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.
- 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.