Rainiers Catchers Preview

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.

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