M’s Trim Roster; Let’s Party This Weekend

March 20, 2017

The Mariners made six more spring training roster moves over the weekend, dropping the number of players in major league camp down to 45. Here are the moves:

Reassigned to Minor League Camp:

  • RHP Christian Bergman
  • RHP Andrew Moore
  • RHP Max Povse
  • RHP Ryan Weber
  • C Steve Baron
  • OF Tyler O’Neill

Three of these players are the organization’s top prospects: O’Neill, Moore, and Povse. None of them had a chance to make the opening day roster, but they received some valuable big league spring training experience. Now they’ll gear up for their minor league seasons.

We expect O’Neill to patrol right field at Cheney Stadium this year. Right now I’m thinking Moore and Povse open the season in the Double-A Arkansas rotation, with chances for mid-season promotions to Tacoma. That’s not based on any inside information or anything – it just looks like the Mariners have more experienced pitchers to place in the Tacoma rotation at the start of the season.

Bergman has pitched in 55 major league games, including 15 starts. He also has a track record of success in the PCL. He’s much more likely to begin the season with the Rainiers.

Weber has been pitching from the bullpen. He has major league experience and he’s another possibility for Tacoma.

Baron finds himself in the swell of upper-level catchers, a group which includes Tuffy Gosewisch, Nevin Ashley, Sebastien Valle, and Marcus Littlewood. We’ll have to wait and see how that all gets sorted out.

Make some plans for the weekend: the Rainiers are hosting their annual Pre-Season Party on Saturday at Cheney Stadium.

It’s an open house, free entry and free parking.

There will be ballpark tours, our concessionaire Ivar’s will have some free food samples, the kid’s play area will be open (note: it’s almost always open), and the Mariners spring training game will be on the video board.

Hours are 1:00 to 4:00 pm.

Oh yeah, almost forgot: those of you who are season ticketholders can pick up your tickets at the party.

See you Saturday!

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Links Round-Up

March 16, 2017

We have lots of links for you today, catching up on the last couple of days of spring training.

Hopefully you got a chance to watch the World Baseball Classic game last night between the USA and Venezuela. It was a Mariners and ex-Rainiers special, with Felix Hernandez squaring off against Drew Smyly and Adam Jones.

Felix looked great, going five scoreless innings allowing just three singles. Most importantly, he did not walk anybody – something to keep an eye on all year as he transitions to more of a finesse pitcher.

Smyly was also impressive against a Venezuela lineup which looks like a major league all-star team. He was on a strict 60-pitch limit and was impressive throughout it.

And then there was the former Rainiers outfielder Jones, who tied the game with an eighth inning homer – his second crucial, clutch hit for the US in the tournament. The US eventually won it, 4-2.

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M’s Make First “Cuts” Of Spring

March 13, 2017

It’s just about mid-March, and the Mariners feel comfortable enough to start trimming their major league spring training roster. Nine players were shifted to minor league camp this morning, and another was traded.

Our annual reminder on the terminology: during spring training, a player who is on the Mariners 40-man roster and is cut is “optioned to” the minor league team that he is expected to open the season with. A player who is not on the 40-man roster and is cut is “reassigned to minor league camp,” with his minor league team determined later.

Here are today’s moves:

Optioned to Triple-A Tacoma:

  • LHP Paul Fry
  • INF D.J. Peterson

Optioned to Double-A Arkansas:

  • RHP Thyago Vieira
  • LHP Zac Curtis

Reassigned to Minor League Camp:

  • C Marcus Littlewood
  • C Tyler Marlette
  • OF Kyle Waldrop
  • RHP Peter Tago
  • RHP Dylan Unsworth

No surprises in this first group. By getting moved to minor league camp, these nine players will get more opportunity to play in spring games on the minor league side of the complex, and get better prepared for the upcoming season.

The Mariners still have 53 players in major league camp, and they will open the season with 25 on the roster.

It had been a few days and Dealin’ Dipoto’s trigger finger was getting itchy, so he made a trade.

The Mariners sent switch-pitcher and (former) likely Rainiers reliever Pat Venditte to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Double-A outfielder Joey Curletta.

I see this as a space-clearing move. There are far too many Triple-A-or-better relievers in camp, and this move cleared one out while adding to the outfield depth.

We’ll miss out on the fun of seeing a switch-pitcher this year. At least we got to see it a bit last season.

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All-Star Flashback: The Wedding Year

March 9, 2017

Greetings from Las Vegas, where I am attending the annual Pac-12 Basketball Tournament. It’s my favorite non-baseball sports event of the year, and it serves as a little vacation before the PCL season gets started.

Still, the blog soldiers on. Today we’ll do some all-star game talk and provide some Mariners links.

Tickets for the Triple-A All-Star Game and Home Run Derby are selling at a good pace, the front office tells me. There are still tickets available – I suggest acting soon if you haven’t already.

With that in mind, it’s time for another… Triple-A All-Star Flashback!

Tacoma is hosting the 30th annual Triple-A All-Star Game at Cheney Stadium on July 12. We’ll spend the winter looking back at the previous years, to give fans an idea what they can expect in Tacoma this summer.

1998

Ah, finally – the first Triple-A All-Star Game after the merger, and the first battle between the Pacific Coast League and the International League.

I’d like to report that the PCL ripped ’em to shreds in the first game against their new all-star rival, but it didn’t happen. The International League won it, 8-4, in front of 11,049 fans at Harbor Park in Norfolk, Virginia.

The box score is littered with names I immediately associate with the Boston Red Sox of that era.

Third baseman Mike Lowell – then a Marlins prospect, but a future Red Sox star – homered in the first inning. He added a double and went 2-for-4 with two RBI, winning the MVP Award.

Other future Red Sox players in the game included Trot Nixon and Brian Daubach.

But the real story here happened before the game.

Norfolk outfielder Benny Agbayani was named to the all-star team, where he would play in his home ballpark. But he told the team’s GM that he was getting married that day and couldn’t make it.

The recently departed Tides general manager Dave Rosenfield countered with a ballpark wedding. Agbayani would get married in a ceremony at home plate before the game, and the club would pick up the expenses.

After some discussion, Benny and his bride decided to do it.

But another problem arose: the Mets called up Agbayani right before the all-star break!

Thankfully, the MLB and Triple-A all-star breaks are at the same time, so during the break the couple flew back to Norfolk and proceeded with the wedding.

Apparently it had all of the baseball traditions, including the bride and groom walking down a path of players with their bats held in the air.

Because he was on the Mets major league roster, Agbayani was not allowed to play in the Triple-A All-Star game. That’s all right, he was having a day to remember anyway.

Triple-A All-Star Fun Facts

  • For more on the Agbayani wedding, here’s an archived story.
  • The man who helped make the wedding happen, Dave Rosenfield, was a minor league legend. He recently passed away after spending a lifetime in the game. We can all thank him for inventing “Turn Back The Clock” nights.
  • All-Star managers were Jerry Royster (PCL – Las Vegas) and Marv Foley (IL – Rochester). Royster became a major league manager, while Foley has an unbreakable record: he is the only manager to win a league title in three Triple-A leagues (the PCL, the IL, and the now-defunct American Association).
  • Tacoma Rainiers manager Dave Myers was named an all-star coach. Myers managed Tacoma for four seasons, 1997-2000, before Lou Piniella hired him to be the Mariners third base coach. Myers lives in the Tacoma area and is still in baseball, working as a pro scout for the Tampa Rays. Whenever Benny Agbayani’s name comes up, Myers says “I was in his wedding.”
  • The Rainiers lone player was closer Steve Gajkowski, who retired all four batters he faced with three strikeouts. The Seattle native had 24 saves and a 2.57 ERA for Tacoma in 1998.
  • Current Round Rock manager Jason Wood played in this game, representing Edmonton for the second year in a row. Wood was an excellent Triple-A player for many years; he made his MLB debut in 1998 as well.
  • It’s a good thing the wedding got everybody’s attention, because the 1998 game was short on long-term future major leaguers. Mike Lowell headlined this game, and catcher Paul LoDuca (Albuquerque) also had a lengthy MLB career. Outfielders Armando Rios and Jeremy Giambi also spent considerable time in the bigs. But as always, nearly everyone who played in the game reached the majors at some point.
  • They shrunk the Home Run Derby to just three contestants, a short-lived idea that lasted just one more year. Rochester’s Willis Otanez won it. Otanez started his pro career in 1991 and was still playing in the Mexican League in 2015!
  • The ESPN telecast was led by Bob Carpenter – currently the Washington Nationals announcer, and the guy I buy my scorebook from every year.
  • Blue-uniformed lightning rod C.B. Bucknor was the second base umpire.

I hope you have enjoyed these All-Star Flashbacks. I plan to squeeze in a couple more before the season starts.

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A Small Rule Change

March 6, 2017

Spring training chugs along, and more Rainiers players made a mark in the Cactus League over the weekend.

Zach Shank had a couple of hits, including a game-winner, on Saturday. D.J. Peterson launched his first homer of the year, and so did new outfielder Kyle Waldrop. Boog Powell had a pair of hits yesterday, including a triple.

Look for more Tacoma players to get major league spring training action over the next two weeks, while many Mariners starters are shifting over to World Baseball Classic teams.

Meanwhile, MLB announced its official rule changes for 2017. Most involve a quicker instant replay system, which does not matter to us – we still don’t have instant replay in Triple-A.

But they did institute the no-pitch intentional walk, in which you just wave the batter to first base.

This will have no real effect on games anywhere, except to save the embarrassing once-a-decade wild pitch on an intentional ball.

Last season Rainiers pitchers issued nine intentional walks, and Rainiers batters were purposefully walked 14 times. So we would have saved about 23 minutes during a 144-game schedule. Not a big deal.

I guess I won’t be delivering the anticlimactic “and there’s the fourth wide one” anymore.

At least the fans can still boo when their guy gets waved to first base.

In case you are curious – I had a hunch, but looked it up to be sure – the Rainiers batter who was intentionally walked the most last season was Stefen Romero. Four times.

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Rainiers Get Rotation Boost

March 2, 2017

Dealin’ Dipoto was at it again yesterday, making a trade of minor league prospects which should benefit the Tacoma Rainiers starting rotation.

The Mariners general manager was looking to add starting pitching depth, and he did so by acquiring right-hander Chase De Jong from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Statistically, De Jong had a terrific 2016 season: in 25 starts for the Dodgers Double-A Tulsa affiliate, De Jong went 14-5 with a 3.24 ERA. The 23-year-old pitched 141 innings, striking out 125 with 39 walks issued.

It appears that De Jong is ready for Triple-A, and he’ll slot into the Rainiers starting rotation. He did make one start in the PCL for Oklahoma City last year, and it was a good one.

To get DeJong, the Mariners gave up Class-A shortstop prospect Drew Jackson, and rookie-level flamethrower Aneurys Zabala. I’ve never seen either player, but I heard from M’s coaches that Zabala has a fastball which approaches 100 mph, so he’s probably the prospect the Dodgers had their eye on.

De Jong is on the 40-man roster, so the Mariners had to create a space for him… and they did so by designating Rainiers infielder Mike Freeman for assignment. Freeman is on waivers and can be claimed by any other team as long as that team places him on its 40-man roster. If no team claims him, Freeman will be outrighted to Tacoma. We could definitely use Freeman in Tacoma this year, so we’ll be happy if he clears waivers – although I’m sure Mike would rather be on a 40-man roster somewhere.

All of Dipoto’s tinkering with the “depth” portion of the major league 40-man roster should have a positive effect in Tacoma. We’ll see how good this team is in about a month!

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Mariners, Rainiers Off To Good Start

February 27, 2017

Spring training games began this weekend, and the Mariners put a pair of poundings on the San Diego Padres.

Getting some big contributions from probable Tacoma Rainiers players, Seattle beat San Diego 13-2 on Saturday and 13-3 on Sunday.

In Saturday’s Cactus League opener, likely Rainiers fist baseman D.J. Peterson singled and doubled, scored two runs, and drove in another. Tacoma shortstop Tyler Smith went 2-for-3 and scored two runs, while catcher Tuffy Gosewisch had a double and an RBI. Potential Tacoma starting pitcher Cody Martin delivered two scoreless innings.

Sunday’s game was more of the same. Anticipated Rainiers outfielder Tyler O’Neill went 1-for-2 with a double, drew two walks, drove in two runs, and scored another. Mike Freeman had two hits, including a double, and drove in two runs. Catcher Steve Baron also got in there, with a single and a walk – good to see that he is healthy. Pitchers Chris Heston and Dillon Overton each tossed two scoreless innings, and relievers Pat Venditte and Nick Hagadone pitched one shutout inning apiece.

It was a good opening weekend!

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