Tacoma Starting Rotation Candidates

Today we turn our look at the possible 2015 Tacoma Rainiers opening day roster to the starting pitchers.

The top spot should be pretty easy to figure out. The Seattle Mariners have six candidates for their five-man starting rotation, so whoever draws the short straw is going to be optioned to Tacoma and will likely be the Rainiers opening day starter.

The Mariners locks appear to be Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, and J.A. Happ. That leaves Roenis Elias and Taijuan Walker battling it out for the No. 5 spot.

As you know, injuries often hit starting pitchers and can strike at any time – including during spring training. That’s why the Mariners are going to camp with six starters!

Hopefully there will be no injuries to starting pitchers, and the Rainiers will have either Elias or Walker at the top of the starting rotation. The list of Tacoma starting pitching candidates looks like this:

  • LHP Roenis Elias or RHP Taijuan Walker
  • RHP Jordan Pries
  • LHP Mike Kickham
  • LHP James Gillheeney
  • RHP Sam Gaviglio
  • LHP Tyler Olson
  • RHP Stephen Landazuri
  • RHP Victor Sanchez
  • LHP Danny Hultzen
  • LHP Misael Siverio

Swing-men (can start or relieve): Andrew Carraway, Forrest Snow, Justin Germano.

You will notice that Erasmo Ramirez does not appear on this list. Ramirez is out of minor league options and must make the major league team or else be exposed to waivers. It is my opinion that if Ramirez is placed on waivers, another team will claim him – so I find it highly unlikely that he could get to Tacoma. But, stranger things have happened.

Here’s a quick look at the candidates.

Elias and Walker: this is kind of ridiculous, showing the wealth of young pitching that the Mariners have at the top of the organization. Elias had a 3.85 ERA in 29 major league starts last year – and doesn’t have a job sewn up! Walker is a top-flight prospect who is MLB-ready. Yet barring something unforeseen, one of these guys is going to end up in Triple-A.

Pries was Tacoma’s most reliable starter last year, appearing among the PCL Top-10 in ERA until the last day of the season. It will be interesting to see if he can improve upon his 2014 campaign and turn himself into a viable major league option. The Mariners are bringing him to major league spring training, so they seem curious about this as well.

Kickham was a recent Mariners waiver claim – he has one option year remaining. Kickham was in Fresno’s starting rotation for the last two years (he was 8-8, 4.43 in 27 starts last year). Kickham has good strikeout rates and decent stuff from the left side.

Gillheeney made 23 starts for Tacoma last year and went 3-11, 5.62. OK, that’s not very good, but he pitched quite well in the Mexican Winter League and his stuff intrigues some opposing-team scouts I speak with.

Gaviglio is the player the Mariners received when they traded Rainiers infielder Ty Kelly to St. Louis. He’s a sinkerballer out of Oregon State who had a 4.28 ERA in 24 starts at Double-A Springfield last year, with 126 strikeouts in 136 innings. Mariners scouts must have filed positive reports on him prior to the trade – like Pries, he received a non-roster invitation to major league camp.

Olson was the Mariners 7th round draft pick in 2013 out of Gonzaga, and he’s already knocking on the Triple-A door. At Double-A Jackson last year he went 10-7, 3.52 in 22 starts. He tossed 125 innings and had 100 strikeouts with only 25 walks. Olson is a southpaw.

Landazuri was the hottest starter at Double-A Jackson in April last year, and it seemed he was on the verge of an early season promotion to Tacoma when he strained an oblique. He missed two months and returned in late June, finishing the year with a 6-5, 4.33 mark (he was not as effective after the injury). Landazuri was drafted in 2010 out of high school and he just turned 23 last month.

Sanchez is a young right-hander who is often mistaken for a brick wall. He pitched the entire 2014 season in Double-A at the age of 19 – making him one of the youngest players at that level. He performed pretty well, too: Sanchez went 7-6, 4.19 in 23 starts, lasting 124.2 innings with 97 strikeouts and 34 walks. Sanchez is short and massive: he’s most recently been listed at 6-foot, 255 pounds. Did I mention he’s 19?

Hultzen is the mystery man. You know him, you know his story… last report is that he’ll go to spring training healthy and with no restrictions. When I talked to Player Development Director Chris Gwynn last month, he made it sound like the organization is taking a wait-and-see approach on Hultzen during spring training. If he breaks camp in the Tacoma rotation, that would be a huge positive for everyone.

Siverio is even more of a mystery than Hultzen. He’s a Cuban defector the Mariners signed in November, he’s supposedly 25-years-old, and from what I’m hearing he may be Triple-A ready. And for now, that’s all I know. This is a player I will actively search out to try to watch during my spring training trip in late March.

In conclusion, the Mariners have a good amount of starting pitching depth at the Triple-A level. However, only one prospective Rainiers starter has MLB experience, and that will be the loser of the Mariners No. 5 battle (although swingman Justin Germano has lots of MLB experience).

It’s foolish to even hazard a guess at the Rainiers rotation right now, given the inevitable spring training sore arms. But this list should at least be something to work with for now.

Links:

  • As he prepares to spend seven weeks in sunny Arizona, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times previewed the Mariners first base situation – which was interesting. His preview of the second baseman was exactly what you think it is.
  • Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reports that 2014 Rainiers reliever Todd Coffey signed with the Atlanta Braves. Minor league deal; presumably with a major league spring training invitation.
  • Interesting story from the Boston Globe suggesting the gap between Triple-A and MLB is wider than it used to be (warning: lots of stats!). I think they key is the bullpens: in MLB most teams have six or seven relievers blowing 95+. In Triple-A, it’s unusual to see a team with more than one of those guys.
  • Julio Franco will be a player-manager for a minor league team in Japan. He’s 56. One of my favorite things in this sport is Julio Franco’s Baseball Reference page.
  • Congratulations to the Los Angeles Angels, who have set a new standard in the World’s Ugliest Free Hat contest.

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