M’s Add Veteran Relievers

January 31, 2017

The Mariners announced they have signed a pair of veteran major league relief pitchers to minor league contracts. Each could pitch for Tacoma this season.

The team went local and signed left-hander Nick Hagadone, inviting him to major league spring training.

Hagadone is a 2004 graduate of Sumner High School, and he pitched for the University of Washington for three years after that. Boston drafted him No. 55 overall in 2007, and after a trade he reached the big leagues with the Indians in 2011.

Hagadone has pitched in 143 major league games, all as a reliever, going 3-2 with a 4.72 ERA. His last extended Triple-A experience was 23 games for Columbus in 2013.

He missed all of 2015 with an elbow injury, and the Mariners are bringing him to camp to see if he’s fully recovered. If so, he could open the season with Tacoma or even pitch his way onto the big league roster – he’s one to watch during spring training.

The M’s also brought in veteran right-hander Jean Machi, who has reached the pinnacle of the sport.

Machi was a member of the 2014 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants, pitching in 71 games and going 7-1 with a 2.58 ERA. He then appeared in six postseason games, including three in the World Series against Kansas City.

We’ve seen a lot of Machi over the years. He pitched for Fresno from 2011-2013, facing the Rainiers on numerous occasions.

Last year Machi pitched for both Iowa and Sacramento in the PCL. In 195 career Triple-A games, he has a 3.48 ERA.

Machi turns 35 tomorrow. The M’s are bringing him to camp to see if there is anything left in the tank.

There is a good chance both could open the season with the Rainiers. If the Mariners think that either of them can help the big league team at some point during the season, they’ll keep them in Tacoma. This season is going to be all about the Triple-A team having players ready to step in at the major league level when needed.

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Check back on Thursday afternoon for a look at the possible 2017 Tacoma Rainiers outfielders as we move closer to spring training.

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Rainiers News From M’s Media Event

January 27, 2017

The Mariners held their annual Pre-Spring Training Media Luncheon yesterday, in which a number of speakers talked about the upcoming season.

For the major league news which came out of the event, hit the links down below.

I took some notes on items involving the Rainiers – and a few lower-level minor league prospects – and here’s what we’ve got:

Outfielder Tyler O’Neill will be the focal point on the Rainiers roster at the start of the season. According to Director of Player Development Andy McKay, O’Neill “is a special player. There are so many things about him that are more exciting than the numbers. He bought into what we asked more than anybody. There is a lot of substance behind those numbers.” Assistant GM Jeff Kingston added that O’Neill “really bought into our Control the Zone program.”

In regards to touted pitching prospect Andrew Moore, Kingston said he was “not sure if he’s going to start in Double-A or Triple-A,” which jives with rumblings I’ve heard. He made 19 Double-A starts last year, so experience-wise he’s right on the edge.

Recently acquired pitching prospect Max Povse “resembles the pitcher Chris Young, is very deceptive, an extreme strike thrower, and has a nice curve,” according to Kingston. Like Moore, Povse may start the year in Double-A and if things go well he could move up to Tacoma during the season.

Top prospect Kyle Lewis – the outfielder who broke his leg shortly after signing last summer – is expecting a mid-season return according to McKay. Lewis won’t see Tacoma in 2017, but he’s definitely a player worth following.

All of the Mariners minor league affiliates are adding a fourth coach in 2017, for a simple reason according to McKay: “To improve the student-teacher ratio.”

Former Rainiers and current Mariners trainer Rob Nodine gave the injury report, and he covered one possible Rainiers player: reliever Tony Zych is rehabbing from his postseason shoulder surgery, and the hope is that he is ready by the end of spring training.

New Mariners Director of Baseball Operations Justin Hollander had a hand in some of the offseason acquisitions who are likely to play for the Rainiers. Minor league free agent outfielder Kyle Waldrop “has tools, and is looking to reset his career a little bit. We hope to help him find the 2014 version of himself and get his career back on track.” Waldrop’s stats are here to see what Hollander is talking about.

Hollander also said the Rainiers reliever Dean Kiekhefer “profiles as a situational lefty, and was among the best in the minor leagues (last year) at getting left-handed batters out.”

Mariners pitcher James Paxton took the podium and spoke on a variety of subjects. He credited Rainiers pitching coach Lance Painter for identifying the mechanical change he needed to make last April to get his velocity back.

And of course the Mariners made some roster moves during the day, which greatly affect the Rainiers. They traded just-drafted catcher Jason Goldstein to Oakland for Triple-A pitcher Dillon Overton, who will slot into the Tacoma starting rotation. They also acquired veteran catcher Tuffy Gosewich via a waiver claim, and designated catcher Jesus Sucre for assignment. Seattle also signed Triple-A veteran catcher Nevin Ashley to a minor league contract.

The catching portion of these moves serves as a perfect example of what Jerry Dipoto means when he talks about roster flexibility. Sucre is out of minor league options and was going to have to clear waivers at the end of spring training if he didn’t make the big league roster – which could leave Tacoma in a very tough spot right around opening day in terms of catchers. Instead, we find out now if he gets through.

Gosewich has one minor league option left – so if Sucre gets claimed by another team, Gosewich becomes the third catcher in the organization, and he can move freely between Triple-A and the majors throughout the season.

Ashley is on a minor league deal, but he does have a little major league experience. He’s highly respected around the PCL as a veteran leader in Triple-A.

As for Overton, he went 13-5 with a 3.29 ERA for Nashville last year. That can be deceptive – Nashville’s new home ballpark is now the best pitcher’s park in the PCL – but Overton actually had a slightly better ERA in road games (3.18) than home games (3.41). He beat the Rainiers on August 17 last year, 5-2, allowing two runs in six innings – Ryan Strausborger took him deep.

Links:

Have a great weekend and we’ll have a new post on Tuesday.


Spring Preview: Rainiers Corner Infielders

January 26, 2017

It’s Part 3 of our Tacoma Rainiers spring training previews, and this time we look at the corner infielders.

I’ve gotten into a habit of lumping the first basemen and third basemen into the same post, because in recent years the Rainiers have had a number of guys who play both positions. It looks like this will happen in 2017, too.

The key corner infielder for the 2017 Tacoma Rainiers should be D.J. Peterson. A former first round draft pick of the Mariners who has seen his stock rise and fall, Peterson is coming off a solid 2016 season and is set for a full year of Triple-A. The Rainiers are hoping he can provide a potent bat in the middle of the lineup this year.

Peterson came up as a third baseman but played primarily first base in 2016. I’d expect him to play first base in 2017 – except the Rainiers (at this writing) don’t have a true third baseman coming into spring camp.

Last year Zach Shank handled third base for much of the second half, but the organization feels that Shank is best suited as a multiple-position player. Shank can play third, second, shortstop (in a pinch), center field, and the outfield corners. Shank hit .292 for the Rainiers last year, with some doubles power. If he is going to reach the majors, it will be as a utility man capable of playing all over the place – and I’m sure manager Pat Listach would like to use him that way in Tacoma.

Another player in the mix for third base is Taylor Motter, who I wrote about in the middle infield post last week. Motter can play all over the diamond, and he could see quite a bit of time at third.

I’m hearing the Mariners are still looking at adding a Triple-A third baseman, maybe a veteran from the free agent ranks or via trade with another team. But if that doesn’t happen, we’re probably looking at Peterson at first base, with Shank and Motter sharing a third base / utility role (and that’s assuming Motter doesn’t oust Shawn O’Malley from the major league utility spot).

Note that Dan Vogelbach has not been mentioned yet. At this time it appears the Mariners are committed to giving Vogelbach an opportunity to play every day in the big leagues this year.

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Today the Mariners are holding their annual Pre-Spring Training Media Luncheon. We’ll have a new post Friday to cover any Rainiers-related news that comes out of the event.


Wake Up! Baseball Is About To Start

January 24, 2017

Pardon me while I wipe the sleep from my eyes, because this is the week when I realize that baseball is coming soon.

On Thursday the Mariners hold their annual Pre-Spring Training Media Luncheon, when they have several speakers talk about the state of the team entering spring training. I attend this each year, and walk out of the room afterwards hyped for the start of another season.

This weekend the Mariners open up Safeco for the annual FanFest, which has a similar effect on the fans. You can hang out in the stadium, meet some players, and get geared up for the season.

My regular internet browsing of baseball sites led me to a preseason college Top 25 (link below), and that gets the mind thinking “wow, I think they start playing in like two weeks!”

On top of that, last week the Rainiers put tickets on sale for the Triple-A All-Star Game and Home Run Derby (click here to purchase), and I figured we ought to do 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.

1996

This was a rather odd all-star game in that it played out as a pitcher’s duel despite being held 4,200 feet above sea level at Salt Lake’s Franklin Quest Field (now known as Smith’s Ballpark).

The National League beat the American League, 2-1. Hometown hero Todd Walker of Salt Lake hit a solo homer to give the AL a 1-0 lead, which it carried into the eighth inning, before Indianapolis catcher Brook Fordyce hit a two-run shot to put the NL on top.

The big fun as far as we’re concerned came in the Home Run Derby. Greg Pirkl became the first Tacoma player to win the derby title, beating out Lee Stevens of Oklahoma City in the finals. Only one other Tacoma player has won the Home Run Derby: Bucky Jacobsen at Pawtucket in 2004.

Pirkl must have been a lot of fun. He was a Triple-A slugger with some promise – in 1995 he hit 15 homers in 174 at-bats for Tacoma, started the all-star game, and must have gotten injured or something. He hit six homers in 53 at-bats during a major league call-up to Seattle in 1994.

Pirkl went to Japan in 1997, came back in 1998 – and converted to pitching. He pitched in the low minors in 1998 and 1999, and then disappeared.

He predates my time in Tacoma, but maybe not yours – if you have any memories of Greg Pirkl in Tacoma, please share them in the comments. He hit 36 home runs for the Rainiers in just 522 at-bats between 1995 and 1996.

1996 Triple-A All-Star Game Fun Facts:

  • Pirkl started at first base and went 2-for-3 with a double. He was not the only Tacoma Rainiers starter: James Bonnici was the designated hitter, and he went 0-for-1.
  • Two pitchers tossed three scoreless innings in the game, both for the AL: Nashville’s Scott Ruffcorn and Syracuse lefty (and future Rainier) Huck Flener.
  • Managers were Sale Lake’s Phil Roof and Ottawa’s Pete Mackanin. Mackanin is currently the Philadelphia Phillies manager.
  • Some current Mariners coaches and instructors are listed on the roster but did not play in this game. Minor league coach Brant Brown and Mariners first base coach Casey Candaele are both listed as all-stars but do not appear in the box score.
  • Players who appeared in the 1996 Triple-A All-Star Game and went on to have long major league careers include Dmitri Young, Todd Walker, Neifi Perez, Brian Giles, Dustin Hermanson, and Kelly Stinnett.
  • Salt Lake’s Steve Klauke led the radio broadcast; he’s still with the Bees and is one of the longest-tenured announcers in the PCL. One of his partners in the booth was current Miami Marlins broadcaster Glenn Geffner, who was with Rochester in 1996.

On Thursday we’ll take a look at the Rainiers corner infield candidates.

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Rainiers Middle Infield Candidates

January 19, 2017

As we move closer to the start of spring training, let’s take a look at the middle infielders who will be battling to make the Rainiers opening day roster. Two returning players lead the way.

Tyler Smith spent the entire 2016 season with the Rainiers, and it appears he has a ticket for Tacoma to start the 2017 season. Smith, 25, appeared in 114 games for Tacoma last year, batting .268 with five home runs and 20 doubles. He played 55 games at shortstop, 48 at second base, and 12 at third base. It was his first Triple-A season, and to my eye he seemed to improve as the year went on.

Second baseman Mike Freeman is also a candidate to return to Tacoma. The Mariners acquired Freeman via a waiver claim right around July 31 last year, and he spent time with both Tacoma and Seattle. Freeman is a proven .300 hitter in the PCL, and he draws enough walks to keep his on-base percentage around .375. In addition to second base, Freeman can play shortstop and outfield in a pinch. Freeman will go to major league spring training camp trying to wrestle the utility infielder job away from Shawn O’Malley – which won’t be easy.

Another player eyeing O’Malley’s utility role is offseason pick-up Taylor Motter. A true multi-positionist, in each of the last four seasons Motter has played at least one game at second base, third base, shortstop, and each of the three outfield positions. The M’s acquired this swiss army knife in one of their many trades with the Tampa Bay Rays. Motter had a terrific season offensively in 2015 at Triple-A Durham, but he slipped quite a bit in 2016 when he hit .229 with a .297 OBP.

There isn’t anybody coming up from Double-A this year. Jackson had solid middle infield play last season, but both players are no longer in the organization. Second baseman Tim Lopes was traded, and shortstop Benji Gonzalez left as a minor league free agent.

Freeman, Motter, and O’Malley are all on the major league 40-man roster, and each has at least one minor league option year remaining. At this point it appears that Smith, Freeman and Motter will be in Tacoma in April – unless one of them swipes that big league utility man job from O’Malley. Or injuries – we can’t have injuries.

Three new members of the Baseball Hall of Fame were voted in yesterday: first baseman Jeff Bagwell, outfielder Tim Raines, and catcher Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez. Surprisingly, none of the three played in the Pacific Coast League. In fact, two of them never appeared in a Triple-A game.

Raines played Triple-A ball for the 1980 Denver Bears, who were members of the American Association in the pre-Colorado Rockies days. That franchise moved to New Orleans and is now the Baby Cakes, but let’s not digress. Raines hit .354 in 108 games for Denver, with more walks (61) than strikeouts (44), and he went 77-for-90 in stolen base attempts. That looks pretty Hall of Famey to me.

Pudge skipped Triple-A baseball. He jumped straight from Double-A Tulsa to the big leagues in the middle of the 1991 season, and never looked back. He was 19.

Bagwell had a big year for Double-A New Britain in 1990, hitting .333 with a .422 OBP, and was invited to Astros major league spring training camp the following year. He beat out the competition and won a starting job, batting .294 with 15 homers as a rookie.

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Triple-A All-Star Tickets On Sale Today

January 17, 2017

We’ve got some Rainiers news to pass along today.

First and foremost, individual tickets for the Triple-A All-Star Game and Home Run Derby are on sale now.

To get good seats, get your tickets right away – this is going to sell out. I just opened up the Ticketmaster seat map, and there are excellent locations available now.

The two events are bundled together. You get the Home Run Derby on Monday, July 10 and the All-Star Game on Wednesday, July 12.

Here’s the link to buy tickets.

On another note, we have changed the game time for Opening Night on April 11 to 7:05 pm. Early copies of the schedule had it listed at 6:05, but we realized that with all of the pregame ceremonies that didn’t seem right. 7:05 it is – mark your schedules accordingly.

In an important transaction for the Rainiers, on Friday afternoon the Mariners outrighted pitcher Cody Martin to Tacoma. Martin was removed from the 40-man roster earlier last week, cleared waivers, and remains in the Mariners organization.

Martin had a strong 2016 season and will enter spring training camp with a realistic chance to be the Rainiers opening day starting pitcher. Martin went 10-7 with a 3.62 ERA for the Rainiers last year, with an excellent strikeout-to-walk ratio. In 114.1 innings pitched, he struck out 114 batters while walking 33 – and he also allowed only six home runs.

Most importantly to your local blogger, Cody Martin is a radio guy’s best friend: he works quickly and throws strikes. He’s from the Brian “The PCL Dream” Sweeney school of pitching. I’ll be petitioning manager Pat Listach to schedule Martin for every getaway day start in 2017.

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We’ll resume the Rainiers pre-spring training positional previews on Thursday.


M’s Get Their Starter and How It Affects Tacoma

January 12, 2017

Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto completed his quest to add a starting pitcher yesterday, making two trades to acquire left-hander Drew Smyly from the Tampa Bay Rays.

Dipoto had to pull some strings. He knew Tampa wanted Atlanta Braves outfielder Mallex Smith, and apparently the Rays couldn’t work out their own trade to get Smith.

So Dipoto traded two young left-handed pitching prospects to Atlanta in order to acquire Smith. Pitchers Luiz Gohara and Thomas Burrows went to the Braves, with the Mariners getting Smith and pitcher Shae Simmons.

Then Dipoto flipped Smith, expected Rainiers starter Ryan Yarbrough, and teenage infield prospect Carlos Vargas to Tampa to get Drew Smyly.

Smyly is established in the American League, and in the articles linked below Dipoto says he has been targeting him all winter.

To get Smyly, the M’s gave up a top prospect in Gohara, who is very talented but a long way away from the major leagues. Carlos Vargas received a huge signing bonus and hit for power in the Dominican Summer League, but he’s even farther from the majors. We had Yarbrough inked into the Rainiers rotation, but now he’s gone – he’s a polished lefty who was really good at Double-A in 2016. Burrows is a relief prospect.

The M’s also added Simmons, who is a potential major league reliever this season. Simmons reached the majors in 2014, hurt his elbow and required Tommy John surgery, and made his comeback last year. Simmons could pitch for Tacoma or Seattle (or both) in 2017.

In all of this shuffling, the Mariners removed Cody Martin from the 40-man roster and he is currently on waivers. If he doesn’t get claimed by another team, the Mariners will outright him to Tacoma. Martin was terrific for the Rainiers last year, and he is a PCL dream: he works quickly and throws strikes.

Despite the loss of Yarbrough and the potential loss of Martin, the moves don’t do too much damage to the Rainiers starting rotation. By adding Smyly, others got pushed down a spot on the ladder. Suddenly pitchers who looked like major league rotation candidates are now Tacoma possibilities. Ariel Miranda and Chris Heston are two pitchers with recent major league starting experience who might find themselves in Tacoma in April. A lot of it will depend on team health coming out of spring training.

The Mariners rotation (not in order) is looking like Felix, Iwakuma, Paxton, Gallardo, Smyly. Tacoma will probably have Heston, Miranda (if he’s not in the Seattle bullpen), Rob Whalen, Christian Bergman, Sam Gaviglio, and maybe one of the prospecty-guys like Andrew Moore or Max Povse.

I was planning to preview the potential Rainiers middle infielders today but that subject deserves its own post. We’ll look at Tacoma’s middle infielders next week.

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