We continue our spring training preview series today by looking at the players who might make up the Rainiers outfield come opening day.
This is a tough position to preview. I nearly titled this post “Veteran Signings Confuse Tacoma Outfield Outlook” or something like that.
The Seattle Mariners recently signed longtime major league veterans Endy Chavez and Franklin Gutierrez to minor league contracts, inviting them to big league spring training. Both players will be trying to win a job as the Mariners fifth outfielder – a competition that will be intense during spring training, if it exists at all.
There is no guarantee that the Mariners are going to carry a fifth outfielder (the four locks are Dustin Ackley, Austin Jackson, Seth Smith, and Justin Ruggiano). Since designated hitter Nelson Cruz can play outfield if needed, he could serve as your fifth outfielder and that’s that.
If there is no opening on the Mariners roster, then you have all of these guys slated for Tacoma:
Endy Chavez – a true professional who is respected by teammates and coaches alike, Endy has opened each of the last two seasons with Tacoma before getting called to Seattle when injuries have occurred. Both seasons he remained with the Mariners for the duration. Endy turns 37-years-old on Saturday and he just finished a highly successful stint in the Venezuelan Winter League.
Franklin Gutierrez – a former Mariners star, Gutierrez has suffered a series of rare injuries and illnesses which kept him off the field. Gutierrez did not play in 2014 in an attempt to get truly healthy, and the Mariners decided to bring him to training camp and see how he looks. Nobody knows what to expect here – this will be something to follow once camp opens.
Stefen Romero – the new Smith/Ruggiano platoon really hurt Romero’s chance to make the Mariners opening day roster, though he could still see ample time in Seattle this year. If he ends up in Tacoma, we’ll take him – he’s too good for Triple-A. Last year he played in 35 games for the Rainiers and batted .358 with 12 home runs, for cripes sake. If he doesn’t make the Mariners, Romero will bat third or fourth in the Rainiers lineup.
Romero is in a tough spot. His own career would benefit from being with a poor MLB team – one that could start him everyday in left field while he makes adjustments and learns to hit major league pitching. It doesn’t look like the Mariners will be in a position to do that this year.
James Jones – speed, speed, speed! Jones was a revelation as a basestealer for Seattle last year, going 27-for-28 as a rookie thief. That is a weapon managers love to have on the bench. Jones does have options, however, and he can be shuttled between Seattle and Tacoma all year if needed. He’s played in only 37 career Triple-A games.
Julio Morban – the left-handed hitter remains on the Mariners 40-man roster after a disappointing 2014 season – but one should put an asterisk next to ‘disappointing.’ Morban was recovering from a severely broken leg and never really looked right – he hit .242 in 29 games for Tacoma. The 2015 season is a key year for him.
Patrick Kivlehan – we talked about him a lot in our corner infielder preview two weeks ago, when I wrote that he could see a lot of time in the outfield.
Leon Landry – after two seasons in Double-A (and a big improvement in year two), Landry appears ready for Triple-A. He is a true centerfielder and I’ve heard he might be the best defensively of this group (depending on how Gutierrez looks). Last year at Jackson he hit .280 with 21 doubles, nine triples, and two homers in 108 games. He also stole 25 bases, but he only drew 19 walks all season and his OBP was just .315.
Jabari Blash – the power prospect from the Virgin Islands appears to be buried on the depth chart right now, but’s he’s got big-time pop. He could open the season in either AA or AAA, depending on how the rosters break down.
Other outfielders to know: even I had forgotten that Ji-Man Choi played 26 games in the outfield for Tacoma last year… Daniel Paolini had an 811 OPS for Jackson last year as a first baseman and sometimes corner outfielder… Dario Pizzano hit just .228 for Jackson, but he drew a ton of walks for a .341 OBP and slugged .404… Jamal Austin is a speedster who hit .262 and was 19-for-22 stealing bases for Jackson last year – but he walks even less frequently than Landry.
The Rainiers will probably have four or five outfielders on opening day. Good thing we “narrowed it down” to twelve!
- The Seattle Times has a Mariners blog post with depth charts that extend to Triple-A (and in some cases below).
- The location of the 2016 Triple-A All-Star Game has been announced: Charlotte, NC. In 2017 the game will move back to the PCL.
- Anyone like college baseball? It starts next weekend. Here is a preview of the Pac-12 teams from the newly ramped-up website D1baseball.com.
Our next post will probably come Monday, and our next position preview will look at the starting pitchers on Wednesday.