An Early Look At Tacoma’s Starting Rotation

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.

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One Response to An Early Look At Tacoma’s Starting Rotation

  1. Jack says:

    The AAA rotation looks very interesting. It seems this year’s potential starters have higher upside talent than in most recent years, where the org relied heavily on older non-prospects and veterans to make up the rotation.

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