MLB Draft Starts Tonight

June 10, 2020

Some actual baseball to discuss – well, not actual baseball games, let’s not get carried away here – as the major league draft gets started this afternoon at 4:00.

The first round plus the free agent compensation picks will be tonight, selections one through 37. Then tomorrow at 2:00 they will finish the shortened-for-this-year-only five round draft. It will all be televised on ESPN, ESPN2, and MLB Network.

The Detroit Tigers have the No. 1 pick, and the general consensus is that they are going to select power-hitting Spencer Torkelson out of Arizona State University.

Seattle has pick No. 6. The Mariners have six total selections in the five round draft, picking at Nos. 6, 43, 64, 78, 107 and 137.

This year’s draft class is thought to be particularly strong in college pitchers – look for a lot of them to be drafted in the first round. Seattle has selected a college pitcher in the first round each of the last two years (Logan Gilbert in 2018 and George Kirby in 2019).

After the five round draft is over, teams are free to sign undrafted players for a maximum signing bonus of $20,000. This is the most interesting part of the new rules, in my opinion.

There is going to be a lot of potential MLB talent that goes undrafted. How serious is this $20,000 cap? How is it being policed? Will teams that are committed to stocking their farm systems find ways to skirt it?

It hearkens back to the pre-draft days in the 1950s and early 1960s, when good scouting included building relationships with amateur players in order to beat other teams to sign the players. Are the Mariners good at this? Who knows?

Some MLB teams are going to sit out the post-draft free for all, and others are going to go all-in with gusto. It’s a fascinating situation. Over the next few years we’ll be able to look back and see how it worked out.

Links:

  • MLB.com has a fact-filled post on the MLB Draft.
  • The Seattle Times has a story previewing the Mariners draft, and the many successful players who were picked after the fifth round. In another article they cover some of the players on the M’s radar. The News Tribune has also has a draft preview.
  • In its first post in many moons, USS Mariner previews the draft.
  • Larry Stone asked the big question: what is happening with the rebuilding Mariners year of player development when there are no games for the prospects to develop their talents? Some good points in here, and towards the end Jerry Dipoto reveals some minor league scenarios he is still holding out hope for.
  • Mariners broadcaster Dave Sims wrote a guest column for the Seattle Times on racial injustice.
  • Something positive has come from recent events in the world of minor league baseball broadcasting.
  • Ever wonder how much money a typical up-and-down MLB/Triple-A player makes? Fivethirtyeight.com looks into it.
  • This New York Times feature on how the lack of a minor league season has affected the Binghampton community could easily be written about Tacoma, or any other minor league city. The photo art in this is… something.
  • Sad news in the PCL, the Albuquerque Isotopes have begun cost-cutting measures.

‘Sodfather’ Hangs Up His Rake; A Couple Triple-A Releases

June 4, 2020

A longtime anchor of Cheney Stadium announced his retirement, and we want to give him a proper sendoff.

Bob Christofferson was the head groundskeeper at Cheney throughout the 1980s and 1990s before moving north when the Mariners decided to play their games outdoors. He was head groundskeeper at Safeco/T-Mobile from 2000 until last weekend.

After leaving Tacoma for Safeco, Bob continued as a volunteer advisor to the Cheney Stadium grounds crew. He kept to two crews linked, by having Tacoma crew members work games in Seattle, and vice versa. On at least one occasion he brought his Safeco crew to Tacoma to handle a delicate pitching mound issue. Bob allowed the Triple-A and MLB crews to work as a team.

We wish Bob a long and enjoyable retirement!

Names of minor league players released by the Mariners last week have been announced, and as anticipated a few of them played for Tacoma last year.

Chris Mariscal joins the previously reported Darin Gillies as the two regular members of the 2019 Tacoma Rainiers to be let go by the organization. An infielder by trade, Mariscal was hoping to make the 2020 opening day roster as a utility man.

Outfielder Billy Cooke came up from Class-A and spent a lot of time as a fill-in player for Tacoma last year, and even helped win a couple of games. He was hoping to make one of the lower-level clubs as a starting outfielder before being released.

The Mariners signed several veteran minor league free agents to help Tacoma, and some were released: outfielder Rymer Liriano, and pitchers Dietrich Enns and Manny Banuelos. Look for Banuelos to pitch in his native Mexico in August, when the Mexican League plans to start.

Other experienced free agents signed by the club this winter remain in the organization, presumably to be available on an MLB “taxi squad” or if the PCL is able to start later this summer.

Baseball America has the complete list of releases in its current installment of Minor League Transactions.

Links:


About Those Minor League Releases

May 29, 2020

Social media presents a platform for immediate overreaction, and that was the case when word got out this week that major league teams were releasing dozens of their minor league players. Included is the Mariners, who released somewhere between 30 and 50 players, according to various reports. A complete list of players released by all teams is expected to be available publicly in a week or two.

Not to spoil the indignation of the keyboard warriors claiming this portends the end of minor league baseball, but releasing players is standard operational procedure for teams at the end of spring training. Most teams didn’t do their annual minor league cuts before the coronavirus halted the camps. The Mariners released just one minor league player before the abrupt end of spring training.

Last year the Mariners released 38 minor league players at the end of spring training, and in 2018 that number was 22. The other major league organizations made similar numbers of cuts.

Baseball player is a brutal profession. It’s really, really hard to make it to the major leagues. It’s really hard to make it to Triple-A. The players we see at Cheney Stadium have overcome a lot to reach that level, and are so close to achieving their goal. Tacoma’s players have proven themselves at five lower levels on the minor league ladder. Many hopeful big leaguers never reach Triple-A.

During a normal spring training, at the end of March the Mariners decide who is going to fill out the rosters at each of their four full-season minor league teams, and then they identify some other players they are going to keep in Arizona at “extended spring training” until their two short-season teams begin play after the draft in June. If a player doesn’t make a full-season roster and isn’t held in extended to wait for the short-season leagues to start, he is released.

Now the Mariners have made their cuts that they would have made at the end of spring training, and while that’s always tough it is also normal. Where it gets particularly bad this year is that the players who were released cannot latch on with another team right away, because nobody is playing.

Take former Rainiers reliever Darin Gillies, who announced on Twitter that he was one of the players released by the Mariners. In a normal season, Gillies would get an opportunity with another organization. He might have to wait a bit for injuries to create an opening somewhere, but eventually he would get a chance to pitch for another organization at the Double-A level at least. But this year, with no minor league baseball going at the moment, his future is cloudy.

We’ll post the released players when the names come out publicly. Typically the spring training releases are mostly lower-level players, and that will probably be the case here. It’s going to be tougher than usual for all of them, without an opportunity to get another baseball job quickly.

Links:


Rainiers Update, News Round-Up

May 19, 2020

The News Tribune had a story today on the Tacoma Rainiers and Defiance today, including information from team president Aaron Artman. The story is right here.

Among the subjects covered is the immediate, currently delayed seasons for both teams and hopes of playing in the future.

The video portion of the online article includes a picture of the field at Cheney Stadium right now – when it looks kind of stuck between a baseball and football configuration. The last game at Cheney was a Defiance soccer match, and with nobody knowing what the next event at the park will be, the grounds crew left the soccer turf in place – but the field markings have long since grown out, so we have a completely grass-covered surface in a stadium built for baseball. Check it out at about the 25-second mark of the video.

As for actual news, we’re still in a waiting game. The story mentions some of the possibilities, which we are all ready for, but there is an overwhelming sense of simply not knowing when Triple-A Baseball can return.

Links:


Get Your Baseball Fix Internationally

May 7, 2020

You may have noticed we have baseball on TV again. The live games begin at 2:30 AM, there are no fans, and they are being played in Korea, but it’s baseball nonetheless.

ESPN decided to start carrying KBO games because, why not? There is nothing else on. It’s good programming.

You can catch some former Rainiers in action, too.

Pitcher Mike Wright was with both Tacoma and Seattle last year, and he signed to pitch for the NC Dinos in 2020. He made his first start on Wednesday morning (our time), getting a win against the Samsung Lions. His team is off to a 3-0 start.

Ex-Rainiers and Mariners utility man Taylor Motter is the Kiwoom Heroes, getting his first KBO hit earlier this week. Motter is in his first season playing in Asia after spending time in the independent Atlantic League last year.

Skyline High School graduate Adrian Sampson pitched for Tacoma in 2016, and spent nearly all of 2019 in the major leagues with the Texas Rangers. He signed to pitch for the Lotte Giants this year, but left the team before opening day to deal with a family matter at home. Should he return to Korea, he’ll have to go into a two week quarantine before being allowed to join his team.

Each KBO team is allowed three foreign players, and most of them played in Triple-A or the Majors. Notably, Albuquerque first baseman and natural born Rainiers killer Roberto Ramos signed to play in Korea this year – in 14 games against Tacoma in 2019 he hit .389 with four homers and had 21 RBI. Former PCL star Jamie Romak (Memphis, Albuquerque, Reno) is one of the top sluggers in Korea, as is Round Rock’s career home run leader Jared Hoying.

The best place to go for English language KBO standings, schedule, and stats is the MyKBO website.

You can also find a former Rainiers and Mariners pitcher playing in the professional league in Taiwan, which is called the CPBL. Left-hander Ariel Miranda is with the CTB Brothers franchise, and he gained a moment of infamy when he allowed the first home run in 2020 pro baseball last month.

The CPBL does not have an American TV deal, but they do stream some of the games online. The CPBL has one terrific team name: the Rakuten Monkeys. But another team is called the 7-Eleven Lions, so you win some and you lose some.

English language reports from the CPBL with links to live streams are right here.

Links:

  • There are increasing reports that MLB players are going to try to return to spring training camps in mid-June with the hope of starting play in early July.
  • PCL president Branch Rickey told the Austin Statesman the league will not play without fans. This is a good story on the state of the league.
  • How good are the leagues in Korea and Taiwan? Baseball America ranks them compared to the US minor leagues.
  • In Taiwan they are about to start letting fans into the games.
  • Seattle Times baseball writer Ryan Divish has a Mariners Mailbag (note that it took a pandemic for him to stay on topic).
  • The loss of the high school baseball season was felt by players all around the country, including Curtis High School senior Kyle Russell who is considered the top prep draft prospect in the state.
  • Dodgers teenage catching prospect Diego Cartaya couldn’t return to Venezuela, so he moved in with Oklahoma City manager Travis Barbary and his kids.
  • The Omaha Storm Chasers have found a hit: drive-in fireworks.
  • It’s been tough in Sacramento, where the River Cats have laid off much of the front office staff.

Two Of Tacoma’s Wildest Franchise Records

April 30, 2020

Thanks to those of you who tuned in for our replay of Anthony Misiewicz‘s no-hit bid last weekend. It was fun to re-watch the game and participate in the chat.

Looking forward, we are seeing more reports of optimism about the start of some form of a Major League Baseball season. Looks like late June or early July is being targeted for a to-be-determined shortened schedule of real games – details are all just speculation at this point, because the situation changes daily, but it’s nice to hear positive reports.

As for Minor League Baseball, including the Pacific Coast League, we can’t do anything until the major leagues figure out their plan, so it’s more wait wait wait. Are you guys tired of waiting yet? Sheesh.

OK, let’s get to some baseball dorkery. I was entertained by a recent ESPN article identifying one wild franchise record for each of the 30 major league teams. It caused me to think, what is the “wildest” franchise record for the Tacoma?

Tacoma has several franchise pitching records that fall into the category of “never going to be broken,” because the team has been around since 1960. Pitching was different then, when starters were expected to frequently complete games. The 17 complete games pitched by Ron Herbel for the 1963 Tacoma Giants is a record that is not going to be broken. Neither is the 239 innings pitched by Eddie Fisher in 1960.

How about sacrifice bunts? Gil Garrido had 18 of them for the 1961 Tacoma Giants. The entire 2019 Tacoma Rainiers team had 11 sacrifice bunts. Nobody really bunts any more – especially since we have the designated hitter, which the 1961 Giants did not have.

For “wildest” record, let’s ignore the unattainable records and look at ones that are feasible in today’s game. I like these two:

On August 17, 1971 Tacoma Cubs pitcher Burt Hooton struck out 19 batters against the Eugene Emeralds. That’s also the PCL record (done three times – last in 1974). Pitch counts are monitored these days, but strikeout rates are at an all-time high, so is this an impossible record? Maybe some day we’ll get a phenom who makes a run at it.

Here’s another one: it is currently the most home run friendly era in PCL history, yet Tacoma has only had a player hit two home runs in an inning twice in franchise history – and they both occurred within a two week period in 1978. Garry Smith did it on April 21 against Spokane, and Roy Staiger performed the trick on May 4 against San Jose. It’s wild that this was done twice in 13 days and hasn’t been done in 42 years since. It should happen again one of these days.

Two that aren’t records, but are fun oddities from the record book: Tacoma was involved in five no-hitters during the 2001 through 2003 seasons and has not seen one since, and the last triple play involving the Rainiers (turning one or hitting into one) occurred way back in 1995.

OK, putting the record book back on the shelf. Hopefully it won’t accumulate too much dust before we need it again.

Links:

  • With increasing hope that baseball will be played this summer, Seattle Times columnist Matt Calkins allowed himself to get excited.
  • Mariners catcher Tom Murphy verbalized the thoughts of many who work in baseball when he summed up the quarantine as “kind of like the start of a lousy retirement.”
  • Lauren Smith has a story on Mariners coach Jared Sandberg, checking in on what the Olympia native is doing during the shutdown.
  • Baseball America has a Mariners draft preview. There is still no date set for the 2020 draft, which will be the oddest ever, since the players being drafted haven’t been, um, playing.
  • Larry Stone remembered the day Roger Clemens struck out 20 Mariners, setting a new (at the time) MLB record.
  • If you have Mariners tickets, the team has figured out it’s refund plan.

No-Hit Bid: A Rainiers Replay, This Sunday

April 24, 2020

You’re not going to believe this, but we are going to watch a Rainiers game on Sunday.

Online, anyway.

Sunday at 1:35 we are revisiting Anthony Misiewicz‘s eight innings of no-hit pitching against Iowa last August, which we will be streaming on the Tacoma Rainiers Facebook page. An event page has been set up right here.

Anthony has already participated along with manager Daren Brown in the preview video, which was very well done by our creative staff.

I’ll be involved in the Facebook event on Sunday, commenting and answering any questions in the chat. There will be other guests and giveaways, as well.

Hope to see you there!

Links:


The Wait Goes On, And Other News

April 17, 2020

We’re still in a holding pattern throughout baseball – and especially in minor league baseball.

Leagues are making all kinds of plans to prepare for many different contingencies, any of which may or may not happen. There is absolutely no way of knowing when baseball will start up again in the minor leagues.

It is especially frustrating for leaders in the sport, because it’s completely out of their hands. Even with a rain situation at Cheney Stadium there is a decision making process that ends with a result. Not in this case – we are in charge of nothing.

So all we can do is wait, follow our local government’s lead and stay safe, and hope for the best.

It’s also comforting to remember that it is only April 17th, and there is plenty of time to get baseball going again this year if our situation improves enough to allow it.

Damaso Garcia passed away the other day, at the age of 63.

Garcia was a two-time American League All-Star second baseman with the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1980s, typically hitting for a strong average with lots of stolen bases.

Prior to that, he was a Pacific Coast League Co-Champion with the Tacoma Yankees in 1978.

Tacoma was a New York Yankees affiliate for just one season, and it was a memorable one for those who were here to see it. The major league Yankees were defending World Series champions going into the season, and they won it again in 1978.

Meanwhile, the Tacoma club went 80-57 and was named PCL Co-Champions along with Albuquerque when rain washed away the playoffs in one of the stranger episodes in league history.

Garcia missed the PCL playoffs drama, because he was in New York for the MLB drama. Garcia spent most of the 1978 season in Tacoma, appearing in 102 PCL games at the ripe age of 21. He was blocked in the Yankees organization by Willie Randolph, so they eventually traded him to Toronto.

Speaking of the late-1970s Yankees teams, I recently watched another of those old World Series games on MLB Network. This time it was Yankees-Dodgers from 1977, and the national TV broadcast team was Keith Jackson and Howard Cosell. That was a duo!

Links:

  • The Seattle Times has a two-part series on the upcoming MLB Draft, how it will be different this year, and how the Mariners are adjusting. Here’s the first part and here is the second part which includes names of potential first round picks.
  • M’s new pitching coach Pete Woodworth talked about what the pitchers are doing during the break, and remains optimistic about his staff.
  • The Mariners PR blog caught up with a few of their minor league pitchers to see what they are doing right now. Potential future Rainiers Aaron Fletcher, Wyatt Mills, Brandon Williamson, and Penn Murfee chime in.
  • Wednesday was Jackie Robinson Day. The Seattle Times has a brief history of the event, and the Mariners put out a video of a roundtable discussion featuring several of their players along with host Dave Sims.
  • ESPN has a story on the passing of Damaso Garcia, which includes the details of the 1979 trade of Garcia from the Yankees to Toronto.
  • Baseball America lays out the worst case scenario for Minor League Baseball. Gee, thanks a lot guys.
  • In the PCL, the Rainiers were supposed to be the visiting team for Sacramento’s home opener on Tuesday. The River Cats had some fun with it, setting up a drive-thru ballpark concession stand in the parking lot and simulating the game via MLB The Show. Sacramento claims they won, 5-4, although we are officially protesting the results due to what had to have been excessive cheating.
  • Here’s a story from Omaha detailing how the Storm Chasers are handling the financial problems caused by the shutdown.
  • It snowed in Albuquerque the day before their previously scheduled home opener but hey, no one cared. They’re just waiting to see what happens like everyone else.
  • Here’s a feature from Oklahoma City on the Dodgers groundskeeper and his dog. It seems that at many PCL ballparks the groundskeeper is the only person there.
  • Fresno Bee columnist Marek Warszawski wandered around outside the ballpark on what should have been the Grizzlies home opener.
  • And we have a story from one of the Salt Lake City newspapers on the Bees cancelled home opener.

No Opener Yet, So We’ll Revisit A.J. Zapp’s Big Day

April 9, 2020

Normally this is the most anticipated day of the year, but here we are on our previously scheduled Tacoma Rainiers opening day doing… not much. At least it is beautiful outside, so hopefully you can get outdoors for a walk or something.

Eventually we’ll have a real opening day, complete with baseball and everything. I can’t wait – but we are all going to have to.

In looking at the responses to the last post about most memorable Rainiers games, the most-mentioned game was what we will now call the A.J. Zapp Game. Surprisingly, this is not the game in which he homered over the giant wall in center.

On August 20, 2004 the Rainiers were tied with Fresno, 7-7, and had the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning. At the time Tacoma was in first place by a half-game over Portland.

A left-handed hitter, Zapp faced Fresno closer (and future Tacoma Rainier) David Aardsma and worked a full count. He then pulled a pitch to right field for a walk-off grand slam, giving the Rainiers an 11-7 win.

Already a memorable moment right there – a walk-off grand slam isn’t exactly common – this salami gave Zapp nine RBI in the game. That’s right: he drove in nine of Tacoma’s 11 runs.

Nobody has had that many RBI in a single game since – Chris Herrmann came close with a seven RBI game against Albuquerque in 2018. The nine RBI is believed to be a single-game Tacoma franchise record (this is where we insert the disclaimer that many individual single-game franchise records are unknown due to a lack of record-keeping from 1966-1990).

Zapp would finish the season with 29 home runs and 101 RBI. As for the Rainiers, the rest of the season was a bummer: a stretch of nine straight games against Portland began the very next day, and the Beavers won six of the nine to overtake the Rainiers, eventually winning the division title by four games.

There are ongoing discussions about possibly starting MLB in May, with all teams playing in Arizona. Games would be played in empty stadiums, bringing the rest of America some much needed TV sports. Everything is all in the initial planning phase and is very tentative, with health safety being the No. 1 consideration.

We don’t know how this would impact the minor leagues, but there is one huge item to keep in mind: MLB can play in empty parks because it generates big TV money. Minor League Baseball teams generate most of their revenue from ticket and concession sales. In the minors we need the ballparks open. That being said, the major league teams will want their minor league prospects playing in games, getting reps, and improving as players as soon as possible.

There are just a ton of moving parts in all of this, with safety being first and foremost. It’s impossible to project what might happen.

Links:

 


Most Memorable Rainiers Games

April 2, 2020

I don’t know about you, but all of this down time with no sports on TV has led me to the MLB Network’s Greatest Games series, which I have been enjoying much more than I expected.

It started with the replay of the Mariners 1995 ALDS game against the Yankees, with Edgar’s double. We’ve all seen/heard that one hit countless times, but watching the entire game was a different experience.

Then I watched the Yankees – Red Sox “Bucky Dent Game” from 1978, which spurred me to re-read one of the favorite baseball books of my youth, “The Bronx Zoo” by Sparky Lyle.

It has continued… Marlins – Indians Game Seven when Edgar Renteria comes through in the 11th inning, and then the Jack Morris goes to the Hall of Fame game. Apparently the Kirk Gibson game is coming soon.

Remembering the old players is a big part of the fun. I saw Rafael Belliard get a hit in the last game of the World Series for Atlanta, had the “oh yeah I remember him” moment, and one google search later learn that he spent 17 years – seventeen years! – as an infrequently used utility infielder.

It all leads me to the most memorable Tacoma Rainiers games, and whenever I ponder that question two games immediately come to mind – for very different reasons. There is the Scott Savastano game, and the Tommy Everidge game.

Scott Savastano was a utility infielder who never reached the majors, but on July 18-19, 2012 he won the longest game in Tacoma history by pitching a scoreless top of the 18th inning, and then hitting a game ending home run in the bottom of the 18th. The game is etched in the minds of all who made it to nearly 1 AM at Cheney Stadium that night/morning. Here’s the post from that one.

Tommy Everidge was a Sacramento River Cats player when he became part of Tacoma’s franchise history in 2010. Playing first base in the decisive Game Five of the Pacific Conference Championship Series, Everidge unwittingly tossed a live ball into the stands allowing the go-ahead run to score in the seventh inning. Tacoma went on to win the game, 4-1, and then sweep Memphis in the PCL Finals. More on that here.

Those two games are just unforgettable for me. Do you have an most memorable Tacoma Rainiers game?

Links:

  • With MLB facing an obvious cash flow problem, the teams are going to cut down their draft expenses – which could mean a lot of top high school talents go to college instead. Baseball America has a look at the situation.
  • Last Thursday on what would have been Mariners Opening Day, Larry Stone caught up with Rick Rizzs and Dave Sims of the broadcast team.
  • Ryan Divish posted a Mariners opening day lineup and roster, just for fun.
  • Marco Gonzales was supposed to be the Mariners opening day starter. The Times checked in on him. Would like to add that I enjoyed it the one time I drove Highway 93 through Nevada – sorry, Marco.
  • Projected Rainiers multi-position player Sam Haggerty was the subject of an interview by an Albuquerque TV station (he played at the University of New Mexico).
  • Fangraphs has an article on anticipated Rainiers reliever Sam Delaplane and his wipeout slider – which Delaplane considers to be more of a curveball.
  • Potential Rainiers corner infielder Nick Zammarelli told his hometown newspaper what has been doing during the shutdown.
  • MLB has decided to pay minor league players a weekly stipend through the end of May, and will re-evaluate at that time.
  • Former Rainiers outfielder Shin-Soo Choo – who is paid very well by the Texas Rangers – is assisting by giving $1000 to each of the Rangers 190 minor league players.
  • Fun stuff: ESPN.com selected a “one-year wonder” for each major league team. They identified a player who came out of nowhere, had a huge season, and was never able to replicate it. It’s two different clicks: National League and American League. You’ll have to be an older fan to guess the Mariners player.
  • The Austin, TX paper has a good story on the Round Rock Express and how the franchise is coping with the shutdown.
  • PCL slugger A.J. Reed quietly retired earlier this month. Just 26-years-old, Reed must have decided he didn’t want to pursue a career overseas.
  • Scary stuff: Josh Mauer – the Pawtucket Red Sox broadcaster who called the Triple-A All-Star Game from Cheney Stadium with me in 2017 – almost certainly has Covid-19 but can’t get tested in Rhode Island. His story serves as an example of how quickly and unknowingly it can spread.