Triple-A Takeaways From Thursday’s Media Event

January 29, 2016

The Mariners held their annual Pre Spring Training Media Luncheon yesterday at Safeco Field. Lots of major league news came out of the event and it’s all covered in the links down below, but for this post we’ll focus on the news involving the Tacoma Rainiers.

Because I’m feeling like a lazy writer today, let’s do this bullet-points style.

  • The injury to projected Rainiers catcher Jesus Sucre is more serious than originally thought: fractured right fibula, sprained right ankle, out for six months. Don’t be surprised if the Mariners add another veteran catcher to the Triple-A mix via free agency.
  • Mariners front office staff made it very clear that Mike Zunino will start the season with Tacoma, with General Manager Jerry Dipoto saying “the goal is to have Zunino open in Tacoma and watch him develop.”
  • The team officially announced the signing of veteran first baseman Gaby Sanchez to a minor league contract. He, Jesus Montero, and Stefen Romero were mentioned as candidates to be the right-hand side of the first base platoon with Adam Lind.
  • Despite all of the media reports, it doesn’t appear that the Mariners and Federal Way native Travis Ishikawa are going to come to terms.
  • Improved communication throughout the organization was a major theme of the day, and it includes the minor leagues. The new front office has been in contact with many of the minor league players.
  • One of the few holdovers from Zduriencik’s staff, Assistant GM Jeff Kingston had some interesting remarks about how communication breakdowns and mixed messages had a negative impact on players, particularly Zunino and Chris Taylor.
  • The newly publicized but longtime organizational philosophy of “controlling the strike zone” impacted the major league spring training invitations: Kingston said that Double-A shortstop Tyler Smith and outfielder Dario Pizzano were rewarded with invitations to big league camp because of their excellent strikeout-to-walk ratios last year.
  • Kingston lauded starter Adrian Sampson and reliever Paul Fry for controlling the strike zone from the mound. Both were invited to big league camp, and I have both penciled onto the Rainiers opening day roster for now.
  • While some in the media are fascinated by new farm director Andy McKay‘s sports psychology background, my takeaway from his session was that he does not want to rush prospects through the minor league system. At one point he said “hopefully you have enough talent in the system, so you don’t have to rush prospects based on need.”
  • VP of Player Personnel Tom Allison said that the Mariners have increased their scouting force. To wit, he mentioned that the team signed likely Rainiers pitcher Casey Coleman after scouts saw him work in an international tournament in Japan.

For the major league tidbits from the event, hit the links.

Links:

Have a nice weekend. When our next post goes up on Monday, we’ll be less than three weeks from spring training!

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Tacoma Middle Infield Candidates

January 27, 2016

The positional preview series continues with a look at Tacoma’s potential shortstop and second baseman for 2016.

This part of the Rainiers roster appears to be entirely dependent upon the results of what is shaping up to be the Mariners biggest spring training job fight.

The Mariners have an opening for a utility infielder on the roster, and it appears to be a wide-open battle with no clear favorite.

Shawn O’Malley, Luis Sardinas, and Chris Taylor will go to spring training and compete to be the Mariners reserve infielder. The reason these are the top candidates is that each has positional flexibility which includes the ability to play shortstop.

All three players have a minor league option for 2016. It figures that the two “losers” in the battle will be optioned to Tacoma, and take up spots in the Rainiers middle infield.

O’Malley had a terrific 2015 season for Tacoma, and then acquitted himself nicely in a September trial with Seattle. The switch-hitter from Kennewick hit .297 with a .346 on-base percentage for Tacoma last year, and then posted a .418 OBP in 57 plate appearances for the Mariners. O’Malley might be a shade behind the other two in shortstop defense, but he has an edge in positional flexibility because he can play infield and outfield.

Sardinas is new to the Mariners organization this year. Known for his smooth infield glove, the 22-year-old switch-hitter hit .282 with a .319 OBP for Colorado Springs in 2015, while also batting .196 in 36 major league games for the Brewers. Sardinas is generally considered the best defensive shortstop of the group.

Taylor is familiar to Rainiers fans, having appeared in 161 games for Tacoma over the past two seasons. Taylor is a career .313 hitter for the Rainiers – which currently ranks as the 14th highest batting average in Tacoma franchise history (minimum 500 plate appearances). Taylor hit well (.287) in his 2014 call-up, but last season was a very different story in Seattle (.170).

We can probably count on two of these three players being on the Rainiers opening day roster. But things happen in baseball – trades, injuries, etc – so let’s see who else is in the picture.

Ed Lucas was discussed last week with the corner infielders, since he’s played mostly third base in recent seasons. But he can also play second base, and even shortstop in a pinch.

Zach Shank opened eyes with his athleticism during an emergency call-up to Tacoma last summer – one which was expected to last just a few days, but was extended to over a month when he showed he belonged. A 28th round pick out of Marist College in 2013, Shank is primarily a second baseman but can play every position on the diamond including shortstop and center field. Shank could be the new Leury Bonilla.

Benji Gonzalez was signed in December as a minor league free agent. A former Pirates and Padres farmhand, Gonzalez reached Triple-A for his first time last season when he appeared in 17 games for El Paso. Gonzalez is 25-years-old, a right-handed hitter, and a shortstop. Last year was his first season playing above the Class-A level, so he could be a fit for either Tacoma or Double-A Jackson.

Tyler Smith was the shortstop at Double-A Jackson last season, where he hit .271 with three homers and a .361 OBP in 121 games. A right-handed hitter, Smith was the Mariners 8th round draft pick in 2013 out of Oregon State. Normally we would expect a natural promotion for him, but he’s probably a player the Mariners want to see in the lineup every day, which might not be possible in Tacoma depending on how the roster shakes out. If not on opening day, we’ll see Smith in Tacoma eventually.

What about Leury Bonilla? Everyone’s favorite multi-positionalist is currently listed as an unsigned minor league free agent. The Mariners have been re-signing him every year, and he’s appeared in a Rainiers uniform five straight seasons. The previous Mariners player development regime always viewed Bonilla as a future minor league manager or coach, once his playing days ended. With the shake-up in the front office, I’m not sure how things are looking for Leury. When I catch wind of any news, I’ll let you know.

Links:

  • Bob Dutton’s Mariners Notebook mentions that a few minor league signings will probably be announced at the Mariners media event on Thursday.
  • Former Rainiers slugger Carlos Peguero inked a minor league deal with the St. Louis Cardinals. He’ll make Autozone Park in Memphis look quite small.
  • Say goodbye to PCL superstar Efren Navarro, who was traded by the Angels to the Baltimore Orioles yesterday. Navarro is Salt Lake’s all-time leader in nearly every offensive category, and was always a threat to contend for the PCL batting title.

Tomorrow the Mariners hold their annual pre-spring training media event. There are always a few good notes regarding the Triple-A club at this event – I’ll have a new post all about it on Friday.


Playing Poker With The PCL’s Past

January 25, 2016

Never expected to get a blog post out of a weekend trip to watch college basketball, but here we are.

I went down to Berkeley/Oakland this past weekend to watch my alma mater play a pair of (highly successful) basketball games, and somehow randomly ended up in a miniature Pacific Coast League museum.

Texas Hold ‘Em is an enjoyable pastime for me. For you non-cardplayers, this is a skill-based poker game, in which you play against the other players at the table (and not against the “house” or casino). I often will find a card room on the road and play for a bit if I have some spare time.

This weekend I had some time between basketball games so I decided to play a little poker at the Oaks Club, which is technically in Emeryville near the eastern base of the Bay Bridge. Little did I know that I was walking directly into the PCL’s past.

The card room – which claims to have been open since 1895 – sits directly across the street from the former location of Oaks Ball Park, which housed the PCL’s Oakland Oaks from 1913-1955. The stadium was demolished after the franchise was relocated to Vancouver in 1956, and now the Pixar Animation Studio sits on that plot of land.

The ballpark’s old neighbor has kept the memory of the franchise alive.

Covering the walls of the restaurant section of the Oaks Club are a series of terrific historical photos of this long-gone PCL franchise. I took some pictures of the pictures (the diners in there thought I was weird) and they didn’t come out real well – the lighting was as terrible as my photography skills – but it was cool to see this stuff on the wall in such an unlikely location. You can click on the pictures to enlarge them.

ballpark aerial

Aerial shot of Oaks Ball Park

The Oaks had some big baseball names. The DiMaggio brothers were from nearby San Francisco, and Vince played for the Oaks.

Vince Dimaggio

Vince DiMaggio circa 1947

Oakland won a PCL title in 1927, and then suffered through two decades of sub par seasons. The drought ended with a PCL championship in 1948 under the guidance of Hall Of Fame manager Casey Stengel.

Oaks win!

Casey Stengel

Casey Stengel, Oaks manager 1946-1948

There are many more PCL photos on the walls, but as you can tell it was tough to get decent shots of them. If you like PCL history and are ever in Oakland, it’s worth checking out the Oaks Club – even if you have no intention of playing cards. And if you need to use their free WiFi, the password is “1927PCLchamps.”

Links:

New post coming Wednesday, when we look at the 2016 Tacoma Rainiers middle infield candidates.


Baseball America Ranks M’s Prospects

January 22, 2016

Baseball America released its annual Mariners Top Ten Prospects list today. Here’s what they came up with:

  1. Alex Jackson, of
  2. Edwin Diaz, rhp
  3. Drew Jackson, ss
  4. Tyler O’Neill, of
  5. Nick Neidert, rhp
  6. Luiz Gohara, lhp
  7. Braden Bishop, of
  8. Andrew Moore, rhp
  9. Boog Powell, of
  10. D.J. Peterson, 1b/3b

This list leans heavily towards youth and the low minor leagues.

Four of the players (Drew Jackson, Neidert, Bishop and Moore) were drafted in 2015 and will be making their full-season debuts in April – likely with Low-A Clinton.

Two more players (Alex Jackson and Gohara) were at short-season Everett last year and are also probably heading to Clinton.

There are three players on the list who we’ll probably see in Tacoma at some point this season – though not necessarily on Opening Day.

Edwin Diaz is the top starting pitcher prospect in the organization, and he pitched well for AA-Jackson last year. He could break camp with Tacoma but he’s only 22-years-old so it wouldn’t be surprising if they decided to keep him back in Double-A for a month or two.

Boog Powell is the one player on this list I feel will certainly start the season in Tacoma – heck, he might be batting leadoff on April 7 (that’s Opening Night, you guys). This will be his first season in the Mariners organization; he was acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay.

I touched on D.J. Peterson on Wednesday. I’m curious to see where he is assigned to start the season, it could be Tacoma.

Links:

  • For Baseball America subscribers, we have the Mariners Top Ten Prospects list with scouting reports, and also a Mariners organizational chat.
  • From The News Tribune, Bob Dutton shares his thoughts on the Baseball America prospect list.
  • There are reports that the Mariners have signed first baseman Gaby Sanchez to a minor league deal. Keep in mind that the Travis Ishikawa signing is still not confirmed. I’m now taking a wait-and-see approach on both of these.
  • BA’s minor league free agent tracker indicates that the Mariners have signed left-handed reliever Kraig Sitton, an Oregon State product who posted a 2.97 ERA in the Double-A Eastern League last year.
  • John McGrath comes from the same place I do regarding the designated hitter. He offers a unique suggestion at the end of this column.
  • MLB moved the trade deadline to August 1 for this year, because July 31 is a Sunday and the league didn’t want players getting traded in the middle of all of the afternoon games.
  • In the PCL, the Albuquerque Isotopes announced that Glenallen Hill is returning as manager.
  • We have a column from Las Vegas on the ongoing stadium issue. Stick around for the Danny Tartabull reference.
  • A former PCL broadcaster is the new radio voice of the Boston Red Sox.

Have a fun weekend!


Who’s On First And Third?

January 20, 2016

Today our weekly spring training positional previews look at potential Tacoma Rainiers corner infielders.

The organization was not strong in corner infielders (especially after the trade of Patrick Kivlehan to the Texas Rangers), so General Manager Jerry Dipoto signed some veteran free agents to fill the void.

Ed Lucas, Mike Baxter, and (if/when the signing becomes official) Travis Ishikawa are all recently signed corner infielders who have lots of Triple-A experience and varying degrees of major league experience. Former top prospect D.J. Peterson is a younger player who may be in the mix.

Let’s take a look:

Ed Lucas is a veteran infielder who appears to be penciled in as the Rainiers third baseman – if he doesn’t make the big league club. Lucas hit .316 with six homers and a .389 on-base percentage for Round Rock last year, and he has a .255 career average in 163 major league games. He’s going to camp competing for a major league utility job, but the 33-year-old would likely be an everyday player if sent to Tacoma.

Mike Baxter plays first base and corner outfield. A left-handed hitter, Baxter played for the Chicago and Iowa Cubs last year. He’s typically a .280-ish hitter in the PCL, with doubles power. The 31-year-old has experience as a pinch-hitter and reserve outfielder in the majors. Like Lucas, if he doesn’t make the big league team he is likely to see lots of playing time in Tacoma.

Wrote a bit about Travis Ishikawa on Monday (scroll down), who plays the exact same positions as Baxter but has much more MLB experience. Ishikawa is considered to have a strong glove at first base. Because both Baxter and Ishikawa have flexibility to move into the outfield, it is possible that both could break camp with Tacoma.

D.J. Peterson was the Mariners first round draft pick in 2013, and he appeared to be on the fast track to the big leagues prior to his disappointing 2015 season (.223, seven homers, .636 OPS at Double-A Jackson). Despite his struggles in Double-A, Peterson was surprisingly promoted to Tacoma last August by former GM Jack Zduriencik (he played in four Rainiers games and then went down for the season with an Achilles injury). Where the Mariners assign Peterson to start the season will give us some insight into the philosophy of the new Player Development Department: will they promote a highly drafted player who hasn’t conquered Double-A ? Stay tuned. Peterson plays third base and first base.

We should mention Daniel Paolini, who made his Triple-A debut last August after two years at Double-A Jackson (where he hit .271 with a .725 OPS last year). Paolini plays first base and left field, and he could make the Rainiers opening day roster if spring training shakes out in his favor.

We’ll have more about this next week when the conversation turns to middle infielders, but the Mariners are going to have an intense spring training battle to see who makes the major league team as the utility infielder. The “losers” in this battle will be sent to Tacoma, and will primarily play second base and shortstop – but whoever they are, they’ll also be able to play third base as well. Tacoma will have some natural roster depth all around the infield.

You will notice that Jesus Montero is not on this list. Montero is out of minor league options – which means that if he doesn’t make the Mariners opening day roster, he must be offered to the other 29 big league teams on waivers before he could be sent to Tacoma. Someone would take a chance on him if this were to happen.

Links:

  • The Mariners announced their promotional schedule, home game times, and ticket on-sale dates. We should have similar information coming for the Rainiers soon.
  • Cross A.J. Schugel off the list of potential Rainiers starting pitchers – he was claimed off waivers by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
  • Longtime Mariners scout Ken Madeja won a major award in his field.

We’ll be back with a new post on Friday, when Baseball America is expected to publish its Mariners Top Ten Prospects list.


Rainiers Could Have Local Star

January 18, 2016

Reports surfaced online Saturday that the Mariners are in the process of signing Federal Way product Travis Ishikawa to a minor league contract. The Mariners have not confirmed the signing, but both of the newspapers covering the team felt confident enough to run the story.

Ishikawa, 32, was The News Tribune’s Area Player of the Year after his senior season at Federal Way High School in 2002. He was drafted and signed by the San Francisco Giants.

He’s played in the major leagues for all or parts of eight seasons, seeing a lot of action in a reserve and pinch-hitting role.

Ishikawa also has lots of Triple-A experience, which includes PCL time with Fresno, Nashville, and in 2015 with Sacramento. He’s a career .279 hitter in Triple-A, with a .367 on-base percentage and a .485 slugging mark.

San Francisco Giants fans will always remember Ishikawa: he hit a walk-off three-run homer to end Game Five of the 2014 National League Championship Series and send the Giants on to the World Series. Here’s the video.

We should find out in the next few days if this deal is confirmed – he presumably has to pass a physical before any official announcement.

Hopefully the deal will be confirmed by Wednesday – that’s the day I have scheduled to preview the Rainiers corner infielder situation heading into spring training. Ishikawa plays first base and left field.

Links:


Rainiers Catchers Preview

January 13, 2016

Today we begin our weekly look at potential Rainiers opening day players with an examination of the catching situation.

Like many of the other positions we’ll be writing about, the Rainiers opening day catcher is dependent upon what happens with the Mariners catchers during spring training.

Seattle has five catchers on its 40-man roster – and either two or three of them will make the Mariners opening day roster. Tacoma will presumably take the remainder.

The rostered catchers are Chris Iannetta, Steve Clevenger, Jesus Sucre, Mike Zunino, and Steve Baron.

Iannetta is certain to make the Mariners opening day roster (as long as injury isn’t a factor – which should always be a consideration with catchers). Clevenger is out of minor league options, so he certainly appears set for the M’s.

Zunino is the X-factor here. He really had a rough 2015 season, and the Mariners press corps have all suggested that Zunino will get some minor league time this year to try to get his offensive game back on track. He possesses a ton of talent and is still very young – he turns 25 in March.

There is a chance that Zunino has a big spring training, looks improved at the plate, and forces his way onto the Mariners opening day roster. He could also hit well in the Cactus League and get sent to Tacoma anyway. At this point it’s really hard to figure how this is going to work out.

Sucre and Baron are very similar players, but with different degrees of experience. Both are defensive specialists with limited offensive potential. Sucre has plenty of MLB experience from the last three seasons, while Baron got his first taste of the big leagues last September.

Often the Mariners sign a major league veteran to play for Tacoma early in the season, and serve as an available back-up if/when injury occurs at the big league level. Recent players like this have included Humberto Quintero, John Baker, and Guillermo Quiroz.

This year they don’t need one of these veterans: if both Zunino and Sucre are in Tacoma, that’s a lot of MLB catching experience in Triple-A – even though Zunino and Sucre are young players.

Looking down below, the Double-A Jackson catchers last year were Tyler Marlette and Marcus Littlewood. Neither put up numbers in 2015 the scream “promotion to Triple-A” but both could play their way up to Tacoma at some point this season.

In the end, we’re probably looking at a Tacoma opening day catching crew of Zunino, Sucre and Baron. Carrying three catchers would enable Zunino to get a lot of DH at-bats and still make enough starts behind the plate to maintain his receiving chops without getting physically worn down.

Dealin’ Dipoto was at it again yesterday, making a trade that should benefit the Rainiers. The Mariners sent Class-A infielder Erick Mejia to the Dodgers for starting pitcher Joe Wieland.

Wieland made 21 starts for the Oklahoma City Dodgers last year, going 10-5 with a 4.59 ERA in the PCL. Included was a gem against the Rainiers on August 16th, when he lasted eight innings and gave up just one run with no walks and eight strikeouts.

The about-to-turn-26-years-old right-hander struck out 92 and walked 25 over 113.2 innings in the PCL. He allowed just seven home runs.

Wieland (pronounced WE-land) was considered a top pitching prospect before he blew out his elbow in 2012. Last year was his first completely healthy season since the injury.

He’s had a few cups of coffee in the major leagues. Right now he is pitching depth for the Mariners and we’ll pencil him in as a member of Tacoma’s starting rotation.

Wieland is on the 40-man roster (he has one minor league option year remaining, which will probably be used this season). To make room on the 40-man, the Mariners designated A.J. Schugel for assignment. He’s on waivers now – if no one claims him, he’ll be outrighted to Tacoma.

Links:

  • Here’s a story with some stats on the Joe Wieland trade.
  • A pair of Mariners players are performing well in the Dominican Winter League’s playoffs.
  • New Mariners minor league manager Mitch Canham was introduced at Class-A Clinton. In the story, new farm director Andy McKay says some interesting things about winning in the minor leagues.
  • Seattle added to its pro scouting staff.
  • Grant Brisbee’s amusing but honest look at the biggest holes on American League rosters pretty much nails the Mariners.
  • Monte Irvin was the second-oldest living Hall of Famer before passing away at age 96 yesterday. His New York Times obituary is quality reading.
  • In the PCL, Salt Lake’s coaching staff is set.