Rainiers Middle Infield Could Contain New Prospects

February 14, 2019

Today we’ll look at the middle infielders who could make the Tacoma Rainiers opening day roster, and this is an area where fans should get to see some of the young prospects that the Mariners have recently traded for.

One of the spots is kind of tricky, and that is the shortstop.

Seattle traded for 24-year-old J.P. Crawford from the Philadelphia Phillies in the Jean Segura deal, with the hopes that he will be a long-term solution at shortstop. Crawford is coming off a disappointing rookie season, in which he had injuries and played in just 49 major league games, hitting .214. A lot more than that is expected from Crawford, a former first round draft pick and highly regarded prospect.

Media reports have made it sound as if the Mariners might want Crawford to see some time in Triple-A to get back on track. Seattle even signed veteran infielder Tim Beckham to handle shortstop if Crawford doesn’t appear ready during spring training.

So, Rainiers fans might get to see Crawford at shortstop for the first few weeks of the season. Or maybe not. Hard to say, really.

Tacoma’s second base position appears to be set, with the trade for Shed Long from the Cincinnati Reds (via the Yankees in a three-team trade). Long has played the last season-and-a-half at the Double-A level and is expected to move up this year. He’s considered a bat-first second base prospect, with the ability to produce a lot of extra-base hits.

Seattle signed two minor league free agents who are good Triple-A players and can play the middle infield: shortstop Orlando Calixte and second baseman Tim Lopes.

We’ve seen a lot of Calixte in the visitor’s dugout the last few seasons. He has four years of PCL experience, spending 2018 and 2017 with Sacramento after two seasons with Omaha. Primarily a shortstop, Calixte can move around to the other infield positions and has even had reps in center field. He’s got a little pop in his bat for a middle in fielder, reaching double figures in homers the last three seasons.

Tim Lopes – no relation to Davey Lopes despite playing the same position – is a former Mariners draft pick who was traded to Toronto two years ago, then brought back into the fold as soon as he reached minor league free agency. He’s primarily a second baseman, and in his first Triple-A season last year he hit .277 with 18 stolen bases for Buffalo in the International League.

Those four players – Long, Calixte, Lopes and maybe Crawford – should have the middle infield fully covered. But wait, there’s more… Dustin Ackley is back!

However, Ackley doesn’t play much second base these days. He appeared at the keystone in just 16 games for Salt Lake last year. The Bees chose to use him in left field, at first base, and as the DH in most games.

We talked a little about Adam Law in the corner infielders post, but his best position is second base. He fared well in his first taste of Triple-A baseball with the Rainiers last year, and we know he’ll fight hard in March to make the club.

Another name to know is Chris Mariscal, who was the primary shortstop for Double-A Arkansas last year. A 2014 Mariners draft pick out of Fresno State, Mariscal also plays second and third base. Mariscal hit .261 with seven homers and 60 RBI last year in 120 games.

That’s a lot of players in the middle infield mix, and if Crawford is sent to Tacoma there will be quite a logjam. The Mariners front office will have to figure it all out in spring training.

Links:

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Imagine This: Spring Training Has Begun

February 12, 2019

I know. It’s hard for any of us to picture right now. Maybe try it this way:

Sit down next to your heater. Or if your power is out, next to the fireplace. Bundle up in an extra jacket. Do something to feel warm for a minute.

Close your eyes. Forget all about the snow, and the slush, and that fallen tree in your backyard and the car that has been frozen without moving since Thursday.

Imagine yourself in a different part of the world. A place where there is a sun. The sky is blue. A sun-splashed baseball diamond is in front of you. You remembered to bring your sunglasses – you’re smart like that.

There it is! You can see it!

All across Arizona and Florida, pitchers and catchers reported to spring training today. Baseball season is on its way.

We’ll continue with our Rainiers positional previews on Thursday when we take a look at the middle infielders. In the meantime, entertain yourself with some stories from the start of spring training.

Links:


Rainiers Position Preview: Corner Infielders

February 7, 2019

We’ll continue our 2019 Tacoma Rainiers spring training position previews with a look at the corner infielders. 

In recent years here at the Triple-A level we have seen many Tacoma players move between first base and third base during the season, so that’s why we lump these two positions together. But there is always some crossover with the third baseman and the middle infielders group, which we will get to next week.

Anyway, let’s have at it.

SEATTLE

The Mariners will be playing Kyle Seager at third base. First base is more of a group effort, as it currently looks like some combination of Ryon Healy, Dan Vogelbach, Edwin Encarnacion, and Jay Bruce will get reps at first base. The Mariners designated hitter is likely to come out of this group, too.

Vogelbach reminder: he is out of minor league options, and must make the big league roster or be exposed to waivers. You would think that some team that isn’t contending this year (and doesn’t have Edwin Encarnacion on its roster) would claim him and install him as the everyday designated hitter. It is very unlikely that Vogelbach plays in Tacoma this year.

TACOMA

First base should be all taken care of with late-blooming prospect Joey Curletta ready for a Triple-A assignment. Curletta hit .282 with 23 home runs and 94 RBI at Double-A Arkansas last season, winning the Texas League MVP award. He also drew 81 walks in 129 games, posting a .383 on-base percentage. The 24-year-old was added to the Mariners 40-man roster in November.

Across the diamond at third base there will be many players in the mix for the Rainiers.

The Mariners acquired Dylan Moore from the Milwaukee Brewers organization in a free agent signing, and he could be the Rainiers starting third baseman. Moore played for Colorado Springs last season, hitting .280 with 11 home runs and an .838 OPS.

Moore is on a major league contract, and he has the ability to play all four infield positions. Seattle is going to look at him during spring training and he’ll have a chance to win the back-up infielder job.

Also in the Mariners back-up infielder mix is Kristopher Negron, who we have been watching for a few years now with Reno and is a certified Very Good Triple-A Player™.

Both Moore and Negron are on the 40-man roster, and at the moment it appears that one of them will be the Mariners utility infielder. But only Moore has minor league options left (three years worth!); Negron would have to clear waivers to play for the Rainiers.

Adam Law played a little third base for the Rainiers last year, and he is expected to be on Tacoma’s opening day roster in some capacity. Law batted .260 in 62 games during his first taste of Triple-A ball during the second half of last season.

Another third base possibility in the organization is Logan Taylor, who has enjoyed a brief promotion to Tacoma during each of the last two seasons but has been a regular at the lower levels of the farm system. In late May of 2018 he was promoted to Double-A for his first time, hitting .270 with seven home runs in 66 games for Arkansas. He’s a bit of a longshot to make the Rainiers opening day roster, but it could happen.

That’s the corner infield mix for 2019: first base is set, third base is open. We can also read into this to say that at this point it appears manager Daren Brown will be pulling his DH from the outfield ranks.

Next Thursday we’ll look at the prospective Rainiers middle infielders.

Links:

  • Frank Robinson – top tier Hall of Famer and major league baseball’s first black manager – has passed away at age 83. Here is his New York Times obituary.
  • If you are an ESPN Plus subscriber, you can read Keith Law’s detailed look at the Mariners farm system.
  • Former Rainiers infielders with new teams: Ty Kelly signed with the Angels (which should lead him to the Salt Lake Bees), and Nick Franklin has inked a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
  • MLB owners and players have begun discussions on a number of potential rules changes, mostly designed to improve the pace of the game. I like requiring relief pitchers to face a minimum of three batters, which will speed things up while increasing forward-thinking strategy.
  • We have a few PCL stories to pass along. New Reno Aces manager Chris Cron spoke to the media about what it will be like managing his son, Kevin Cron.
  • The Las Vegas 51s Aviators are confident that construction of their new ballpark will be completed in time for opening day.
  • San Antonio manager Rick Sweet met fans and media as the team prepares for its first Triple-A season.