Spring Training In Tacoma?

March 2, 2015

Down in Peoria, Arizona, the Seattle Mariners intended to play their first intrasquad game today.

It was rained out.

Meanwhile, it is nice and sunny here at the Tacoma Rainiers North End Satellite Office (aka my house), and the weather has been quite nice here for most of the last ten days.

We should have spring training in Tacoma. OK, that’s probably not a good idea – but at least we would have gotten today’s intrasquad game played.

Exhibition games start for real on Wednesday, when the Mariners play the Padres in the annual charity game in Peoria, which does not count as an actual exhibition game, so it is a pre-exhibition game of sorts. Whatever – it’s a baseball game. With uniforms, fans, umpires, and everything. Wednesday.

In the meantime, here is a boatload of links:

Next update will be Wednesday.


Tacoma Infield Looking Stronger

February 27, 2015

This latest round of stories from Mariners spring training shed some light on a few items of interest for Tacoma Rainiers fans.

First off, it’s beginning to look like the Rainiers are going to be real strong in the middle infield. This is because indications from Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon (link to the news story is down below) reveal that unless there are spring training injuries, either Chris Taylor or Brad Miller will be optioned to Tacoma. One of those two players will be the Mariners starting shortstop, and the other will be in Tacoma playing every day.

The Rainiers already have a promising shortstop inked onto the roster in Ketel Marte. I suppose this means that Marte and Taylor/Miller will be bouncing between second base and shortstop for Tacoma – all in the name of positional flexibility, which the Mariners value. And that will be a good thing for the 2015 Rainiers.

The other potentially Rainiers-related story in the below links is on veteran outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, who is in spring training camp after sitting out all of last year. Gutierrez spent his year away from the game in Miami trying to get healthy, and from the story you can tell that he definitely missed being a part of it.

The story will make you root for Gutierrez. Landing a spot on the Rainiers opening day roster would be a big step forward for him.

Links:

That light on the horizon is becoming a little bit brighter: the Mariners first exhibition game is on Wednesday.


When Super Charles Stole Home

February 25, 2015

In Monday’s post I linked to a story from John McGrath in which he wrote about the lost art of stealing home.

My plan at that time was to link to a blog post that I was sure I had written before, about the only time I’ve ever seen a straight steal of home plate. But according to the search feature on this page, I have never written about the day Charles Gipson stole home. So let’s do that.

Some of you guys may remember Charles Gipson. He was a utility player in the major leagues: he could run like the wind, he could play excellent defense at many different positions, and he wasn’t much of a hitter.

Gipson played a key reserve role on the 2001 Mariners team which won 116 games: he played in 94 games, mostly as a pinch-runner and defensive specialist. He had just 72 plate appearances in 94 games!

But in 2000, Gipson was riding the shuttle back-and-forth between Tacoma and Seattle. When he was in Seattle, he would sit on the bench. When he was in Tacoma, he would start every game and work on his hitting.

“Super Charles” had a great attitude about riding the shuttle. Usually when a player gets sent down he takes his time reporting to Tacoma, and might mope around for a day or two. Not Gipson – he would burst right into the clubhouse with a big smile on his face – sometimes the same day he was sent down – and jump right into the lineup.

Gipson had superior athleticism and a knack for the spectacular play. I’ve heard tales of a catch he made at Cheney Stadium in 1998, playing third base: foul pop-up, he dived onto a front-row table on the (original version) party deck, sending cups of beer flying all over the place while making the catch.

Which brings us to June 4, 2000.

The Rainiers were on a road trip to one of my most-missed ex-PCL cities, Edmonton. The Edmonton Trappers were the Angels affiliate that year, and one of their top prospects was right-handed pitcher Ramon Ortiz (who would go on to have a nearly ten-year MLB career).

In the top of the sixth inning, Gipson laced two-run triple to give the Rainiers a 4-3 lead. After Joe Oliver lined out, there were two outs and Carlos Guillen was up.

The Rainiers manager was Dave Myers, who was in his fifth and final year at the helm of the club. Like all Tacoma managers he also coached third base.

Myers had managed Gipson for years – not just for the preceding four years in Tacoma, but also in Double-A and Single-A. After the game, Myers said it happened something like this (I am paraphrasing from memory, so this is not an exact quote):

“For years, every time Gipson gets to third base he asks me if he can steal home. It’s always the same thing – ‘Let me go, I can get this guy.'”

Like a father who gets tired of repeatedly telling his young son he cannot stay up past his bedtime and play video games, Myers gave in. To hear Dave tell the story, he sighed and said, “Alright, go ahead.”

Myers knew there were a few factors in Tacoma’s advantage:

  • Ortiz was a right-handed pitcher (not good for a steal of home), but for some reason he was working out of a full wind-up with a runner at third base.
  • Telus Field in Edmonton had an Astroturf infield and real grass outfield. The turf infield had dirt cutouts around the bases and home plate, but the base paths were 1980s-style carpet. It was a “fast track.”
  • Guillen was a switch-hitter and was batting left against Ortiz. I’m not sure if this works for or against an attempted steal of home – the batter is not in the way (and you don’t have to worry about him swinging), but the catcher can see the runner out of the corner of his eye.

Up in the broadcast booth, I was very lucky to see the whole play develop. This is a classic example of a tough play to call, because you never anticipate a straight steal of home – it’s the only one I’ve seen in my career! Due to some stroke of fortune, I actually saw Gipson break to the plate and had a decent call.

Gipson took off as soon as Ortiz started his big, slow wind-up. He raced down the artificial turf baseline, went into an aggressive feet-first slide as soon as he hit the edge of the dirt cutout, a startled Carlos Guillen leaned back and took the pitch, the catcher handled the ball and tried to make a tag, there was a giant cloud of dust, and the umpire spread his arms and yelled “safe!”

It was a classic example of one of the most exciting plays in the game – and one I haven’t seen in 14 seasons since.

(The Seattle Times was not impressed)

Links:

Check back Friday for more spring training tidbits.

* so Edgar Olmos was olmos almost on the Rainiers. We were going to play this song every time he came in from the bullpen. Bummer.


First Round Of Spring Training News

February 23, 2015

We’ve got a weekend of spring training under our belts, baseball is in the air, and the stories are starting to flow.

Pitchers and catchers reported to camps around Florida and Arizona last week, with the Mariners starting on Friday. Mariners position players are required to report tomorrow.

So far, so good from M’s camp. James Paxton has a stiff wrist and won’t throw for a few days – there’s your injury update.

That’s the bad news – things could be a lot worse, you know. Just across the desert in Glendale, the Chicago White Sox are having a scorpion problem. Yikes!

We have lots of news stories from the weekend, so let’s get to them.

Links:

Check back on Wednesday for a new update.

* just did a search and apparently I’ve never written about the time Gipson stole home. We’ll have to get to that soon!


Spring Has Sprung

February 20, 2015

Seattle Mariners pitchers and catchers officially reported to spring training today, and we’re off!

Forty-nine days until Rainiers opening day in lovely El Paso, Texas – and 57 days to Tacoma’s home opener at beautiful Cheney Stadium.

Today Major League Baseball announced their new pace-of-play rules and guess what: there is a clock! But it’s not a “clock” it’s a “timer.” They claim they are going to strictly enforce the length of the between-inning breaks, and have a countdown schedule to resume play.

That’s quite a bit different from the pitch clock which is reportedly being introduced in Triple-A and Double-A this season – although there has been no official announcement about that.

MLB is also making a half-hearted attempt to force the batter to stay in the batter’s box between pitches – but there are so many exemptions that it won’t have an effect on the game.

Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list came out today, and they are very high on Mariners 2014 first-round draft pick Alex Jackson.

They have Jackson listed No. 20 on their ranking – much higher than Baseball Prospectus placed him (68).

Baseball America has one other Mariners player on the list: D.J. Peterson comes in at No. 85.

The complete Baseball America Top 100 Prospect package can be found here.

Links:

  • At the newly revamped Seattle Times website, Ryan Divish has a story on five things for Mariners fans to follow at spring training.
  • Larry Stone has an update on injured pitching prospect Victor Sanchez, including remarks from general manager Jack Zduriencik.
  • At The News Tribune, Bob Dutton previews the Mariners outfield situation.
  • Dutton reports that the Mariners are going to take a look at veteran left-hander Joe Saunders, and Tom Wilhelmsen‘s arbitration hearing is today.
  • John McGrath doesn’t want to hear anyone talk about the Mariners “grueling travel schedule.”
  • Jerry Brewer writes that it is time for the Mariners to put the nostalgia of 1995 behind them.
  • Here’s the story from MLB.com on their new pace-of-play rules.
  • Ken Rosenthal writes that if the MLB players don’t want a pitch clock, they need to take matters in their own hands and simply play more quickly.
  • If you don’t mind click-bait, here’s a look at 30 of the best logos in minor league baseball.

Have a great weekend!


Rainiers Bullpen Looks Experienced

February 18, 2015

This is the final installment of our pre-spring training look at the position battles to see who makes the Tacoma roster on opening day. Spring training actually starts on Friday!

Today we look at the potential 2015 Tacoma Rainiers relief pitchers.

For previous installments of the position preview series, scroll down – every third post should be a position preview, going back to the beginning of January.

At the major league level, the Mariners had a terrific bullpen last year and it seems set for the start of 2015 (as always: barring injuries). The way the roster is set up, it looks like the M’s have room for a seven-man bullpen.

The Mariners have a battle for the second left-hander spot in the bullpen (Lucas Luetge, David Rollins, and Rafael Perez appear to be the candidates). On the right-handed side, the only spring drama will be to see if Carson Smith can swipe a spot from one of the guys who was in the majors all of last year, like Dominic Leone or Yoervis Medina.

With the big league situation mostly set, here’s a look at some relievers the Tacoma Rainiers might have on opening day:

Lucas Luetge or Rafael Perez: right now it seems that Luetge goes into camp with the best chance of nabbing the second lefty role, but the Mariners will take a long look at Perez and Rollins. Luetge is on the 40-man roster and has one option year left. Rollins was a Rule 5 pick and must be kept in the majors all year or else be returned to the Astros – but he’s going to have to be clearly better than Luetge to win the job. Perez is a veteran who recently signed a contract; we wrote about him last week: he has lots of MLB experience as a reliever, hasn’t been up there since 2012, and had a career revival as a starter in the last calendar year.

Carson Smith or whoever he bumps from the Mariners roster: if Carson Smith blows away the competition in the Cactus League he could steal a spot from Leone or Medina. If that doesn’t happen, Smith could be the guy riding the back-and-forth Tacoma-to-Seattle shuttle this year.

Mark Lowe: the former Mariner returns to the organization on a minor league deal. Lowe will be in big league camp but it’s going to be tough for him to crack the Mariners roster. Look for Lowe in a Rainiers uniform in April. Lowe had 17 saves but a 5.62 ERA for Triple-A Columbus last year.

Mayckol Guaipe: the Mariners added the 23-year-old Venezuelan to the 40-man roster after he posted a 2.89 ERA in 40 games for Double-A Jackson last year. In 56 innings, he had 56 strikeouts and just nine walks – hey, that’s a really good ratio! He’s likely to make his Triple-A debut in April. And don’t feel bad for us radio guys – his name is actually easy to pronounce: Michael Gwy-pay.

Logan Bawcom: we will be happy to welcome Logan back to the club this year, as he has been a stalwart of the Rainiers community outreach program for the last two years. Bawcom has 27 career saves for Tacoma, which currently ranks tied for fourth on the all-time Tacoma list. The franchise all-time leader is former Tacoma Tigers closer Jim Corsi, who had 36.

Andrew Carraway: here’s another familiar face. Carraway has mostly been a starter for the Rainiers for three years now – but he did make eight relief appearances last year, showing he could work in both roles. As a starter Carraway is getting pressured by prospects coming up from Jackson, so his best fit for 2015 might be as a long reliever and spot-starter in the Brian Sweeney mode.

Forrest Snow: and another returning player, Snow also fits the long relief and spot-starter mold. Snow has been invited to major league spring training for his first time, so he’ll get a chance to show his stuff to the big league coaching staff. It’s an important spring training for Snow.

Justin Germano: a Triple-A veteran with lots of up-and-down major league experience, Germano was signed on a minor league deal. You may recall him with the Portland Beavers at the end of the franchise – he was known for a big-breaking 12-to-6 curveball back then. Hopefully he still has that pitch – it’s fun to watch. Germano can start or relieve.

Kyle Hunter and Trevor Miller: these are two Mariners draft picks who had some success at Double-A Jackson last year – or in Hunter’s case, for the last two years. Both could see time in Tacoma this season (Miller actually pitched in two games for the Rainiers in 2014). Right now it’s hard to see a spot for either of them on opening day, but it’s certainly a possibility. Hunter is a lefty, Miller is right-handed.

Another candidate is left-hander Edgar Olmos, who is currently on waivers. The Mariners designated Olmos for assignment when they signed Rickie Weeks. If Olmos clears, we can probably go ahead and stitch his name on the back of a Rainiers jersey. Olmos had a 3.86 ERA in 33 games for New Orleans last year.

On the whole, it looks like the Rainiers are going to have a very experienced bullpen in 2015.

Links:

  • Bob Dutton previewed the Mariners bullpen going into spring training.
  • Today Dutton has a post on Mariners catcher Mike Zunino and another post on Mariners infielders.
  • Ryan Divish previewed the Mariners shortstop battle – which is the only truly open starting job on the team going into camp. He has another post on the starting rotation, which is also an area of spring intrigue.
  • The Rainiers will be in El Paso when the Chihuahuas hold their “Bark In The Park Night.” Unlike most teams that have this promotion, in El Paso only lap dogs are permitted.
  • Former Rainiers pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith signed to play in Taiwan this season. The lefty from Australia has travelled the world playing the game.
  • Got an hour to kill? Here’s Pulitzer prize winner J.R. Morheringer on what Alex Rodriguez did during his suspension. Regardless of the subject matter, it’s beautifully written.
  • The Class-A Carolina League team in Wilmington saw their annual weather promotion get a little extreme yesterday: one day each year they sell Opening Day tickets priced at the temperature, and that day was yesterday, and it was 4 degrees. So tickets cost four cents.

Come back for a new post on Friday – hopefully with some reports on the start of spring training!


Mariners Prospect Injured In Venezuela

February 16, 2015

Pitchers and catchers report for Mariners spring training on Friday, and the big topic of conversation will certainly be pitching prospect Victor Sanchez.

Reports from Venezuela say that Sanchez was the victim of a boating accident in his native country, and he is in critical condition following surgery to repair a fractured skull.

Details are sparse right now. The Mariners are still gathering information and have not released a statement, while both the Seattle Times and The News Tribune are relying on reports from the same Venezuelan news source.

Sanchez, who just turned 20, is a right-handed starting pitcher who played last year for the Double-A Jackson affiliate. He was on last week’s list of potential starting pitchers for the 2015 Tacoma Rainiers.

We wish Sanchez the best, and a speedy recovery.

For the latest updates, the Seattle Times has been updating this post, and The News Tribune is covering the story on its Mariners blog. There are also a few more details in this report from SB Nation.

Links:

  • The last former Tacoma Tigers player active in the major leagues has retired. Jason Giambi played for the Tacoma in 1994, which was the last year of the Tigers and the Oakland A’s affiliation. He had a very long MLB career before announcing his retirement today.
  • Bob Dutton of The News Tribune posted a Mariners Top Ten Prospects list with a feature on anticipated Rainiers jack-of-all-trades Patrick Kivlehan.
  • Dutton also previewed the Mariners starting rotation heading into spring training.
  • Rickie Weeks told the Seattle Times that he is ready to learn to play some new positions.
  • Former major league C.J. Nitkowski explains the process of signing a minor league contract with a spring training invitation. Lots of details in here.
  • Tim Kurkjian has a terrific story on former Rainiers outfielder Adam Jones.
  • Something to keep in the back of your mind: the Pan-Am Games are coming in July, and baseball will be played with Team USA composed of minor leaguers who are not on the 40-man roster. Jon Morosi suggests that prospects could be used, but historically Team USA prefers Triple-A veterans (anyone else remember the 2000 Olympics, when the Rainiers had four players selected?).
  • Rob Neyer put together an oral history of the days comedian Bill Murray played for Grays Harbor of the Northwest League.

On Wednesday we’ll have our final positional preview, when we look at the Tacoma Rainiers bullpen candidates.


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