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.