Tacoma Infield Looking Stronger

February 27, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

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


When Super Charles Stole Home

February 25, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which brings us to June 4, 2000.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(The Seattle Times was not impressed)

Links:

Check back Friday for more spring training tidbits.

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


First Round Of Spring Training News

February 23, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

Check back on Wednesday for a new update.

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


Spring Has Sprung

February 20, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

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

Have a great weekend!


Rainiers Bullpen Looks Experienced

February 18, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

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

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


Mariners 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!


Tacoma Starting Rotation Candidates

February 11, 2015

Today we turn our look at the possible 2015 Tacoma Rainiers opening day roster to the starting pitchers.

The top spot should be pretty easy to figure out. The Seattle Mariners have six candidates for their five-man starting rotation, so whoever draws the short straw is going to be optioned to Tacoma and will likely be the Rainiers opening day starter.

The Mariners locks appear to be Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, and J.A. Happ. That leaves Roenis Elias and Taijuan Walker battling it out for the No. 5 spot.

As you know, injuries often hit starting pitchers and can strike at any time – including during spring training. That’s why the Mariners are going to camp with six starters!

Hopefully there will be no injuries to starting pitchers, and the Rainiers will have either Elias or Walker at the top of the starting rotation. The list of Tacoma starting pitching candidates looks like this:

  • LHP Roenis Elias or RHP Taijuan Walker
  • RHP Jordan Pries
  • LHP Mike Kickham
  • LHP James Gillheeney
  • RHP Sam Gaviglio
  • LHP Tyler Olson
  • RHP Stephen Landazuri
  • RHP Victor Sanchez
  • LHP Danny Hultzen
  • LHP Misael Siverio

Swing-men (can start or relieve): Andrew Carraway, Forrest Snow, Justin Germano.

You will notice that Erasmo Ramirez does not appear on this list. Ramirez is out of minor league options and must make the major league team or else be exposed to waivers. It is my opinion that if Ramirez is placed on waivers, another team will claim him – so I find it highly unlikely that he could get to Tacoma. But, stranger things have happened.

Here’s a quick look at the candidates.

Elias and Walker: this is kind of ridiculous, showing the wealth of young pitching that the Mariners have at the top of the organization. Elias had a 3.85 ERA in 29 major league starts last year – and doesn’t have a job sewn up! Walker is a top-flight prospect who is MLB-ready. Yet barring something unforeseen, one of these guys is going to end up in Triple-A.

Pries was Tacoma’s most reliable starter last year, appearing among the PCL Top-10 in ERA until the last day of the season. It will be interesting to see if he can improve upon his 2014 campaign and turn himself into a viable major league option. The Mariners are bringing him to major league spring training, so they seem curious about this as well.

Kickham was a recent Mariners waiver claim – he has one option year remaining. Kickham was in Fresno’s starting rotation for the last two years (he was 8-8, 4.43 in 27 starts last year). Kickham has good strikeout rates and decent stuff from the left side.

Gillheeney made 23 starts for Tacoma last year and went 3-11, 5.62. OK, that’s not very good, but he pitched quite well in the Mexican Winter League and his stuff intrigues some opposing-team scouts I speak with.

Gaviglio is the player the Mariners received when they traded Rainiers infielder Ty Kelly to St. Louis. He’s a sinkerballer out of Oregon State who had a 4.28 ERA in 24 starts at Double-A Springfield last year, with 126 strikeouts in 136 innings. Mariners scouts must have filed positive reports on him prior to the trade – like Pries, he received a non-roster invitation to major league camp.

Olson was the Mariners 7th round draft pick in 2013 out of Gonzaga, and he’s already knocking on the Triple-A door. At Double-A Jackson last year he went 10-7, 3.52 in 22 starts. He tossed 125 innings and had 100 strikeouts with only 25 walks. Olson is a southpaw.

Landazuri was the hottest starter at Double-A Jackson in April last year, and it seemed he was on the verge of an early season promotion to Tacoma when he strained an oblique. He missed two months and returned in late June, finishing the year with a 6-5, 4.33 mark (he was not as effective after the injury). Landazuri was drafted in 2010 out of high school and he just turned 23 last month.

Sanchez is a young right-hander who is often mistaken for a brick wall. He pitched the entire 2014 season in Double-A at the age of 19 – making him one of the youngest players at that level. He performed pretty well, too: Sanchez went 7-6, 4.19 in 23 starts, lasting 124.2 innings with 97 strikeouts and 34 walks. Sanchez is short and massive: he’s most recently been listed at 6-foot, 255 pounds. Did I mention he’s 19?

Hultzen is the mystery man. You know him, you know his story… last report is that he’ll go to spring training healthy and with no restrictions. When I talked to Player Development Director Chris Gwynn last month, he made it sound like the organization is taking a wait-and-see approach on Hultzen during spring training. If he breaks camp in the Tacoma rotation, that would be a huge positive for everyone.

Siverio is even more of a mystery than Hultzen. He’s a Cuban defector the Mariners signed in November, he’s supposedly 25-years-old, and from what I’m hearing he may be Triple-A ready. And for now, that’s all I know. This is a player I will actively search out to try to watch during my spring training trip in late March.

In conclusion, the Mariners have a good amount of starting pitching depth at the Triple-A level. However, only one prospective Rainiers starter has MLB experience, and that will be the loser of the Mariners No. 5 battle (although swingman Justin Germano has lots of MLB experience).

It’s foolish to even hazard a guess at the Rainiers rotation right now, given the inevitable spring training sore arms. But this list should at least be something to work with for now.

Links:

  • As he prepares to spend seven weeks in sunny Arizona, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times previewed the Mariners first base situation – which was interesting. His preview of the second baseman was exactly what you think it is.
  • Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reports that 2014 Rainiers reliever Todd Coffey signed with the Atlanta Braves. Minor league deal; presumably with a major league spring training invitation.
  • Interesting story from the Boston Globe suggesting the gap between Triple-A and MLB is wider than it used to be (warning: lots of stats!). I think they key is the bullpens: in MLB most teams have six or seven relievers blowing 95+. In Triple-A, it’s unusual to see a team with more than one of those guys.
  • Julio Franco will be a player-manager for a minor league team in Japan. He’s 56. One of my favorite things in this sport is Julio Franco’s Baseball Reference page.
  • Congratulations to the Los Angeles Angels, who have set a new standard in the World’s Ugliest Free Hat contest.

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