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 Make Two Late Additions

February 13, 2015

We received some surprising news late this week, as the Mariners added two free agents.

First, it was reported that the Mariners have come to terms with major league free agent second baseman Rickie Weeks on a one-year contract. This was a surprise because the Mariners don’t need a second baseman, and Weeks has never played any other position – and in fact chose not to learn to play left field last year for Milwaukee.

Apparently the 32-year-old Weeks has changed his tune, because the M’s are going to play him at many positions if he makes the team.

Weeks did hit well last year in a platoon role, succeeding against left-handed pitchers. It was his first good season since 2011. If he can learn to play first base, there is a chance he could be a valuable platoon partner with Logan Morrison. Ditto for left field and Dustin Ackley.

If Weeks makes the team, he firmly pushes guys like Stefen Romero and Jesus Montero back to Tacoma.

The second move the Mariners made was signing former Cleveland Indians left-handed pitcher Rafael Perez to a minor league contract.

Perez is a depth signing and he’ll probably open the season with Tacoma, as he has not pitched in the majors since 2012. That being said, he’s coming off a terrific year.

In 2014 Perez opened the season with Round Rock and made four relief appearances before jumping to the Mexican League. It was in Mexico where Perez was given the opportunity to start games – something he had not done since 2007. Perez had a nice run in Mexico and returned to the states for the end of the season – where he dealt for Triple-A Indianapolis, posting a 1.77 ERA in ten appearances (eight starts) covering 56 innings.

Perez then pitched in the Dominican Winter League, where he continued to have success as a starter. He even tossed 5.1 shutout innings against Cuba in the Caribbean Series.

I’m not sure if the Mariners are considering Perez as a starter or a reliever for Tacoma – and it’s likely they haven’t decided yet, either. All 338 of his major league appearances have been as a reliever (career ERA: 3.64), but he put himself back on the map as a starter in the past 12 months.

Links:

Have a great weekend while pondering this: spring training starts next week!


M’s Place Two On BP’s Top 101

February 9, 2015

Baseball Prospectus released its Top 101 Prospects list today, and the Seattle Mariners have two players who made the cut.

Third baseman and likely 2015 Rainiers member D.J. Peterson is ranked No. 62, and teenage outfielder Alex Jackson is listed at No. 68.

A quick glance at the Top 10 shows that the Rainiers will face some elite prospects in the PCL this season.

The Rainiers visit the Iowa Cubs May 21-24, and they should have No. 2 Addison Russell and possibly (but unlikely) No. 5 Kris Bryant with them.

Russell – a shortstop – was formerly in the A’s organization and made a memorable-for-all-of-the-wrong-reasons Triple-A debut at Cheney Stadium on the final weekend of the 2013 season. He was only 19 years old and he got chewed up by the Rainiers pitching staff, going 1-for-13 with nine strikeouts. I remember wondering how this guy could be considered a big prospect, but apparently he’s improved dramatically since then.

Also in BP’s Top 10 is Astros shortstop Carlos Correa at No. 3, who could see Triple-A time with Fresno later this season if things go well for him. Fresno visits Tacoma twice this year: April 30-May 3, and July 24-27.

Kyle Seager‘s little brother Corey Seager is ranked the No. 7 prospect, and he should see some time with the Dodgers new Triple-A affiliate in Oklahoma City this year. I’m hoping he’s with them when Tacoma visits Bricktown in August, because it would be fun to interview him and ask him about growing up with Kyle.

Checking in at No. 9 on the list is a guy the Rainiers have already faced several times: Mets prospect Noah Syndergaard. “Thor” will probably start the season with Las Vegas once again – and the Rainiers could be stuck facing him a lot, just like last year. Syndergaard made four starts against Tacoma in 2014 going 2-0 with a 3.13 ERA, and he struck out 29 Rainiers in 23 innings. We’ve seen enough – hopefully he’ll make the Mets rotation.

Looking at Tacoma’s opening homestand, top prospects on El Paso (Padres) and Albuquerque (Rockies) could include BP’s No. 23 Austin Hedges & No. 53 Matt Wisler (El Paso) and No. 11 Jonathan Gray & No. 64 Eddie Butler (Albuquerque). Three of those four are starting pitchers, so that could pose an interesting challenge for the Rainiers.

Spring training is little a bit closer and I actually found some baseball stories over the weekend – so here ya’ go!

Links:

New post coming Wednesday, which will look at the 2015 Tacoma Rainiers starting pitcher candidates.


2015 Rainiers Outfield Outlook

February 4, 2015

We continue our spring training preview series today by looking at the players who might make up the Rainiers outfield come opening day.

This is a tough position to preview. I nearly titled this post “Veteran Signings Confuse Tacoma Outfield Outlook” or something like that.

The Seattle Mariners recently signed longtime major league veterans Endy Chavez and Franklin Gutierrez to minor league contracts, inviting them to big league spring training. Both players will be trying to win a job as the Mariners fifth outfielder – a competition that will be intense during spring training, if it exists at all.

There is no guarantee that the Mariners are going to carry a fifth outfielder (the four locks are Dustin Ackley, Austin Jackson, Seth Smith, and Justin Ruggiano). Since designated hitter Nelson Cruz can play outfield if needed, he could serve as your fifth outfielder and that’s that.

If there is no opening on the Mariners roster, then you have all of these guys slated for Tacoma:

Endy Chavez – a true professional who is respected by teammates and coaches alike, Endy has opened each of the last two seasons with Tacoma before getting called to Seattle when injuries have occurred. Both seasons he remained with the Mariners for the duration. Endy turns 37-years-old on Saturday and he just finished a highly successful stint in the Venezuelan Winter League.

Franklin Gutierrez – a former Mariners star, Gutierrez has suffered a series of rare injuries and illnesses which kept him off the field. Gutierrez did not play in 2014 in an attempt to get truly healthy, and the Mariners decided to bring him to training camp and see how he looks. Nobody knows what to expect here – this will be something to follow once camp opens.

Stefen Romero – the new Smith/Ruggiano platoon really hurt Romero’s chance to make the Mariners opening day roster, though he could still see ample time in Seattle this year. If he ends up in Tacoma, we’ll take him – he’s too good for Triple-A. Last year he played in 35 games for the Rainiers and batted .358 with 12 home runs, for cripes sake. If he doesn’t make the Mariners, Romero will bat third or fourth in the Rainiers lineup.

Romero is in a tough spot. His own career would benefit from being with a poor MLB team – one that could start him everyday in left field while he makes adjustments and learns to hit major league pitching. It doesn’t look like the Mariners will be in a position to do that this year.

James Jones – speed, speed, speed! Jones was a revelation as a basestealer for Seattle last year, going 27-for-28 as a rookie thief. That is a weapon managers love to have on the bench. Jones does have options, however, and he can be shuttled between Seattle and Tacoma all year if needed. He’s played in only 37 career Triple-A games.

Julio Morban – the left-handed hitter remains on the Mariners 40-man roster after a disappointing 2014 season – but one should put an asterisk next to ‘disappointing.’ Morban was recovering from a severely broken leg and never really looked right – he hit .242 in 29 games for Tacoma. The 2015 season is a key year for him.

Patrick Kivlehan – we talked about him a lot in our corner infielder preview two weeks ago, when I wrote that he could see a lot of time in the outfield.

Leon Landry – after two seasons in Double-A (and a big improvement in year two), Landry appears ready for Triple-A. He is a true centerfielder and I’ve heard he might be the best defensively of this group (depending on how Gutierrez looks). Last year at Jackson he hit .280 with 21 doubles, nine triples, and two homers in 108 games. He also stole 25 bases, but he only drew 19 walks all season and his OBP was just .315.

Jabari Blash – the power prospect from the Virgin Islands appears to be buried on the depth chart right now, but’s he’s got big-time pop. He could open the season in either AA or AAA, depending on how the rosters break down.

Other outfielders to know: even I had forgotten that Ji-Man Choi played 26 games in the outfield for Tacoma last year… Daniel Paolini had an 811 OPS for Jackson last year as a first baseman and sometimes corner outfielder… Dario Pizzano hit just .228 for Jackson, but he drew a ton of walks for a .341 OBP and slugged .404… Jamal Austin is a speedster who hit .262 and was 19-for-22 stealing bases for Jackson last year – but he walks even less frequently than Landry.

The Rainiers will probably have four or five outfielders on opening day. Good thing we “narrowed it down” to twelve!

Links:

Our next post will probably come Monday, and our next position preview will look at the starting pitchers on Wednesday.


Rainiers Middle Infield Appears Set

January 28, 2015

For this week’s 2015 Tacoma Rainiers position preview post, we look at the shortstops and second basemen.

The recent signing of former Salt Lake Bees all-star Shawn O’Malley solidified the Tacoma Rainiers 2015 middle infield situation – to a point in which we can almost name the starters, right now.

There is one little hitch, though: what is going to happen to the loser of the Mariners spring training shortstop battle?

Seattle is going to make a decision on their major league starter in Peoria – it will be either Brad Miller or Chris Taylor. Both players have plenty of minor league options left and can be sent to Tacoma if they don’t win the job.

But, the Mariners might keep both players in the big leagues and work out a job share of some sort. So we don’t know if one of these guys will be in Tacoma in April.

What we do know is this: Ketel Marte will break camp with the Rainiers. He’ll be one of the top prospects on the team, and he’s going to play every day at either shortstop or second base.

The 21-year-old Marte hit .302 in 109 games for Double-A Jackson last year prior to a late-season promotion to Tacoma.

In just 19 games for the Rainiers, Marte hit .313 and even hit two home runs (which is not considered to be a big part of his game at this point). In that three-week stretch with the Rainiers, Marte looked every bit the part of a top shortstop prospect.

Marte will be paired with O’Malley, who has experience on both sides of the keystone. O’Malley was a .330 hitter for Salt Lake last year and earned his first MLB call-up to the Angels in September. He was designated for assignment after the season and the Mariners swooped in and signed him to a minor league deal.

We’re looking at Marte and O’Malley up the middle, with a possibility of Taylor or Miller.

As for the back-up, Leury Bonilla is back and of course he can play anywhere at anytime. Bonilla appeared in 90 games for the Rainiers last year, seeing time at every position except catcher. He’s a valuable part of a Triple-A roster.

Looking down below, it appears that shortstop Tyler Smith is moving towards a Triple-A assignment at some point soon – possibly late in the 2015 season, like Marte last year. Smith was the Mariners 8th round draft pick in 2013 out of Oregon State, and he was promoted to Double-A late last year.

Next Wednesday we look at the outfielders.

Links:

  • The Mariners officially announced the signing of outfielders Endy Chavez and Franklin Gutierrez to minor league contracts. Both have a strong chance of making the Rainiers opening day roster – although there seems to be opportunity for one to perhaps crack the Mariners out of spring training.
  • There are lots of reports out there that the Mariners have signed veteran catcher John Baker to a minor league deal. He has spent all or parts of seven years in the majors, usually as a back-up catcher. Baker has six years of PCL experience with Sacramento and Albuquerque. He’s a leading candidate to share catching duties in Tacoma with John Hicks.
  • In case you missed it: Ichiro signed with the Miami Marlins where he will be a reserve outfielder. He needs 156 hits to reach 3,000 in the Unites States.
  • Mill Creek product Travis Snider was traded to the Baltimore Orioles.
  • Former Albuquerque Isotopes broadcaster Bob Socci is getting ready to call the Super Bowl. In my time in the PCL he’s the only broadcaster to land a major league radio gig in a different sport!

Our next blog update will be on Friday.


New Rainiers Manager Brings Experience

January 26, 2015

At the Mariners media event last week I had a chance to pull aside Director of Player Development Chris Gwynn and ask him about new Tacoma Rainiers manager Pat Listach.

Gwynn was more than happy to discuss the hiring of Listach, which he perceives as a coup for the Mariners organization.

“His resume, his experience – he was in the big leagues five of the last six years,” said Gwynn. “Our players (in Triple-A) need to be finished before they show up to the big leagues, and I thought it was a great fit.”

Listach was previously a minor league manager in the Chicago Cubs system, most recently in 2008 when he piloted the Iowa Cubs to an 83-59 record and won the PCL Manager of the Year award.

Since then he has worked on major league staffs, mostly as a third base coach but also as a bench coach. His name has been mentioned as a potential major league manager.

Listach was the Houston Astros third base coach in 2014. When manager Bo Porter was let go, it meant the new skipper would select his own coaching staff. That made Listach a free agent, and he was considered for several MLB coaching positions before committing to the Mariners.

“I was keeping my fingers crossed that he would still be available, because there was so much movement at the big league level,” said Gwynn. “I’m happy that it worked out the way it did.”

One concern for Gwynn was how Listach would handle a return to managing in Triple-A after getting accustomed to the major league coach role.

“We had long talks,” said Gwynn. “We wanted to make sure that we were all on the same page. He’s excited and ready to go. He’s going to be hungry; he’s going to push our kids. That’s exactly what we are looking for.”

From his post as a coach with an American League West team last year, Listach saw the Mariners young talent – including some players who might be with the Rainiers this season. Gwynn has talked to him about other players he’ll be working with.

“He knows what we have, because he was with the Astros last year as third base coach he knows the young kids that came up,” said Gwynn. “He can’t wait to put his hands on (Ketel) Marte and some of the other players we have down there. I think it’s the right fit at the right time.

Listach won’t be coming to Tacoma until he arrives with the entire team on April 16th – the night before the Rainiers home opener. Tacoma starts the season on the road in El Paso, and the team will fly directly from spring training in Arizona to Texas.

It’s likely that Listach has not been to Cheney Stadium since 2005, which was his final year as the Iowa Cubs hitting coach. In 2008 (the year he managed Iowa) the I-Cubs did not visit Tacoma.

Hopefully nobody told him that the stadium has been renovated – that would be funny!

Links:

  • Looks like Tacoma will probably have Endy Chavez and Franklin Gutierrez in the outfield, according to numerous reports. Bob Dutton mentions it in this Mariners notebook.
  • Ryan Divish has a post from Fanfest with the Endy & Franklin news, and also some tidbits from players he talked to at the event.
  • Hall Of Famer Ernie Banks passed away at age 83 – here is his New York Times obituary. The front page of the Chicago Tribune was something to see. For some fun footage, the Banks vs. Mickey Mantle episode of Home Run Derby (1960) is available on YouTube. Larry Stone resuscitated a 2002 column about a phone call with Banks and it is a fun read.
  • We can cross Humberto Quintero off the list of veteran catchers the Mariners could sign – he inked a deal with the Red Sox, according to Baseball America’s minor league transactions.
  • Jeff Sullivan compared Jesus Montero to the volcano that created Crater Lake. Read it if you dare.
  • Some Houston Astros met a penguin.
  • Russell Wilson‘s minor league managers are rooting for the Seahawks.
  • Tony Blengino of Fangraphs has a preview of the AL West. If you don’t like all of math at the top of the story, scroll down to his team-by-team write-ups.
  • New Commissioner Rob Manfred is willing to look at a lot of options to modernize and speed up the game.
  • Later this spring a new book is coming out on the strike season of 1981. Tacoma native Ron Cey used the break in the season to appear in a horror movie.

Check back Wednesday when we preview the 2015 Tacoma Rainiers middle infield situation.


Triple-A Tidbits From Mariners Media Day

January 23, 2015

The Mariners held their annual pre-spring training media day yesterday, and I had the opportunity to attend with a couple of other Tacoma Rainiers employees.

There is always a lot of news from this event, and much of it involves the major league team. For that stuff, use the links below. What I’m going to do here is cover the minor league news that came from the event, and we’re going to do it bullet-point style because I’m feeling lazy and depressed today.

  • First up was trainer Rick Griffin and he opened the day’s main subject, which amazingly enough turned out to be Jesus Montero. Montero has lost about 40 pounds and apparently looks great. He’s turnaround is covered in detail in the links below.
  • Griffin also said that Rainiers pitcher Danny Hultzen will be treated like any other pitcher during spring training. Hultzen missed all of 2014 with shoulder surgery, but Griffin said “when he shows up he’ll do what everyone else is doing. He’ll be on a regular program.”
  • M’s General Manager Jack Zduriencik was next, and he talked about a lot of major league stuff but he did have a few comments that were Rainiers-related. First off, he said that shortstop will be a battle between Chris Taylor and Brad Miller, but he was unsure if the loser of that battle would play for Tacoma or remain in Seattle. He said that would be determined in spring training.
  • Jack Z talked about expected Rainiers corner infielder Patrick Kivlehan. Here are some words he used about the former Rutgers football player: “good athlete” “really tough kid” “very intense” “hard-working” so I think we get the picture here. It sounds like Kivlehan is going to move around the diamond but see a lot of outfield time for Tacoma.
  • Jack’s exact quote on where D.J. Peterson will play was “he’ll play third, he’ll get a shot at first, who knows where he ends up.”
  • The Mariners announced they signed Richland native Shawn O’Malley to a minor league contract. O’Malley was Salt Lake’s lone PCL all-star last year, batting .330-3-38 for the Bees. He can play nearly any position and he got his first big league call-up last September with the Angels. O’Malley is a very good middle infield depth player for the Mariners and Rainiers.
  • Mariners Director of Player Development Chris Gwynn discussed a number of things, including one stunner: Ji-Man Choi has spent his winter working on switch-hitting. He’s always hit left-handed. Choi is 23 years old and that is a very late age to try to learn to switch-hit. This was not a Mariners suggestion – Choi did it on his own, causing Gwynn to just shrug his shoulders and say “kids..”
  • Gwynn said that if Montero gets optioned to Tacoma, he’ll play a lot of first base and not be a permanent DH.
  • It sounds like Gwynn is in favor of a slow-go for the Mariners top teenage investments. Last year’s No. 1 draft pick Alex Jackson will get a chance to make the Low-A Clinton club in spring training, but Gwynn said Jackson would have to earn it and they aren’t going to force the assignment. Sixteen-year-old Venezuelan bonus baby Brayan Hernandez may spend the summer in the Mariners new complex in the Dominican Republic.
  • Mariners Assistant GM Jeff Kingston spoke about the small number of minor league free agents that have been signed. He noted that Triple-A free agents haven’t been that interested in the Mariners, because they don’t see a lot of opportunity to make the big league team. In particular, he said Triple-A relief pitchers have not been interested in signing with Seattle because they see little opportunity for advancement.
  • The one reliever he did sign was Mark Lowe, who Kingston said “has a big-time fastball, a good slider, and he’s happy to be back.”
  • Kingston indicated that veteran pitcher Justin Germano could be used as a starter or a reliever for the Rainiers, and can fill-in in the big leagues in a pinch.
  • Someone asked Kingston about the pitch clock, which is expected to be implemented in Double-A and Triple-A this season (although that is not official yet). He saw some games with it in the Arizona Fall League and said “the pace of play sped up. I don’t think it’s very popular with the players.”
  • Then we had lunch, which included chicken and salmon. Mmmmm…. lunch!

After lunch I recorded some comments from Gwynn about the hiring of new Rainiers manager Pat Listach. We’ll get to that in Monday’s blog update.

Links:

Have a great weekend!


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