Position Previews: Corner Infielders

For the past two years, I have lumped the first basemen and third basemen into one group when doing these positional previews.

This was because the Rainiers have had a lot of players switching across the diamond during the season – players like Alex Liddi, Nate Tenbrink, Vinnie Catricala, and Scott Savastano.

So, I assumed that would be the case again in 2014, before I really started thinking about it.

Well, now I’ve thought about it, and it appears that the 2014 Rainiers are going to have some separation between the first and third base positions. The first basemen are strictly first basemen, leaving the third basemen to play third base.

With the corner infielders, we don’t need to look at the big league picture. Kyle Seager plays third in Seattle, and three dudes play first (Justin Smoak, Logan Morrison, Corey Hart). None of these players will be sent to Tacoma, and it’s going to be very difficult for any from the below group to crack the Mariners opening day roster.

Here are the Tacoma corner infield candidates:

First Basemen

The Rainiers will have a regular first baseman and the designated hitter come out of this group. The top two on the list have a lot to prove in 2014.

Rich Poythress: Tacoma’s incumbent at first base, Poythress hit .252 with 13 homers and 57 RBI in 365 at-bats in his first Triple-A season. The former 2nd-round draft pick drew 47 walks and has a history of showing patience at the plate. Poythress is an outstanding defensive first baseman and is very good at digging out errant throws – something his infielders and pitching staff greatly appreciate. Still, first base is all about the bat at the Major League level. This is a big year for the 26-year-old, who needs to show he can crush PCL pitching in order to make himself a candidate to reach the next level.

Jesus Montero: last year was a lost season for Montero. He was moved off the catcher position, sent to Tacoma to learn first base, blew out a knee, and then got suspended due to the Biogenesis mess. The 2014 season will be Montero’s chance to rebuild his career. I think he’ll be doing a lot of DH-ing while he tries to get his bat back on track, but he will see some time at first base. Like Poythress, Montero could really use a season of blasting PCL pitching to put himself on the big league map.

Ji-Man Choi: Choi had a tremendous offensive season in 2013, rising from Single-A to Triple-A and earning a spot on the 40-man roster. He played in 13 games for Tacoma at the end of the season and showed some promise. However, he may start the season in Double-A because the organization is going to want him to play every day – and that might not be possible at the Triple-A level. Choi will only be 22-years-old on opening day so it’s not like he’d be too old for Double-A.

Third Basemen

Nate Tenbrink: Going into spring training, it appears that Tenbrink is the lone third baseman in line for the Tacoma roster. He played 51 games at third for the Rainiers last year. He also played multiple games everywhere else: first base, second base, shortstop, and all three outfield positions. The way things look to me right now, he’ll be seeing the majority of his time at third base this year.

Others: the guys who will play the hot corner when Tenbrink is playing a different position or is not in the lineup will come from the middle infield group – I’ll be writing about them next week, but we are talking about familiar faces like Ty Kelly, Carlos Triunfel, Leury Bonilla, and possibly Nick Franklin if he doesn’t make the big club.

There is one everyday third baseman making his way up the minor league ladder in Ramon Morla, who reached Double-A for the second half of 2013. He is slated to return to Jackson to open the season, but Morla is a name to remember for the future.

Last year’s first-round draft pick D.J. Peterson is a third baseman, but I wouldn’t expect to see him in Triple-A until 2015 at the earliest. I could be wrong, though: this organization has really been rushing top draft picks in recent years.

Those are the corner infielder candidates for 2014. We’ll look at the middle infield next Wednesday.

Links:

  • Ryan Divish broke down the Mariners catching situation and the Seattle bullpen.
  • The Mariners and arbitration eligible Logan Morrison agreed to terms.
  • There is opportunity for Stefen Romero, Bob Dutton writes.
  • ESPN predicts that the Mariners will win 74 games.
  • The Sporting News talked to Ken Griffey Jr about his 1989 Upper Deck baseball card.

I never blog on New Year’s Day, so this is the first post I have ever written while watching a parade on TV. That is some turnout!

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