Montero Moves On, Bullpen Help Acquired

March 30, 2016

We knew we were going to say goodbye to Jesus Montero this year, and it became official earlier this week.

After setting a Tacoma franchise record with a .355 batting average last year, Montero was out of minor league options going into 2016. He was either going to make the Mariners, or be lost to another team on waivers.

The latter came true. Seattle decided to go with Dae-Ho Lee as the right-handed bench bat/first baseman, choosing him over Montero. Montero was exposed to the waiver wire, and the Toronto Blue Jays claimed him.

So now the Montero family packs up and flies to Dunedin, Florida to catch the tail end of Blue Jays spring training. He now faces the same situation in Toronto that he did with Seattle: he must make the big league opening day roster, or else go through the same waiver process again.

We’ll miss Montero in Tacoma, where he was a dangerous hitter. He hit .315 with 35 home runs and 168 RBI in 214 games for the Rainiers, and he was a 2015 midseason and postseason PCL All-Star.

The M’s helped out the big league bullpen today by acquiring right-hander Nick Vincent from the San Diego Padres in exchange for a player to be named later.

Vincent is major league help: he’s out of minor league options. But adding him does help the Tacoma bullpen, as one of the pitchers who was previously likely to make the Mariners is now slated for Tacoma. We’ll find out how the Rainiers bullpen is shaping up soon – probably on Sunday or Monday.

Vincent has crafted a 2.62 career ERA in 161 major league games, working 151 innings. Pretty nice numbers for a guy who was available at the end of spring camp.

Links:

Check back on Friday for a new post.


Familiar Faces Sent To Tacoma

March 28, 2016

The Mariners made some tough cuts this morning, sending three experienced players back to Tacoma.

James Paxton, Chris Taylor, and Stefen Romero were optioned to Tacoma on Monday. They join Shawn O’Malley, Joe Wieland, and Casey Coleman who were also sent to Tacoma over the weekend.

The Mariners decided to go with Nathan Karns as their fifth starter – solidifying a rotation of Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Wade Miley, Taijuan Walker, and Karns.

Paxton will effectively be the sixth starter. He’ll work in the Tacoma rotation, build up arm strength and be ready to go back to Seattle when needed.

Wieland will join Paxton in the Rainiers rotation.

By sending both Taylor and O’Malley to Tacoma, the Mariners have decided on Luis Sardinas as the utility infielder. He had a great camp, but O’Malley really pressured him with a strong showing of his own.

Look for a combination of O’Malley, Taylor, and Tyler Smith to be playing the up-the-middle infield positions for Tacoma. Benji Gonzalez is another player who could enter the mix.

The most surprising move today from my perspective was the optioning of Romero, who I thought might at least hang around for a few more days and possibly make the Mariners for the opening series (a postulate formed by Bob Dutton in the links down below). The move all but assures that Dae-Ho Lee has made the Mariners opening day roster.

Romero will see action at both first base and in the outfield for Tacoma. More importantly, he’ll hit in the middle of the Rainiers lineup: Romero has played in 245 career Triple-A games, with a slash line of .296/.340/.503.

Today’s moves left the Mariners with 33 players in camp. While they do still have 17 position players, the biggest real battle left is in the bullpen.

The team has three catchers still in camp – they have to make a decision between Steve Clevenger and Rob Brantly to back-up Chris Iannetta.

Both Jesus Montero and Efren Navarro are still listed as being in major league camp, but there are lots of rumors out there that the Mariners have put Montero on waivers.

They still have six outfielders in big league camp, with Daniel Robertson apparently being the odd man out despite his terrific spring.

As for the pitching, with the rotation now set it’s easy to see that the club has 11 relievers still fighting for the seven bullpen spots. But two of them are injured (Charlie Furbush and Evan Scribner), so really it’s nine players who are in the picture: Joaquin Benoit, Steve Cishek, Mayckol Guaipe, Mike Montgomery, Vidal Nuno, Blake Parker, Joel Peralta, Donn Roach, and Tony Zych.

The rosters are about set. Mariners open in a week, Rainiers in ten days.

Links:

We’re getting close!


Good Morning, Baseball

March 25, 2016

The Rainiers played some morning baseball on Thursday – which I jokingly suggested was a good preparation for when the team plays one of those 10:30 AM Kid’s Day games during the PCL regular season.

Except this was even earlier: a 9:00 AM first pitch, two intrasquad games on the Peoria backfields. One field pitted the Triple-A team against the Double-A team, and the other field had the two Class-A Mariners squads going head-to-head. I sat and watched the AAA/AA game.

In terms of weather, 9:00 in the morning is perfect for Arizona baseball. It was crisp if you were in the shade, and warm in the sunshine. The wind was still asleep after a long night of howling.

Prospective Rainiers starting pitcher Joe Wieland was pitching for the Double-A squad (so that he would face the more advanced hitters), with Mike Zunino catching him (because they’ll be working together during the PCL season). Wieland is still in big league camp and he was wearing his major league uniform, and he was facing a lineup which included several of the players who have suited up for Tacoma the last few days: Tyler Smith, D.J. Peterson, Guillermo Heredia, Leon Landry, etc.

Tacoma had top pitching prospect Edwin Diaz on the mound, which was a nice surprise. Still likely to open the season in Double-A, Diaz showed why he is considered the Mariners No.1 pitching prospect. His fastball was electric, and he showed a nice slider. The ‘smack’ of the ball hitting the catcher’s mitt is loud when he’s on the mound. He wasn’t unhittable, though: when he left the fastball over the middle of the plate, it got hit hard. One veteran scout watching him work said Diaz just needs to become more consistent with his command and he’ll be ready to move up. Diaz turned 22-years-old earlier this week and there is no need to rush him.

Other pitchers who worked multiple-inning stints in this game were left-hander Misael Siverio and righty Charles Brewer. Even though they technically pitched in relief, the fact that they worked multiple innings – three in Brewer’s case – makes it appear that they are being prepped for a starting rotation spot.

Guillermo Heredia impressed again with his plate discipline and speed. The Cuban outfielder legged out an infield single on a chopper to third, and he impressively tagged up from first and took second on a not-too-deep fly ball to right-center. This set up a run, as Leon Landry followed with an RBI single to right.

Speaking of Landry, he got hosed down by Zunino when he tried to steal second base.

Both intrasquad games were over in a little more than two hours. The games were played early because the coaching staff and player development office had meetings in the afternoon.

I fly home today, just in time for the annual Cheney Stadium Pre-Season Party.

Join us on Saturday from 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM for stadium tours, food sampling, live music, meet Rhubarb the Reindeer (note: he’s not much of a conversationalist), and see which seats are available if you are interested in season tickets.

The event is FREE.

Links:

We’re off for the weekend – if you come to the Pre-Season Party on Saturday, stop by the Rainiers clubhouse and say “hi.” I’m supposed to be camped out in there all day.


Umpire Injury Causes Odd Situation

March 24, 2016

Injuries overshadowed baseball on Wednesday in the Rainiers exhibition game against Omaha.

The game was played on the backfields of the Kansas City Royals complex in Surprise! where the Omaha club plays its games.

Things started off normally enough, but then two injuries hit in a span of mere seconds during the seventh inning.

D.J. Peterson had fought off a tough two-strike pitch from Clayton Mortensen, looping down the right field line for a double.

With Dario Pizzano at the plate, Mortensen tried to pick Peterson off of second base. Peterson dived back in head-first, the pickoff throw was on the money and… the shortstop covering the base did not catch the ball. In fact, he didn’t come close to making contact with it, and the throw nailed Peterson in the back of the head.

Rainiers trainers Tom Newberg and B.J. Downie ran out to second base and took care of Peterson, who walked off the field under his own power and went into the dugout with the trainers. Play resumed.

Pizzano got back in the batters box, and foul tipped the next pitch – right off the bottom of the plate umpire’s face mask. It was a scary sight: the mask came flying off, and the umpire fell straight backwards behind the dish.

Downie and Newberg came flying out of the dugout again – this was a much more serious injury. Trainers from both teams tended to the umpire, who was eventually stretchered off the field by paramedics. Fortunately the umpire was responsive and moving his extremities throughout the process.

After about twenty minutes, the game resumed. We were down to one umpire, who handled the bases. Each team’s catcher called the balls and strikes.

Marcus Littlewood was the catcher/umpire when Tacoma was in the field, and Omaha’s catcher (I did not get his name) called the balls and strikes when Tacoma batted.

That was a new one for me – I’d never seen it before.

Don’t worry about D.J. Peterson – he’s fine, he stayed in the dugout and watched the rest of the game.

Aside from the flurry of injuries, it was an eventful day. Here’s the starting lineup:

  1. Boog Powell – CF
  2. Benji Gonzalez – SS
  3. D.J. Peterson – 1B
  4. Ed Lucas – 3B
  5. Dario Pizzano – DH
  6. Mike Dowd – C
  7. Leon Landry – RF
  8. Zach Shank – LF
  9. Patrick Brady – 2B

* mentioned this yesterday, but only a few of these guys will be with Tacoma on opening day, because the Mariners still have at least 15 players to send down.

Notes from the game:

  • Omaha started an established major league starting pitcher in Edinson Volquez, who was getting his work in the Triple-A game. He struggled – the Rainiers really got to him.
  • Omaha also had Washington native Travis Snider, who batted second in every inning until the sixth (he went 0-for-5, all against Adrian Sampson who pretty much owned him).
  • Sampson was one of the stars of the day. A likely member of the Rainiers starting rotation and possible opening day pitcher, Sampson lasted five innings and allowed two hits and one run – a solo homer by Dusty Coleman. He retired ten in a row at one point, and he kept getting Snider to roll over and hit soft grounders to the second baseman.
  • Leon Landry was the offensive star. He smoked a two-run triple to right-center off Volquez in the second inning. Against Volquez again in the fifth, he doubled hard to the gap in right-center. Later, Landry drew a walk and had a bunt single. A very productive day.
  • I got my first look at Boog Powell, and liked what I saw. He did not give in at all during his at-bats – twice he came up with two-strikes hits, going the opposite way to reach base. One of those ABs was against Volquez. However, he was gunned down trying to steal against the big league battery of Volquez and Drew Butera.
  • Dario Pizzano was all over the bases, reaching four times with three singles (one might have been an error but it was hit hard right at the shortstop) and a walk.

The Rainiers won the game, 6-5.

Links:

Early baseball today – the minor league side is playing games at 9:00 AM and then the staff is having meetings all afternoon. It’s that time of camp when the decision-making process begins, and a lot of discussion goes into determining which players go to which teams in the organization.


Day One In Peoria

March 23, 2016

I flew into Phoenix on Tuesday morning and took in my first day of Mariners/Rainiers spring training.

After the early flight touched down, I grabbed a rental car and immediately made a beeline to Peoria for the ceremonial first burger. Then it was time to go to the field.

The major league club was off on Tuesday, but there was a Triple-A game with the current version of the Rainiers facing Charlotte (White Sox affiliate) on one of the backfields. There was also a Double-A game between the M’s and White Sox organizations, on an adjacent field.

There was actually a small crowd at this game, because James Paxton was starting for your Rainiers. He’s still in competition for the Mariners fifth starter spot, it was his day to throw, and with no major league game they had him pitch the Triple-A game instead.

In front of a crowd which included most of the Mariners front office and manager Scott Servais, Paxton pitched five innings and allowed two runs – both solo home runs by left-handed minor league hitters. It’s worth noting that the wind was strongly blowing out at Field 1, making it a bit of a launching pad (the Rainiers hit a pair of home runs, too).

The Rainiers lineup featured some players who will be with the team in two weeks, and others who will not. Since there are still over 40 players in big league camp, we can’t get an accurate picture of the Tacoma roster just yet. Here’s how they started on Tuesday:

  1. Guillermo Heredia – CF
  2. Dario Pizzano – LF
  3. Tyler O’Neill – RF
  4. Mike Zunino – C
  5. Ed Lucas – 3B
  6. Steve Lerud – DH
  7. Tyler Smith – SS
  8. Daniel Paolini – 1B
  9. Tim Lopes – 2B

Managing this crew was Daren Brown, which was a bit of a surprise. Pat Listach is still helping in big league camp and will continue to do so until the end of the week, when he’ll move over to the minor league side and take command of his team. Brown – the former Rainiers manager – is the Double-A Jackson skipper this year, but for now he’s handling the Triple-A team in spring training.

Confusing, eh?

The Charlotte/White Sox starting pitcher was left-hander Nik Turley, who has a bunch of Triple-A experience. The Rainiers got to him with extra-base hits.

In the second inning, Zunino drew a leadoff walk, Lerud singled, and Tyler Smith hit an RBI double. Paolini grounded out to drive in a second run.

In the third, Heredia reached on a bunt single before O’Neill hit a long two-run homer to right-center. Shortly afterwards, Lucas pulled a solo dinger to left field and the Rainiers were up 5-0.

Tacoma would go on to win the game, 6-3.

Some observations:

  • Guillermo Heredia played well. The just-signed Cuban outfielder reached base with two walks and the bunt single, in four plate appearances. Not sure if he’s going to Double-A or Tacoma, but upon first glance he looks like a player.
  • Mike Zunino had two good at-bats. He drew a walk, and had a sac fly with a runner on third and one out.
  • Dario Pizzano went 1-for-4, but his hit was a well-executed hit and run single through the right side. Playing left field, he threw out a runner who was trying to stretch a single into a double.
  • Tyler O’Neill will not be in Tacoma this year, but he is a player to watch. Last year – at age 20 in the California League – he hit 32 home runs. He also struck out one out of every three at-bats. Tuesday, he went 1-for-4 with a homer and two strikeouts.
  • Left-hander Paul Fry relieved Paxton and worked a scoreless sixth inning, striking out two. The second strikeout came against a left-handed hitter who didn’t appear to have a chance.
  • Ryne Harper followed, and he showed an impressive breaking ball while striking out a pair during a 1-2-3 inning.
  • Forrest Snow pitched a scoreless eighth inning. He told me he’s been working in relief this spring but is expected to fill his usual swing-man role. He also said that the new Mariners regime is already putting more emphasis on winning in the minors than in the past.
  • Matt Anderson finished the game, allowing an unearned run after a rather egregious error behind him (the error was by a young, non-Rainiers player so we’ll give the kid a break). Anderson came up to Tacoma from Double-A at the very end of the 2015 season and he could pitch his way onto the Rainiers roster this year.
  • On the adjacent field in the Double-A game, Jordan Pries started and pitched two innings. He was injured for a good chunk of 2015, so it’s nice to see him healthy and in action. He was a key figure for the Rainiers in 2014.

On Wednesday the Rainiers play a day game over in Surprise, against Omaha (Kansas City Royals). I’ll attend that one, then swing by the major league night game against the Diamondbacks. A day/night doubleheader.

Links:

  • Here’s a check-up to see how the Mariners efforts to “control the zone” are working. Remember this, though: spring training statistics have been proven to be non-predictive.
  • The Times has a full report on Paxton’s start in the Triple-A game yesterday.
  • Hisashi Iwakuma faced the Dodgers and his friend Kenta Maeda on Monday afternoon. The Mariners prevailed, 6-3.
  • Oh no! The Salt Lake Bees major league exhibition game with the Angels got snowed out.

I’ll have a new post for you on Thursday morning with details from the day/night doubleheader.


Off To Arizona

March 21, 2016

I’m headed to spring training early Tuesday morning, and will spend three days at the backfields of the Mariners complex in Peoria watching the Rainiers get ready for opening day. Of course we’ll have reports here on the blog.

In the meantime, we have lots more news from camp over the weekend. There were some roster moves:

Reliever Justin DeFratus re-signed with the organization on a minor league deal, and we can now count on him to be with the Rainiers on April 7.

The Mariners signed another pitcher with big league experience to a minor league contract: right-hander Steve Johnson. He’s appeared in two dozen major league games with the Baltimore Orioles, scattered over the past four years. You can see his career numbers right here.

The major league camp was cut down a bit with the following moves:

Optioned to Tacoma: relief pitchers Jonathan Aro and David Rollins, and catcher Steve Baron.

Reassigned to Minor League Camp: starting pitcher Adrian Sampson and infielder Ed Lucas.

All of these players seem likely to be Rainiers – although I’m starting to wonder what the M’s plan to do with all of these catchers. Three backstops have already been sent to Tacoma in Baron, Mike Zunino, and Steve Lerud. There are still three in major league camp: Chris Ianetta, Steve Clevenger, and Rob Brantly. I’m not sure how this is going to shake out.

Here’s a look at how some possible Rainiers players performed in major league exhibition games over the weekend. You will note that Daniel Robertson has been hot all March.

Friday: Mariners 7, Rangers 1

The Mariners used something that looked a lot like a major league starting lineup in this game, but some Rainiers candidates came in halfway through the game… Daniel Robertson had another hit and boosted his Cactus League average to .500… infielder Benji Gonzalez went 1-for-2… likely Rainiers starting pitcher Adrian Sampson worked 2.1 scoreless innings, striking out three with no walks… James Jones went 0-for-2 with a walk, but he’s with Texas now.

Saturday (split squad): Royals 5, Mariners 4

Outfielders Daniel Robertson and Dario Pizzano each hit doubles… Joe Wieland pitched three innings and threw 49 pitches, building up arm strength to join the Rainiers rotation (although he allowed four runs).

Saturday (split squad): Diamondbacks 4, Mariners 2

First baseman Efren Navarro hit a home run and drove in both Seattle runs… infielder Ed Lucas went 3-for-4… reliever Blake Parker allowed his first runs of spring training and took the loss.

Sunday: Indians 3, Mariners 1

Daniel Robertson went 1-for-3 and drove in the Mariners only run… a pair of likely Rainiers relievers pitched well: Mayckol Guaipe worked two perfect innings, and Casey Coleman delivered a scoreless ninth inning.

Links:

Our next post will come your way from sunny Arizona. The Rainiers play Charlotte (White Sox) tomorrow afternoon on the backfields of the Peoria complex and I plan to be there.


Key Players Optioned To Tacoma

March 18, 2016

The Mariners announced three roster moves this morning involving players on the 40-man roster. Each player was optioned to Tacoma, and barring injuries or other unexpected developments, each will be with the Rainiers for the opener on April 7th.

The players sent to Tacoma: catcher Mike Zunino, pitcher Cody Martin, and outfielder Boog Powell.

Zunino will be Tacoma’s regular catcher as he tries to find the offensive game which was such a big part of his skill-set on his way up to the major leagues. Powell is an outfield prospect who has conquered Double-A and now needs to do the same at the Triple-A level. And Martin is a right-handed starting pitcher who has some big league experience.

There we have it – some players we know are going to be on the team! We can get some jerseys ready.

Here are some notes on possible Rainiers in the exhibition games the last two days:

Monday: Mariners 9, Giants 6

Both Luis Sardinas and Shawn O’Malley homered off Giants starter Jeff Samardzija… O’Malley was 2-for-2 and is batting .545 this spring… Mayckol Guaipe pitched two innings, allowing one run… Casey Coleman delivered a scoreless ninth, striking out two, and picked up a save.

Tuesday: Mariners 11, A’s 11

Nothing says Cactus League baseball quite like a good old-fashioned 11-11 tie… another strong game for O’Malley, going 2-for-2 with a double, walk, and RBI… Zunino had two hits including a triple… Leon Landry came over from minor league camp and had an at-bat – don’t forget about him, he played well for the Rainiers last year… the Daniel Robertson hit machine went 1-for-3… catcher Steve Lerud drew two walks… Blake Parker tossed another scoreless inning.

Next week is going to be very busy on the blog. We’ll have a round-up of weekend news on Monday, then on Tuesday I fly to Arizona to catch some spring training baseball from the backfields. Lots of fun stuff heading our way.

Links:

  • The News Tribune has a post on today’s roster moves.
  • In Thursday’s game, James Paxton got roughed up in the 11-11 tie with Oakland. Paxton is battling Nathan Karns for the Mariners fifth starter job.
  • The loser of the Paxton/Karns battle isn’t necessarily coming to Tacoma, Bob Dutton writes. The big league bullpen is a possibility.
  • Players who don’t normally hit home runs – Leonys Martin, Luis Sardinas and Shawn O’Malley – launched dingers to help the M’s to a 9-6 comeback win over the Giants on Wednesday.

Don’t forget to celebrate National Corn Dog Day on Saturday!