Triple-A All-Star Flashback: 1994

December 22, 2016

It’s been a slow week for baseball news involving the Mariners and Rainiers, so let’s do another… All-Star Flashback!

Tacoma is hosting the 30th annual Triple-A All-Star Game at Cheney Stadium on July 12. We’ll spend the winter looking back at the previous years, to give fans an idea what they can expect in Tacoma this summer.

1994

Nashville’s Greer Stadium was the site of the 1994 Triple-A All-Star Game, which serves as a reminder of where we are on the timeline.

Greer Stadium is no longer in play – Nashville built a new ballpark for the 2015 season.

Nashville wasn’t even in the PCL in 1994, it was an American Association city. The Triple-A merger and expansion of the PCL didn’t come until after the 1997 season.

And 1994 was the final season of the Tacoma Tigers and the Oakland A’s affiliation. After that season, the Seattle Mariners affiliated with Tacoma and we changed the name to the Rainiers.

The final Tacoma Tigers player to appear in a Triple-A All-Star Game was outfielder Scott Lydy, who came off the bench to go 0-for-2 for the American League in an 8-5 NL victory.

The game opened up when the National League sent its leadoff man to the plate, Tucson Toros outfielder Brian Hunter, and… wait a minute, that’s our new coach for 2017! We were just talking about him on Tuesday. He went 1-for-3 with a double and a run scored in the game.

Future superstars were in short supply in the 1994 contest. I suppose outfielder Garrett Anderson was the biggest future star, or maybe second baseman Ray Durham. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez had a long career after breaking in with Toronto. Carl Everett played in the game, he was pretty good for a while before things went south.

Polar opposites served as the starting pitchers. The NL started 34-year-old veteran Craig McMurtry of Tucson, who was trying to get back to the big leagues. He had finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting way back in 1983! The AL starter was 21-year-old Julian Tavarez of Charlotte. Tavarez was a big Indians prospect at the time, and while he did not reach stardom he did pitch in the majors until 2009.

1994 Triple-A All-Star Game Fun Facts:

  • The AL manager was Nashville skipper Rick Renick, who is Tacoma’s all-time home run leader. He hit 72 homers for the Tacoma Twins over a four-season span, 1973-1976.
  • Rick Sweet managed the NL, representing Tucson. This was the first of a record three Triple-A All-Star managing assignments for Sweet, who served as the Colorado Springs Sky Sox skipper last year.
  • Friend Of The Blog and former Rainiers pitcher Andrew Lorraine made his first Triple-A All-Star appearance, working two innings for the NL. A White Sox prospect at the time, Lorraine represented Vancouver of the PCL.
  • Richmond’s Terry Clark pitched a scoreless inning. He was a Mariners minor league pitching coach during the Jack Zduriencik era.
  • Playing in front of a hometown crowd, Ray Durham went 3-for-3 and won the MVP award.
  • Louisville’s Scott Coolbaugh won a shortened version of the Home Run Derby. Not sure what happened that year, but only four players participated and none were from the PCL. We’ll do a little better at Cheney Stadium this summer, I promise.
  • One of the announcers on the national radio broadcast was Edmonton’s Al Coates. He was an unforgettable character.

After a couple of all-star games featuring future Hall of Famers, the 1994 game was a little light on future household names. That would change in a big way with the 1995 game, which we’ll get to after the holidays.

Link:

  • Rainiers reliever David Rollins was claimed off waivers for the fourth time this winter yesterday. The Texas Ranger claimed him again – they had him a few weeks ago, and tried to sneak him off the roster only to have Philadelphia grab him.

That’s it, one link. It’s the slowest time of the year for baseball news. In fact, many teams – including the Rainiers – close their front offices for the week between Christmas and New Year. Along those lines, we won’t have any blog updates until the new year – unless Dealin’ Dipoto makes a big move. Which he might. Anyway, happy holidays and we’ll see you in January!


Rainiers Staff Set – Two New Coaches

December 20, 2016

The Seattle Mariners announced their minor league coaching staffs on Monday afternoon, including the Rainiers.

We’ve known for a while that manager Pat Listach is returning for his third year, and that he needed a new hitting coach since Scott Brosius was promoted to the major league staff.

The Mariners announced the Rainiers will bring back pitching coach Lance Painter, while adding two new coaches: hitting coach Dave Berg, and coach Brian L. Hunter.

We’re very happy to have Listach coming back. He was disappointed in his 68-76 record in 2015, which was his first year with the Rainiers and his first season managing since 2008. Listach bounced back in terrific fashion, leading the Rainiers to an 81-62 record in 2016, the team’s first division title since 2010, and finished runner-up for the PCL’s Manager of the Year award.

The Rainiers had excellent pitching this season under coach Painter, finishing with the third-best team ERA in the Pacific Coast League. The team’s 3.92 ERA was Tacoma’s lowest since 2001.

New to the organization, Dave Berg is making the switch from manager to hitting coach this year. He managed the Miami Marlins Double-A Jacksonville Suns affiliate (now known as the Jumbo Shrimp; Berg escaped before the name change) in 2015 and 2016, and he piloted some lower-level minor league teams before that. Berg played at Sacramento City College, where Mariners farm director Andy McKay was head coach, although they were not there at the same time. Berg reached the majors as a utility infielder for the Marlins and Blue Jays, 1998-2004.

Seattle decided to increase the size of the coaching staffs with the minor league clubs, which falls in line with what many teams are doing these days. The Rainiers fourth coach is former major league speedster Brian L. Hunter, who worked with the Everett Aqua Sox last year.

Hunter played all or parts of ten seasons in the majors, from 1994 to 2003, which includes the 1999 season as a Mariner. He led the American League in stolen bases two times, setting a career high of 74 in 1997 with Detroit.

Brian L. Hunter was identified with a middle initial because there was another Brian Hunter in the majors at the same time: Brian R. Hunter was the opposite style of player, a slower guy who came off the bench and hit home runs.

Our Brian Hunter is a Northwest native, born in Portland and raised in Vancouver, WA. He graduated from Ft. Vancouver High School.

For fun, here are the Baseball Reference pages of the Rainiers coaching staff. We’ve got a lot of big league experience on this staff!

We’re also pleased to have our entire training staff return: athletic trainers Tom Newberg and B.J. Downie, and strength and conditioning guru Derek Mendoza.

Links:

  • Here’s the story on the Rainiers coaching staff from The News Tribune.
  • The Times provides a list of all Mariners minor league development staff, including a new all-time baseball record: four mental skills coaches.
  • The Seattle Times has a feature on hard-throwing Mariners relief prospect Thyago Vieira. I was unfamiliar with him until reports started to emerge that he was throwing 102 mph in the Arizona Fall League. Hopefully we’ll see him in Tacoma at some point this year (he’ll probably begin the season at Double-A).
  • The Mariners payroll in 2016 increased by nearly 25% over the 2015 figure.
  • After ten years managing in the International League, former Tacoma Rainiers manager Dave Brundage is returning to the PCL in 2017. Brundage was named manager of the Sacramento River Cats on Thursday. Brundage managed Tacoma in 2006, then managed the Gwinnett Braves for six years before spending the last four years managing the Philadelphia Phillies’ Lehigh Valley affiliate. Ex-Rainiers pitching coach Dwight Bernard returns to the Sacramento staff.

Check back for a new post on Thursday.


Another Mariners Top Prospect List

December 15, 2016

Baseball Prospectus released its Mariners Top 10 Prospects list today, and this is one I annually look at. They always have some in-depth analysis of the players, and many of their writers go on to work for major league teams.

The article – which requires a subscription – includes an essay which could be summarized like this: the Mariners farm system improved a lot in 2016, but it still has a long way to go to become one of the better systems in the sport. That being said, it does mention that the talent added in this year’s draft gave the system a big boost.

I can’t copy all of the player reports here, but this was their player ranking:

  1. RF Tyler O’Neill
  2. OF Kyle Lewis
  3. LHP Luiz Gohara
  4. RHP Max Povse
  5. RHP Andrew Moore
  6. RHP Nick Neidert
  7. 1B/DH Dan Vogelbach
  8. OF Mitch Haniger
  9. OF Brayan Hernandez
  10. SS Drew Jackson

Compare that to Baseball America’s list, which came out last month:

  1. Kyle Lewis, of
  2. Tyler O’Neill, of
  3. Luiz Gohara, lhp
  4. Nick Neidert, rhp
  5. Mitch Haniger, of
  6. Andrew Moore, rhp
  7. Drew Jackson, ss
  8. Max Povse, rhp
  9. Dan Altavilla, rhp
  10. Dan Vogelbach, 1b

The difference in the top spot comes from Baseball Prospectus being much more concerned about the knee injury and subsequent surgery Lewis required, which could cost him some speed.

Prospectus also likes new acquisition Max Povse better, ranking him four spots higher.

Each list contains one player we know we’ll see in Tacoma this year – Tyler O’Neill – and two pitchers we hope to see in Povse and Andrew Moore.

Each list also includes two players we hope to *not* see in Tacoma: Dan Vogelbach and Mitch Haniger. Hopefully both will hit enough in Seattle to stay there.

There is one more forthcoming Mariners prospect list which I always read, from longtime analyst John Sickels. We’ll post that one when it gets published.

Links:

  • As the Mariners continue to look for a starting pitcher, Bob Dutton floats the name of Tampa’s Drew Smyly as a possible trade target.
  • From Baseball America’s Minor League Transactions we learn that 2016 Rainiers catcher Rob Brantly signed with the Cincinnati Reds.
  • Richie Shaffer, we hardly knew you. The third baseman acquired in a trade from Tampa was claimed off waivers by the Phillies. Poor guy never got to put on a Mariners uniform.
  • The Seattle Times has an article on Mariners Double-A catcher Tyler Marlette, who just had a bounce-back season in the farm system.
  • Filling those cold winter months, the folks at MiLB.com compiled a list of Mariners Organizational All-Stars in which the selected one Mariners minor leaguer at each position.

No Snow In Tacoma

December 13, 2016

Despite the fact that the Tacoma Rainiers social media recently posted this photograph, there will be no Snow on the field at Cheney Stadium in 2017.

Longtime Rainiers pitcher Forrest Snow finally became a free agent after the 2016 season, and on Monday the Milwaukee Brewers announced they had signed him to a minor league contract with an invitation to major league spring training.

Snow was a Mariners fan as a kid, he grew up in Seattle, attended the University of Washington, and was drafted by the Mariners. Unfortunately he did not reach the big leagues with Seattle, which would have been a dream come true for him.

He’ll get new opportunities and a fresh start with the Brewers organization. Snow will also still be in the PCL when playing Triple-A ball: the Brewers are affiliated with Colorado Springs. However, the Sky Sox do not visit Tacoma in 2017.

We wish Forrest the best. He’s always an interesting guy to talk to, and he is an upbeat personality. Hopefully he’ll reach the big leagues with the Brewers.

Some additional moves involving recent and future Rainiers:

Pitcher Zach Lee was claimed off waivers by the San Diego Padres. Lee was acquired from the Dodgers in a mid-season trade last year, for infielder Chris Taylor. Lee really struggled with Tacoma, and was removed from the Mariners 40-man roster on December 3. We’ll see if he can get his career back on track with the Padres.

Ex-Rainiers relief pitcher Logan Bawcom is also going to the Padres. He had the best year of his career in 2016 with Oklahoma City, but he’s still looking for his first major league call-up. Bawcom signed a minor league contract, but the Padres are a land of opportunity for pitchers right now.

Offseason acquisition Dean Kiekhefer recently cleared waivers and was outrighted to the Tacoma roster. The Rainiers seamstress can start working on that jersey nameplate today. The lefty will work out of Tacoma’s bullpen.

Links:


M’s Add Pitching Depth As Meetings End

December 8, 2016

The Winter Meetings ended today, with the early morning Rule 5 Draft so everyone could fly home afterwards.

The Mariners were a minor players in the Rule 5 Draft. They didn’t select anybody in the Major League phase of the draft – they couldn’t, because their 40-man roster was full. They did add two players in the minor league phase, and each could play for Tacoma this year or perhaps next year.

They selected a left-handed reliever from the Mets named Paul Paez. He was terrific in the first half of last year for Advanced-A St. Lucie, posting a 1.00 ERA in the Florida State League. Then he got promoted to Double-A Binghamton and his ERA bloated to 9.15, albeit in fewer than 20 innings pitched.

Seattle also grabbed outfielder and shoe mogul Chuck Taylor from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Taylor hit .273 with a .377 OBP for Advanced-A Visalia last year, got promoted to Double-A Mobile and hit .238 in 84 at-bats.

Both players will, in all likelihood, open next year with the Mariners new Double-A Arkansas affiliate.

More importantly for us in Tacoma, the Mariners traded a player to be named later to San Francisco in exchange for starting pitcher Chris Heston.

Heston had a successful rookie campaign for the Giants in 2015, going 12-11 with a 3.95 ERA and pitching a no-hitter against the Mets. I remember the no-hitter well: the game was wrapping up shortly before a Rainiers game at Sacramento was starting, and there were about 15 people huddled around the TV in the Raley Field press box seeing if he could finish it.

Last year Heston was plagued with injury problems – oblique, not arm – and spent most of the season with Sacramento, where he was not as effective as usual.

Heston has an option year remaining. He’ll compete for the Mariners No. 5 starter spot and if he doesn’t get it, we’ll see him in Tacoma.

As you know if you simply walk around town and look at what people are wearing, Tacoma Rainiers gear is selling very well since the team switched to the R-themed logo.

Our front office staff at the Winter Meetings were surprised to see it on a national level when checking out the annual Baseball Trade Show, which is an enormous event held in a massive convention hall.

The New Era hat company – official hat makers for Minor League Baseball – was using the Rainiers hat in their advertising.

hat-ad

Rainiers gear was also prominently featured in this t-shirt company’s display (sorry, not sure who the manufacturer is here)

sample-shirts

It’s pretty cool to have Rainiers gear being used as samples by companies trying to display their best items.

Links:


Chipper, Javy, Klesko, and Thome: the 1993 Triple-A All-Star Game

December 7, 2016

It’s a slow day at the Winter Meetings as far as the Mariners and Rainiers are concerned.

But do check out the first link down below, as The News Tribune ran an article on possible Tacoma Rainiers players for 2017.

With nothing else occurring (yet), it’s time for another…. Triple-A All-Star Flashback!

Tacoma is hosting the 30th annual Triple-A All-Star Game at Cheney Stadium on July 12. We’ll spend the winter looking back at the previous years, to give fans an idea what they can expect in Tacoma this summer.

1993

The 1993 Triple-A All-Star Game was held at Sport Stadium in Albuquerque, a true launching pad.

The stadium lived up to its reputation, as the all-stars combined to hit seven home runs in the National League’s 14-3 victory.

While at least one future Hall of Famer (Chipper Jones) and possibly another (Jim Thome) played in the game, it was Atlanta Braves prospect Ryan Klesko who had a record-setting day.

Klesko went 4-for-4 with two home runs, a double, four runs scored, and three runs batted in. He is one of just two players in Triple-A All-Star Game history to collect four hits in one game, joining Luis Sojo (1990). He was the first player to hit two home runs in the game, and the only one to do it until Adam Dunn hit two bombs in the 2001 affair.

The Richmond Braves dominated the proceedings.

Chipper Jones started at shortstop and led off for the NL, going 1-for-3 with an RBI single. Javy Lopez was the starting catcher, going 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI. Richmond reliever Billy Taylor (who would eventually become the Oakland A’s closer) delivered two scoreless innings – no easy feat in this game.

1993 Triple-A All-Star Game Fun Facts:

  • Both all-star managers were big league skippers just a few years later. NL manager Bill Russell (Albuquerque) piloted the Dodgers for three years, and the AL’s Charlie Manuel (Charlotte) amassed 12 seasons as a major league manager.
  • Jim Thome was a third baseman for Charlotte back then. He went hitless and was charged with an error. He managed to make it as a big league third baseman for his first four seasons before moving across the diamond to first base in 1997.
  • Tacoma – still the Tigers in 1993 – was represented by infielders Kurt Abbott and Webster Garrison. Abbott started at shortstop and went 1-for-2, Garrison came off the bench to play second base and went 0-for-2.
  • We sent our first trainer to the all-star game: Tacoma’s Walt Horn handled the AL training room. Horn was the Tacoma Tigers trainer from 1983 to 1994.
  • Current Tacoma Rainiers pitching coach Lance Painter was an all-star, representing Colorado Springs. He did not pitch in the game. Painter had made his Major League debut earlier in the season, in May, and returned to the big leagues in August. The day he returned, August 29, he pitched a complete game five-hitter at Shea Stadium to earn his first big league win.
  • Other notable future major leaguers in the 1993 game included Rob Ducey, Keith Lockhart, Troy O’Leary, Eduardo Perez, Rick Reed, Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes, and Steve Trachsel.
  • This was probably a really fun Home Run Derby. It included a future 600 HR Club member in Thome, Klesko was a big power prospect at the time, and then there were classic PCL sluggers like Billy Ashley and J.R. Phillips in the event. Norfolk’s Ryan Thompson took home the trophy.

Check back tomorrow – hopefully we’ll get some good Winter Meetings news.

Links:


Meetings Day Two

December 6, 2016

The latest from the Winter Meetings:

We have a blockbuster: the White Sox sent top-shelf starting pitcher Chris Sale to Boston in exchange for the entire Red Sox  Top-10 Prospect List. OK, not quite, but close. The White Sox received uber-talented infielder Yoan Moncada, 105-mph pitcher Michael Kopech, high-ceiling teenager Luis Basabe, and a young pitcher named Victor Diaz. Sale has three years left on his very cheap contract, so the Red Sox were willing to give up the farm.

Seattle continues to pursue an experienced starting pitcher, and The News Tribune’s Bob Dutton suggests that the Los Angeles Dodgers could make a good trade partner. The Dodgers have a surplus of pitching and could make veterans Scott Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy available. Both come with some serious injury risk but have had success when healthy. It’s hard to see the Mariners giving up much in the way of prospects for either – unless the Dodgers agree to pick up their salaries.

The Mariners have been quiet so far, but they did announce the signing of catcher Jesus Sucre to a split contract. Sucre was in an odd spot: he was arbitration eligible, and he’s out of minor league options, and he’s the No. 3 catcher behind Mike Zunino and Carlos Ruiz. A “split contract” means he has one salary when he is in the majors and another when he is in the minors (and each is prorated). The minor league salary is extremely high by Triple-A standards, reportedly $300,000, which shows how much the Mariners value having a player with Sucre’s experience and defensive skills available in Triple-A. The split contract makes a Triple-A assignment much more palatable for Sucre, too. I’m not sure how the lack of minor league options works in a case like this – perhaps that is addressed in the deal, or maybe the Mariners figure that the high minor league salary will scare teams away from claiming him off waivers.

Extra Links:

  • Here’s the Seattle Times running blog from Day Two of the Winter Meetings.
  • Dutton has an article covering the Mariners roster as it stands now, discussing at length the fact that the M’s will be relying on three rookie position players.
  • A recent link on Lookout Landing reminded me to remind you that if you are a baseball nut and you’ve never watched the ten-minute episode of Pretty Good about Mets reliever Koo Dae-Sung, well, you should do so right now.