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 Miller – Nick 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 hits… James 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.