Opening Day Warm-Up

March 31, 2014

Happy Major League Opening Day – a holiday to many, but for us PCL folks it’s just a warm up. The Rainiers season starts on Thursday.

There is a tremendous slate of televised games today, and many are shown nationally on ESPN or ESPN2. The action starts at 10:05 AM, and the final game is the Mariners season opener in Anaheim at 7:05.

Some television providers are doing a free preview of the MLB package for the first week of the season, so check and see if you are getting it.

Word came down on Saturday that the Mariners released Rainiers first baseman Rich Poythress.

I had high hopes for Poythress to be a factor in the PCL this year (and he still might, but with some other team). However, with first basemen Jesus Montero and Ji-Man Choi both on the Mariners 40-man roster, and thus with playing time priority over Poythress, I’m sure the Mariners simply figured he wasn’t going to play much this year.

These types of situations often work out better for the player, and hopefully that will be the case with Poythress. Ideally, he’ll get picked up by another team that has an opening for a Triple-A first baseman, and he’ll get a chance to play regularly.

Another player the Mariners let go was former Rainiers pitcher Anthony Vasquez. Vasquez had a nice run with Tacoma in 2011 and reached the major leagues before he was waylaid by injuries: shoulder problems and of all things, brain surgery. Vasquez was pitching this spring, so hopefully he’ll get picked up by another team.

I’m not sure if/when we will have a blog update on Tuesday – I need to spend some time getting the broadcast booth ready at Cheney, that’s the priority. However, there is a chance the Rainiers roster will be announced tomorrow afternoon. When it is announced, I’ll post it as quickly as possible (if we don’t get it tomorrow, we’ll certainly have the roster on Wednesday).

In the meantime, we have One Million links:

That’s it – let’s watch some baseball!


Impressions From Rainiers Camp

March 28, 2014

Back home in Tacoma after 3.5 days at Mariners/Rainiers spring training, I’ve had some time to let my first impressions of this year’s club sink in a bit.

I watched three (mostly) full games, and talked to a lot of coaches and a handful of players. Here’s what I came away with:

OFFENSE – This is going to be a good-hitting Rainiers team. The lineup looked impressive, even without players who are/were still in big league camp (specifically: Nick Franklin, Endy Chavez, and Humberto Quintero). I know he got bad press for arriving at spring training overweight, but Jesus Montero was stinging the ball in the games I watched – and he is under a lot of pressure to perform this year; I think he’ll rise to the occasion. I also think we will see improved performances from second-year Triple-A players like Nate Tenbrink and Rich Poythress. Adding PCL veteran Cole Gillespie is a boost to the lineup as well.

DEFENSE – The outfield – with some mixture of James Jones, Xavier Avery, and Endy Chavez to go with Gillespie – is going to cover a lot of ground.  There is nothing alarming about the infield defense, and catchers Jesus Sucre/Quintero/Brandon Bantz are all good on defense.

STARTING PITCHING – This is unexpectedly a big area of concern right now, due to the injuries (Walker, Iwakuma) and opting-out (Wolf, Baker) of several players during spring training. It appears that there will be pitchers who were not originally intended to open in the Triple-A rotation doing exactly that. Right now the only pitchers I expected to be in the Rainiers rotation who are (probably) in it are Matt Palmer and Andrew Carraway. We’re six days from the opener and I have no idea who the other three starters will be.

BULLPEN – Everyone I talked to said that the Tacoma bullpen will be a huge strength. The latest news regarding Bobby LaFromboise (below) could put a damper on that if he gets claimed, but it should still be a strong relief corps. Most of the Mariners final major league roster decisions involve the bullpen, but the Tacoma group should have some young guns.

Opening Night is Thursday. The team is supposed to arrive in Tacoma on Tuesday, so I expect we’ll have a roster for you on Tuesday afternoon, or Wednesday at the latest.


  • The Mariners named Erasmo Ramirez the No. 2 starter, Bob Dutton writes. This story also has the 2014 Mariners salary information in a sidebar.
  • On Thursday, the team signed veteran starter Chris Young to a major league contract. Young has been injured for years, but if he’s healthy he could be pretty good. That’s a very, very big “if.”
  • To make room for Young on the 40-man roster, reliever Bobby LaFromboise was designated for assignment. If he clears waivers he’ll report to Tacoma. I’m interested to see what happens here – we could certainly use him in Tacoma.
  • Nick Franklin talked about learning to play the outfield.
  • If Roenis Elias makes the major league rotation, it will be another case of the Mariners rushing a prospect to the big leagues too quickly, Jerry Brewer writes.
  • Exhibition round-up: there was no game on Thursday… on Wednesday a late home run wasted another solid start from Erasmo Ramirez.
  • Will Leitch has a behind-the-scenes look at MLB’s new replay review system.
  • Pat Jordan is one of my favorite writers, and he has a long-form feature on Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Chris Archer. Great stuff.
  • In the PCL, on Wednesday afternoon the Texas Rangers may have set a modern record by announcing the Round Rock roster a full eight days before the start of the PCL season. That’s early!
  • Reno has added veteran outfielders Trent Oeltjen and Aaron Cunningham (a Port Orchard guy), and new manager Phil “Filthy” Nevin has guaranteed 60 degree weather on opening day.
  • The Arizona Diamondbacks assigned pitcher Archie Bradley to Reno. Bradley will be the No. 1 pitching prospect in the PCL – assuming Taijuan Walker joins the Mariners when he is healthy.
  • The big deal in Memphis is done: the St. Louis Cardinals bought the Triple-A team, and the City of Memphis took over AutoZone Park.
  • The new ballpark in Nashville is being built on an ancient burial ground. What could possibly go wrong?

On the flight home from Arizona yesterday, I finished a good book about sports broadcasting: Holy Toledo: Lessons From Bill King, Renaissance Man of the Mic by Ken Korach. Oakland A’s broadcaster Korach lovingly tells the life story of his late broadcast partner, who was considered the best radio announcer in Bay Area history. If you are into sports broadcasting, this is a great read full of tips and anecdotes. Any sports fan will love the “Mother’s Day” chapter. You can get the book here.

A Trip To Surprise

March 26, 2014

The Mariners Triple-A group traveled to Surprise to take on the Texas Rangers (Round Rock) on Wednesday morning, and they brought a couple of ringers.

Mariners Corey Hart and Mike Zunino led off each inning for Tacoma, as the two players are trying to get as many at-bats as possible prior to the Mariners opener on Monday.

Both players had extra-base hits early in the game. Zunino ripped a long triple to left-center in the first inning against Round Rock starter Ryan Rodebaugh, and Corey Hart laced a double to the gap in the third inning.

Tacoma scored two runs in the first inning, but the early lead did not hold up. Matt Palmer started on the mound for Tacoma, and he had a tough time putting scoreless innings on the board early. Palmer was trying to sink the ball and get grounders, but when he left the ball up it was hit hard.

Palmer was replaced by 24-year-old right-hander Jordan Pries, who I had to look up. Turns out he is a Stanford product who was a starter for Class-A High Desert last year. I’d be surprised to see him in Tacoma next Thursday, but maybe later this year or next.

The Rainiers defense looked like this:

  • C – Jesus Sucre
  • 1B – Jesus Montero (replaced by Rich Poythress in 6th)
  • 2B – Ty Kelly
  • SS – Gabriel Noriega
  • 3B – Stephen Proscia
  • LF – Xavier Avery (I saw him bat at least; I think he was in LF)
  • CF – Travis Witherspoon
  • RF – James Jones

Several players we expect to see with the Rainiers did not play today. Endy Chavez and Humberto Quintero are coming to Tacoma, but I didn’t see them. Nate Tenbrink wasn’t in there today, and Carlos Triunfel hasn’t been playing this week because he got hit in the wrist (not considered serious).

Sucre had a nice game defensively, hustling to back up an errant throw and gunning down a runner trying to steal.

On the Texas side of the field, former Washington Huskies star Brent Lillibridge doubled off Palmer.

Also of note, top Rangers prospect Joey Gallo hit a bloop single, struck out on a bad ball, lined out to second, and botched a grounder at third – we saw pretty much everything I’ve read about this guy, except for a tape-measure home run.

From Lone Star Ball:

The 2013 season saw Gallo spend the year at low-A Hickory as a 19 year old. In the Sally League, Gallo had one of the more insane statistical lines you’ll ever see, at any level. Gallo had a .245/.334/.610 slash line, with 165 Ks and 48 walks in 446 plate appearances. Gallo put up only 34 singles, along with 19 doubles, 5 triples and 38 homers. It was truly a bizarre season, one of the more extreme Three True Outcome campaigns you’ll come across.

No typos in there: he hit more homers than singles last year. So I suppose I saw a rarity today: a Joey Gallo single!


  • Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports gives his perspective on the Mariners situation with Randy Wolf.
  • Two of the Mariners stars from 2001 are in the final days of their careers, John McGrath writes.
  • In Tuesday night’s exhibition game against Kansas City, Nick Franklin played two innings in right field (no balls were hit his way). If that is going to become a regular thing, we’ll see it first hand in Tacoma while he learns the position.
  • Former Rainiers pitcher Michael Pineda earned a spot in the New York Yankees starting rotation.
  • The Kansas City Royals are trying to sneak Carlos Peguero through waivers, and they shipped Adam Moore to the San Diego Padres for cash considerations.

This ends my spring training trip. I fly home on Thursday and have one week for final preparations before the PCL season starts on April 3. The players down here are ready to get started, although there is a little anxiety as the Triple-A roster crunch is about to happen. We should have a Tacoma roster by Tuesday, I would think.

Mariners Minor Leaguers Face Mariners Minor Leaguers

March 25, 2014

Today on the back fields of the Peoria Sports Complex it was Mariners Minor Leaguers vs. Mariners Minor Leaguers, with lots of major league pitchers getting work in the game.

There were actually two of these cannibalistic games going on, one pitting mostly Triple-A and Double-A players against one another, and on another field it was Class-A players squaring off. I watched the advanced-level game, where several Mariners pitchers were taking turns on the mound.

Taijuan Walker started, and he worked the equivalent of three “innings” facing a team made up mostly of Triple-A hitters. Walker looked rusty – he did not have his good command, and he reached a pitch limit before recording three outs in each of the first two innings (they just end the inning and change sides when this happens; it’s called “rolling over.”). Walker did bounce back and pitch a clean 1-2-3 third inning.

Walker threw a total of 48 pitches. My understanding is that the tentative plan is for Walker to make two or three rehabilitation starts for High Desert with the hope that he’ll be ready to join the Mariners in mid-April.

Xavier Avery greeted Walker with a long triple over the head of the center fielder, and Chris Taylor followed with a walk. Walker threw away a pickoff attempt for an error, allowing Avery to score. Walker then struck out Jabari Blash and Jesus Montero, then the first inning was halted.

In Walker’s second inning, Mike Dowd singled and D.J. Peterson walked (a disappointing result to a potentially interesting showdown), then Cole Gillespie hit a broken-bat bloop double down the right field line to drive in a run. Two more runs scored later that inning, one on a wild pitch.

Brandon Maurer started the game for the other team, pitching one scoreless inning. One batter reached against him: outfield prospect Julio Morban, who just returned from a broken leg, hit a long double off Maurer.

Fernando Rodney tossed two scoreless innings, including an out recorded on a grounder to shortstop when first baseman Montero made a terrific grab of an errant throw. I was sitting with Seattle Times writer Ryan Divish at this point, and Divish said Montero looked as nimble as a mongoose. I’m still pondering that analogy.

Then it was Stephen Pryor‘s turn to pitch. He struck out the first two batters he faced, then he allowed three straight hits including a long triple by Jackson third baseman Ramon Morla before the inning was halted. It doesn’t look like Pryor will be ready for the Mariners bullpen by opening day, but it shouldn’t be much longer after that.

I bumped into a few guys around the fields.

Andrew Carraway is in line to be a member of the Rainiers starting rotation. He had a good off-season, tried to streamline his mechanics a little bit, and is ready to go.

Rich Poythress did not play today, but he said his arm is fine after yesterday’s mishap (details in yesterday’s post) and it’s no big deal. I’m sure he – like I – is curious to see how the opening day rosters shake out.

One of my neighbors in this hotel is Brandon Bantz – I ran into him in the hallway; he said he’s having a good spring and hopes to break camp with Tacoma. Bantz chopped a double over the third baseman’s head in today’s game; if I recall correctly that hit came against Hector Noesi.

On the coaching side, I saw Dwight Bernard last night – he’s the Fresno pitching coach this year, and we’ll see him in the opposing dugout later this summer. Dwight’s happy with his new organization.

Scott Steinmann (manager) and Brent Johnson (coach) are going to be leading the Mariners Class-A Clinton affiliate this year.

Daren Brown (baserunning and bunting instructor) is getting acclimated to his first non-managerial job in the organization. He’ll rove around the farm system, and hopes to visit Tacoma this summer.

Rainiers trainers Tom Newberg and BJ Downie are ready to, well, train. Downie spent part of his winter with the Cardinales de Lara in Venezuela, and fortunately he left shortly before the political situation got bad.

I have not seen John Stearns yet. He’s still recovering from hernia surgery, and he’s not supposed to be at the ballpark. Apparently he shows up sometimes anyway; I’m looking for him.

On behalf of the entire Tacoma Rainiers organization, let’s send positive thoughts in the direction of Oklahoma City RedHawks manager Tony DeFrancesco, who was diagnosed with cancer and will not manage the team until he is ready.

Tony D is one of my favorites in the PCL – fans will remember him as the perpetually winning manager of the Sacramento River Cats, and now he’s been with Oklahoma City the last three seasons (he also spent some time as the Houston Astros interim manager). He’s managed in the PCL for ten years.

Get healthy, Tony D.


  • Even though there are still 38 players in big league camp, the Mariners roster is just about set. Bob Dutton has the story.
  • It was decision day for some veterans in camp today: Endy Chavez agreed to report to Tacoma, so you can ink him on the Rainiers roster. Humberto Quintero is going to explore his options but the Mariners hope he agrees to come to Tacoma. Finally, Randy Wolf declined to renegotiate his contract and elected free agency – and this was after he was told he made the Mariners rotation.
  • Long-time prospect expert Jim Callis has a write-up of the Mariners farm system.
  • Shannon Drayer has a thorough investigation of how the Mariners ended up with Roenis Elias. Sounds like good scouting to me.
  • In Monday’s exhibition game, Blake Beavan had a rough inning and the Mariners lost to the White Sox.
  • The Cleveland Indians reassigned former Rainiers first baseman Bryan LaHair to minor league camp. Look for him to destroy the International League this season. Bryan played in Japan last season.
  • This is kind of cool: former Rainiers third baseman Greg Dobbs is closing in on 100 career pinch-hits.
  • Here is the story from the Daily Oklahoman on Tony DeFrancesco. Tom Lawless will serve as interim manager.

I got a surprise today – Wednesday’s Triple-A game against Texas (Round Rock) was moved from Peoria to Surprise, and bumped up to 11:00 AM. I’m going to it, but I’m not sure if I’ll have time to blog about it until Thursday morning. We’ll see how that goes.

Greetings From Peoria

March 24, 2014

I touched down in Arizona this morning and immediately* made my way out to the Seattle Mariners spring training complex in Peoria. My goal: watch the Triple-A game, on the back fields of the complex. I succeeded.

I arrived in the first inning, as the would-be Rainiers were taking on the Kansas City Royals current Omaha roster. Left-hander Anthony Fernandez was on the mound for the Rainiers.

As I arrived at the field, I was warmly greeted by Mariners Coordinator of Instruction Jack Howell. We were standing behind home plate, had just exchanged hellos… when Royals prospect Cheslor Cuthbert took Fernandez deep, an opposite-field shot.

Cheslor Cuthbert was once an intruiging Royals prospect, but he did not have a good 2013 season. He crushed this ball, allowing me the pleasure of typing Cheslor Cuthbert’s name several times for today’s blog. If his nickname isn’t “The Butler,” there is something wrong with the Royals.

Enough about Cheslor Cuthbert. Great name aside, he’s not one of our guys.

I’m not sure if Fernandez is one of our guys yet, either. He gave up two homers in five innings today, although one coach told me he has had a good spring and his velocity is up a tick or two. Fernandez pitched sort of OK for Double-A Jackson last year, but he does hold a spot on the 40-man major league roster.

Here’s how the Tacoma defense looked at the start of the game:

  • C – Jesus Sucre
  • 1B – Ji-Man Choi
  • 2B – Jack Marder
  • SS – Gabriel Noriega
  • 3B – Nate Tenbrink
  • LF – Xavier Avery
  • CF – James Jones
  • RF – Jabari Blash
  • DH – Jesus Montero

Tacoma was facing Omaha lefty Chris Dwyer, who was with the PCL Champions all of last season and was their starter in the Triple-A National Championship Game. Everett Teaford and Ramon Troncoso also pitched for Omaha.

Several things caught my eye today, so let’s hit them:

Chance Ruffin relieved Fernandez and he looked outstanding. He pitched three perfect innings, showing fastball command and a good breaking ball. I was told Ruffin has been working in a long relief role so far this spring.

The left side of the defense showed a lot of range on a variety of ground balls. Noriega is known for his glove and he showed it on a tough high-bouncer in the hole, and Tenbrink ranged far to his left to reach a couple of balls. Obviously there is an elephant in the room at shortstop (the Brad MillerNick Franklin battle), but Noriega could be an enjoyable player to watch on defense.

Speaking of Franklin, both he and Willie Bloomquist took a few at-bats early in this game since they were not playing in the major league game today. Bloomquist reached base twice.

Jesus Montero is really stinging the ball this spring, I was told. He had a pair of RBI singles today, and he used the whole field. It’s a big year for Montero in more ways than one: he had a very, very pregnant wife sitting in the bleacher.

Another guy having a big spring is outfielder Jabari Blash. I sort of glossed over him in my Tacoma outfield preview, because he only has one month of Double-A experience. From what I heard today, that may have been a mistake. He’s a power hitter, but he didn’t crush anything today. He did fight off an inside pitch for a bloop single to center, driving in an early run.

Xavier Avery and James Jones have a lot of speed and can cover a ton of territory in the outfield. They reached base consecutively around the seventh inning (things can get hard to follow when there is no scoreboard and innings don’t always have three outs), and new manager Roy Howell successfully had them pull off a double-steal.

Some changes were made around the sixth inning. Brandon Bantz went in at catcher, Rich Poythress took over at first base, Ty Kelly at second, and Steven Proscia at third.

Poythress had two sharp singles, but then he was involved in a scary-looking play that resulted in him leaving the game. With two on in a tie game in the top of the ninth, Omaha speedster Paolo Orlando laid down a bunt. Bantz picked up the ball and fired to first, but Poythress had to reach his glove into the runner to receive the throw. Orlando ran into Poythress’s arm and jammed it, and Poythress left the game with trainer B.J. Downie. It was a clean play, just an unfortunate one. At this point I can’t even speculate on Poythress’s status – if I see him in the next two days, I’ll ask him.

In a classic spring training move, Ji-Man Choi – who had already been removed from the game and had spent an inning in the bleachers accusing Leury Bonilla of being “old” – re-entered and played first base for Poythress. Hey, why not?

Nick Hill ended up allowing an unearned run in the ninth on two errors and two soft hits, and he took the loss, 5-4. I heard from another coach that Hill has looked good and that “he’ll help us” in Tacoma.

I watched the last three innings with Forrest Snow, who was not throwing today. He’s going to work out in Arizona during his 50-game suspension (which was not for Performance Enhancing Drugs, he specifically asked me to make sure fans know that), and he hopes to join the Rainiers in late May.

That was day one of three full Triple-A games I will see. It takes a few games to get a feel for what kind of team it will be; I try to work on that while I’m down here. I also met the new manager for the first time, and Roy Howell is definitely looking forward to coming to Tacoma. He agreed to do the Sunday radio show this year, so that will happen weekly this season.


  • Stefen Romero hit a walk-off home run on Sunday afternoon, adding to his resume as he tries to crack the Mariners opening day roster.
  • Good news on Saturday, as injured pitchers Taijuan Walker and Stephen Pryor faced hitters in a minor league game and apparently everything went smoothly.
  • News just in as I publish this so no link yet, but veteran pitcher Scott Baker refused an assignment to Tacoma and was granted his release.
  • Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said (quote is in the sidebar) that Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma will not rehab in Tacoma; instead they will be assigned to warmer-weather locations. This happens sometimes – the cold isn’t much of a problem; it’s cold at Safeco too. But a slick field or muddy mound due to rain is not something the Mariners want their rehabilitating pitchers dealing with.
  • Jason Churchill is pretty insightful when it comes to the Mariners, and he shared his picks to make the opening day roster.
  • Greg Johns has a story on relief prospect Dominic Leone, who may break camp with the Rainiers next Thursday.
  • The Mariners promoted Class-A Clinton manager Chris Prieto to a new job, “major league quality control coach.” It actually sounds kind of important – you can read about it here. Prieto is PCL to the core, so I’m happy he got a big league job. Meanwhile, we’re less than two weeks from opening day and the Mariners still need to hire a Class-A manager and a Double-A hitting coach.
  • marc w at USS Mariner took a high-tech look at James Paxton‘s fastball.
  • Exhibition round-up: Kyle Seager had the big hit before Romero’s walk-off on Sunday… the Mariners lost both games of a split-squad on Saturday, although Brad Miller and Justin Smoak each had a pair of hitsJames Paxton is having a good spring, but he did not have his best outing in a 7-2 loss to the Cubs on Friday.
  • Tommy John is having a big spring training – and that’s not a good thing, John McGrath writes.
  • In the PCL, the Salt Lake Bees are going to have a hometown hero in C.J. Cron (note to myself: Cron rhymes with groan).
  • The Omaha Storm Chasers have added additional TV cameras to Werner Park. That’s good news for those of you who pony up for a MiLB TV subscription – they should have a good show for the 72 games from Omaha. If you don’t know about MiLB TV: for $50/season you can stream video from every minor league park in America that has cameras – which includes all Triple-A and Double-A parks. They overlay the home team’s radio broadcast on top of the video stream, creating a simulcast (remember when Kevin Calabro used to do that for the Sonics?). Quality varies from ballpark to ballpark – some are TV quality, others are just one or two cameras. Most PCL stadiums are quite good.

Tomorrow’s blog will come in the late afternoon, like this one. I’ll be watching the Triple-A/Double-A intrasquad game in the morning, and then I’ll retire to the air-conditioned hotel room and let you know what happened.

* OK, I admit it, I stopped at In N Out on the way, and I missed a batter or two in the top of the first. I have no regrets about this development, and I will not be issuing an apology.

PCL Primer: New Division Alignment

March 21, 2014

We are less than two weeks from opening day in the Pacific Coast League (that’s April 3rd, people), so let’s go over one of the big changes in the league this season: division realignment.

With the move of the Tucson franchise to El Paso, the league decided to shake up the divisions to create a better geographical alignment.

As you know if you have been following this circuit, the league plays an unbalanced schedule because it is so expansive that travel can be problematic.

Tacoma plays in the Pacific Conference. The Rainiers play the other Pacific Conference teams 16 times a season (eight home, eight away). That part is a simple home-and-home.

Tacoma plays each of the eight American Conference teams for just one four-game series each. Half of the teams visit Tacoma, and the Rainiers travel to the other half. The following season, the roles flip-flop. Tacoma fans will see the Iowa Cubs, for example, at Cheney Stadium once every two seasons.

That schedule format remains unchanged. However, the divisions are different. Here are the new divisions:



  • Tacoma
  • Reno
  • Sacramento
  • Fresno


  • Las Vegas
  • Salt Lake
  • Albuquerque
  • El Paso (formerly Tucson)



  • Colorado Springs
  • Iowa
  • Omaha
  • Oklahoma City


  • New Orleans
  • Nashville
  • Memphis
  • Round Rock

The big change here, from the Tacoma perspective, is that the schedule essentially swaps Colorado Springs for Albuquerque.

Instead of playing the Sky Sox 16 times a season, the Rainiers will play them only four times. In their place come the Albuquerque Isotopes, who we used to see for just four games but now will face 16 times. The Isotopes are the Dodgers affiliate and they will be at Cheney Stadium on opening day.

In terms of the opponent on the field, the Tucson-to-El Paso franchise move doesn’t really affect the Rainiers: they are still playing against the San Diego Padres affiliate, and will face many of the same players we saw last year. It’s just a different city the Rainiers will be visiting on the road.

One other change as a result of the realignment is the end of Tacoma’s long-standing rivalry with Salt Lake. The Rainiers have been battling the Bees for the division title for years, but now Tacoma has to compete with the always dangerous Sacramento River Cats.

On Monday morning I fly to spring training and we’re going to have a busy week on the blog. The first spring training report will be the next blog update, and it’s coming in the evening on Monday.

Here’s my Monday schedule: go to SeaTac airport before dawn, fly to Arizona, rent a car, go to In N Out (I have my priorities) then straight to the Mariners-Royals Triple-A game (i.e. Tacoma vs. Omaha), watch it and take some notes, meet new manager Roy Howell, check in to hotel, write a blog post, then go to dinner and watch the Cal NIT game while Daren Brown makes fun of me the whole time. That’s the plan, anyway.


Have a great weekend, and enjoy National Corndog Day tomorrow – always a treat!

Gearing Up For Arizona

March 19, 2014

Today’s post is mostly a bunch of links, but things are going to be getting a lot more interesting around here very soon.

Early on Monday morning (so early that some of us would consider it Sunday night), I’ll be flying down to Arizona to catch three full days of Rainiers spring training. You can expect multiple blog posts detailing my observations from Mariners minor league camp. I may even sneak over to a big league game at some point.

Speaking of major league spring training, the Mariners made one roster move yesterday, reassigning outfielder Cole Gillespie to minor league camp. That leaves 39 players in big league camp.

We’ve had Gillespie inked into the Tacoma lineup since he signed as a minor league free agent in January – but he had a really good spring and made it this long in major league camp. He’s got a chance to get called up during the season if things break his way.


  • Yesterday’s News Tribune has an article on where things stand in Mariners camp: who is on the team, and what are the final questions.
  • Good news from Peoria: Hisashi Iwakuma has been cleared to resume throwing.
  • The Bob Dutton Q&A’s on his blog are pretty enlightening – here’s one from Tuesday that answers a lot of good questions.
  • Bob Condotta wrote a feature on new Mariners first base coach Andy Van Slyke.
  • Nick Franklin got the Fangraphs treatment (warning: stats!).
  • Ryan Divish wrote a blog post discussing the Franklin situation. He does a good job of explaining why moving him to the outfield is a bad idea right now.
  • Exhibition games: the Mariners and Padres played to a 5-5 tie yesterday, with Willie Bloomquist helping out with a big hustle play… the team had a rare spring training off-day on Monday.
  • If you are a Baseball Prospectus subscriber, don’t miss Sam Miller’s look back at Kerry Wood‘s 20-strikeout game.
  • Mike Jirschele managed Omaha in the PCL for the last 11 years – a good chunk of his 36-year career in baseball, all of which has occurred in the minor leagues. Until now – he’s a coach for the Kansas City Royals, and ESPN The Magazine has a feature on him (this link might require “Insider” status).
  • Bo Jackson tells Russell Wilson to stick to football.
  • Filling out your basketball bracket based on each school’s top baseball player will lead to an obvious yet controversial winner. It’s fun to look at this bracket, in which a couple of play-in teams make deep runs.
  • The cross-over between spring training and March Madness causes a lot of dual-sport broadcasters to be travelling excessively during this time. Ted Leitner of San Diego State-slash-Padres had his suitcase next to him on press row – and it drew unwanted attention during crunch time.

Rainiers Opening Day is two weeks from tomorrow. Can you believe it?

Mariners Camp Thins Out

March 17, 2014

The Mariners trimmed made three more cuts at the start of the weekend, trimming the number of players in major league camp down to 40.

Manager Lloyd McClendon told the media that anyone still in camp at this point has a legitimate shot at making the team

These moves were made on Friday afternoon:

Optioned to AAA TACOMA (3):

Infielder (1):                      Jesus Montero

Outfielder (2):                   Xavier Avery, James Jones

Re-Assigned to Minor League Camp (1):

Infielder (1):                      Chris Taylor

The team has a rare spring training off-day today (at least in terms of exhibition games – many players will work out anyway).

The lingering drama involves the starting shortstop battle, which McClendon said has been pretty much an even fight between Nick Franklin and Brad Miller.

Spots in the starting rotation are still up for grabs, although good things are happening on that front as both Taijuan Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma are getting healthier. There is a realistic chance that we see both pitchers on a rehabilitation assignment in Tacoma in early April.


  • Trying to get back on track, Tom Wilhelmson has learned a new pitch. Good story from Bob Condotta.
  • Lefty Roenis Elias had an excellent season in Double-A last year, and I have him penciled in to the Tacoma starting rotation. Not so fast, writes Greg Johns – he might skip Tacoma and make the big club.
  • McClendon says that Elias is very interesting.
  • Scott Baker continues to make strides in his recovery from Tommy John surgery, Todd Milles writes.
  • Stefen Romero is making a move to try to break camp with the Mariners.
  • Bob Dutton has a detailed story about the contract issues that come into play at this point in spring training.
  • Weekend exhibition games: on Sunday, Roenis Elias tossed a gem in a 5-3 win over the Angels… new Mariners closer Fernando Rodney managed to get ejected from a spring training game in Saturday’s 13-6 loss to the Giants. That’s not easy to do… and on Friday, Stefen Romero homered and potential Rainiers flame-throwing reliever Dominic Leone escaped a nasty jam in 2-2 tie with the Rockies.
  • Two former Rainiers landed jobs this week, according to Baseball America’s minor league transactions: pitcher Nate Robertson signed with Detroit, and speedster Darren Ford is back with the Giants.
  • The story of the weekend came from ESPN’s Jim Caple, on Latroy Hawkins and his tight relationship with his fan club.

Rainiers Open House Tomorrow

March 14, 2014

The Rainiers are hosting their annual Pre-Season Party on Saturday, and you are invited.

Cheney Stadium will be an open house from 11 AM to 2 PM. Take a guided tour, or wander around aimlessly on your own. Try some items from the concession stands – including some new options we’ll be breaking out this year. Hang out in the Rainiers locker room, and then enjoy the luxury of the Summit Club.

Season tickets will be for sale, with available seats marked off. For those of you who already bought season tickets, you can pick them up at the box office.

Also, there will be a Bounce House. I’m not sure what the age limitations are on the Bounce House, but hopefully adults are allowed, because Bounce House.

Oh yeah – it’s free, by the way. The Pre-Season Party is always free.


  • New Rainiers manager Roy Howell told The News Tribune “it’s time to win.”
  • Yesterday Taijuan Walker threw his first bullpen since being put on slow-down due to shoulder soreness, and apparently everything went well.
  • Exhibition games: Blake Beavan made a strong start as a continues his push to make the Mariners rotation in a 6-3 win over Arizona on Thursday… on Wednesday, some Rainiers players attacked in the ninth and the Mariners came back and beat the Cubs. Ty Kelly had the game-winner.

Welcome New Rainiers Manager Roy Howell

March 12, 2014

The Seattle Mariners decided on Roy Howell to manage the Tacoma Rainiers this season.

In case you are just tuning in, original manager Rich Donnelly was promoted to major league third base coach after John Stearns had to step down due to hernia surgery.

Howell was brought into the organization as a hitting coach, spending the last two seasons with Advanced-A High Desert. He was supposed to do the same job at Double-A Jackson this year, but he ended up getting a rather nice promotion in the shuffle.

Howell played in the major leagues from 1974 to 1984, with the Toronto Blue Jays, Milwaukee Brewers, and Texas Rangers. He played on the 1982 Brewers World Series team along with former Rainiers pitching coaches Jim Slaton and Dwight Bernard. He was an all-star in 1978, and to this day he holds the Blue Jays record for most RBI in one game (nine, September 10, 1977 at the Yankees).

Howell has limited managing experience – three years for short-season Eugene, although he did manage in the independent Atlantic League in 2011 and that league has a few Triple-A calibre players in it. He also has PCL experience from his days as the Portland Beavers hitting coach from 2000 to 2002.

Howell played in the PCL at the end of his career, in 1985 with the Portland Beavers.

I’ll get a chance to talk to Howell when I go to spring training later this month. Furthermore, I assume we’ll have some newspaper stories to link to on Howell for Friday’s blog update.

The Mariners made their second round of spring training moves yesterday, and quite a few players were optioned to Tacoma.

Optioned to AAA TACOMA (5):

Left-handed Pitcher (1):    Bobby LaFromboise

Right-handed Pitcher (1):  Logan Bawcom

Catcher (1):                      Jesus Sucre

Infielder (2):                      Ji-Man Choi, Carlos Triunfel

Re-Assigned to Minor League Camp (6):

Right-handed Pitcher (2):  Logan Kensing, Matt Palmer

Left-handed Pitcher (1):    Nick Hill

Catcher (1):                      Mike Dowd

Infielder (2):                      Ty Kelly, Nate Tenbrink

A couple of things strike me here: first off, Bawcom and LaFromboise did not get very long looks to make the Mariners bullpen. Perhaps their relief crew is a bit stronger than expected.

The other interesting thing is the wording that Ji-Man Choi was optioned to Tacoma. When I covered the Tacoma first basemen a few weeks ago, I wrote that he could end up starting the season in Double-A because Tacoma is expected to have Jesus Montero and Rich Poythress as the 1B/DH. That could still happen – the “to Tacoma” part of “optioned to Tacoma” is not binding – but for now it looks like Choi will be on his way to Cheney Stadium on April 3.

All of the players “assigned to minor league camp” have a Triple-A profile except for catcher Mike Dowd. He’ll probably go to Jackson.


That’s it for me today – I’m off to the MGM Arena for the late games on the opening day of the Pac-12 Tournament. Related: I bet I’m the only person in a Las Vegas hotel room who spent his morning googling Roy Howell.

We’ll be back with a full blog post on Friday, and remember that the Rainiers open house is Saturday so plan accordingly!