News From Rainiers Spring Training

I flew down to Arizona on Monday morning and took in a Rainiers exhibition game on the back fields of the Peoria Sports Complex. We’ll get to that in a minute – but first we need to cover the latest roster moves from over the weekend, to get up to speed.

There are some surprises here – the kind that strengthen the Rainiers.

Optioned to Tacoma:

  • 1B Dan Vogelbach
  • LHP Ariel Miranda
  • RHP Chris Heston

Reassigned to Minor League Camp:

  • RHP Cody Martin
  • RHP Jean Machi
  • LHP Nick Hagadone
  • C Sebastian Valle

The big surprises here are Vogelbach and Miranda.

Vogelbach was struggling to make contact in Cactus League play, striking out in nearly a third of his plate appearances. The Mariners current leadership doesn’t like strikeouts very much, and they want to see Vogelbach put the ball in play more often. He’ll work on that in Tacoma.

Miranda was sent down because the Mariners want him to continue to work as a starting pitcher. There was an opportunity for him to make the big league club as a reliever, but the team would rather have more starting rotation depth at this point in time. Miranda will slot into the Tacoma starting rotation.

Heston and Martin are also expected to be in the Tacoma rotation, Machi and Hagadone are relievers. Valle is probably ticketed for Double-A.

Due to my travel schedule I got to the complex at 12:45 – just 15 minutes before the Triple-A game started. I had to pick up a credential and literally swipe a 2017 Mariners Media guide from the PR office (the office was empty; I grabbed a book and turned myself in to the authorities later). Said hello to a few friendly faces on the Mariners staff and walked out to Field 3, where Tacoma was playing Omaha (KC Royals).

Approaching the field I saw Rainiers starter Chris Heston get two quick ground outs. As I sat on the aluminum bleacher, a sharp grounder was pulled to the right side – and Zach Shank made a diving stop and threw out the batter at first to end the inning. Still doing it, the Shankster. It’s like there was no off-season.

Normally I would share the Rainiers starting lineup right now, except… well… stay with me on this.

Mariners outfielder Jarrod Dyson is nursing a minor hamstring issue, and he had missed the last few days. Feeling well enough to play, Dyson spent his afternoon on the minor league fields – leading off each of the first five innings of the Triple-A game for Tacoma, while also getting five additional at-bats in the Double-A game which was being played on an adjacent field.

Needless to say, this rendered the Rainiers lineup card inconsequential. In fact, every time Dyson got a hit (he went 3-for-5 for Tacoma), Class-A outfielder and top prospect Brayan Hernandez pinch-ran for him*.

So things were weird right out of the gate.

Some guys who were in there throughout the game:

Dan Vogelbach played first base. He does look like he has slimmed down a bit from the end of last season. He had one extra base hit, pulling a hard double inside the first base bag. He was also hit by a pitch once, and stayed in the game. His body language was good right after being sent down to AAA, so that’s a positive sign.

D.J. Peterson was in there – must have been the DH. He had Tacoma’s top highlight, a two-run homer pulled to left field in the second inning. He drilled a fastball from well-regarded Royals pitching prospect Josh Staumont.

Some other familiar faces started: Steve Baron caught all nine innings – great to see that he is healthy. James Ramsey and Boog Powell were in the outfield, and Shank was at second base.

There were some young kids from Class-A filling out the lineup. The M’s still have lots of Rainiers players in major league camp – about half of Tacoma’s team.

Got my first look at top prospect Tyler O’Neill, who we expect to see in Tacoma on opening day after winning the Double-A Southern League MVP Award in 2016. My impressions? Let’s hold off here. He didn’t really do anything today, going 0-for-3 with a strikeout, fly out, and a ground out. I should get to see him play two more games while I’m down here.

On the pitching side, Heston went four innings and allowed only one run that I noticed. Remember: no scoreboard in minor league spring training games, and I got sidetracked by conversation a lot. But I saw one run score against him in the third inning, without any hard-hit balls. I pretty much missed the entire fourth inning while getting caught up with Shane The Rainiers Outstanding Clubbie With The Long Last Name I Can’t Spell.

Paul Fry worked two innings and allowed some ground ball singles in his second inning of work. Fry was terrific in the final two months of the 2016 season and I’m excited to see if he can carry that over to the new campaign.

The pride of Sumner Nick Hagadone retired all three batters he faced in the seventh inning, striking out two. His comeback bid will be a fun early season storyline.

Omaha scored multiple runs in the eighth against Ryan Weber, and the Storm Chasers eventually won the game either 5-3 or 6-3. I’m glad none of you come here for the accurate reporting.

Emilio Pagan worked around a pair of singles in the ninth, notching three strikeouts. Like Fry, Pagan is a young reliever who had periods of success in his first shot at Triple-A last year.

A few notes:

  • Manager Pat Listach currently has hair. Haven’t seen that before – except on old baseball cards fans send him to sign. We’ll see if he shaves it for opening day.
  • It was Listach’s first day in Triple-A. He had been helping the major league staff all spring until Monday.
  • Speaking of hair, Pagan pitched for Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, and they all dyed their hair blonde. Pagan is sticking with the look for now.
  • I sat with Sam Gaviglio for an inning, as he did not pitch today. Pitchers not scheduled to throw in games usually linger around watching the game from the bleachers for 4 or 5 innings before heading to the locker room (saw Cody Martin too, but didn’t get a chance to talk to him yet). Gaviglio had a great time in the WBC pitching for Italy, highlighted by a terrific outing against the stacked Venezuela lineup. He’s competing to make the Rainiers rotation; he gave the team a big lift down the stretch last year.

On Tuesday Tacoma plays Round Rock in Surprise! I’ll have a report for you in the evening, probably around 5 or 6 o’clock.

We have had a late change to Tacoma’s coaching staff.

The Mariners added a fourth staff member to each of its minor league affiliates this year, to “improve the student-teacher ratio” in the words of farm director Andy McKay. An excellent idea, in my opinion.

Former major league stolen base expert Brian Hunter was originally named the Rainiers fourth coach, but today the team announced that Hunter is being reassigned, and instead former major league infielder Denny Hocking will be on the Rainiers staff.

Hocking has been a major league player, minor league manager, and minor league coach. He also once hosted a baseball talk radio show – he’s done it all!

Hocking was at the Triple-A game today, sitting with Listach, pitching coach Lance Painter, and new hitting coach Dave Berg.

Links:

* I jokingly asked Listach how he expected to win if he kept pinch-running for the fastest player in the organization. Spring training can be silly.

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