Tacoma’s Outfield Outlook

February 5, 2016

Looking at the 2016 Tacoma Rainiers outfield possibilities, it appears that we finally have a pretty clear group of players.

The Mariners are set at the big league level: their outfielders are Nelson Cruz, Nori Aoki, Leonys Martin, Seth Smith, and Franklin Gutierrez. Barring injury, those are the guys who are going to make the team.

One among the group of possible Tacoma outfielders is competing for a Mariners spot at a different position, and he is our first player listed.

Stefen Romero is going to get a chance to compete for the right-hand first baseman platoon role, squaring off against Jesus Montero, Dae-ho Lee and Ed Lucas in spring training. Romero has played all over the infield and outfield during his career. He’s always hit well in Tacoma – last year he hit .292 with 17 home runs and 79 RBI for the Rainiers in 116 games. He has one minor league option year remaining, and if he’s sent to Tacoma he’ll probably see most of his playing time in LF or RF.

Boog Powell is the prospect the Mariners acquired from Tampa in the Brad Miller – Nathan Karns trade. Powell is going to be the Rainiers centerfielder and will probably bat leadoff. Baseball America ranks Powell the No. 9 prospect in the Mariners farm system, citing his “plus speed and fearless defense.” He played in 56 games for Triple-A Durham last year, hitting .254 but with 32 walks and a solid .360 on-base percentage. He’s not a big guy – power is not part of his game; it’s all about speed and on-base ability.

Dan Robertson is a veteran Triple-A outfielder who has a nice amount of major league experience. He’s similar to Powell in that he’s not big but he’s quick and gets on base at a good clip. Robertson has a career Triple-A batting average of .288 with a .365 OBP – that’s over all or parts of four PCL seasons. His stolen base numbers have tailed off the last two years after being a consistent 20+ steal guy; we’ll see if Pat Listach can get him going again (history says he will).

Mike Baxter was brought in as a minor league free agent. We covered him in the corner infielders post because he has a lot of experience at first base, but Baxter also plays left field. Baxter is a line drive, gap-to-gap doubles hitter with plenty of Triple-A and MLB experience. Baxter is lauded as a player with strong makeup and character.

Leon Landry is someone I hope makes the Rainiers roster – he hit a first inning leadoff home run in back-to-back games last July, and that’s a lot of fun for the radio guy. Landry played well for Tacoma last year, out-performing his Double-A numbers, but hit a slump while playing through a shoulder injury and was sent back to Double-A when there was a roster crunch. Landry hit .262-8-27 with 11 stolen base in 187 Triple-A at-bats last season.

Daniel Paolini made his Triple-A debut for Tacoma last August, after a solid Double-A stint in which he hit .271 with a .362 OBP. Paolini plays left field and first base. His best chance of breaking with the Rainiers probably hinges on Romero making the big league club, but lots of things can happen during spring training.

Dario Pizzano was invited to major league camp as a reward for “controlling the strike zone” at Jackson last season. I’ve been told that Pizzano can really hit but needs to improve his defense. He batted .308 with a .366 OBP and .457 slugging percentage for Jackson last season; he’s a left-handed batter who plays left field and designated hitter. We have a DH in Tacoma, so perhaps there is room for Pizzano.

One name to know for later is Ian Miller. He’s a speedy centerfielder who played a good chunk of last season at Double-A Jackson, hitting .254 with 29 stolen bases in 87 games. He’s so fast that he’s considered a fringe prospect who may reach the majors on speed alone someday. If he hits well in Jackson he could find himself promoted to Tacoma at some point this year.

It’s a pretty good outfield group. There isn’t a 30-homer threat, but it’s a nice assortment of players with on-base skills and plenty of Triple-A experience.

Links:

  • Lookout Landing has an interesting story on the 1995 Replacement Mariners. For you younger readers, this is not yet another of LL’s oddball fiction pieces – it actually happened.
  • If you don’t mind the ping of the aluminum, college baseball starts two weeks from today. Here is Baseball America’s Pac-12 Preview.
  • In the PCL, the Round Rock Express are inducting Roy Oswalt into their Hall of Fame.

M’s Add Big Bat From Overseas

February 3, 2016

Today we were scheduled to preview the 2016 Tacoma Rainiers outfielders, but that post has been pushed back to Friday. We have some interesting news at a different position, instead.

The Mariners announced the signing of Korean first baseman/designated hitter Dae-ho Lee to a minor league contract, with an invitation to major league spring training.

Lee hits bombs.

A 33-year-old right-handed batter, Lee spent the first 11 years of his professional career playing in the Korean league (the KBO). Looking for a bigger challenge, he ventured to the Japanese major leagues in 2012, and has spent four seasons as one of the top home run hitters in Japan.

He hit 24 home runs his first year in Japan, 2012 – here are all of them.

In 2015, Lee batted .282 with 31 home runs and 98 RBI for Softbank. His OBP was a robust .368 and he slugged .524. Also, he doesn’t strike out much for a slugger: 109 strikeouts in 510 at-bats last year, which was a career-high strikeout total for him (first time he cleared 100).

Lee will compete with Jesus Montero, Stefen Romero and Gaby Sanchez to be the right-hand side of the Mariners first base platoon. Since it’s a minor league deal, the Mariners can take a look at Lee in Tacoma for an extended stretch. Regardless, this deal really ratchets up the pressure on Montero, who is out of minor league options.

Reports from Asia indicate that Lee turned down a lot of money from teams in Japan in order to take a stab at playing in the majors.

Lee has an impressive list of accomplishments – here are just a few:

  • Originally signed out of high school as a pitcher, but an arm injury moved him to the first base.
  • He won the Triple Crown in the KBO in 2006, when he hit .336-26-88.
  • Won a gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics; hit three home runs for South Korea during the tournament.
  • In 2010 he homered in nine consecutive games, a professional baseball record (the US record is eight; Ken Griffey Jr. has a share of it).
  • He won another Korean Triple Crown in 2010, repeated as batting champ in 2011, and then decided to go to Japan for a bigger challenge.
  • His first year in Japan, he won the Home Run Derby by beating former Rainiers outfielder Wladimir Balentien.
  • Named the Japan Series MVP after leading Softbank to the championship in 2015. Was the first Korean-born player to win that award.

It’s an interesting signing for Seattle. Maybe Lee’s hitting skills will translate to the American League and he’ll become a major league threat. If not, he should at least be a highly entertaining slugger for us in Tacoma.

The Mariners also officially announced the signing of veteran Triple-A catcher Steve Lerud. We’ll get his locker ready.

Links:

  • Bob Dutton has more on today’s signings.
  • Mariners broadcaster Dave Sims is recovering from successful prostate cancer surgery. Get well soon, Dave!
  • Ryan Divish caught up with Kyle Seager and others at FanFest.
  • If you want to do some stats, Dae-ho Lee got the Fangraphs treatment.
  • Ex-Rainiers and Mariners great Raul Ibanez has joined the Dodgers front office.
  • A scout who has been with the Mariners for a decade and a half was voted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
  • Outfielder Carlos Quentin, who announced his retirement in the Cheney Stadium clubhouse last summer, has apparently had second thoughts. He signed a minor league deal with the Twins.
  • In the PCL, Las Vegas announced that Wally Backman is returning as manager. This is good news – the league is more fun when Wally is in it.

Check back on Friday for our 2016 Tacoma Rainiers outfield preview. You can blame Dae-ho Lee for the two-day delay.


Two More Potential Rainiers

February 1, 2016

With the start of spring training just 19 days away, the Mariners have added a pair of players who could find themselves on the Rainiers opening day roster.

As mentioned last week, the organization needed another veteran catcher after the injury to Jesus Sucre. The News Tribune has reported that they filled that hole by signing Triple-A veteran Steve Lerud.

Lerud, 31, has nine games of major league experience with the Phillies in 2012 and 2013. He’s spent the last two seasons in the International League, so 2016 is shaping up to be his first PCL campaign.

At the Triple-A level, Lerud has hit .229 with nine home runs and 25 doubles in 571 at-bats. That’s spread over several seasons – he’s usually split time or been a back-up in Triple-A.

Lerud is hoping to back up Mike Zunino to start the season.

The Mariners other signing which could impact the Rainiers is from out of left field – perhaps literally. They signed 32-year-old* fresh-off-the-island Cuban Dainer Moreira. Gotta say, I know virtually nothing about him: he defected from the Cuban National Team during the Caribbean Series when it was played in Puerto Rico exactly a year ago.

From Bob Dutton’s report (it’s at the bottom), apparently Moreira is a fast runner and is capable of playing numerous positions. He recently played in a few games in the Puerto Rican winter league, hitting 11 singles in 38 at-bats (.279) with no walks but only three strikeouts.

Moreira was a starting shortstop in Cuba, and a lifetime .316 hitter in the Serie Nacional. Dutton’s report indicates that the Mariners are going to look at him all over the diamond, including the outfield.

Links:

  • Bob Dutton took a closer look at Mike Zunino‘s situation entering spring training.
  • James Paxton showed up at Fanfest twenty pounds lighter and determined to stay healthy for an entire season.
  • A healthy Charlie Furbush might be the key to a rekindled Mariners bullpen. In the notes below this story is the initial report that the Mariners signed veteran Triple-A catcher Steve Lerud to take the spot of the injured Jesus Sucre.
  • John McGrath has a column on a former major league reliever (Jerry Dipoto) trying to put together a major league bullpen.
  • A seventh grader won our design-the-Rainiers-uniform contest for Tacoma Public Schools Night. The argyle sweater look – sweet!
  • In the PCL, the newspaper in Colorado Springs speculates that the city may be part of a multiple-layers franchise shift in a few years.
  • The Sacramento Bee caught up with new River Cats manager Jose Alguacil.

*Moreira’s age is reported differently everywhere; 32 is the highest number I’ve seen. Also, his first name is alternately spelled Dayner and Dainer. He’s a man of mystery – let’s embrace the unknown.


Triple-A Takeaways From Thursday’s Media Event

January 29, 2016

The Mariners held their annual Pre Spring Training Media Luncheon yesterday at Safeco Field. Lots of major league news came out of the event and it’s all covered in the links down below, but for this post we’ll focus on the news involving the Tacoma Rainiers.

Because I’m feeling like a lazy writer today, let’s do this bullet-points style.

  • The injury to projected Rainiers catcher Jesus Sucre is more serious than originally thought: fractured right fibula, sprained right ankle, out for six months. Don’t be surprised if the Mariners add another veteran catcher to the Triple-A mix via free agency.
  • Mariners front office staff made it very clear that Mike Zunino will start the season with Tacoma, with General Manager Jerry Dipoto saying “the goal is to have Zunino open in Tacoma and watch him develop.”
  • The team officially announced the signing of veteran first baseman Gaby Sanchez to a minor league contract. He, Jesus Montero, and Stefen Romero were mentioned as candidates to be the right-hand side of the first base platoon with Adam Lind.
  • Despite all of the media reports, it doesn’t appear that the Mariners and Federal Way native Travis Ishikawa are going to come to terms.
  • Improved communication throughout the organization was a major theme of the day, and it includes the minor leagues. The new front office has been in contact with many of the minor league players.
  • One of the few holdovers from Zduriencik’s staff, Assistant GM Jeff Kingston had some interesting remarks about how communication breakdowns and mixed messages had a negative impact on players, particularly Zunino and Chris Taylor.
  • The newly publicized but longtime organizational philosophy of “controlling the strike zone” impacted the major league spring training invitations: Kingston said that Double-A shortstop Tyler Smith and outfielder Dario Pizzano were rewarded with invitations to big league camp because of their excellent strikeout-to-walk ratios last year.
  • Kingston lauded starter Adrian Sampson and reliever Paul Fry for controlling the strike zone from the mound. Both were invited to big league camp, and I have both penciled onto the Rainiers opening day roster for now.
  • While some in the media are fascinated by new farm director Andy McKay‘s sports psychology background, my takeaway from his session was that he does not want to rush prospects through the minor league system. At one point he said “hopefully you have enough talent in the system, so you don’t have to rush prospects based on need.”
  • VP of Player Personnel Tom Allison said that the Mariners have increased their scouting force. To wit, he mentioned that the team signed likely Rainiers pitcher Casey Coleman after scouts saw him work in an international tournament in Japan.

For the major league tidbits from the event, hit the links.

Links:

Have a nice weekend. When our next post goes up on Monday, we’ll be less than three weeks from spring training!


Tacoma Middle Infield Candidates

January 27, 2016

The positional preview series continues with a look at Tacoma’s potential shortstop and second baseman for 2016.

This part of the Rainiers roster appears to be entirely dependent upon the results of what is shaping up to be the Mariners biggest spring training job fight.

The Mariners have an opening for a utility infielder on the roster, and it appears to be a wide-open battle with no clear favorite.

Shawn O’Malley, Luis Sardinas, and Chris Taylor will go to spring training and compete to be the Mariners reserve infielder. The reason these are the top candidates is that each has positional flexibility which includes the ability to play shortstop.

All three players have a minor league option for 2016. It figures that the two “losers” in the battle will be optioned to Tacoma, and take up spots in the Rainiers middle infield.

O’Malley had a terrific 2015 season for Tacoma, and then acquitted himself nicely in a September trial with Seattle. The switch-hitter from Kennewick hit .297 with a .346 on-base percentage for Tacoma last year, and then posted a .418 OBP in 57 plate appearances for the Mariners. O’Malley might be a shade behind the other two in shortstop defense, but he has an edge in positional flexibility because he can play infield and outfield.

Sardinas is new to the Mariners organization this year. Known for his smooth infield glove, the 22-year-old switch-hitter hit .282 with a .319 OBP for Colorado Springs in 2015, while also batting .196 in 36 major league games for the Brewers. Sardinas is generally considered the best defensive shortstop of the group.

Taylor is familiar to Rainiers fans, having appeared in 161 games for Tacoma over the past two seasons. Taylor is a career .313 hitter for the Rainiers – which currently ranks as the 14th highest batting average in Tacoma franchise history (minimum 500 plate appearances). Taylor hit well (.287) in his 2014 call-up, but last season was a very different story in Seattle (.170).

We can probably count on two of these three players being on the Rainiers opening day roster. But things happen in baseball – trades, injuries, etc – so let’s see who else is in the picture.

Ed Lucas was discussed last week with the corner infielders, since he’s played mostly third base in recent seasons. But he can also play second base, and even shortstop in a pinch.

Zach Shank opened eyes with his athleticism during an emergency call-up to Tacoma last summer – one which was expected to last just a few days, but was extended to over a month when he showed he belonged. A 28th round pick out of Marist College in 2013, Shank is primarily a second baseman but can play every position on the diamond including shortstop and center field. Shank could be the new Leury Bonilla.

Benji Gonzalez was signed in December as a minor league free agent. A former Pirates and Padres farmhand, Gonzalez reached Triple-A for his first time last season when he appeared in 17 games for El Paso. Gonzalez is 25-years-old, a right-handed hitter, and a shortstop. Last year was his first season playing above the Class-A level, so he could be a fit for either Tacoma or Double-A Jackson.

Tyler Smith was the shortstop at Double-A Jackson last season, where he hit .271 with three homers and a .361 OBP in 121 games. A right-handed hitter, Smith was the Mariners 8th round draft pick in 2013 out of Oregon State. Normally we would expect a natural promotion for him, but he’s probably a player the Mariners want to see in the lineup every day, which might not be possible in Tacoma depending on how the roster shakes out. If not on opening day, we’ll see Smith in Tacoma eventually.

What about Leury Bonilla? Everyone’s favorite multi-positionalist is currently listed as an unsigned minor league free agent. The Mariners have been re-signing him every year, and he’s appeared in a Rainiers uniform five straight seasons. The previous Mariners player development regime always viewed Bonilla as a future minor league manager or coach, once his playing days ended. With the shake-up in the front office, I’m not sure how things are looking for Leury. When I catch wind of any news, I’ll let you know.

Links:

  • Bob Dutton’s Mariners Notebook mentions that a few minor league signings will probably be announced at the Mariners media event on Thursday.
  • Former Rainiers slugger Carlos Peguero inked a minor league deal with the St. Louis Cardinals. He’ll make Autozone Park in Memphis look quite small.
  • Say goodbye to PCL superstar Efren Navarro, who was traded by the Angels to the Baltimore Orioles yesterday. Navarro is Salt Lake’s all-time leader in nearly every offensive category, and was always a threat to contend for the PCL batting title.

Tomorrow the Mariners hold their annual pre-spring training media event. There are always a few good notes regarding the Triple-A club at this event – I’ll have a new post all about it on Friday.


Playing Poker With The PCL’s Past

January 25, 2016

Never expected to get a blog post out of a weekend trip to watch college basketball, but here we are.

I went down to Berkeley/Oakland this past weekend to watch my alma mater play a pair of (highly successful) basketball games, and somehow randomly ended up in a miniature Pacific Coast League museum.

Texas Hold ‘Em is an enjoyable pastime for me. For you non-cardplayers, this is a skill-based poker game, in which you play against the other players at the table (and not against the “house” or casino). I often will find a card room on the road and play for a bit if I have some spare time.

This weekend I had some time between basketball games so I decided to play a little poker at the Oaks Club, which is technically in Emeryville near the eastern base of the Bay Bridge. Little did I know that I was walking directly into the PCL’s past.

The card room – which claims to have been open since 1895 – sits directly across the street from the former location of Oaks Ball Park, which housed the PCL’s Oakland Oaks from 1913-1955. The stadium was demolished after the franchise was relocated to Vancouver in 1956, and now the Pixar Animation Studio sits on that plot of land.

The ballpark’s old neighbor has kept the memory of the franchise alive.

Covering the walls of the restaurant section of the Oaks Club are a series of terrific historical photos of this long-gone PCL franchise. I took some pictures of the pictures (the diners in there thought I was weird) and they didn’t come out real well – the lighting was as terrible as my photography skills – but it was cool to see this stuff on the wall in such an unlikely location. You can click on the pictures to enlarge them.

ballpark aerial

Aerial shot of Oaks Ball Park

The Oaks had some big baseball names. The DiMaggio brothers were from nearby San Francisco, and Vince played for the Oaks.

Vince Dimaggio

Vince DiMaggio circa 1947

Oakland won a PCL title in 1927, and then suffered through two decades of sub par seasons. The drought ended with a PCL championship in 1948 under the guidance of Hall Of Fame manager Casey Stengel.

Oaks win!

Casey Stengel

Casey Stengel, Oaks manager 1946-1948

There are many more PCL photos on the walls, but as you can tell it was tough to get decent shots of them. If you like PCL history and are ever in Oakland, it’s worth checking out the Oaks Club – even if you have no intention of playing cards. And if you need to use their free WiFi, the password is “1927PCLchamps.”

Links:

New post coming Wednesday, when we look at the 2016 Tacoma Rainiers middle infield candidates.


Baseball America Ranks M’s Prospects

January 22, 2016

Baseball America released its annual Mariners Top Ten Prospects list today. Here’s what they came up with:

  1. Alex Jackson, of
  2. Edwin Diaz, rhp
  3. Drew Jackson, ss
  4. Tyler O’Neill, of
  5. Nick Neidert, rhp
  6. Luiz Gohara, lhp
  7. Braden Bishop, of
  8. Andrew Moore, rhp
  9. Boog Powell, of
  10. D.J. Peterson, 1b/3b

This list leans heavily towards youth and the low minor leagues.

Four of the players (Drew Jackson, Neidert, Bishop and Moore) were drafted in 2015 and will be making their full-season debuts in April – likely with Low-A Clinton.

Two more players (Alex Jackson and Gohara) were at short-season Everett last year and are also probably heading to Clinton.

There are three players on the list who we’ll probably see in Tacoma at some point this season – though not necessarily on Opening Day.

Edwin Diaz is the top starting pitcher prospect in the organization, and he pitched well for AA-Jackson last year. He could break camp with Tacoma but he’s only 22-years-old so it wouldn’t be surprising if they decided to keep him back in Double-A for a month or two.

Boog Powell is the one player on this list I feel will certainly start the season in Tacoma – heck, he might be batting leadoff on April 7 (that’s Opening Night, you guys). This will be his first season in the Mariners organization; he was acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay.

I touched on D.J. Peterson on Wednesday. I’m curious to see where he is assigned to start the season, it could be Tacoma.

Links:

  • For Baseball America subscribers, we have the Mariners Top Ten Prospects list with scouting reports, and also a Mariners organizational chat.
  • From The News Tribune, Bob Dutton shares his thoughts on the Baseball America prospect list.
  • There are reports that the Mariners have signed first baseman Gaby Sanchez to a minor league deal. Keep in mind that the Travis Ishikawa signing is still not confirmed. I’m now taking a wait-and-see approach on both of these.
  • BA’s minor league free agent tracker indicates that the Mariners have signed left-handed reliever Kraig Sitton, an Oregon State product who posted a 2.97 ERA in the Double-A Eastern League last year.
  • John McGrath comes from the same place I do regarding the designated hitter. He offers a unique suggestion at the end of this column.
  • MLB moved the trade deadline to August 1 for this year, because July 31 is a Sunday and the league didn’t want players getting traded in the middle of all of the afternoon games.
  • In the PCL, the Albuquerque Isotopes announced that Glenallen Hill is returning as manager.
  • We have a column from Las Vegas on the ongoing stadium issue. Stick around for the Danny Tartabull reference.
  • A former PCL broadcaster is the new radio voice of the Boston Red Sox.

Have a fun weekend!


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