Rainiers Anticipate Young Starting Rotation

In recent years sorting out the Tacoma Rainiers starting rotation has been a challenge during spring training, due to the large number of minor league free agents signed by the Mariners. Things are a little different this year: Jerry Dipoto‘s offseason trades have brought in a handful of young pitching prospects, and we are going to see some of them at Cheney Stadium this year.

At the major league level the Mariners starting rotation is set – barring injury, of course. The M’s are looking at a rotation of Mike Leake, Wade LeBlanc, Yusei Kikuchi, Marco Gonzales, and Felix Hernandez.

That means that top prospect Justus Sheffield is probably going to begin the year here in Tacoma, working to refine his command while waiting for an opening in Seattle. The lefty was the key prospect acquired from the Yankees in the James Paxton trade, and he is ranked as the Mariners top prospect overall by most outlets.

Another pitcher acquired in that trade was right-hander Erik Swanson. He reached Triple-A in the Yankees system last season, making 13 starts in the International League with a 3.86 ERA. There was some chatter at the time of the trade that Swanson may profile as a major league long reliever/swing man, which could cause him to win a spot on the Mariners opening day roster. It’s something to keep an eye on this month.

Large human Max Povse is a candidate to break camp in the Rainiers rotation. It seems like he’s been around forever, but Povse will play this season at age 25. In a common refrain for minor league pitchers, Povse has good stuff (and size) but needs to improve his control.

The organization signed veteran left-hander Tommy Milone to a minor league contract, helping flesh out the Rainiers rotation and provide major league depth. Milone has pitched all or part of eight seasons in the majors, with a career record of 46-37, 4.42. Last year the 32-year-old made twenty starts in Triple-A for the Nationals affiliate, going 7-4, 4.11 in the IL.

Another prospect added this winter – from the Mets in this case – right-hander Justin Dunn could make the jump to Triple-A for opening day. Dunn is just 23-years-old, but he made 24 starts in Double-A last year with a 3.56 ERA in the Eastern League. He struck out 156 batters in just 135 innings, albeit with 52 walks.

Columbian righty Nabil Crismatt was signed as a minor league free agent. He was teammates with Dunn at Double-A in the Mets system last year, and also made nine Triple-A starts for Las Vegas. His first taste of Triple-A ball didn’t go very well (8.84 ERA), but he just recently turned 24 and has room for improvement.

Some additional names in the mix: lefthander Anthony Misiewicz made 21 starts for Double-A Arkansas last year, but had a rough season (3-12, 5.51) and may need to go back… free agent signee Aaron Northcraft hasn’t pitched since 2016, but the now 28-year-old was swing-man for El Paso in 2015-2016… young lefty Ricardo Sanchez made 13 starts in Double-A for the Braves organization last year. He’s on the 40-man roster, turns 22 in April, and is likely to open the season in Arkansas but is a prospect to follow.

Overall, there is not a lot of depth in this group, and the Mariners could be combing the independent leagues looking for pitching once again this season.

One name not on this list is Rob Whalen, who announced his retirement from baseball (via twitter) earlier this week. Whalen made 20 starts for Tacoma last year, going 7-7 with a 5.16 ERA, and we had him penciled into the Rainiers rotation for this season until he decided to hang ’em up.

Deciding to move on from the sport is a difficult decision. We wish Rob the best in his future endeavors.

Links:

  • Oft-injured top prospect Kyle Lewis is healthy during spring training for the first time, and the Seattle Times caught up with the young slugger.
  • Greg Johns has a story on Shed Long‘s hot start to spring training, and the Mariners plan to move him around defensively. In the article we learn he played outfield last weekend for the first time since he was 12.
  • We hear so much about the Mariners youth movement, but Larry Stone investigated the other side of the clubhouse: the veterans who know they could be traded at any moment.
  • Yusei Kikuchi made his spring debut on Monday, using deception to strike out Reds star Joey Votto.
  • Tim Booth of the Associated Press filed a story on Jerry Dipoto‘s health after his blood clot scare during the Winter Meetings.
  • Exhibition game recaps: yesterday Dan Vogelbach homered to help the Mariners to an early lead, but rookie relievers let it get away in a 6-5 loss to Cleveland… on Tuesday the M’s were trailing Texas 4-1 going to the bottom of the ninth, when minor leaguers Jake Fraley and potential Rainiers infielder Chris Mariscal hit back-to-back homers to tie the game, and then the teams decided a tie was just fine… and on Monday, Kyle Lewis launched a homer to support Yusei Kikuchi in an 11-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds.
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