More Mariners Prospect Lists

January 30, 2015

Two of the highly-regarded prospect analysts released Mariners prospects lists in the last 24 hours, and we’ve got some conflicting viewpoints.

ESPN’s Keith Law had his entire annual prospect package released this week, with a national Top-100 list and team-by-team Top Tens.

Keith put two Mariners in his Top 100: he has Alex Jackson ranked No. 59, and D.J. Peterson is No. 61.

Since Peterson is likely to play for the Rainiers this season, let’s copy Law’s write-up on him (note: the reports are for ESPN Insider subscribers, but I contacted Keith and he granted permission to share his Peterson report).

Peterson just missed my top 100 last year, moving up to the middle of the list this offseason thanks to a strong debut campaign that saw him perform well at two levels despite a series of nagging injuries. This says nothing of the broken jaw that ended his 2013 campaign; Peterson showed no ill effects from that injury. (It was caused by a 96 mph fastball, and he never flinched or bailed out on inside pitches thereafter.) He’s more of a pure hitter than a power guy but can get a little homer-happy and lose some of his knack for making hard contact. He has dropped his load further down toward his rear hip since college, which gives him a little more loft through contact but also puts him on top of the ball too often. I’d rather see him keep his hands a little higher and hit more line drives, even at the cost of five homers per year.

He’s played more third base than first in pro ball, but first is his ultimate position. He can be a high-average, 15-20-homer hitter or a lower average, 20-25-homer hitter. The latter would make him more of an average regular, but the former gives him a chance to be a full grade higher.

Here are Law’s Top 10 Mariners prospects:

1. Alex Jackson, RF
2. D.J. Peterson, 1B/3B
3. Austin Wilson, RF
4. Ketel Marte, IF
5. Gabriel Guerrero, RF
6. Luiz Gohara, LHP
7. Edwin Diaz, RHP
8. Tyler Marlette, C
9. Patrick Kivlehan, 1B
10. Gareth Morgan, OF

Meanwhile, Baseball Prospectus released their Seattle Mariners Top-10 list today, and it looks a bit different:

  1. 1B/3B D.J. Peterson
  2. RF Alex Jackson
  3. 2B/SS Ketel Marte
  4. RF Gabriel Guerrero
  5. RHP Edwin Diaz
  6. C Tyler Marlette
  7. LHP Luiz Gohara
  8. RHP Victor Sanchez
  9. RHP Carson Smith
  10. OF Austin Wilson

The big difference – other than the flip-flop up top – is the vastly different opinion on Class-A outfielder Austin Wilson. Law ranked him No. 3, and BP stuck him at the end.

Law placed 2014 second-round pick Gareth Morgan in at No. 10, while BP decided to keep Victor Sanchez in theirs – noting in the scouting report (link below) that Sanchez has a strong chance of being a back-of-the-rotation starter in the big leagues.

Patrick Kivlehan also generated different opinions: Law likes him enough for a No. 9 slot, while BP lists him as a “factor on the farm” saying that he could end up being a bench player in the majors.

It’s interesting to see the different opinions, but it is important to remember that is exactly what they are: opinions.

Links:

Have a wonderful Super Bowl Weekend, you guys.

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Rainiers Middle Infield Appears Set

January 28, 2015

For this week’s 2015 Tacoma Rainiers position preview post, we look at the shortstops and second basemen.

The recent signing of former Salt Lake Bees all-star Shawn O’Malley solidified the Tacoma Rainiers 2015 middle infield situation – to a point in which we can almost name the starters, right now.

There is one little hitch, though: what is going to happen to the loser of the Mariners spring training shortstop battle?

Seattle is going to make a decision on their major league starter in Peoria – it will be either Brad Miller or Chris Taylor. Both players have plenty of minor league options left and can be sent to Tacoma if they don’t win the job.

But, the Mariners might keep both players in the big leagues and work out a job share of some sort. So we don’t know if one of these guys will be in Tacoma in April.

What we do know is this: Ketel Marte will break camp with the Rainiers. He’ll be one of the top prospects on the team, and he’s going to play every day at either shortstop or second base.

The 21-year-old Marte hit .302 in 109 games for Double-A Jackson last year prior to a late-season promotion to Tacoma.

In just 19 games for the Rainiers, Marte hit .313 and even hit two home runs (which is not considered to be a big part of his game at this point). In that three-week stretch with the Rainiers, Marte looked every bit the part of a top shortstop prospect.

Marte will be paired with O’Malley, who has experience on both sides of the keystone. O’Malley was a .330 hitter for Salt Lake last year and earned his first MLB call-up to the Angels in September. He was designated for assignment after the season and the Mariners swooped in and signed him to a minor league deal.

We’re looking at Marte and O’Malley up the middle, with a possibility of Taylor or Miller.

As for the back-up, Leury Bonilla is back and of course he can play anywhere at anytime. Bonilla appeared in 90 games for the Rainiers last year, seeing time at every position except catcher. He’s a valuable part of a Triple-A roster.

Looking down below, it appears that shortstop Tyler Smith is moving towards a Triple-A assignment at some point soon – possibly late in the 2015 season, like Marte last year. Smith was the Mariners 8th round draft pick in 2013 out of Oregon State, and he was promoted to Double-A late last year.

Next Wednesday we look at the outfielders.

Links:

  • The Mariners officially announced the signing of outfielders Endy Chavez and Franklin Gutierrez to minor league contracts. Both have a strong chance of making the Rainiers opening day roster – although there seems to be opportunity for one to perhaps crack the Mariners out of spring training.
  • There are lots of reports out there that the Mariners have signed veteran catcher John Baker to a minor league deal. He has spent all or parts of seven years in the majors, usually as a back-up catcher. Baker has six years of PCL experience with Sacramento and Albuquerque. He’s a leading candidate to share catching duties in Tacoma with John Hicks.
  • In case you missed it: Ichiro signed with the Miami Marlins where he will be a reserve outfielder. He needs 156 hits to reach 3,000 in the Unites States.
  • Mill Creek product Travis Snider was traded to the Baltimore Orioles.
  • Former Albuquerque Isotopes broadcaster Bob Socci is getting ready to call the Super Bowl. In my time in the PCL he’s the only broadcaster to land a major league radio gig in a different sport!

Our next blog update will be on Friday.


New Rainiers Manager Brings Experience

January 26, 2015

At the Mariners media event last week I had a chance to pull aside Director of Player Development Chris Gwynn and ask him about new Tacoma Rainiers manager Pat Listach.

Gwynn was more than happy to discuss the hiring of Listach, which he perceives as a coup for the Mariners organization.

“His resume, his experience – he was in the big leagues five of the last six years,” said Gwynn. “Our players (in Triple-A) need to be finished before they show up to the big leagues, and I thought it was a great fit.”

Listach was previously a minor league manager in the Chicago Cubs system, most recently in 2008 when he piloted the Iowa Cubs to an 83-59 record and won the PCL Manager of the Year award.

Since then he has worked on major league staffs, mostly as a third base coach but also as a bench coach. His name has been mentioned as a potential major league manager.

Listach was the Houston Astros third base coach in 2014. When manager Bo Porter was let go, it meant the new skipper would select his own coaching staff. That made Listach a free agent, and he was considered for several MLB coaching positions before committing to the Mariners.

“I was keeping my fingers crossed that he would still be available, because there was so much movement at the big league level,” said Gwynn. “I’m happy that it worked out the way it did.”

One concern for Gwynn was how Listach would handle a return to managing in Triple-A after getting accustomed to the major league coach role.

“We had long talks,” said Gwynn. “We wanted to make sure that we were all on the same page. He’s excited and ready to go. He’s going to be hungry; he’s going to push our kids. That’s exactly what we are looking for.”

From his post as a coach with an American League West team last year, Listach saw the Mariners young talent – including some players who might be with the Rainiers this season. Gwynn has talked to him about other players he’ll be working with.

“He knows what we have, because he was with the Astros last year as third base coach he knows the young kids that came up,” said Gwynn. “He can’t wait to put his hands on (Ketel) Marte and some of the other players we have down there. I think it’s the right fit at the right time.

Listach won’t be coming to Tacoma until he arrives with the entire team on April 16th – the night before the Rainiers home opener. Tacoma starts the season on the road in El Paso, and the team will fly directly from spring training in Arizona to Texas.

It’s likely that Listach has not been to Cheney Stadium since 2005, which was his final year as the Iowa Cubs hitting coach. In 2008 (the year he managed Iowa) the I-Cubs did not visit Tacoma.

Hopefully nobody told him that the stadium has been renovated – that would be funny!

Links:

  • Looks like Tacoma will probably have Endy Chavez and Franklin Gutierrez in the outfield, according to numerous reports. Bob Dutton mentions it in this Mariners notebook.
  • Ryan Divish has a post from Fanfest with the Endy & Franklin news, and also some tidbits from players he talked to at the event.
  • Hall Of Famer Ernie Banks passed away at age 83 – here is his New York Times obituary. The front page of the Chicago Tribune was something to see. For some fun footage, the Banks vs. Mickey Mantle episode of Home Run Derby (1960) is available on YouTube. Larry Stone resuscitated a 2002 column about a phone call with Banks and it is a fun read.
  • We can cross Humberto Quintero off the list of veteran catchers the Mariners could sign – he inked a deal with the Red Sox, according to Baseball America’s minor league transactions.
  • Jeff Sullivan compared Jesus Montero to the volcano that created Crater Lake. Read it if you dare.
  • Some Houston Astros met a penguin.
  • Russell Wilson‘s minor league managers are rooting for the Seahawks.
  • Tony Blengino of Fangraphs has a preview of the AL West. If you don’t like all of math at the top of the story, scroll down to his team-by-team write-ups.
  • New Commissioner Rob Manfred is willing to look at a lot of options to modernize and speed up the game.
  • Later this spring a new book is coming out on the strike season of 1981. Tacoma native Ron Cey used the break in the season to appear in a horror movie.

Check back Wednesday when we preview the 2015 Tacoma Rainiers middle infield situation.


Triple-A Tidbits From Mariners Media Day

January 23, 2015

The Mariners held their annual pre-spring training media day yesterday, and I had the opportunity to attend with a couple of other Tacoma Rainiers employees.

There is always a lot of news from this event, and much of it involves the major league team. For that stuff, use the links below. What I’m going to do here is cover the minor league news that came from the event, and we’re going to do it bullet-point style because I’m feeling lazy and depressed today.

  • First up was trainer Rick Griffin and he opened the day’s main subject, which amazingly enough turned out to be Jesus Montero. Montero has lost about 40 pounds and apparently looks great. He’s turnaround is covered in detail in the links below.
  • Griffin also said that Rainiers pitcher Danny Hultzen will be treated like any other pitcher during spring training. Hultzen missed all of 2014 with shoulder surgery, but Griffin said “when he shows up he’ll do what everyone else is doing. He’ll be on a regular program.”
  • M’s General Manager Jack Zduriencik was next, and he talked about a lot of major league stuff but he did have a few comments that were Rainiers-related. First off, he said that shortstop will be a battle between Chris Taylor and Brad Miller, but he was unsure if the loser of that battle would play for Tacoma or remain in Seattle. He said that would be determined in spring training.
  • Jack Z talked about expected Rainiers corner infielder Patrick Kivlehan. Here are some words he used about the former Rutgers football player: “good athlete” “really tough kid” “very intense” “hard-working” so I think we get the picture here. It sounds like Kivlehan is going to move around the diamond but see a lot of outfield time for Tacoma.
  • Jack’s exact quote on where D.J. Peterson will play was “he’ll play third, he’ll get a shot at first, who knows where he ends up.”
  • The Mariners announced they signed Richland native Shawn O’Malley to a minor league contract. O’Malley was Salt Lake’s lone PCL all-star last year, batting .330-3-38 for the Bees. He can play nearly any position and he got his first big league call-up last September with the Angels. O’Malley is a very good middle infield depth player for the Mariners and Rainiers.
  • Mariners Director of Player Development Chris Gwynn discussed a number of things, including one stunner: Ji-Man Choi has spent his winter working on switch-hitting. He’s always hit left-handed. Choi is 23 years old and that is a very late age to try to learn to switch-hit. This was not a Mariners suggestion – Choi did it on his own, causing Gwynn to just shrug his shoulders and say “kids..”
  • Gwynn said that if Montero gets optioned to Tacoma, he’ll play a lot of first base and not be a permanent DH.
  • It sounds like Gwynn is in favor of a slow-go for the Mariners top teenage investments. Last year’s No. 1 draft pick Alex Jackson will get a chance to make the Low-A Clinton club in spring training, but Gwynn said Jackson would have to earn it and they aren’t going to force the assignment. Sixteen-year-old Venezuelan bonus baby Brayan Hernandez may spend the summer in the Mariners new complex in the Dominican Republic.
  • Mariners Assistant GM Jeff Kingston spoke about the small number of minor league free agents that have been signed. He noted that Triple-A free agents haven’t been that interested in the Mariners, because they don’t see a lot of opportunity to make the big league team. In particular, he said Triple-A relief pitchers have not been interested in signing with Seattle because they see little opportunity for advancement.
  • The one reliever he did sign was Mark Lowe, who Kingston said “has a big-time fastball, a good slider, and he’s happy to be back.”
  • Kingston indicated that veteran pitcher Justin Germano could be used as a starter or a reliever for the Rainiers, and can fill-in in the big leagues in a pinch.
  • Someone asked Kingston about the pitch clock, which is expected to be implemented in Double-A and Triple-A this season (although that is not official yet). He saw some games with it in the Arizona Fall League and said “the pace of play sped up. I don’t think it’s very popular with the players.”
  • Then we had lunch, which included chicken and salmon. Mmmmm…. lunch!

After lunch I recorded some comments from Gwynn about the hiring of new Rainiers manager Pat Listach. We’ll get to that in Monday’s blog update.

Links:

Have a great weekend!


Tacoma Corner Infielders For 2015

January 21, 2015

We continue our preview of possible 2015 Tacoma Rainiers players with a look at the potential corner infielders.

First base and third base are two of the most interesting story lines going into the Rainiers 2015 season because this is where the Mariners most advanced prospects currently play.

Both D.J. Peterson and Patrick Kivlehan are reportedly ready to make the jump to Triple-A, and both players count third base as their top position.*

Of course, neither of them are going to play third base in the major leagues for the Seattle Mariners – unless something totally unexpected (and probably bad) happens.

That being said, the Mariners have continued to allow both players to see substantial time at third base in addition to other positions. This is smart – defensive versatility is always valuable. Plus, what if Kyle Seager turns an ankle and hits the disabled list for two weeks? It’s always good to have depth.

Both Peterson and Kivlehan bat right-handed – something the Mariners have been looking for recently. Triple-A is one step from the majors, and if either of these guys looks like they are ready to hit in the big leagues at any time this summer, the M’s will find a place for them.

D.J. Peterson is considered the top upper-level hitting prospect in the Mariners system. He was the team’s first-round draft pick in 2013 – last year was his first full professional season, and he hit: .326-18-73 in 65 games at Advanced-A High Desert, and then .261-13-38 with an .808 OPS in 58 games at Double-A Jackson.

Between the two stops, Peterson played in 90 games at third base, and 19 games at first base.

Patrick Kivlehan has more Double-A experience than Peterson. He played in 34 games for High Desert before getting promoted to Jackson for 104 games. At Jackson he batted .300-11-68 with 23 doubles and seven triples, creating an OPS of .860.

Kivlehan also has more positional flexibility. At Jackson he played 58 games at third base, 26 games at first base, and… 22 games in the outfield. Most of his outfield work was in left field, but they even started him in center a few times – he’s known to be a good athlete, and as you probably know he played football at Rutgers for four years and is late to baseball.

It will be interesting to see if Kivlehan gets a lot of outfield time for Tacoma this season. It sure seems likely, because Tacoma has two more first basemen:

Ji-Man Choi is still on the Mariners 40-man roster, even though he had a disappointing 2014 season which included a PED suspension and an unproductive batting line. Yet he had always hit well in his career and a bounce-back in 2015 would not be a surprise. He’s still only 23 years old.

And then we have Jesus Montero, who actually generated a positive media report not long ago: apparently he has been working out in Arizona all winter and has lost 35 pounds. Montero played in 97 games for the Rainiers last year, hitting .286-17-74 with an .839 OPS. As of the end of his 2014 season, Montero still needed a lot of defensive work at first base.

Another player who has a history of playing third base but seems unlikely to play that spot much with the Rainiers is new addition Carlos Rivero. Rivero led the Venezuelan Winter League in home runs and seems to be a guy the Rainiers will want in the lineup every day. He was originally a shortstop – I find it interesting that he has played 603 career games at shortstop, 381 at third base, and zero at second base (where Tacoma could really use him).

So what we have here is five corner infielders who are nearly certain to open the season in Tacoma – and only three positions for them if you include the DH. Kivlehan and Rivero could get mixed into the outfield with some regularity. Perhaps Montero makes the big club as a bench bat. There could always be a trade or a DFA or something that causes a player to be removed from the mix.

Whatever happens, the sorting-out of this group will be one of the more interesting stories to follow during spring training.

Links:

  • Ryan Divish has a round-up of a bunch of Mariners tidbits from the last few days.
  • New Orleans manager Andy Haines worked in the Arizona Fall League where they tried pitch clocks for the first time. He answers some questions here – he’s not a big fan.
  • The Texas Rangers improved by trading for Yovanny Gallardo. The deal has PCL ramifications: by trading away Gallardo, the Brewers opened up a rotation spot for 2014 PCL Pitcher of the Year Jimmy Nelson. The Brewers received an actual brewer in the deal.
  • The Nashville Sounds are moving into a new ballpark this year, so they freshened-up their logos a little bit. Check it out.
  • PCL mainstay and one-time Rainiers Killer Trent Oeltjen announced his retirement from baseball.
  • Over in the International League, the Durham Bulls announced Jared Sandberg as their new manager. Sandberg is from Olympia and graduated from Capital High School. Former Rainiers manager and Mariners third base coach Dave Myers will continue as Durham’s hitting coach.

We’ll be back with a new post on Friday with all of the Triple-A news to come out of the Mariners Pre Spring Training Media Luncheon (which is held Thursday).

* I should probably clear this up: previously on this blog I have expressed doubts that Peterson would open the season in Tacoma. However, after talking with a number of people in the last few months, I now believe that he will likely open the season with the Rainiers.


M’s Settle With Most Arbitration-Eligible Players

January 19, 2015

Five Seattle Mariners players were in the news over the weekend, settling on contracts for 2015 instead of going to salary arbitration.

This is that time of the off-season where players who have between three and five full years in the majors have the right to go to salary arbitration. They can’t become free agents yet, but they do get the ability to negotiate with their current team for market-rate salaries.

The Mariners had six players who were eligible for salary arbitration: Dustin Ackley, Charlie Furbush, Austin Jackson, Logan Morrison, Justin Ruggiano, and Tom Wilhelmsen.

Five of the six players came to an agreement and signed prior to the exchange of salary figures. Only Tom Wilhelmsen’s case is still open – and the Mariners can (and probably will) settle with him before actually beginning an arbitration hearing.

Arbitration exchanges and agreements end up in the baseball news cycle because there isn’t much going on at this time of year – but the proceedings are usually quite simple these days. A decade or two ago there used to be some contentious arbitration cases but nowadays nearly everything gets settled without a hearing.

Links:

  • Here’s a blog post from Ryan Divish which has the updated salaries for the Mariners arbitration-eligible players who signed.
  • Buster Olney ranked baseball’s top teams and has the Mariners No. 7 (ESPN Insider required).
  • Two ex-Rainiers have new jobs, we learn from Baseball America’s minor league transactions: catcher Brandon Bantz signed with the Miami Marlins, and pitcher Travis Blackley inked a deal with the SF Giants. Minor league contracts for both.
  • Former Rainiers infielder Luis Valbuena was traded by the Cubs to the Astros this morning. Valbuena was in jeopardy of losing his Cubs third base job to top prospect Kris Bryant, so this was probably a good trade for him.

Check back Wednesday when we preview the 2015 Tacoma Rainiers corner infielders.


Thoughts On The Pitch Clock

January 16, 2015

Triple-A and Double-A baseball leagues are going to be guinea pigs in further experimentation to speed up the pace of play, we learned yesterday.

At least two new rules are coming in to play for the Pacific Coast League in 2015: the league is going to implement a pitch clock, and enforce the rule that says a better must keep one foot in the batter’s box between pitches.

The pitcher must throw within 20 seconds with a runner on base, and 12 seconds with nobody on. The penalty for a violation: a ball is called.

This is going to work to speed up the games.

The Arizona Fall League tried these rules – and a few others – a couple of months ago and had clear results. The league shaved ten minutes off its average time of game.

The pitch clock worked – but it is controversial. Some fans feel that the lack of any clocks is part of the beauty of baseball.

Personally, I waver on the issue. The game needlessly takes too long right now, and that is for a variety of reasons.

I think that simply preventing the batter from stepping out of the box will speed up the game – so I’m glad that rule is coming in.

Limiting pitcher-catcher conferences would be a big step.

Getting rid of batter “walk-up” music would have a huge impact in the PCL. There are hitters in the PCL who stand and listen to their song for 15-20 seconds before stepping into the batter’s box.

In the minors we don’t have much of a problem with inning breaks that are too long (unless there is a performer like The Chicken), but the majors could make some adjustments in this area.

Here are the average major league game times by decade (data courtesy Baseball Prospectus):

2014: 3:09
2004: 2:51
1994: 2:58
1984: 2:40
1974: 2:29
1964: 2:35
1954: 2:31
1950: 2:23

There was no pitch clock in the 1950s or 1970s. Have you ever watched old games on MLB Network or elsewhere? The batter doesn’t leave the batter’s box, and the pitcher gets the ball and throws it. The game moves briskly and is more entertaining. Ta-Da!

Anyway, we’re trying the pitch clock in 2015. Full details will be announced soon.

I’m not planning on paying much attention to it while broadcasting. We’ll discuss it and note violations of course, but I don’t expect to dramatically say “down to two on the pitch clock!” very often. Maybe if this happens in a key situation with the game on the line.

Operationally, my hunch is the best way to use the clocks would be unobtrusively. Have the clocks in the dugouts, facing the field (none on scoreboards, etc). The umpire has a “buzzer” and is alerted if it reaches zero.

Or better yet, just use John McGrath’s traffic light idea. Green-yellow-red. That’s the best.

The Mariners made a trade which affects the Rainiers on Wednesday afternoon, acquiring left-handed pitcher Mike Kickham from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Class-A pitcher Lars Huijer.

Kickham has been with Fresno the last two seasons and pitched against Tacoma several times. He’s a durable lefty who has very good movement on his pitches – making him wild at times, and very effective at others.

Last year Kickham made 27 starts for Fresno, going 8-8 with a 4.43 ERA. In 148 innings he had 131 strikeouts and issued 64 walks, giving up just eight home runs.

Kickham has briefly appeared in the majors each of the last two years with San Francisco and has not had any success at that level yet. He’s on the Mariners 40-man roster, and 2015 will be his last option year.

To make room on the 40-man roster, the Mariners designated pitcher Anthony Fernandez for assignment. Fernandez made five starts for Tacoma last year before injuring his elbow – he had Tommy John surgery in late May and is presumably out until at least mid-season this year.

We’ll go ahead and pencil Kickham into the Rainiers starting rotation right now.

Links:

Have a super weekend!