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.
- Felix Hernandez
- Hasashi Iwakuma (out until mid-to-late April)
- Taijuan Walker (in pencil)
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.