Coming Attractions

January 18, 2019

Just a quick update today to pass along a few links accumulated during the week, and to let you know what’s happening in this space in the future.

Things should be picking up late next week. The Mariners will hold their annual Pre-Spring Training Media Luncheon on Thursday, and I’ll have a report on the Rainiers-related news from the event.

The following week – I’m eyeing Tuesday, January 29th – we’ll begin our weekly Rainiers spring training previews. In each post we look at a positional group and the players who could make the Rainiers opening day roster. These get sorted into catchers, corner infielders, middle infielders, outfielders, starting pitchers, and relievers.

That project will lead us into March, when spring training will be in full swing.

A word about spring training: if you are planning to go to Arizona this year, keep in mind that the major league squad is departing very early because of the Japan trip. You’re going to want to go in early-to-mid March if you want to see the big league team. The late-March Cactus League games will feature mostly Rainiers players, which will be kind of fun – instead of playing on a dusty back field, the Tacoma players will be in the major league spring training parks.

Links:

  • Greg Johns has a story on Mariners first base prospect Joey Curletta, who we expect will be the Tacoma Rainiers first baseman on opening night.
  • One of the most successful baseball players to ever come from Washington state, Mel Stottlemyre has passed away. Don’t miss Larry Stone’s heartfelt obituary.
  • Darrin Beene – the sports editor at The News Tribune – revealed his Hall of Fame ballot and has a column explaining his picks.
  • Former Rainiers pitcher Hector Noesi is back in the states, signing a minor league deal with the Marlins. He’s been pitching in Korea since 2016.
  • Jonah Keri checked in on relief pitcher Oliver Drake, who set a new record by pitching for five different teams in one season last year. He’s a walking waiver claim – kind of amazing that Jerry Dipoto never grabbed him.
  • In the PCL, we have a new manager for the Oklahoma City Dodgers. Travis Barbary will lead a PCL team for his first time. He’s a catching expert, and the Los Angeles Dodgers top two catching prospects are both expected in Oklahoma City this year.
  • Memphis has been announced as the host of the 2019 Triple-A National Championship Game. The Redbirds have played in this game each of the last two seasons, and now they are hosting it.
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Daren Brown Back To Manage Rainiers

January 14, 2019

The Seattle Mariners announced the 2019 Tacoma Rainiers coaching staff earlier today, and a familiar face will be at the helm of the Rainiers.

Daren Brown returns for what will be his eighth (sort of) season guiding Tacoma.

The veteran minor league manager is Tacoma’s all-time leader in manager wins, with 433 victories over seven-ish seasons.

Twice in his career Brown was appointed Tacoma’s skipper, only to get promoted to the major league team during the PCL season. Most notably was the 2010 season, when Brown piloted the Rainiers to a big lead in the division race… but was promoted to Mariners manager in mid-August, replacing Don Wakamatsu. Brown got fifty games of major league managerial experience, while the Rainiers went on to win the PCL Championship with hitting coach Jose Castro filling in as manager down the stretch and into the playoffs.

After another mid-season promotion from Tacoma in 2013 – this time to major league third base coach – Brown was one of few holdovers when Eric Wedge‘s staff was disbanded. He spent two years as a roving minor league instructor.

Once Jerry Dipoto took over, and Andy McKay was named farm director, they realized they had an experienced Triple-A and former interim major league manager working as a roving baserunning instructor, which they thought was an under-utilization of his talents. Pat Listach was already in as our manager in Tacoma, so they made Brown the Double-A manager. That’s what he has been doing the last three years, with one league championship (in 2016).

It has been nearly six full seasons since Brown was in Tacoma or the PCL. So, Daren – if you are reading this – here is a quick update of what’s going on around here.

  • The Cheney Stadium renovation and subtle improvements have been a hit, with growing home crowds at the games.
  • The league has changed. El Paso is a great road trip, once you get there. San Antonio is coming in this year. No more Springs. Nashville’s new ballpark is a jewel. We make our last trip to New Orleans this season.
  • The Rainiers still can’t win in Reno. Something to work on!
  • Sacramento is no longer a perennial title contender. In fact, they aren’t very good at all. And Tony D isn’t even in the league this season.
  • Somehow, our division rival Fresno ended up being a Washington Nationals affiliate. I don’t know anything about them, either.
  • The massive freeway construction project at the I-5 – HWY 16 interchange is not even close to being completed, and it will probably be obsolete before it is finished.
  • Tacoma has many great new restaurants since you were last here.
  • They cut the PCL season from 144 to 140 games, and added four off-days to the schedule. However, we spend those extra off-days travelling. It is an improvement, though.
  • We now have an Epic Sax Gorilla.
  • Your office probably smells of cigars. You know who to thank for that.
  • Tom Newberg is still here.

Oh yeah, that last one reminds me. The rest of the coaching staff:

Lance Painter returns for his fourth season as the Rainiers pitching coach, so be ready local golf courses.

Roy Howell returns to Tacoma as the hitting coach. He served as Rainiers manager in 2014, and has been the Double-A hitting coach for the last four seasons. The Rainiers hitting coach the past two seasons was David Berg, who is now the manager of the Class-A West Virginia Power.

Newberg returns for his 13th season as Tacoma’s trainer. Derek Mendoza will be back for his fourth season as the Performance coach (strength & conditioning), and the new assistant trainer is Josh DiLoreto.

Nothing but familiar faces on this throwback/retro/turn-back-the-clock coaching staff. Opening day will be here soon.

Links:

  • The News Tribune already has a story up on Daren Brown‘s return, with quotes from him.
  • The Seattle Times has an article on the Mariners entire development staff. The organization is all-in on hiring pitching coaches from private academies instead of ex-players.
  • Baseball America has a big round-up of minor league transactions, and several former Rainiers players are included. These are all minor league contracts – here we go: Erasmo Ramirez signed with the Red Sox… D.J. Peterson and Donn Roach are back with the White Sox… Justin Grimm inked with Cleveland… Michael Saunders signed with the Rockies… Cameron Perkins is taking his talents to the Dodgers… Mike Morin went to the Twins… and Steven Baron is now a Pirate.

Ackley Returns To Rainiers; Muno Moves To Front Office

January 11, 2019

The Mariners made some additions to the big league team on Thursday, signing utility infielder Tim Beckham and relief pitcher Cory Gearrin. And they also brought back Dustin Ackley.

Wait a minute. Dustin Ackley? The Mariners first round draft pick in 2009? Arguably the greatest hitter in NCAA baseball history? The guy who played for Tacoma in 2010 and 2011?

Yup, he’s back, on a minor league contract. It appears that Ackley will be suiting up for the Tacoma Rainiers in April.

Pacific Coast League fans have seen plenty of Ackley the last two years. He’s been a regular for the Salt Lake Bees, batting .261-6-59 in 2017 with a .716 OPS before posting a .286 average with four homers in 72 games last year.

Ackley has not played in the major leagues since May of 2016 when he was with the Yankees. His season ended due to major shoulder surgery, which affected his throwing well into the 2018 campaign. He was strictly a designated hitter for Salt Lake until late in the season in 2017, and last year he saw time at first base, left field, and second base.

There was much overreaction among Mariners fans on the internet (surprise, surprise!) when word of the Ackley signing got out. From my vantage point, this looks like an acquisition strictly to help out our team in Tacoma. We’ll happily take him: even when he was one of the top prospects in all of baseball, Ackley was a great representative for the team and would happily volunteer to participate in Rainiers community outreach programs. Now that he is a veteran, he should be a good clubhouse leader for the young talent that we’ll start to see this season.

Speaking of a, um, former and current Tacoma Rainier, MiLB.com has a story on our own Danny Muno, who played infield for the Rainiers in 2017 and 2018, and quietly moved to the Rainiers front office after the season. You should check it out.

More PCL coaching staffs have been announced.

Marty Pevey returns for his franchise record seventh season as the manager of the Iowa Cubs.

El Paso has a new, veteran manager in Edwin Rodriguez. Previous manager Rod Barajas was promoted to the Padres major league coaching staff.

Links:

  • Here’s the Seattle Times story on the return of Dustin Ackley.
  • The story on the signing of Tim Beckham and Cory Gearrin makes it sound like recently acquired shortstop J.P. Crawford will begin the season with Tacoma.
  • In a Mariners Q&A, reporter Greg Johns fields questions on Dan Vogelbach and potential Rainiers outfielder Eric Filia.
  • In the PCL, some minor improvements have been approved for the old ballpark in San Antonio, which will be housing a Triple-A baseball team for the first time this season.
  • Our friends to the north the Everett Aqua Sox are celebrating their 35th anniversary this year, and they made a cool logo for it.
  • Former Rainiers slugger Bryan LaHair is now the hitting coach for the Cincinnati Reds short-season affiliate in Billings, Montana.
  • Longtime major league hitting coach Rick Down passed away at age 68. Although he was known for his success with the New York Yankees, Down made a couple of trips to Tacoma when he served as the Mariners minor league hitting coordinator during the 2011 season.

Updated M’s Prospect List; PCL Coaching Staffs

January 9, 2019

An updated Seattle Mariners Top Prospect List was released today, this one from Baseball Prospectus. It reflects the new-look farm system, with four of the top six players recently acquired via trades.

Baseball Prospectus is a subscription site, so you need a password to see their full list with the scouting reports on all of the players which goes beyond an organization top ten. But I will share their ranking of the Top Ten:

  1. Justus Sheffield, LHP
  2. Jarred Kelenic, OF
  3. Evan White, 1B
  4. Justin Dunn, RHP
  5. Logan Gilbert, RHP
  6. Erik Swanson, RHP
  7. Kyle Lewis, OF
  8. Julio Rodriguez, OF
  9. Sam Carlson, RHP
  10. Braden Bishop, OF

From the top ten, Sheffield, Swanson and Bishop are the most likely to start the season with Tacoma, with hopefully White, Dunn, and Lewis coming sometime during the season. That’s all just speculation on my part – we don’t really know if Jerry Dipoto will feel pressure to promote prospects quickly, as previous Mariners GMs have during non-contending major league seasons. It has been a few years since this has been a consideration.

Here’s a link to the complete article if you are a subscriber. If you like to follow prospects from around the minors, Baseball Prospectus is a valuable subscription. You get updates on prospect performances 3-4 times a week during the season, and some occasionally nifty writing as well. For example, this post came complete with an introductory Death Cab For Cutie lyric written in 2001 (when the M’s were at their peak) that somehow capsulizes the comfort and despair that BP believes Mariners fans will feel in 2019. Additionally, while I am not a fantasy baseball player, I’m told that BP is an excellent resource for that.

OK, back on topic now. Lots of PCL news below.

We anticipate an announcement from the Mariners any day now on the 2019 Tacoma Rainiers Turn Back The Clock Coaching Staff. In the meantime, teams around the PCL are naming their managers and coaching staffs for the approaching season.

Rainiers division rival Fresno – now a Washington Nationals affiliate – will be led by former PCL player and major league catcher Randy Knorr. The pitching coach will be ex-Rainiers and former M’s pitcher and minor league coach Brad Holman.

Another division rival has a new skipper: minor league baseball lifer Chris Cron will manage the Reno Aces this season, and is possibly going to have his son Kevin Cron as his cleanup hitter.

Albuquerque brings back Glenallen Hill for his fifth season at the helm of the Isotopes.

On the other side of the league, the Nashville Sounds staff includes former Rainiers and Mariners hitting coach Howard Johnson, along with former Cy Young Award winner (and PCL player) Eric Gagne. PCL veteran Jason Wood returns as manager of the Texas Rangers affiliate.

Omaha is standing pat with its coaching staff, once again led by skipper Brian Poldberg.

Links:

  • Get ready for the Ichiro comeback, which will begin in spring training next month. Larry Stone has a column that basically says, why not?
  • Seattle Times writer Ryan Divish has an analysis of the Yusei Kikuchi signing, which on the surface does not appear to fit the Mariners rebuilding plan… or does it?
  • The Mariners have signed right-handed pitcher Aaron Northcraft to a minor league contract. He has Triple-A experience with El Paso, but has not pitched in affiliated ball since 2016. He reportedly has been throwing well in the Venezuelan Winter League.


Happy New Year! Six Weeks To Spring Training!

January 3, 2019

Hey everyone, we’re back! Welcome to 2019. I hope it’s worthy of all of these exclamation points. And I hope you all had a great holiday season.

Baseball starts soon: spring training is just six weeks away. The Mariners official games begin early this year because of a Japan trip, which means that spring training for major leaguers ends early. Keep that in mind if you are planning a trip to Arizona – I’m still trying to figure out the best time to go in order to see Rainiers players in action.

The Mariners made a big addition today, adding left-handed starting pitcher Yusei Kikuchi from the Seibu Lions. He’s been one of the top starters in Japan, and the Mariners out-bid several MLB teams to get him.

It’s a three, or four, or seven-year contract for Kikuchi, which has some interesting aspects in regards to what happens after the third year (see link No. 2 below). This signing indicates that the Mariners really do think that their teardown-and-rebuild will be a brief one, lasting three or fewer years. Otherwise, why sign a player like this?

It’s definitely a positive signing. Fans will have someone interesting to watch this season. Hopefully he’ll be really good.

With spring training coming soon, we’ll start our annual look at positional battles to make the Rainiers roster later this month. That will carry us deep into spring training, when we’ll begin to get a feel for who is going to be on the Tacoma roster in April.

In the meantime, we have a number of links from the last two weeks.

Links:

  • Here’s the Seattle Times story on the signing of Yusei Kikuchi. Larry Stone has a column on what it means. ESPN’s Keith Law writes that the deal gives the Mariners “credibility” during the rebuild.
  • Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs has a look at the details of Kikuchi’s contract.
  • The Mariners made a trade with the Brewers right before the holiday break (and literally just a few minutes after I last posted here), sending outfielder Ben Gamel and Class-A pitcher Noah Zavolas to Milwaukee for outfielder Domingo Santana. This is an upside play, as the M’s are hoping Santana can return to his 2017 form when he hit 30 homers. Here’s the story from the Times, and a quick analysis from Baseball America. USS Mariner likes the trade in a thorough write-up.
  • Rainiers outfielder Ian Miller made SportsCenter with this highlight-reel catch in the Mexican League (h/t Lookout Landing).
  • 2018 Tacoma Rainiers reliever Ryan Cook has decided to take his talents to Japan, signing with the Yomiuri Giants. We wish him a healthy and successful season.
  • Another reliever from last year, Justin Grimm has signed with the Cleveland Indians.
  • Mariners broadcaster Rick Rizzs quietly does great things every holiday season.
  • After knocking on wood, crossing itself, throwing salt over the left (or is it the right?) shoulder, carefully not stepping on any cracks, and definitely not talking about a no-hitter in progress, The News Tribune boldy proclaimed that Mitch Haniger is the new face of the Mariners. Commence trade rumors in 3, 2, 1…
  • National baseball writer and friend of the blog Jonah Keri tackled the Mariners rebuilding effort.
  • Former Tacoma Rainiers and Seattle Mariners coach Scott Brosius took a whopper of a new job: head of player personnel for USA Baseball. He’ll help coach and set rosters for the various Team USA’s that compete internationally, including the 2020 Olympics.
  • Former Rainiers player Matt Tuiasosopo has a new job: he’s managing the Atlanta Braves Class-A affiliate.