Rainiers Middle Infield Candidates

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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