Waiting…

February 29, 2016

That’s what we’re doing, waiting.

Just two more days until the first exhibition game of spring training. On Wednesday, the Mariners face the Padres in the annual charity game in Peoria. It’s opening day in the Cactus League.

At this time in spring training, the players can’t wait to get into actual games. They’ve only been down there for two weeks, but they’re tired of the no-games practice routine and want to see some action. Which will begin on Wednesday.

We recorded the second episode of “Seattle System Scoop,” the new podcast featuring all five Mariners minor league radio announcers. We got a little off the rails on this one – hey, there is no baseball yet, give us a break – but we do plan to keep on doing it at regular intervals leading up to, and during the season.

You can listen to it right here.

Links:

  • Mariners manager Scott Servais and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. announced the pitching rotation for the first five exhibition games. James Paxton gets the nod in the Cactus League opener on Wednesday.
  • Servais isn’t planning on bunting much, we learn in this notebook. Also, Mayckol Guaipe is changing uniform numbers.
  • The News Tribune checked in on third baseman Kyle Seager.
  • The paper also has a feature on likely Rainiers centerfielder Boog Powell.
  • Cuban outfielder Guillermo Heredia arrived in Mariners camp. He still has to pass a physical before his signing becomes official.
  • Felix Hernandez had his first bullpen session of the spring. From the story, it sounds like Felix did some offseason studying and is making a very slight mechanical change to try to keep the ball down.
  • Mariners catchers are working on framing pitches to generate more called strikes. Sabermetric studies over the past few years show that catchers can influence balls-and-strikes calls by how they receive the pitch – this is a skill that Mike Zunino has been really good at.
  • The M’s brought a pool table into the clubhouse in Peoria, and Tony Zych is the shark.
  • New Mariners starting pitcher Wade Miley is known to be a fast worker.
  • Reliever Joaquin Benoit needed some time to get his back in shape because “I’m getting old, man.”
  • A good bullpen is the key for a Mariners turnaround, Matt Calkins writes.
  • Abraham, Abraham, Abraham… come on, man. The former Rainiers and current Cleveland Indians outfielder was suspended for 80 games.
  • Checking in on a Rainiers division rival in the PCL, we have a really good story from Andrew Baggarly on new Sacramento manager Jose Alguacil and the Giants losing tradition at the Triple-A level (but it’s an even-numbered year, so the Giants are printing World Series tickets as we speak).

Full Squad In Peoria

February 26, 2016

The Mariners full squad is now together in spring training, with roughly 60 players battling to make the Mariners 25-man opening day roster.

Today was the first day of “live batting practice” sessions, in which a Mariners pitcher tries to get a Mariners hitter out – but with no defense, no base running, and a batting cage. It’s like a half-imaginary baseball game. We’ve got to ease into these things, you know. Can’t just jump right into 9-vs-9 for nine innings.

Spring training is actually shorter this year. The first exhibition game is only five days away, on Wednesday. There is still a full month’s worth of exhibition games, but the lead-in to the games is several days shorter than in previous years. This is a good thing – pretty much everyone in baseball thinks that spring training is too long.

So starting next week we’ll have reports from actual games. In the meantime, we have more news from the workouts.

Links:


M’s Add More Cuban Talent

February 24, 2016

The Mariners continue to be active in the market to sign Cuban players, as they are reportedly on the cusp of adding another one.

Outfielder Guillermo Heredia is apparently about to sign with Seattle, adding another player into the mix in the upper minors – or possibly the majors.

Heredia is a 25-year-old speed-and-defense type, though he did draw walks and post strong on-base percentages in the Cuban professional league (the Serie Nacional). You can see his known Cuban stats here.

Heredia has not played in over two years, due to complications from defecting and the subsequent free agency process. Because of this, he is most likely to begin his US career in the minors – possibly at Double-A Jackson or maybe here in Tacoma. The Mariners will use spring training to evaluate him.

Heredia is part of a recent group of lower-profile Cuban players the Mariners have signed. They added infielder Dayner Moreira earlier this month, and last year they signed pitcher Misael Siverio who spent the 2015 season in the Jackson rotation. The M’s had a big hit with a low-profile Cuban player when Roenis Elias emerged as a major leaguer.

It’s an interesting approach, to search for the bargains in the Cuban market. The big bonus players don’t always work out – sure, Yoenis Cespedes and Aroldis Chapman are superstars, but the Red Sox probably aren’t too happy with all of the money they spent on Rusney Castillo and let’s not ask the Phillies about Miguel Gonzalez. I’m not sure what, exactly, Yasiel Puig is at this point.

Maybe some of these new Cuban players will end up contributing in the majors for the M’s. We’ll probably get an early look at them in Tacoma, and we can pretend we’re scouts and try to figure out if they are going to make it or not.

Links:

Rhubarb the Reindeer can’t wait to get the season started. He gets sad during the winter – check out the video.


Spring Training Round-Up

February 22, 2016

We’ve got lots of stories but not much news from Mariners spring training camp – and that’s not a bad thing. Usually any news from this early in camp is injury-related and we want to avoid that.

The large number of links from the weekend give a little insight into how new Mariners manager Scott Servais is going about things in his first spring training as the man in charge. He shared some of his thoughts on how he wants to manage the roster and the type of games he wants to play.

Servais meets with the media every morning in Arizona – it’s part of the job – and from the reports that come out of these meetings we’ll start to get a feel for what the atmosphere is like around the squad.

Here are a weekend’s worth of Mariners reports from the start of spring training:


Baseball Players Do Baseball Things

February 19, 2016

Congratulations – you made it to the first day of spring training!

Seattle Mariners pitchers and catchers reported today. This includes just about all of the pitchers and catchers we’ll see in Tacoma on April 7.

Today is a day of physical exams, lots of stretching, and a few throwing sessions.

I’m not in Arizona (and won’t be until late March), but fortunately some reporters are already there. Let’s check out their pics:

Here’s TNT reporter Bob Dutton with a shot of the skinnier James Paxton.

Dutton himself is rounding into spring form, as indicated by his use of the word “limbering.”

Next up is Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times, with a shot of Danny Hultzen during a bullpen session. It’s good to see that Hultzen is on a regular program to start camp – what a lift it would be for both Danny and the organization if he had a healthy year.

Of course, some players have earned the ability to arrive at spring training in style.

It’s a new season – I can’t wait!

The first day of spring training came with some sad news: word got out that former major league infielder/outfielder Tony Phillips passed away from an apparent heart attack, at age 56.

Phillips was a multi-positionalist similar to Mark McLemore with the early-2000s Mariners, and current day Ben Zobrist.

He played in many games for the Tacoma Tigers, first on his way up to the big leagues (he broke in with the Oakland A’s), and later on some rehab assignments. Phillips appeared in 133 games for Tacoma, scattered across five seasons: 1981-1982, 1985, and 1987-1988.

Phillips was on the Oakland A’s 1989 World Series championship team. That squad has suffered some tough losses lately, with Phillips, Dave Henderson, and Bob Welch all having passed away.

Phillips had an 18-year major league career, collecting 2,023 hits.

Links:

  • Divish writes that introductions will be necessary at the first day of Mariners spring training.
  • Hmmmm. Looks like we might not see Dae-Ho Lee if he doesn’t make the Mariners roster. Signed to a minor league deal, the Korean slugger has an option to get out if his contract at the end of March, Dutton reports. We should add that these things can be re-negotiated when the time comes – but he’ll have the ability to look at other teams if he’s not making the Mariners.
  • The Seattle Times spring training position previews wrapped up with a look at the Mariners starting pitchers.
  • The News Tribune’s previews continued with starting pitchers and relievers.
  • At USS Mariner, marc w tried to project what Nelson Cruz will do this year. He gave up. It’s fun when the smartest guy in the room concludes with “I have no idea what’s coming, and have simply decided that that’s kind of awesome'”
  • Here is the news story on the death of Tony Phillips.
  • Tacoma’s Bellarmine Prep inducted Chicago Cubs pitcher Jon Lester into its Hall of Fame, and he spoke at the ceremony.
  • Jayson Stark has ten compelling stories around baseball as we head into spring training. This is a good big-picture primer.
  • In the PCL, looks like we might have a player named Bubba in the league this year. The Rainiers host Omaha May 14-17, and I can picture it now: “Boog, meet Bubba. Bubba, this is Boog.”

Have a great weekend, and we’ll be back with a new post on Monday rounding up news from the first weekend of Mariners camp.


Many Candidates For Rainiers Bullpen

February 17, 2016

This is the last installment of our pre-spring training look at who is battling to make the Rainiers opening day roster. When the project began six weeks ago, I made some pithy comment about how the last edition – the relievers – always ends up being just a list of a billion names.

That’s where we are today. Trying to predict who will be in the Triple-A bullpen is a fool’s errand, and I’m not going to try.

The biggest difficulty involves the pitchers who can both start and relieve – and there are always a lot of those. Take Forrest Snow, for example: he could start or relieve, and swing back-and-forth between roles. There are always several pitchers like this – the M’s even brought a few in from outside the organization, like Casey Coleman and Cody Martin.

So, here we go. A long list of pitchers who could end up in the Rainiers bullpen on opening day. The asterisk means he’s a left-hander.

Matt Anderson – posted a 3.90 ERA for Double-A Jackson last year; got promoted to Tacoma for final week of the season.

Jonathan Aro – acquired from Red Sox in Carson Smith trade; had 3.14 ERA for Pawtucket last season.

Charles Brewer – minor league free agent, usually a starter but could end up in a relief role.

Casey Coleman – former Iowa Cubs swing-man signed to a minor league deal.

Ryan Cook – major league reliever coming off rough 2015 season, does have one minor league option year left.

*Paul Fry – top reliever in farm system last year; 113 K’s in 80 IP between Advanced-A Bakersfield and Jackson. Fast mover?

Mayckol Guaipe – would be back for second season in Tacoma, had 2.87 ERA in 47 Rainiers games last year.

Ryne Harper – acquired from Braves in Jose Ramirez trade; has dominated Double-A for three years.

*Danny Hultzen – M’s hoping a move to bullpen will remove some stress from left shoulder.

*Kyle Hunter – three years at Double-A Jackson with a 2.59 ERA and has not yet appeared in a Triple-A game. What gives?

Andrew Kittredge – rubber-armed UW product appeared in 21 games for Tacoma last year, starting two.

Cody Martin – I’m told he’s going to camp as a starter, but he pitched in 21 games from the Atlanta Braves bullpen last year.

*Vidal Nuno – might make Mariners bullpen, might make Rainiers rotation, might make Rainiers bullpen… flip a three-sided coin.

Blake Parker – former Iowa relief ace is in camp on a minor league deal; has been terrific in the PCL when healthy.

Joel Peralta – 39-year-old major league veteran is in camp on a minor league deal, and he’s never been afraid to return to Triple-A and work his way back up.

*David Rollins – last year’s Rule 5 Guy now has three years of minor league options.

*Kraig Sitton – former Oregon State Beaver signed as a minor league free agent; had 2.97 ERA in Double-A for Rockies last year.

Forrest Snow – could start, could relieve, will definitely exchange dance moves with Rhubarb The Reindeer.

Tony Zych – seems like the M’s really want him to make the big league club, but he does have options remaining if he struggles in spring training.

There you go – one line on everyone who might be a Rainiers reliever on April 7th. Well, probably not everyone. I’m sure I missed a few.

Links:

Pitchers and catchers report on Friday!


M’s Add Another Pitcher To Tacoma Mix

February 15, 2016

We interrupt this President’s Day to pass along some baseball tidbits.

The Mariners have signed another minor league free agent pitcher who will compete for a spot on Tacoma’s opening day roster.

Charles Brewer is a right-handed starter who has lots of PCL experience: he made a total of 68 starts for Reno from 2012 to 2014. His Reno stats aren’t good, but he had to pitch half of his games in Reno which is like pitching on the moon (the high elevation and wind currents make it seem like there is no gravity). In the three years for Reno, Brewer went 24-29 with a 5.29 ERA.

The good news is he doesn’t walk many hitters – just 111 in 400 career Triple-A innings, with 318 strikeouts.

The bad news is he was injured for most of the 2015 season, and even had surgery in early August. But he recently started throwing bullpen sessions again and should be ready to go for spring training.

Brewer is from Scottsdale, Arizona and he played at UCLA. The Diamondbacks drafted him in the 12th round in 2009, and he had a brief call-up to the majors in 2013 when he pitched in four games from the Arizona bullpen.

Spring training is almost upon us, and we have a lot of good links from the weekend:

Come back Wednesday afternoon for our final spring training preview, when I’ll try to make some sense of a huge pile of pitchers who could make the Rainiers opening day bullpen.


Opening Night On Sale Now

February 12, 2016

A couple of quick hits on a wet Friday:

1) The Rainiers have placed tickets for Opening Night on sale, starting today. The remainder of the individual games will go on sale in the near future. Opening Night is Thursday, April 7th at 7:05 against the Albuquerque Isotopes and tickets are available online via this link.

2) ESPN’s Keith Law posted his massive Top 100 Prospects package over here. The M’s don’t fare well in his rankings: 28th best overall farm system, and just one player in his Top 100. That would be outfielder Alex Jackson checking in at #95. Jackson will probably start the season at Class-A Clinton.

3) Baseball America released the back half (No. 51-100) of their Top 100 Prospects list, and Jackson does not appear on this one.

Not much in the way of news today – all is quiet as the baseball world migrates to Arizona and Florida for the start of spring training. Pitchers and catchers report a week from today!

Links:

It’s our last weekend without baseball until… November? Go on a hike or something, I guess.


Rainiers Rotation Hard To Predict

February 10, 2016

The Tacoma Rainiers opening starting rotation is going to be determined by what happens in major league spring training, and which starting five the Seattle Mariners settle on.

One of the surprises at the Mariners Pre-Spring Training media event was when General Manager Jerry Dipoto indicated that only three starting rotation spots were settled going into spring: Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, and Wade Miley.

That means the Mariners have two open rotation spots to fill from the following group of pitchers: Nathan Karns, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Vidal Nuno, Mike Montgomery, Cody Martin, Joe Wieland. All of these pitchers with the exception of Montgomery have at least one minor league option year remaining.

Those seven names listed above are just the candidates who are on the 40-man roster. Other starting pitchers invited to big league camp include Adrian Sampson, Brad Mills, Donn Roach, and Casey Coleman.

Some of the seven contenders who are on the 40-man roster could make the Mariners as a long reliever – specifically, Nuno and Montgomery come to mind.

My gut feeling says that in the group of Karns, Walker, and Paxton whoever doesn’t make the Mariners rotation will start games in Tacoma.

Cody Martin and Joe Wieland seem all but certain to start the season in the Rainiers rotation – unless one of them blows away the competition during spring training.

We also have some holdovers from last year’s Tacoma rotation: Sam Gaviglio, Stephen Landazuri, and a healthy-again Jordan Pries figure to be in the mix.

Forrest Snow will be back in Tacoma, and he can serve as either a starter or a reliever. With all of these starter candidates, Snow will probably be a reliever to begin the year, and be ready to jump into the rotation when the need inevitably arises.

The most advanced pitching prospect in the organization is Edwin Diaz, who will pitch as a 22-year-old this season. Diaz is ranked the Mariners No. 2 prospect by Baseball America, and he’s already had an extended stint in Double-A: last year he made seven early starts for Class-A Bakersfield, then was bumped up to Jackson. He made 20 starts at the Double-A level, going 5-10, 4.57 with good peripherals: 104 innings pitched, 102 hits, only five home runs, 37 walks and 103 strikeouts.

Look for Diaz to begin the season in Double-A but if he gets on a roll they’ll probably move him up to Tacoma during the season.

Given all of the names in this post, it’s pretty much impossible to guess the Rainiers starting five right now. They’ll figure it all out during spring training.

The Mariners signed 39-year-old major league veteran reliever Joel Peralta to a minor league contract with an invitation to big league spring training.

Peralta was injured for about half of last season with the Dodgers, but he appeared in 33 games and had a 4.34 ERA in 29 innings. He was effective for Washington and Tampa Bay from 2010-2014.

Peralta has always been willing to go to Triple-A when needed: he’s pitched for Salt Lake, Colorado Springs, Omaha, Syracuse, Charlotte, and Oklahoma City. He could end up in the Rainiers bullpen if the doesn’t make the big league club.

We get to the long list of potential Rainiers relief pitchers next week.

Links:


M’s Minor League Podcast Premiere

February 8, 2016

We’re doing something new, and hopefully some of you will like it.

Class-A Clinton broadcaster Greg Mroz reached out to the rest of the Mariners minor league broadcasters with the idea of starting a podcast. Because we are radio guys and we all like to hear ourselves talk, we agreed to give it a try.

The first episode of the Seattle System Scoop can be heard right here.

Greg takes the lead. He’s joined by Short-Season Everett announcer Pat Dillon, Advanced-A Bakersfield’s Dan Besbris, Double-A Jackson’s Brandon Liebhaber, and myself.

For the first episode we decided to go through the Mariners Top-10 Prospects list as designated by Baseball America. Most of the players performed last year for Everett and Clinton so Pat and Greg handle a lot of the discussion. I literally saw just one of the Top-10 Prospects play in a grand total of four games last year!

The plan is to do new episodes with some regularity throughout the season. Maybe next episode I can sneak in my big question for Greg: how are you still alive after calling a 46-93 season? Can you share some survival tips in case it ever happens to any of the rest of us?

We hope you like the podcast. It’s a work in progress – if you have any ideas/suggestions (including a better name), let one of us know via standard internet communication methods.

Links:

  • Greg Johns has a feature on likely Rainiers centerfielder Boog Powell.
  • Ryan Divish checked in on new Mariners closer Steve Cishek, who fills an important role if the M’s are going to improve this season.
  • John McGrath has a fun column on Dae-ho Lee.
  • Here’s a good look at likely Tacoma Rainiers starting pitcher Joe Wieland from Brandon Gawlowski.
  • Former Rainiers catcher John Baker wrote about what it is like for a player at the beginning of spring training.
  • Mexico won the Caribbean Series on a walk-off home run. Former Rainiers and Mariners star Freddy Garcia started for Venezuela and pitched pretty well – he was long gone by the time it ended.

On Wednesday I’ll have a new post about the candidates for the Rainiers starting rotation.