Rainiers Bullpen Outlook & Latest Moves

February 26, 2020

Baseball is on the radio again, and sometimes on TV. The exhibition games have begun in Arizona and Florida, and we are getting closer to another Pacific Coast League season.

Let’s complete our 2020 Tacoma Rainiers Position Previews© with a look at the bullpen.

This is always the toughest category to project. Late spring roster moves are frequently made with relievers (especially during the Dipoto era, but this was the case even before then). This is also the position in which there is most likely to be an unreported veteran or two in minor league spring training who is unknown to us at the moment. Many years I’ve been watching the Triple-A game on the backfield in Peoria and had a “whoa, they signed that guy?” moment.

Here are the relievers I know are in the Tacoma mix. We’ll list them alphabetically.

Jack Anderson: a submariner who had a 1.50 ERA for Double-A Arkansas last year, giving up just one home run in 54 innings. The high-elevation PCL ballparks will provide a great testing ground to see if his submarining style will work in homer-happy MLB.

Manny Banuelos: we listed him with the starters, but the lefty could also be used as a multiple-inning reliever – which is his more likely role in the majors, should Seattle call him up.

Gerson Bautista: lights up the radar gun. Has the returning Rainiers righty improved his command enough to have success this year? When the ball goes where he wants it to go, he’s really tough to hit.

Brandon Brennan: last year’s Rule 5 pick can now be optioned to the minors, but it looks like he’s good enough to make the major league roster. We’ll see how the next month plays out.

Nestor Cortes: a lefty who spent most of last year in the Yankees big league bullpen, the M’s claimed him off waivers this winter. I could have listed him among the potential Tacoma starting pitchers, because he has started a lot when he’s in the minors. His opening to make the big league club is as a long man.

Sam Delaplane: any list of Mariners “sleeper” prospects includes Delaplane, who struck out 110 batters in 68.2 innings pitched between Class-A Modesto and Double-A Arkansas last year. He’s only pitched in 25 Double-A games, but his 0.49 ERA there indicates he is in line to move up.

Matt Festa: ink him in to the Rainiers bullpen to start the season. Festa pitched in 23 games for Tacoma last year, posting a 2.64 ERA with five saves. He could be Tacoma’s closer to start the season.

Darin Gillies: he’s had stints with Tacoma each of the past two seasons. Gillies throws hard and gets a good number of strikeouts, but has had trouble preventing runs in the PCL.

Zac Grotz: after battling through multiple organizations and the independent leagues, Grotz reached the majors and appeared in 14 games for Seattle last year. A Tacoma assignment to start the year seems likely, but he’s trying to make the big league club.

Taylor Guilbeau: the lefty acquired from Washington at the trade deadline last summer, Guilbeau has strong stuff and has a good chance to make the M’s bullpen. If not, we’ll have a locker for him at Cheney.

Wyatt Mills: a Gonzaga product who has been at Double-A Arkansas for the last year-and-a-quarter, but hasn’t really dominated that level yet. He does one thing really well: keep the ball in the ballpark, with just three career home runs allowed in 126 innings pitched.

Erik Swanson: listing him here because he has options and pitched a bit for Tacoma last season, but he seems likely to make the big league club. All reports indicate that his starting days are over for now.

Art Warren: often injured and not often allowing runs, Warren had a 1.71 ERA in 29 appearances for Arkansas last year, and then did not give up a run in six major league games in September. Seems likely to open the season in Tacoma until called upon.

Those are quite a few interesting relief prospects who could open the season with Tacoma – and another one, Joey Gerber, could come during the season if he pitches like he did in 2019. The bullpen could really be a strength for the Rainiers.

The Mariners made a 40-man roster move which hurt the Rainiers pitching depth, but may help the big league bullpen.

Seattle claimed reliever Taylor Williams off waivers from Milwaukee, and designated projected Rainiers starter Phillips Valdez for assignment. Valdez was immediately claimed by the Boston Red Sox.

Williams had a 2.83 ERA in 46 games in the PCL last year for San Antonio, which sounds very promising for the Rainiers except for one thing: he’s out of minor league options.

A native of Camus, WA who pitched one season for Washington State University, Williams is probably really excited to get a chance to pitch for the Mariners. However, he’s unlikely to pitch for Tacoma.

The M’s had to take care of an outfield depth issue, due to an injury.

Outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams – one of the prospects acquired in the James Paxton trade with the Yankees a year ago – is probably out for the season with a ruptured achilles that required surgery.

We had Thompson-Williams listed as a potential Rainiers outfielder to start the season, although that was no sure thing. Unfortunately he won’t be with us now, so the Mariners went out and signed veteran Triple-A outfielder Rymer Liriano to add some depth to the position.

Liriano, now 28 years old, played for Salt Lake and Colorado Springs in 2018, and before that was with El Paso in 2014-15. Last year he was with Syracuse in the International League, hitting .209 with ten homers in 201 at-bats. His career stats can be found here.

In case you come to this site without looking at the Tacoma Rainiers main page, there a couple of important items you may have missed.

The team announced that the 2020 Promotional Calendar is now available. Sadly, my push for “Fans Call The Game So Curto Can Sit At The R-Bar And Drink Beer Night” was once again not approved. Maybe next year.

We also posted two more interviews with the Rainiers coaching staff: part two of the interview with new pitching coach Rob Marcello Jr is here, and the story on hitting coach Roy Howell can be found here.



An Early Look At Tacoma’s Starting Rotation

February 19, 2020

Spring training is now in full force, as the position players reported earlier this week and the Mariners full squad is in Peoria. That includes all of the players who will open the season with the Rainiers on April 9.

Our 2020 Tacoma Rainiers Position Previews™ series continues with a look at the potential starting rotation to open the season.

The big league rotation is pretty much set. Barring injury or something unforeseen, the Mariners will be going with Marco Gonzales, Yusei Kikuchi, Taijuan Walker, Kendall Graveman, and Justus Sheffield. The first four are on major league contracts, and Sheffield is out of minor league options (he can’t be sent to Tacoma without being exposed to waivers).

If everything goes smoothly with the above starters during spring training, highly-regarded prospect Justin Dunn will probably get optioned to Tacoma for the start of the season. Things can change, of course – one of the starting five could get injured, or the Mariners may want to have Dunn break into the majors as a long reliever – but right now on February 19th it looks like Dunn will be with us.

We can go ahead and ink lefty Anthony Misiewicz into the Rainiers rotation. After a rocky introduction to the PCL upon his promotion to Tacoma in May last season, Misiewicz finished the season on a real strong run. He allowed just six earned runs in 34.2 innings over his final six starts, for a 1.56 ERA during that time. He participated in the Mariners “Gas Camp” this winter, and I’m excited to see what he does this season.

Right-hander Phillips Valdez was claimed off waivers from Texas back in November, and he looks like a possible Rainiers starter. He made his MLB debut out of the bullpen for the Texas Rangers last year, but when he was with Triple-A Nashville he worked as both a starter and a reliever. In 2018 he was used primarily as a starter for Syracuse in the International League and posted a 2.75 ERA over 124.1 innings pitched. The Mariners will watch him this spring and decide what role is best for him.

The M’s signed a couple of veteran left-handers who may be in the Rainiers rotation in April. One is a longtime major leaguer trying to get back on track, and the other is a former top prospect still looking to establish himself in the bigs.

Wei-Yin Chen has been in the majors since 2012. The lefty from Taijuan Taiwan had four strong seasons in Baltimore’s rotation, signed a big free agent contract with the Marlins before the 2016 season, and then was hit with injuries and ineffectiveness. The Mariners brought him in to camp to take a look – he was once very good, so why not. Chen has not pitched in the US minor leagues before, other than a handful of rehab starts, so we don’t really know if the 34-year-old is willing to pitch in Triple-A to try to get back. He’s made plenty of money in the game. If he doesn’t make the big league club it will come down to his desire to continue.

Manny Banuelos was a highly-ranked Yankees prospect when he was dominating the Class-A levels in 2009 and 2010. Since then he has bounced through several organizations, seeing major league time with the Atlanta Braves and last year with the Chicago White Sox. He’s in spring training hoping to win a bullpen job with the Mariners, but if he is assigned to Tacoma he will likely pitch out of the rotation. Banuelos pitched for Oklahoma City in 2018 – his last full Triple-A season – and went 9-7 with a 3.73 ERA, striking out 127 batters in 108.2 innings. He made 18 starts and 13 relief appearances that year.

This is starting to look like a pretty left-hand dominant rotation, so let’s add another southpaw. The M’s acquired hard-to-spell and let’s-not-even-get-into-the-pronunciation Nick Margevicius from the San Diego Padres recently. Despite making a dozen starts in the big leagues last year, Margevicius has never appeared in a Triple-A game: the Padres moved him straight from Double-A Amarillo to the majors last season. This April he could be anywhere from Double-Arkansas to Tacoma to Seattle.

Seattle just inked former Cleveland Indians starter Cody Anderson to a minor league contract. Anderson made 24 starts for the Cleveland Indians in 2015-16, but elbow problems put him on the injured list and he eventually required Tommy John surgery. 2019 was supposed to be Anderson’s return to health, and he got back into things with 32 innings pitched, but then he required additional surgery in June and did not pitch in the second half. We’ll have to keep an eye out and see how much he is able to pitch in camp.

Five from the seven pitchers listed above figure to comprise the Rainiers opening day rotation, but we can’t stop without mentioning top prospect Logan Gilbert, whom we will hopefully see at some point this season. Gilbert’s progression through the system makes it pretty clear that he’ll open the campaign at Double-A Arkansas. The Mariners would like him to reach the majors later this season, and that will hopefully include a stop in Tacoma on the way. Baseball America ranks Gilbert as the top pitching prospect in the M’s farm system – he was the team’s first round draft pick in 2018.

The 2020 Tacoma Rainiers Position Previews® series concludes next week when we sort throw a whole bunch of relievers.

We have an addition to last week’s post on potential Rainiers outfielders. Veteran PCL player Collin Cowgill has been signed to a minor league contract.

Cowgill was one of the best players in the league when he first appeared in the PCL, way back in 2011 with Reno. Since then he has played for five other teams: Sacramento, Las Vegas, Salt Lake, Colorado Springs, El Paso, and Fresno.

He spent the entire 2019 season with Fresno, batting .228 with a dozen homers and a .330 OBP in 84 games.

Now 33 years old, Cowgill last played in the majors in 2016. He appeared in 317 big league games over six seasons from 2011-2016, with a career .234 average in the majors.


Pitchers & Catchers, and Rainiers Potential Outfielders

February 12, 2020

Pitchers and catchers officially reported to spring training today, and we all move closer to baseball season. There is even grainy footage on the internet of people throwing baseballs under the bright Arizona sun.

The Mariners made some news, inking Taijuan Walker to a contract to fill out the starting rotation. The former Rainiers pitcher is looking to come back from elbow surgery – he was healthy enough to make one start on the final weekend of the 2019 season, and appears to be ready to go this year. Several teams were reportedly interested in giving him a shot.

Seattle is also going to take a look at former Colorado Rockies star Carlos Gonzalez this spring, which leads us to the subject of the day: our 2020 Tacoma Rainiers Position Previews© series continues this week with a look at the outfielders.

The outfield is where the Mariners two most touted minor league prospects reside: Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez. The question you are surely asking is, will either of them play for Tacoma on opening day? Or at all this season?

I’d have to argue that no, neither will be on the Rainiers opening day roster. However, we sure hope to see at least one if not both players during the 2020 season.

Kelenic, just 20 years old, made two jumps during the 2019 season. He opened the year at Low-A West Virginia, played great, was promoted to Advanced-A Modesto. He played well in Modesto, too, and was moved up to Double-A Arkansas for the final month of the season.

For Arkansas Kelenic hit .253 with six homers in 21 games (83 at-bats). He is almost certainly going to begin the season there, and get a couple hundred at-bats at that level. If things go well, I think that we can anticipate seeing him in Tacoma at some point this summer.

Rodriguez’s path is harder to project. The 19-year-old played well at West Virginia last year and was promoted to Advanced-A Modesto at the end of the year, where he was the youngest player in the league. In 65 at-bats there he had 30 hits for a .462 batting average. Yup. Four-sixty-two.

Are they going to send him back to Modesto in April? Or move him up to Double-A, where his youth will really be noticeable? It’s a question of how well he performs, and how aggressive the Mariners want to be with is development. Maybe we’ll see him this summer. I hope so.

OK, then. We might see these top prospects later in the year. But who is actually going to be in the Tacoma outfield?

Returnees Braden Bishop and Jake Fraley will be competing for openings with the major league club this spring. They could both make the team, especially with Mitch Haniger now out of commission until April. One or both could be optioned to Tacoma, because the M’s brought in some additional experience after Haniger required hernia surgery.

Carlos Gonzalez (aka “CarGo” from his Rockies days) did play in eight Triple-A games last year, but it’s always hard to know if a longtime MLB veteran is going to be willing to open a season in the minors. Some guys are all for it, others decide against it. Obviously, Gonzalez is focused on making the major league roster right now.

Kyle Lewis jumped from Double-A to the majors last September when the rosters expanded. On September 1st I would have told you that he was a lock for the Rainiers 2020 opening day roster. But Lewis was the Mariners September star, blasting six homers in his first 71 major league at-bats, with an .885 OPS. He encouraged the organization so much that they are going to give him every opportunity to crack the major league outfield.

Newly acquired Jose Siri seems like a good bet to be in the Tacoma outfield. Recently claimed off waivers from the Cincinnati Reds, Siri was considered one of their top prospects before hitting some lumps at the Double-A level in 2018. Last year he was better at Double-A and earned a promotion to Triple-A Louisville for the final five weeks of the season. Siri features a speed and power blend that tantalizes scouts – the old “he could be special if he puts it all together” story. These are often fun players to watch in the minors.

Two players covered when we did the corner infielders two weeks ago are in the outfield mix: Jose Marmolejos and Eric Filia. Both are first basemen and corner outfielders, and both appear likely to be on the Rainiers opening day roster.

Add two more players who are also in the infield mix: Tim Lopes and Alen Hanson. There has been zero media chatter about Lopes heading into big league camp, despite being on the major league roster. Not sure if that means he is ticketed for Tacoma or if he is just kind of an invisible man right now. Both players can play up the middle in the infield and have experience in the outfield as well.

One more name to know: Dom Thompson-Williams was acquired from the Yankees in the James Paxton trade a year ago, and he spent the 2019 season with Double-A Arkansas. While his stats don’t jump off the page – .235, 12 homers, .689 OPS – they came in a tough ballpark to hit in, and they should improve with the juiced MLB baseball used above the Double-A level. Whether he starts in Arkansas or Tacoma could depend on how things shake out with the players listed above.

Next week we’ll identify the Rainiers starting rotation candidates.


  • Ryan Divish has five big questions going into spring training.
  • Larry Stone has a column in what he’s looking forward to seeing in Mariners spring training.
  • Lauren Smith of The News Tribune has her season outlook.
  • The M’s have brought back former Rainiers pitcher Taijuan Walker, and he will battle for a spot in the big league rotation.
  • Here’s the story on the Mariners signing Carlos Gonzalez.
  • Reliever Matt Festa cleared waivers and was outrighted to Tacoma. We’ll pencil him into the Rainiers bullpen.
  • Former Rainiers reliever Emilio Pagan was traded from the Tampa Bay Rays to the San Diego Padres.
  • Ex-Rainiers reliever Tony Zych is going to try a comeback with the Yankees.
  • Fangraphs massive Top 100 Prospects list is out, and a few Mariners do appear.
  • In the PCL, the Omaha newspaper looked back at the last ten years of Storm Chasers baseball, including an all-decade team.
  • Every Tuesday the Fresno Grizzlies change their name to the Fresno Tacos. Now, the San Antonio Missions are going to become the San Antonio Puffy Tacos for a series in May. Maybe our whole league should become Tacos. PTL: Pacific Tacos League.

2020 Rainiers Previews: Middle Infielders

February 6, 2020

Let’s continue with our pre-spring training 2020 Tacoma Rainiers Position Previews® with a look at the middle infielders.

We’ve got some clarity at the shortstop position, and a lot of candidates at second base. This group includes players who can help out all around the diamond.

Donnie Walton played 103 games at shortstop for Double-A Arkansas last year, committing just four errors and posting a .990 fielding percentage. He earned a rare-before-2019 September call-up directly from Double-A, making his major league debut and appearing in seven big league games.

With no middle infield openings in Seattle – they have J.P. Crawford, Dee Gordon, and Shed Long to man the positions – Walton is probably going to be optioned to Tacoma at the end of spring training and settle in as our shortstop.

Prior to 2019, Walton played much more second base than shortstop in his career. He can slide over to the other side of the bag whenever needed.

The spring outlook for Tim Lopes is murky at the moment. It’s hard to even put a position on him: primarily a second baseman throughout his career, the Mariners gave him his first big league call-up last year and installed him in left field – a position he had played just once in his entire minor league career. So what is he now? Is Lopes battling for a spot in the Mariners outfield this spring? Or a big league utility role? Are they going to option him to Tacoma where he’ll play outfield? Will he be the Rainiers everyday second baseman? Don’t ask me; I just work here.

Chris Mariscal should be back with the Rainiers in April. He can play shortstop, second, third, and left field. He batted .209 in his first taste of Triple-A ball last season, and he may have to fight off some new competition to earn a spot on Tacoma’s roster.

The Mariners claimed Sam Haggerty off waivers from the Mets earlier this winter, and he seems likely to be on the Rainiers roster and in the second base mix. A speed-oriented player, Haggerty has primarily played second base and center field in the upper levels of the minors. He also has played left field, shortstop, and third base – basically, everywhere. Rainiers manager Daren Brown will watch him closely this spring to see where he best fits.

Minor league free agent Alen Hanson was inked by the Mariners. He has plenty of second base experience, and like Haggerty is capable of playing many different positions. He came up as a shortstop, moved to second, and in recent years has mixed in a lot of outfield. Hanson has quite a bit of major league experience, but is coming off a rough 2019 season in which he struggled to hit in both Toronto and Triple-A Buffalo.

There is a local player who could find himself in the Rainiers middle infield mix sometime this season. From Kentlake High School (Class of 2013), Jordan Cowan reached Double-A Arkansas last year where he was the primary second baseman. He was charged with just two errors in 113 games at the position, and had a .995 fielding percentage. Cowan hit .264 with two homers and a .345 on-base percentage over 124 total Double-A games, stealing 17 bases. Cowan will have to fend off all of the veterans listed above to make the Tacoma roster on April 9, but if that doesn’t happen we may see him later this summer.

That’s our middle infield situation as of today. Next week we’ll focus on the outfielders.


M’s Get Busy With Minor Moves

February 4, 2020

After an uncharacteristically quiet winter, the Mariners have made a flurry of small roster moves in the last few days. Several of these impact the Rainiers.

The team signed a pair of experienced major league pitchers with international backgrounds in Yoshihisa Hirano and Wei-Yin Chen.

Hirano pitched the last two seasons for the Arizona Diamondbacks after a dozen seasons with Orix in his native Japan. The 35-year-old reliever is on a major league deal and is expected to pitch out of the Mariners bullpen.

Chen, 34, is on a minor league contract after eight years in the majors with Baltimore and more recently Miami. Chen was impressive his first few years in Baltimore, and signed a big free agent contract with the Marlins, but he required elbow surgery and hasn’t been the same since coming back at the end of the 2017 season. A fly ball pitcher, the super-juiced MLB baseball has not been his friend these last two seasons.

If Chen pitches for Tacoma this year, the Rainiers can claim to have had the two most prominent pitchers to ever come from Taiwan. Chien-Ming Wang pitched in 11 games for the Rainiers in 2015.

When Hirano was signed, he had to be added to the 40-man roster. That meant someone had to come off it, and that someone was left-handed starting pitcher Ricardo Sanchez. Sanchez spent the 2019 season in the rotation for Double-A Arkansas and we had him penciled into the Tacoma rotation for this season. We’ll wait to see if another team claims him.

One recently designated pitcher did not clear waivers: Reggie McClain. McClain was claimed by the Philadelphia Phillies, and the swingman will go to spring training in Florida this year. We wish him luck with his new club.

Tacoma may have lost another pitcher but potentially gained an outfielder in a move that was made Monday. The Mariners claimed outfield prospect Jose Siri from the Cincinnati Reds, adding him to the 40-man roster. Reliever Matt Festa was designated for assignment to make room.

Siri had a big year showing power and speed in Class-A in 2017, but he has had difficulty getting over the Double-A hump these past two seasons. He is reportedly a capable defender in center field. The Mariners will look at him in Peoria next month and decide if he needs to go to Arkansas or should be assigned to Tacoma.

Festa split the 2019 season between Seattle and Tacoma bullpens. We’ll wait and see if he clears waivers.

You never know when you designate a player for assignment if he will clear waivers or get claimed by another team, and the M’s risked three pitchers in the past week. It’s always good to bring in some reinforcements, and Mexican media has reported that lefty Manny Banuelos has signed with Seattle on a minor league contract.

The former Yankees top prospect is now 28-years-old. He spent 2019 in the majors with the Chicago White Sox, but shoulder injuries limited him to 50 innings. He has since shown he is healthy by pitching for Culiacan in the Mexican Winter League.

Banuelos pitched in the PCL for Salt Lake in 2017, and Oklahoma City in 2018. His season with Oklahoma City was quite strong and led to his major league opportunity with the White Sox last year.

Up next is the continuation of our Position Previews series, which will come on Thursday afternoon when we look at the Tacoma Rainiers middle infield candidates.