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.

Spring Training Previews: Catchers

January 31, 2019

We are just one sleep away from February, and that means spring training is rapidly approaching. It’s time to start talking baseball around these parts, so let’s begin our positional previews as we look to see who is in contention to make the Tacoma Rainiers opening day roster.

We will start with the catchers.

SEATTLE

The Mariners catching situation is really easy to pin down at this moment in time, because they have just two receivers on the 40-man roster: presumed starter Omar Narvaez, and returning back-up David Freitas.

The organization has signed major league veteran Jose Lobaton to a minor league contract. He has caught over 400 major league games, including 22 with the New York Mets last season. He’ll compete with Freitas for the back-up job in spring training, but his lack of 40-man roster status means we are going to pencil him in for Tacoma for now.

TACOMA

With the exception of Lobaton, the Triple-A catching crew that is coming into spring training is not very experienced behind the dish.

Lobaton is the likely starter. He mashed it for Las Vegas in 39 PCL games last year, batting .348 with eight home runs in just 132 at-bats. The switch-hitter is a career .280/.363/.443 hitter at the Triple-A level. He is also very experienced as a catcher, having played the position since he was signed as a teenager out of Venezuela in 2002.

The other catchers in the Tacoma mix are recent converts to the position.

Austin Nola is a former infielder in the Marlins organization who converted to catcher at the Double-A level in 2017, so he has two years of catching experience. He caught during the 2018 season for New Orleans, so he has done it at the Triple-A level. The Mariners signed Nola as a minor league free agent earlier this winter. Although he didn’t hit for much power, Nola did show strong on-base skills last season in the PCL, posting a .370 on-base percentage in 69 games.

The other catcher in the mix for a Tacoma assignment is organization stalwart Joe DeCarlo. The Mariners second round pick in 2012 as a corner infielder, DeCarlo converted to catching in 2017 at Class-A Modesto. Last season he moved up to Double-A Arkansas and hit eight homers in just 207 at-bats, with a .246 batting average. DeCarlo has caught roughly 150 games in his professional career and may be asked to return to Double-A to continue his growth at the position.

The Mariners could add another experienced Triple-A/MLB catcher to the mix. Remember last year when Garrett Kennedy (who was released after the 2018 season) came out of nowhere to be the Rainiers opening day catcher, due to a series of roster moves at the start of the season? We could see that situation repeat itself, especially if any of the five players mentioned in this post suffer injuries during spring training – which is always a concern with catchers.

Next Thursday we will look at potential Tacoma Rainiers corner infielders.

Links:

  • Edgar Martinez returned to Seattle and was greeted as a Hall of Famer.
  • In the PCL, the Fresno Grizzlies unveiled new uniforms and one of the combinations includes… red pants?
  • If you hadn’t heard, the soccer side of the Tacoma sports enterprise made some major announcements yesterday. The S2 franchise (Sounders top affiliate) will continue to play at Cheney Stadium, and it now has a real name: the Tacoma Defiance. Furthermore, the top-level women’s team Reign FC (formerly Seattle Reign) will play its home matches at Cheney Stadium this season.

More Relievers Added To Spring Mix

January 28, 2019

The Seattle Mariners hosted their annual Pre-Spring Training Media Event late last week, and there was quite a bit of chatter about the prospects in the organization. The trades that the M’s made during the winter have brought a lot of talent into the minor leagues.

Much of the specific talk about prospects centered around the Double-A club. Director of Player Development Andy McKay said that top first base prospect Evan White will open the season with Arkansas, and without saying so directly he made it sound like oft-injured outfield prospect Kyle Lewis will start there, also.

There was no talk about specific players being assigned to Tacoma to open the season – which makes a lot of sense. The upper-level players acquired in the offseason will come to major league spring training, and Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais will see them in action for their first time. New additions like J.P. Crawford, Justus Sheffield, and Erik Swanson (and many more) will get a chance to earn major league roster spots.

The combination of open major league roster spots and an influx of upper-level minor league talent is going to make this an extra-interesting spring training. When asked about the upcoming camp, Dipoto said he is “looking for progress from young players.” The youth movement is on.

The team released its list of non-roster invitees to major league spring training, and as usual there are a couple of minor league free agent signings that were not previously reported. Two relief pitchers signed to minor league deals with spring training invites are now in the mix for Tacoma roster spots.

Robin Leyer is a right-hander form the Dominican Republic who pitched last year for the Cincinnati Reds Double-A affiliate in Pensacola. The 25-year-old posted a 2.59 ERA in 42 games out of the bullpen, with 65 strikeouts and 28 walks in 59 innings pitched. He must throw a good sinker or something, because he has maintained a low home runs allowed rate throughout his career.

The M’s have also signed a 24-year-old right-hander from Venezuela named Jorgan Cavanerio. He may be ticketed for Double-A, but his numbers from last year in the Marlins system are intriguing: a 2.54 ERA as a multiple-inning reliever at Advanced Class-A, where he walked just five batters in 46 innings with 42 strikeouts. He pitched in 13 more games for Double-A Jacksonville later in the season.

One player we won’t be seeing in Tacoma is infielder Kaleb Cowart. The Mariners hoped he would clear waivers and that they could develop him as a two-way player in the minors, but he was claimed by the Detroit Tigers. So much for that plan.

We’ll start our annual position-by-position look at the players who could be on the Tacoma roster this coming Thursday, with the catchers as the first group.

Links:

  • The Seattle Times has a round-up of the major league news that came out of the Seattle Mariners Pre-Spring Training Media Event.
  • Mallex Smith was one of the players introduced at the Mariners event on Thursday, and his personality shined.
  • The News Tribune’s story on the event serves as a reminder that the players sure don’t look at the coming season and think it’s a “step-back year.”
  • Edgar Martinez met the other new Hall of Famers, and it was story time. << this is a good one.
  • The Mariners signed high-pressure reliever Hunter Strickland to boost the bullpen – and potentially be the closer. And just like that, the M’s are out of the Bryce Harper sweepstakes.
  • From Baseball America’s latest Minor League Transactions, we learn that Gordon Beckham has signed a minor league deal with the Detroit Tigers. Beckham spent the last two seasons with Tacoma, earning a few call-ups to Seattle. We wish him the best with Detroit.
  • In the PCL, the Sacramento River Cats announced their coaching staff with ex-Rainiers coach Dave Brundage returning as manager.
  • The Houston Astros named Mickey Storey as the new manager of the Round Rock Express.
  • Rick Sweet will be the first manager in the Triple-A era of the San Antonio Missions.


Edgar Adds A Bigger, Better Hall

January 23, 2019

It is with great pleasure that the Tacoma Rainiers organization congratulates Seattle Mariners legend Edgar Martinez on his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Cooperstown is where he belongs.

Edgar was a tremendous major league player, of course – one of the greatest hitters of his era. Prior to that, he was one of the best hitters in the Pacific Coast League.

Did you know that the PCL Hall of Fame was ahead of the curve on Edgar? He was inducted in 2013 to the PCL Hall – his “online plaque” is right here.

When Edgar played in the PCL, the Mariners affiliate was in Calgary. We were the Tacoma Tigers with the Oakland A’s affiliate back then – Martinez played in the league all or parts of the 1985 through the 1989 seasons.

Martinez was a career .344 hitter in the PCL. And get this: in 276 games and 950 at-bats in the league, Edgar drew 182 walks while striking out only 102 times. That’s a heck of a ratio.

More recently, we have seen a lot of Edgar at Cheney Stadium as he increased his role as a hitting instructor, first in the minor leagues and eventually at the major league level.

Some of you will remember when Edgar threw out the ceremonial first pitch to open the 2015 season at Cheney Stadium. I imagine the conversation went something like this:

Rainiers employee No. 1: OK, we have to find someone to throw out the ceremonial first pitch on opening day. It needs to be awesome.

Rainiers employee No. 2: How about a Mariners legend, like Ken Griffey Jr. or Edgar Martinez?

Rainiers employee No. 1: Edgar lives around here. He’ll do it.

Rainiers employee No. 3: I’m not sure, he’s a pretty mellow guy who doesn’t really seem to be into that kind of thing. How are we going to convince him to do it?

(some moments of silence)

Rainiers employee No. 2: Tell him we’re gonna fly him in on a helicopter, and land in center field!

The Mariners made a trade on Monday, and it’s one that will help the Tacoma Rainiers.

Infielder Shed Long was acquired from the New York Yankees, in exchange for outfield prospect Josh Stowers. Long had just been acquired by the Yankees from the Cincinnati Reds, as a part of a trade involving major league pitcher Sonny Gray.

Long spent the 2018 season at the Double-A level, hitting .261 as an everyday player in the pitcher-friendly Southern League. The 23-year-old showed some pop for a second baseman, belting 12 homers and 22 doubles. He had a .353 on-base percentage, and he swiped 19 bases.

Long has been playing the last season-and-a-half in Double-A, so a promotion to the Triple-A level makes sense.

The Mariners gave up their second round draft pick from last June – Stowers – in order to get him.

Long had to be added to the 40-man roster, so Kaleb Cowart was designated for assignment and now we must wait to see if he clears waivers and is outrighted to Tacoma. Cowart is a solid Triple-A player who we have seen a lot of the last couple of seasons when he was with Salt Lake. He would definitely be a nice addition to the Tacoma roster.

Both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus announced their Top 100 (or in BP’s case, 101) Prospects today.

Baseball America is more bullish on the Mariners farm system, ranking four players in the Top 100. Baseball Prospectus has two – but it should be noted that one of BA’s is not eligible for BP’s list. Baseball Prospectus does not qualify signings from the Japanese league as “prospects,” so Yusei Kikuchi is not listed.

Baseball America

  • LHP Justus Sheffield (27)
  • LHP Yusei Kikuchi (45)
  • OF Jerred Kelenic (68)
  • 1B Evan White (100)

Baseball Prospectus

  • LHP Justus Sheffield (50)
  • OF Jerred Kelenic (63)

As always, please remember that prospect lists are fun for discussion but what happens on the field is what actually matters.

Links:

  • We’ll start with the Seattle Times story on Edgar Martinez being elected to Cooperstown, complete with reaction from the man himself.
  • Larry Stone was with Edgar and his family when he got the call, and wrote this great piece.
  • The Times has a cool look at Edgar’s top moments.
  • The News Tribune has five reasons why Edgar belongs in the Hall. Here is the paper’s story on Edgar’s election.
  • Some fans have been actively pushing Edgar’s candidacy since the very beginning, and Larry Stone found them.
  • Here’s the Seattle Times story on the trade for infielder Shed Long.
  • Some Rainiers players from last year are on the move. We’ve lost outfielder John Andreoli to a waiver claim – the Texas Rangers claimed him. Starting pitcher Christian Bergman was a free agent after the season, and he signed a minor league deal with the Chicago Cubs.
  • In a feel-good story, former Rainiers and Mariners reliever Danny Farquhar signed a minor league contract with the New York Yankees, and has been cleared to pitch after his scary episode.
  • PCL news: Memphis announced its new manager, former St. Louis Cardinals minor league outfielder Ben Johnson. New Orleans has hired former Salt Lake skipper Keith Johnson as their new manager.

Coming Attractions

January 18, 2019

Just a quick update today to pass along a few links accumulated during the week, and to let you know what’s happening in this space in the future.

Things should be picking up late next week. The Mariners will hold their annual Pre-Spring Training Media Luncheon on Thursday, and I’ll have a report on the Rainiers-related news from the event.

The following week – I’m eyeing Tuesday, January 29th – we’ll begin our weekly Rainiers spring training previews. In each post we look at a positional group and the players who could make the Rainiers opening day roster. These get sorted into catchers, corner infielders, middle infielders, outfielders, starting pitchers, and relievers.

That project will lead us into March, when spring training will be in full swing.

A word about spring training: if you are planning to go to Arizona this year, keep in mind that the major league squad is departing very early because of the Japan trip. You’re going to want to go in early-to-mid March if you want to see the big league team. The late-March Cactus League games will feature mostly Rainiers players, which will be kind of fun – instead of playing on a dusty back field, the Tacoma players will be in the major league spring training parks.

Links:

  • Greg Johns has a story on Mariners first base prospect Joey Curletta, who we expect will be the Tacoma Rainiers first baseman on opening night.
  • One of the most successful baseball players to ever come from Washington state, Mel Stottlemyre has passed away. Don’t miss Larry Stone’s heartfelt obituary.
  • Darrin Beene – the sports editor at The News Tribune – revealed his Hall of Fame ballot and has a column explaining his picks.
  • Former Rainiers pitcher Hector Noesi is back in the states, signing a minor league deal with the Marlins. He’s been pitching in Korea since 2016.
  • Jonah Keri checked in on relief pitcher Oliver Drake, who set a new record by pitching for five different teams in one season last year. He’s a walking waiver claim – kind of amazing that Jerry Dipoto never grabbed him.
  • In the PCL, we have a new manager for the Oklahoma City Dodgers. Travis Barbary will lead a PCL team for his first time. He’s a catching expert, and the Los Angeles Dodgers top two catching prospects are both expected in Oklahoma City this year.
  • Memphis has been announced as the host of the 2019 Triple-A National Championship Game. The Redbirds have played in this game each of the last two seasons, and now they are hosting it.