Today we preview the Rainiers starting rotation candidates, but first we have to cover a little bit of news.
Yesterday the Mariners traded Rainiers catcher Jesus Sucre to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for a player to be named later or cash.
Sucre has played for both Tacoma and Seattle over the last four seasons. The defensive specialist has spent a lot of time at Cheney Stadium; he’s a class act and we wish him well with the Rays.
The Mariners were able to make this trade because they have cast their lot with recently acquired Tuffy Gosewisch, who is now the No. 3 catcher in the organization behind Mike Zunino and Carlos Ruiz.
The advantage Gosewisch holds is his option year. He has one remaining, which means the Mariners can freely move him back-and-forth between Tacoma and Seattle all season long, if needed. Sucre is out of options, so any injury to either Zunino or Ruiz would have created roster complications.
Barring injury, the Rainiers catchers on opening day should be Gosewisch and Triple-A veteran Nevin Ashley, with Marcus Littlewood also a possibility.
OK, today is supposed to be the Rainiers rotation preview, not a catching summary, so let’s get to it.
The Mariners starting five is set, if everybody gets through spring training (and the World Baseball Classic) unscathed. Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Hisashi Iwakuma, Drew Smyly, Yovani Gallardo.
The top remaining starting pitchers on the 40-man roster in terms of major league experience are RHP Chris Heston (32 major league starts) and LHP Ariel Miranda (ten MLB starts). Either (or both, I suppose) of these guys could make the Mariners opening day roster as long relievers, but it would probably be better from an organizational depth perspective to have them in the starting rotation in Triple-A. At least one of them, anyway.
The Rainiers hope to have one, or both, of Heston and Miranda in the rotation. After that, we have more players with MLB experience and track records of success in Triple-A.
Leading the way is Cody Martin, who is my early odds-on favorite to be the Rainiers opening day starter. He went 10-7 with a 3.62 ERA for Tacoma last year, making 20 starts and five relief appearances. Martin was a “swing man” last year: he mostly started games in Tacoma, but when called up by Seattle he was a long reliever and spot starter. He had a 3.86 ERA in 25.2 IP for the Mariners last year.
Tacoma has added lefthander Dillon Overton, who was a big winner for Nashville in his first Triple-A season last year. Overton went 13-5 with a 3.29 ERA for the Sounds, and he should easily claim a Rainiers starting rotation spot.
One of the younger Rainiers starters should be Rob Whalen, acquired in an offseason trade with the Atlanta Braves. The 23-year-old moved up quickly through the Braves system last year: 18 starts in Double-A, three in Triple-A, and five in the majors. He’s reportedly a good major league prospect and we should get to see him in Tacoma.
The organization signed former Rockies starter Christian Bergman to a minor league contract. He’s made 55 major league appearances, 15 of which are starts, but the fact that he isn’t on the Mariners 40-man roster is going to make it more difficult for him to make the big league club. He should be quite good if he’s with the Rainiers: he has a career 3.87 ERA in 27 PCL starts, all coming while pitching for high-elevation Albuquerque and Colorado Springs. Welcome to sea level, Christian!
Sam Gaviglio is in the mix to return to the Rainiers in 2017. He’s made 26 starts for Tacoma over the past two seasons. Last year he began the year at Double-A Jackson, then came to Tacoma for the stretch run and went 3-2, 3.71 in ten appearances (nine starts). Gaviglio is pitching for Team Italy (my guys!) in the World Baseball Classic next month.
There are two prospects in the mix for the Tacoma starting rotation, although I think they will open the season with the new Double-A Arkansas affiliate and be in line for midseason promotions. One is Andrew Moore, the Oregon State product who had a tremendous 2016 season (12-4, 2.65 between Class-A and AA). The other is Max Povse, who came from the Braves with Whalen. Povse also split 2016 between Class-A and AA, going 9-6 with a 3.36 ERA.
Two others with Double-A experience who could pitch their way to Tacoma at some point in 2017 are RHP Brett Ash (12-8, 4.46 in AA last year) and RHP Dylan Unsworth (3-1, 1.16 in just nine starts last year at Double-A, was injured most of season).
I like this group from the Rainiers perspective: a nice mix of experienced arms with some intriguing prospects waiting in the wings. Starting pitching should be a positive for the Rainiers this year – as long as we can avoid those pesky injuries!
- Bob Dutton has a story on the Jesus Sucre trade.
- Greg Johns of Mariners.com took a look at potential Rainiers starter Andrew Moore.
- Each local newspaper is currently running a series of Mariners spring training previews. The News Tribune ran a preview of the Mariners infielders today, and on Wednesday the paper looked at the Mariners catchers.
- The Seattle Times spring training preview covered the outfielders today, and the other day they did the shortstops.
- The Times has an article on the 11 Mariners players on World Baseball Classic roster, and the post includes each nation’s full roster. We’ll do a post on all of the current and ex-Rainiers in this tournament soon.
- Baseball is going to try out the international rule in the Rookie level of the minors this year: extra innings start with a runner on second base. This isn’t going to catch on; it just slows down the game with sacrifice bunts and intentional walks.
Spring training starts next week!