Two Mariners Prospect Lists Released

November 29, 2018

It’s the Top Prospects Lists time of the offseason, as two of the three outlets I trust put out their Mariners Top Prospects lists this week.

One of them is free for all, and that is John Sickels list for Minor League Ball. Sickels has been researching and publishing these lists for over 20 years, formerly in books and now for free under the SB Nation umbrella. He has his own system of letter grades, which you should not gloss over at the top of the article. His Mariners list is right here.

Established in the early 1980s, Baseball America is the leader in the public distribution of minor league prospect news and rankings. They published their Mariners Top Ten this week, and the remainder of the Top Thirty will come out in book form later this winter.

Baseball America’s rankings are all behind a subscriber paywall. If you are a subscriber, you can find their Mariners Top Ten here, a chat about the farm system here, and a bonus ranking of the top prospects the Mariners have traded away.

The fact that the last list exists is what is so jarring about this new Mariners offseason approach. The article says that in three years under Jerry Dipoto the Mariners have traded away 55 minor league prospects. Now they are trying to acquire them. It’s a dramatic shift in philosophy.

Links:

  • Tacoma Rainiers outfielder Ian Miller is doing a lot of work this winter. After playing in the Arizona Fall League, Miller has migrated to the Culiacan club in the Mexican Winter League. He’s off to a good start for the Tomato Growers and received a mention in this winter ball round-up.
  • Ryan Divish tries to determine what Jerry Dipoto means when he says the Mariners are going to take a “step back” in 2019.
  • The internet has been flooded with completely made-up Robinson Cano trades the last few days. Fangraphs has a logic-based article on how to make a Cano trade work.
  • With Cano trade rumors ramping up more seriously today, Greg Johns posted a list of the ten biggest trades in Mariners history.
  • The Mariners added 21-year-old LHP Ricardo Sanchez, acquiring him from the Atlanta Braves who have a packed 40-man roster and couldn’t squeeze him on there. Sanchez pitched in Double-A this year and is a potential 2019 Tacoma Rainier.
  • The Mariners have signed former Round Rock reliever Tayler Scott to a minor league contract. He was pretty solid for the Express last year – here are his career stats. He’s attempting to be the first pitcher from South Africa to reach the majors.
  • From Baseball America’s Minor League Transactions we learn that 2018 Tacoma Rainiers third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean and top reliever Tyler Higgins have both signed with the San Diego Padres.
  • Good news: former Rainiers outfielder Leonys Martin was medically cleared to resume working out after overcoming a life-threatening bacterial illness.
  • It’s Hall of Fame election season, and many voters choose to make their ballots public. The Seattle Times has created an Edgar Martinez vote tracker.
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Paxton Trade Reveals Mariners Direction

November 20, 2018

Big offseason news came our way yesterday afternoon, as the Mariners revealed their winter plan by trading star pitcher James Paxton to the New York Yankees for three minor league prospects.

Paxton had two years of club control left, and the Yankees will get him at his age 30 and 31 seasons.

The former Rainiers lefty has been very good when healthy over the last five years, going 41-26 with a 3.42 ERA in 102 career starts for the Mariners. His no-hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays this year was a career highlight. He’s also coming off his healthiest major league season: he made a career-high 28 starts in 2018.

The Mariners traded Paxton at peak value and added three players to the minor league system – two of whom are pitchers on the cusp of the big leagues.

Left-handed starter Justus Sheffield is considered the top prospect in the deal. The 22-year-old went 6-4 with a 2.46 ERA for Triple-A Scranton last year, striking out 84 batters in 88 innings pitched with 36 walks. He made his major league debut in September, appearing in three games as a reliever for the Yankees. He should open the 2019 season with either Tacoma or Seattle, pending how spring training goes.

Right-hander Erik Swanson also pitched at the Triple-A level last season, posting a 3.86 ERA in 13 starts for Scranton. His stat line is unusual in the pitcher-friendly league: the ERA is kind of high for the International League, and he allowed ten homers in just 72 innings… but he struck out 78 and walked only 14 batters. He’ll pitch the 2019 season at age 25, likely in the Tacoma starting rotation to open the year.

Outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams enjoyed a breakout season as a 23-year-old in the Advanced-A Florida State League during the 2018 campaign. He hit a career-high 17 home runs in just 90 games in the pitcher-friendly circuit, while batting .290 with a .356 on-base percentage. A left-handed hitter, he’ll probably start the coming season at Double-A Arkansas and hopefully we’ll see him here in Tacoma later on.

In interviews following the trade, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said that the club is taking a “step back” in 2019 with the hopes of improving the roster for the 2020 and 2021 seasons. He is making it sound like a brief restructuring of the team, and not a total tear-it-down rebuild. We’ll see if he continues to operate this way over the course of the winter – if he moves Mitch Haniger and Edwin Diaz, we have a total rebuild.

The Arizona Fall League ended this weekend, with the Mariners-fortified Peoria Javelinas winning the league championship. Former (and future?) Tacoma Rainiers manager Daren Brown piloted the club to the title.

Rainiers outfielder Ian Miller hit .246 with two homers in 57 at-bats for Peoria. Encouragingly, he drew 11 walks and posted a .368 on-base percentage. He didn’t run much, going 1-for-3 in stolen base attempts.

Today is the deadline to add eligible minor league players to the major league 40-man roster, protecting them from the Rule 5 Draft. At publish time, Seattle has added outfielder Braden Bishop and newly acquired pitcher Erik Swanson to the 40-man.

The team still has five open spots on its 40-man roster. Dipoto will probably be going on a waiver-claim frenzy to fill it up. We have seen this before – it usually results in a handful new Triple-A relief pitchers joining the organization.

Links:

  • Stories on the James Paxton trade: the Seattle Times news story by Ryan Divish, a column from Matt Calkins saying a trade had to be made, a “what the national media is saying” round-up, and Baseball America’s look at the prospects acquired by the Mariners.
  • Buster Olney of ESPN writes that the Mariners should trade everybody for prospects (subscription).
  • Here’s the story on the Arizona Fall League Championship Game, in which Atlanta Braves prospect Braxton Davidson hit a game-winning home run for Peoria and was injured in the celebration.
  • The Mariners signed right-handed reliever Ruben Alaniz to a major league contract, despite having never played in the majors previously. Alaniz pitched for Triple-A Durham last year.  He reportedly throws quite hard. He’ll go to major league spring training and has three option years remaining, so we may see quite a bit of him in Tacoma.
  • We have reports that the Mariners have signed veteran PCL infielder Orlando Calixte to a minor league contract. Calixte has spent the last two seasons with Sacramento, and played two years for Omaha prior to that. He’ll turn 27-years-old this winter. Calixte hit .270 with 11 homers for the River Cats in 2018.
  • In the big leagues, the M’s announced that Perry Hill is the new first base coach, and Chris Prieto will be the third base coach.
  • Former Mariners third baseman and future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre announced his retirement.
  • In the PCL, the Nashville Sounds changed their look to coincide with their new affiliation with the Texas Rangers. See some of the uniforms here.

 


M’s Acquire Three Potential Tacoma Players For 2019

November 15, 2018

It has been a wild and unpleasant week in Mariners news, as you surely know if you are a reader of this blog, but we actually have quite a few on-the-field baseball tidbits to pass along so let’s focus on those instead.

The Mariners have started working on their 2019 depth, which means they are acquiring players for the Tacoma roster. Lets get to those players and the rest of the links right now.

  • The Mariners signed minor league free agent Dylan Moore to a major league contract, adding him to the 40-man roster. Moore was in the Brewers system; he played a four-game series at Cheney Stadium in early August while with Colorado Springs. In that series he hit leadoff and played third base for the Sky Sox. It looks like he’ll compete for a major league utility role in spring training, and if that doesn’t work out we’ll have him in Tacoma. Here are his career stats.
  • The priceless Mariners Minors twitter account reports that the team signed catcher Austin Nola to a minor league contract. The brother of Phillies ace pitcher Aaron Nola, Austin caught for New Orleans last year after converting from the infield in 2017. He was famous in New Orleans for (almost) wearing a jersey with his name on the front and the back.
  • Mariners Minors also reports that the team signed second baseman Tim Lopes, who was originally a Mariners draft pick that got traded to Toronto in 2017. He hit .277 with 18 stolen bases (but without much power) in the pitcher-friendly International League last year – here are his career stats. He’s only 24 years old and there might be some upside here.
  • From Baseball America’s latest Minor League Transactions update, we learn that the M’s have re-signed reliever Ryan Garton on a minor league deal. Garton is a good reliever in the PCL when healthy, and he has had some successful stints in the majors as well.
  • The Rule 5 Draft is less than a month away, and the Mariners have to consider protecting eligible minor leaguers on the 40-man roster. The most likely additions according to USS Mariner are anticipated 2019 Tacoma outfielder Braden Bishop and reliever Art Warren, with catcher Joe DeCarlo a possibility.
  • Greg Johns has a story on potential replacements for Mike Zunino behind the plate.
  • USS Mariner has more on the Zunino trade and the latest developments surrounding it.
  • Mariners third base coach Scott Brosius decided not to return in 2019. We wish the former Tacoma Rainiers hitting coach the best in his next endeavour.
  • The M’s are hiring new coaches Tim Laker and Perry Hill.
  • Former Rainiers reliever Mark Lowe is attempting a comeback. He did not play in 2018.
  • Larry Stone caught up with former Mariners manager Lou Piniella, who finds himself on the Hall of Fame ballot in the latest incarnation of what we used to call the Veteran’s Committee. Hall expert Jay Jaffe looks at his candidacy (along with that of one of his former employers).
  • Forbes reports that T-Mobile has secured the new naming rights to (formerly) Safeco Field. The Mariners say we are a few weeks away from an official announcement.
  • Shoreline native Blake Snell won the AL Cy Young Award. The Everett Herald caught up with his high school coach in a fun story.

First Big Trade: Zunino To Tampa

November 8, 2018

The Mariners made their first major roster move of the offseason this morning, sending catcher Mike Zunino and outfielder Guillermo Heredia to Tampa in exchange for outfielder Mallex Smith.

There were prospects in the deal, too. Tampa received left-handed pitcher Michael Plassmeyer, and the Mariners received Class-A outfielder Jake Fraley.

It’s difficult to picture the Mariners without Zunino, but here we are. He has been through many ups and downs during his six years as the Mariners erstwhile starting catcher, and has had trips to Tacoma during five of the last six seasons.

A great guy, Zunino has never been bitter or moody in the clubhouse during his numerous stints with the Rainiers, trying to fix his swing. He’s a team leader and a great defensive catcher. The organization is going to miss that aspect of his game.

Mallex Smith figures to slot in to center field. He’s a speedster, a good defensive player, and he’s coming off his best offensive season at age 25.

As for the prospect, look for Fraley to open the season at Double-A Arkansas – we’ll see him in Tacoma down the road. He was a second round draft pick out of LSU in 2016, had an injury-filled 2017 season, and then got it going in the second half last year at Advanced Class-A. He hit .347 for Charlotte, not much power, reportedly plays good defense. He was a little old for the level (23 last year) because injuries wiped out most of 2017 and the first half of his 2018 season.

The Mariners now have a desperate need for a catcher. David Freitas is the only one on the 40-man roster. The two catchers who finished the year in Triple-A are gone: Cameron Rupp is now a free agent, and Garrett Kennedy was released after the season. There isn’t anyone in the organization ready to play in the big leagues, other than Freitas.

This was just the first step for Seattle. There will be many more.

Links:


M’s Gear Up For Winter Moves

November 7, 2018

There has been a rumble of Seattle Mariners rumors spread around the internet recently, although not much has really happened yet.

The M’s have been clearing out space on the 40-man roster, getting ready for what will surely be a busy offseason.

Rumors from the national baseball writers (via Twitter) say that Jerry Dipoto has made it known that almost everybody on the team is available for trade – if it makes sense for the Mariners. Nothing new here; this is how Dipoto operates.

The major league General Managers Meetings are going on this week, so early trades start to develop during this time. We’ll see if Jerry has anything up his sleeve.

About a week’s worth of recent Mariners moves and other moves involving former Rainiers players are in the links below.

Baseball America published its annual list of minor league free agents, sorted by the organization they finished the season with. The entire list of over 500 players is right here. Below are the Mariners:

Seattle Mariners (23)
RHP: Jheyson Caraballo (R), Jordan Desguin (Hi A), Bryan Evans (AAA), Trevor Frank (AA), Ashton Goudeau (AA), Tyler Higgins (AAA), Hisashi Iwakuma (AAA), Johendi Jiminian (AA), Jeffeson Medina (Hi A), Williams Perez (AA)
LHP: David Rollins (AAA), Marc Rzepczynski (AAA), Daniel Schlereth (AAA)
C: Alexander Capriata (AAA), Cameron Rupp (AAA), Ryan Scott (AA)
2B: Danny Muno (AAA)
3B: Seth Mejias-Brean (AAA)
SS: Yonathan Mendoza (AA)
OF: Beau Amaral (AA), Andrew Aplin (AAA), Cameron Perkins (AAA), Dario Pizzano (AA)

Fifteen of these guys played for Tacoma in 2018. In a new twist, one of them has signed on with the Rainiers as a front office employee: Danny Muno joined the Rainiers sales team. More on this later.

Keep in mind that the Mariners could re-sign any of these players to a minor league contract, so don’t be alarmed if one of your favorite players is on the list. There are several I’d like to see back in 2019.

Links:

  • Here’s Ryan Divish’s story on the Mariners offseason: who has trade value, and who doesn’t. In the story, Divish reports that another M’s – Tampa trade has been discussed, this time involving Mike Zunino.
  • The M’s made another of their non-traditional hires, naming Paul Davis major league pitching coach (replacing Mel Stottlemyre Jr.). Read about him here.
  • Erasmo Ramirez and Nick Vincent declared free agency, and Chris Herrmann was claimed off waivers by the Houston Astros. The Seattle Times has the story.
  • At USS Mariner, marc w riffed on the latest Mariners news. He makes an interesting point about going the other way, and diving into the great free agent class.
  • Fangraphs has a story on the Mariners possible – but not likely – tear down.
  • The Mariners announced some shuffling and promotions in the Baseball Operations department.
  • Seattle reportedly inked Marco Gonzales to a two-year deal in exchange for him dropping an ongoing service time grievance he had filed against the St. Louis Cardinals prior to being traded to the Mariners.
  • Chris Woodward – shortstop of the 2010 PCL Champion Tacoma Rainiers – was named manager of the Texas Rangers. Congratulations, Chris!
  • Former Rainiers outfielder Jeremy Reed was hired as the Los Angeles Angels major league hitting coach. Reed played all or parts of three seasons for Tacoma (2004, 2007-2008) and had a career .309 batting average here.
  • In the PCL, progress continues on the new ballpark in Wichita, Kansas. They are in line for a 2020 opening, with the New Orleans franchise expected to move there.

Recalling Willie McCovey’s Days In Tacoma

November 1, 2018

Willie McCovey – one of three Hall of Famers to play for the original Tacoma Giants of the 1960s – passed away yesterday at the age of 80.

A member of the 500 Home Run Club when it was much more elite than it is today, McCovey hit 521 career homers – 469 of them in a San Francisco Giants uniform – and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1986. He drew a large number of walks and posted high on-base percentages during a time in which that stat wasn’t even calculated.

Over the years I have wondered about Willie McCovey’s time in Tacoma – what was he like, how did he handle it? He did not play for Tacoma in the usual way. He wasn’t supposed to be here.

1959: Willie McCovey wins the National League Rookie of the Year Award.

1960: mired in a “sophomore slump,” Willie McCovey gets optioned to Tacoma.

Tacoma built Cheney Stadium in 1960 and welcomed Triple-A baseball to the city in April. It was an exciting time, the community jumped on board and backed the team, Juan Marichal was Tacoma’s ace and one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. McCovey was in the big leagues and there was no thought that he might play for Tacoma.

After hitting .354 with an 1.085 OPS while winning the Rookie of the Year award in 1959, McCovey was struggling in 1960. He started out the season just fine, but after a 36-game stretch in which he hit just .198, McCovey became the first player to be sent to Tacoma for more seasoning. He needed to work on his hitting, and break out of his slump. With that, Willie McCovey became the first major league household name to play for Tacoma in the modern era.

McCovey could have been the first “bitter Triple-A guy” in Tacoma baseball history, but teammate Orlando Cepeda recalls it differently in this Associated Press obituary, saying that McCovey did not complain when he was sent down.

Wearing uniform No. 21 – the same one that Marichal had worn prior to his call-up three weeks earlier – McCovey made his Tacoma Giants debut on July 18, 1960. Over 4,000 fans attended a Monday night game against Portland – and saw the Beavers intentionally walk him twice.

He needed three weeks to get right. Jacob Jordan’s book Six Seasons – A History of the Tacoma Giants 1960-1965 details McCovey’s action on the field for the Tacoma Giants – all of which came at Cheney Stadium, since McCovey joined the team at the start of a 21-game homestand.

According to Jordan’s research, McCovey touched the giant wall in center field for a triple early in his stay. A few days later during a Sunday doubleheader against Sacramento, McCovey “rocketed a game-winning home run way up on Tightwad Hill” (that’s where the Foss tennis courts are today; tightwads people used to sit up there and watch the games for free).

On July 31st McCovey went bonkers in a doubleheader against Vancouver, hitting a triple and a game-winning homer in the opener, and another home run in the nightcap, and that was that: the San Francisco Giants recalled him on August 1st and McCovey’s time as a member of the Tacoma Giants was over. His final stats for Tacoma: 17 games, .286 average (18 hits in 63 at-bats), three home runs, two triples and one double, and 16 runs batted in.

He would come back, but only for exhibition games. The San Francisco Giants annually played an exhibition game at Cheney Stadium on an off day in the major league schedule (can you imagine that today?). Tacoma Giants fans would see McCovey, Willie Mays, Cepeda and others once a year.

Health problems over the last decade made travel difficult for McCovey. He regularly attended San Francisco Giants games close to his home, but he rarely branched out to other parts of the baseball world. It would have been fun to interview him about his time in Tacoma, but the opportunity never arose.

Links: