasmo Ramirez: another homegrown player with a real shot at making the rotation, Erasmo’s numbers were down during an injury-plagued 2013 season. Ramirez is a good “sleeper” to earn one of the Mariners rotation spots. Just like Paxton, if Erasmo ends up in Tacoma, we’ll happily take him.

Mark Rogers: a minor league free agent brought in from the Brewers, Rogers was always considered a top prospect until shoulder injuries waylaid him. He’s reached the majors and started a few big league games before. This is going to be strictly a health call: if he looks good and strong, health-wise, the Mariners will find room for him in the organization.

Chance Ruffin: I have no idea if Chance is a starter or reliever right now – I’ll figure this out later in the spring. He made 16 starts in Double-A last year, then two for Tacoma, then moved to the bullpen, and even got himself called up in September as a reliever. I think he’s a reliever now, but that’s what I thought last spring and he ended up starting.

Anthony Vasquez: a former Rainiers and Mariners starter, Vasquez returned from a really scary situation – brain surgery – to make a dozen starts in Double-A last year. It’s hard to envision Vasquez as a reliever – I think he’ll be starting somewhere; quite possibly for Tacoma.

Randy Wolf: a 37-year-old lefty, coming off Tommy John surgery, who has started 368 major league games (about 12 years worth). If he’s 100% healthy, he’ll have a real good shot at making the Mariners rotation. He is in camp on a minor league deal, so we must consider the possibility he could be with the Rainiers. But a veteran of his status certainly has a contract opt-out if he doesn’t make the big league club, so nobody is stitching his name on the back of a Rainiers jersey yet.

That’s a long list, eh? Sixteen players, for eight open spots.

Three of the above players are going to make the Mariners rotation. Five are going to make the Tacoma rotation. The rest? Some might slide to the bullpen, either in Tacoma or Seattle. Others might get their walking papers. One or two might get sent to Double-A to start the season.

Prediction? You want a prediction? I’ll make one prediction: if I had to pick a single name off the above list to open the 2014 season in the Tacoma Rainiers starting rotation, I would select Brandon Maurer. But I wouldn’t ink him in – I’m using erasable pencil, in case he makes the big club.


Stearns Down – Not Out

February 25, 2014

This morning we received some rather unexpected injury information from the Seattle Mariners: third base coach John Stearns is out, having had surgery for a hiatal hernia.

Stearns, of course, was the Rainiers manager last season after Daren Brown was promoted to Mariners third base coach. After the season, the entire major league staff was either fired or reassigned, and Stearns was promoted to Seattle to coach third.

The Mariners release says that Stearns is not going to be doing any baseball-related activities for 4-6 weeks. Hopefully this process isn’t too painful for Stearns, and we wish him a speedy recovery.

In the meantime, the Mariners need a third base coach for spring training games and, in all likelihood, the start of the regular season. Here’s where things get interesting.

New Rainiers manager Rich Donnelly has been a major league third base coach for decades. He has more experience at that post than anyone in the Mariners organization. What if he is asked to fill in for Stearns?

On top of that, Brown is still in the organization as a roving instructor. He has experience at both spots: MLB third base coach, and Triple-A manager. He could be summoned for one of these two jobs, if Stearns is out for more than a month.

Stay tuned…

Links:

  • Here are the details on John Stearns and his health.
  • Manager Lloyd McClendon is trying to change the tone. < this is a good feature story.
  • Here is Bob Dutton’s notebook from spring training camp. In the intersquad game today, Stefen Romero hit the first home run of Mariners spring training.
  • Larry Stone has a column on new Mariner Logan Morrison.
  • Rumors! You can always count on the New York media to churn out some rumors. Like, for example, Nick Franklin getting traded to the Mets.
  • After a controversial shakeup, former Mariners pitcher Jamie Moyer has joined the Philadelphia Phillies TV team.
  • This “Face of MLB” thing on Twitter is kind of funny. Even funnier is that a player who has no clear MLB job and might open the season in the PCL could win the thing. “Now batting for Sacramento, the face of Major League Baseball, Eric Sogard!”

We’ll look at potential Tacoma starting pitchers tomorrow.


Nelson Cruz: Not A Mariner

February 24, 2014

It seemed like a foregone conclusion all winter long that the Mariners would eventually sign free agent outfielder Nelson Cruz.

That turned out to be incorrect. Over the weekend, Cruz inked a one-year, $8 million contract with the Baltimore Orioles.

What a strange saga that turned out to be.

First off, Cruz turned down a one-year, $14 million deal with the Rangers in November – that was the “qualifying offer” the Rangers offered their free agent outfielder, the exact same deal the Mariners offered Kendrys Morales back in November.

Both players turned down those qualifying offers and became free agents, presumably thinking they could get a multi-year deal worth a lot more guaranteed money with another team.

Next on the Cruz front, there were rumors swirling during the Winter Meetings that he had several multi-year offers and that the Mariners were one of the teams trying to get him. Apparently that turned out to be nothing but rumors – he would’ve taken a multiple-year deal over a one-year contract, one would think.

Now Cruz signs one of those “show me” contracts, where he commits for one year and goes back on the free agent market next winter. If he puts together a big season this year, he should get a lot more cash next winter.

This season, he’ll make $6 million less than if he had simply accepted the Rangers qualifying offer. Whoops!

Whatever, he’s an Oriole now. I know many Mariners fans who were hoping the team wouldn’t sign him due to a host of red flags (age, home park in Texas boosting his stats, Biogenesis suspension, etc.). That group got what it wanted.*

Looking at this from a Rainiers angle, no Nelson Cruz means Stefen Romero is still in the picture to fight for a big league roster spot. Cruz would’ve eliminated the need for that “right-handed bat” role that Romero wants to earn.

Links:

  • The comeback of Corey Hart will be a key factor in the performance of the 2014 Mariners.
  • Stephen Pryor – coming off surgery – threw his first bullpen on Sunday. I wasn’t expecting this so early in camp; definitely good news.
  • Brandon Maurer had his back “lock up” on him while attempting to throw a bullpen on Friday. He had the same thing happen to him early in a regular-season start for the Rainiers last year.
  • John McGrath reminds us in a fun column that historically, players showed up at spring training overweight and out-of-shape. In fact, that’s why spring training was invented!
  • After decades of covering baseball, Larry Stone thinks that he is finally refusing to be seduced by spring training optimism. We’ll see about that, Stoney.
  • Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak knows this is a big year for him.
  • Add Dustin Ackley to the long list of players who have learned from reading Harvey Dorfman’s book “The Mental Side Of Baseball.”
  • Here is Monday morning’s camp round-up from Ryan Divish. I liked his pictures of the daily organization workout plan – that is some behind-the-scenes stuff.
  • The Red Sox are giving former Rainiers star Mike Carp some reps at third base. That would be something.
  • Friend-of-the-blog Rob Neyer took a look at the winter trade of former Rainiers pitcher Doug Fister.
  • Eddie O’Brien of Seattle’s famed O’Brien twins passed away at the age of 83. Eddie reached the majors as an infielder, then converted to pitcher in the PCL and made a few MLB appearances on the mound.
  • Interesting story on a Rays September call-up who can trace the existence of his baseball career to a single pitch in high school. One pitch – if it went a different way, he would not have had an opportunity in pro ball.
  • The new rules regarding catchers blocking home plate are official – here is a clear explanation.
  • Here’s a link for my Mom, and everyone else who loves these: a spring training crossword puzzle!

Come back on Wednesday, when I’ll provide a long list of candidates but no actual facts about who will be in the Rainiers starting rotation this season. I will, however, explain why we have no idea who the starting five will be.

* My opinion: I didn’t want Cruz on a big contract, but I would have been happy if the Mariners got him on this one-year, $8 million deal. Not a lot of risk there.


Features Rolling In

February 21, 2014

Today’s batch of links provide many good examples of my favorite type of spring training baseball journalism: the short-form player feature.

It’s that time of spring when the beat writers start visiting with different players, finding out what’s new with them, how they are doing, etc. It never fails that some interesting stories come out of this, and there are a few down below.

Some of the stories we have today include: the major league veteran trying to hang on after suffering an injury, the young player trying to establish himself in the big leagues, the former prospect who has lost his path, and the near-retirement veteran trying to figure out what he wants to do next in life.

If you enjoy these stories like I do, you’ll always be able to find them here. I’ll keep linking ’em all spring.

Links:

  • Larry Stone wrote a column on the Nick Franklin conundrum.
  • Erasmo Ramirez is the forgotten man in the battle to make the Mariners starting rotation.
  • The Mariners are no longer counting on Jesus Montero, Ryan Divish writes.
  • Veteran left-hander Randy Wolf is making good progress in his bid to overcome a second Tommy John surgery and make the Mariners starting rotation.
  • Willie Bloomquist wants to become an Olympic bobsledder – and he’s dead serious. He’s shooting for 2018.
  • Within this notebook, we learn that the Mariners are hoping Danny Hultzen will be able to pitch in time to participate in the Arizona Fall League.
  • Lloyd McClendon shed some light on his plans for the Mariners outfield.
  • In his latest “The 30” column for Grantland, Jonah Keri ranks the Mariners No. 19.
  • Three Mariners made Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list.
  • Russell Wilson is reporting to Texas Rangers spring training camp in ten days.
  • Fun story from A’s camp on position players pitching.
  • In the PCL, there is a lot of early hype about what figures to be a stacked starting rotation in Las Vegas.

Have a great weekend – hey, spring training games start late next week!


A Packed Tacoma Outfield

February 19, 2014

Today we look at the Tacoma Rainiers outfield situation. This is a different kind of preview, because while many Mariners fans feel like the major league club needs to upgrade in the outfield, the Triple-A club is loaded with deserving candidates and has a bit of a roster crunch.

Let’s start with the Mariners.

As it stands now, the Mariners have an outfield of Corey Hart, Michael Saunders, and Dustin Ackley. Logan Morrison is available for spot duty in the corners. The extra outfielder appears to be either Abraham Almonte or Endy Chavez – that will be decided at the end of spring training.

The Mariners mix could change. Rumors that the Mariners might sign free agent Nelson Cruz have been persistent all winter – in fact, the rumors have gone on for so long that it is easy to forget that he isn’t actually on the team. Heck, at this point they probably would’ve signed him already, if they were going to. But then again, he’s still available.

So where does that leave the Rainiers outfield?

TACOMA OUTFIELD CANDIDATES

Abraham Almonte or Endy Chavez: I think one of these two makes the Mariners, and one opens in Tacoma. Almonte is on the 40-man roster and that works in his favor. Chavez is on a minor league contract, and there are internet reports that he has a June 1 opt-out date if he is not in the majors by then. The Mariners can keep him in Tacoma if need be, and have him ready as soon as there is an injury – which is exactly what happened last year.

Stefen Romero: the Mariners are short on right-handed hitters, so Romero is going to get a long look this spring. For him to make the big club, some dominoes are going to have to fall the right way to create an opening. That’s no problem for us Rainiers fans – I am hoping for and expecting a nice boost in production from Romero in the PCL this year (he hit .277-11-74 with a 779 OPS last year). Crushing the PCL for a few months would really put Romero in a good position to not only get called up, but to get steady playing time at the next level.

Cole Gillespie: a minor league free agent signed at the very start of the off-season window, Gillespie is a former Oregon State Beavers NCAA champion who has been in the majors for parts of three seasons, and has a whopping six years of PCL experience. He’s a lifetime .290 hitter in the PCL. Right now, I’ve got him inked in to the Rainiers lineup.

Xavier Avery: added late last season from the Orioles organization, the 24-year-old has big league experience with Baltimore and is on the 40-man roster. Avery is a speed player who can cause havoc when he gets on base. Some of you may remember his five-hit game at the end of last season – he only played in three games for Tacoma, and went 5-for-5 in one of them. He seems like a lock to open the season with the Rainiers.

James Jones: another late-season addition to the Rainiers last year, Jones played in the final four games of the 2013 campaign in Tacoma after hitting .275-6-45 with 28 stolen bases for Double-A Jackson. Added to the 40-man roster after the season, Jones also seems like a lock to make the Rainiers opening day roster.

Julio Morban: another young outfielder on the 40-man roster, the 22-year-old Morban hit .295-7-44 in 86 games at Jackson last year. Injuries have prevented him from ever playing a full season. Seriously, the 86 games last year was a career high. He’s young enough to go back to Jackson, but based on performance last year he probably deserves a shot at Tacoma. The large number of Triple-A outfielders may force him back to Jackson.

Others: Jabari Blash really mashed at Jackson for the one month he was there in 2013 – we’ll see him in Tacoma someday, but not at the start of the season unless he goes bananas in spring training and forces the issue… Leon Landry is one of those tantalizing “tools” prospects who hasn’t put it all together yet; a .216 batting average in Double-A last year probably has him set for a return trip… Travis Witherspoon is one of those tantalizing “tools” prospects who hasn’t put it all together yet; a .214 batting average in Double-A last year probably has him set for a return trip.

I see six players deserving a spot in the Tacoma outfield, not including Blash who is banging on the door very loudly. At this point it doesn’t look like new manager Rich Donnelly is going to be running an outfielder through the DH spot – that appears to be locked up by Jesus Montero.

Tacoma is probably not going to carry six outfielders. How will this shake down? That’s for Jack Zduriencik and Chris Gwynn to decide.

Links:

  • Ryan Divish’s Seattle Times notebook from this morning leads off with a funny story.
  • Interesting: Rainiers manager Rich Donnelly is running the Mariners big league camp.
  • Felix Hernandez has a lot of confidence in Taijuan Walker and James Paxton.
  • Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports has an article on the importance of Walker.
  • Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon wasn’t real happy with what the Yankees hitting coach had to say about Robinson Cano‘s hustle. Larry Stone has a column on that situation, and so does Rob Neyer.
  • Kevin Kernan of the New York Post wrote about Cano.
  • Cano worked out with his new team for the first time.
  • Bob Dutton wrote about Cano for The News Tribune.
  • Former Rainiers star Mike Morse talked about the wrist injury that slowed him down last year. Morse took his own steps during the winter to get it resolved.
  • Here’s a tremendous story by Sam Miller from the upcoming issue of ESPN The Magazine about trying to fix the Angels farm system (subscription required).
  • Las Vegas 51 PR Guru Jim Gemma is the subject of a blog Q&A.
  • Speaking of the 51s, they should have one of the top prospects in the PCL this year: starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard. The Las Vegas Review-Journal is already excited.
  • The Rainiers home opener is April 3, and the Albuquerque Isotopes will be in town. Damon Berryhill is their manager – here is a feature on him, which includes a bit on his 3-run homer off Jack Morris in the 1992 World Series.
  • We have an early look at some of the top promotions in the minor leagues – apparently the Akron RubberDucks are making up for their ridiculous name by having the best giveaways. “Oops I Stepped On A Duck” Whoopee Cushion Giveaway Night? I give that an A++++.

The next blog update will be Friday, and our next position preview will be Wednesday the 26th when we move to the starting rotation.


Walker Is OK

February 17, 2014

Did you hear that collective sigh of relief, coming down from Safeco Field and up from Peoria, Arizona?

That was Mariners personnel and fans after learning that Taijuan Walker‘s first bullpen session of the spring went off without a hitch.

Last week, Walker’s first bullpen was pushed back because he had shoulder stiffness while doing some long-tossing.

That prompted quite a bit of concern. The shoulder is always trouble. We all saw what happened with Danny Hultzen last season. We all know the recent history of this franchise.

Thank goodness Walker’s issue appears to be a very minor thing. He only threw fastballs today, but reports from Arizona (first link below) indicate that he felt just fine.

For a lot of us who got to see Walker pitch in Tacoma last season, watching him work his way through his first Major League season is one of the most fun things to look forward to this year. Here’s hoping he maintains good health.

Links:

  • We’ll start with a first-hand account of Taijuan Walker‘s bullpen session.
  • Ryan Divish caught up with former Rainiers reliever Danny Farquhar and got his thoughts on being bumped from the closer role.
  • Greg Bishop of Sports Illustrated spent some time with Robinson Cano at his home in the Dominican and filed this story.
  • Veteran Scott Baker is the wild card in the battle to make the Mariners starting rotation.
  • Justin Smoak and the Mariners settled on a contract for 2014 without going to arbitration. Smoak feels that the first base job is his to lose.
  • From The News Tribune, here’s Bob Dutton’s Monday Mariners notebook.

Coming Wednesday: a look at the Tacoma Rainiers outfield situation.