Rainiers Spring Training – Day Three

March 26, 2015

Today the Rainiers played the El Paso Chihuahuas on the Padres side of the Peoria Sports Complex. We were on a quadrant of fields behind the main stadium, and the Padres and Mariners Double-A teams were playing each other on a neighboring field.

This was a sloppy game for the Rainiers, and I’m glad they got it out of the way during spring training. In fact, had this happened during the regular season, I may have been compelled to describe it as a “stinker.”

Tacoma’s first two outs in the top of the first inning were made at third base.

James Jones had a great at-bat to open the game, seeing several pitches from El Paso lefty Robbie Erlin before crushing a deep opposite-field double. He was immediately caught trying to steal third base.

Ketel Marte drew a walk, and Kevin Rivers singled hard to right field – and Marte tried to go first-to-third, but was thrown out by the El Paso right fielder.

In the third inning, Tyler Smith hit a leadoff triple when the center fielder misplayed his fly ball. He was stranded at third base when the next three hitters went strikeout, strikeout, strikeout.

The game was 0-0 going to the bottom of the fifth when James Gillheeney came in to pitch for Tacoma. He allowed a leadoff double and then walked the next guy – trouble, right? Well he bore down and should have gotten out of the inning unscathed, but a series of defensive blunders behind him allowed three runs to score and the inning was “rolled over” (i.e. ended before three outs were recorded). There was a dropped soft liner that ended up as a single, a double play grounder that resulted in zero outs… that kind of stuff.

That being said, there were some positive developments for Tacoma:

  • Starting pitcher Mike Kickham looked really sharp, delivering four scoreless innings and striking out many. I wasn’t counting, but he may have had as many as seven strikeouts. Left-handed batters in particular struggled to make contact against him. I believe he allowed just one hit.
  • John Hicks started at catcher and yanked a hard double to left field. Hitting coach Cory Snyder said that Hicks has looked better at the plate this spring.
  • Franklin Gutierrez played left field again, giving further indication that he’s healthy and may break camp with the Rainiers.
  • D.J. Peterson played first base for the second day in a row, leading me to wonder if he may see more time at the position than the Mariners have publicly indicated. He didn’t have any hard-hit balls while I was watching.
  • I can’t stop looking at Skinny Montero. It’s truly amazing.
  • Left-hander Kyle Hunter looked impressive in the seventh inning, notching a pair of strikeouts while allowing one single. Hunter had some success at Double-A Jackson and could see some Triple-A time this season.
  • There was an interesting surprise in the eighth inning. A 23-year-old righthander named Richard Vargas came in the game throwing 95 mph fastballs that had some movement. He’s a late bloomer due to an elbow fracture that limited his innings for three years, from 2011-2013. Last year he relieved at Jackson and had some pedestrian statistics, but seeing him in person makes you think he has a chance to reach the majors. It’s a big league fastball, at least. He’s a name to file away.

Other than the two relief pitchers mentioned above, the late innings were played by lower-level players after the starters left the game.

I spent some time with new skipper Pat Listach on Wednesday evening and came away impressed. He’s a fiery guy. I’m not sure if that is going to reveal itself in terms of on-field antics, but he’s definitely a high-intensity guy. I think that Rainiers fans are going to like him.

I asked him about his managerial style and he said it depends on his player personnel. He was a speed player and he likes to put the game in motion – but only if he has players capable of playing that way.

In Wednesday’s Triple-A game, James Jones and Ketel Marte executed a double-steal in the top of the first inning with no outs. Listach said that Jones will always have the green light – so that should be fun.

Heard back from Andrew Carraway today. He says he finds it funny to say he is “retired,” saying that Tom Glavine gets to retire; he just stopped playing baseball and is doing something else. He’s now working full-time for an investment firm in Richmond, Virginia.

Links:

That’s it for this spring training trip. I fly home on Friday morning and will be in attendance at the Rainiers Preseason Party on Saturday – so come say “hi.”


Spring Training: Day Two – An Early Look At The Rainiers

March 25, 2015

Today I drove out to Surprise! to see an early version of the Tacoma Rainiers play the Kansas City Royals “Triple-A” group out on the backfields of the baseball complex there.

I put “Triple-A” in quotes because the Royals had major leaguers Chris Young and Greg Holland pitch against Tacoma.

Here’s what the Rainiers lineup looked like today:

  1. James Jones – CF
  2. Ketel Marte – SS
  3. D.J. Peterson – 1B
  4. Franklin Gutierrez – LF
  5. Jesus Montero – DH
  6. Jordy Lara – 3B
  7. Patrick Kivlehan – RF
  8. Jack Reinheimer – 2B
  9. Steve Baron – C

And Tyler Pike was the starting pitcher.

That lineup doesn’t look too far off what we may see on April 9. Second and third base will probably be different, and we expect John Hicks at catcher, Stefen Romero will be in there, but otherwise it seems pretty legit.

Things got off to a great start: Jones beat out a single, Marte drew a walk, and then with Peterson at the plate the duo pulled off a double steal. Peterson popped up, Gutierrez drove in a run with a grounder… and then they ended the inning, because Chris Young had reached 20 pitches.

This would become a theme.

Young was unable to get three outs in 20 pitches in each of the first three innings. Who knows how many runs the Rainiers would have scored without the innings being “rolled over” – which is a common occurrence in minor league spring training games.

When the game ended, the scoreboard said Omaha 7, Tacoma 1 – but that’s really misleading.

A few notes:

  • Patrick Kivlehan hit a pair of singles, with one coming off the major leaguer Young (yes, the Mariners fifth starter last season). Kivlehan was also able to make contact against the Royals all-everything closer, Greg Holland (he popped up).
  • Kivlehan looked OK in right field. Outfield is a fairly new position for him but I think he’ll see a bit of time out there for Tacoma this season.
  • It was nice to see Ketel Marte draw a pair of walks against Young. Patience is something he needs to improve and he had good plate appearances today.
  • Franklin Gutierrez had a hard single to left off Young. Guti is playing again after being slowed by a groin injury. He left after five innings (like many players).
  • Skinny Montero went 1-for-3 with a single. Didn’t get to see him play first base today.
  • There were some mid-game changes, including Jabari Blash entering at first base. He stretched out his mammoth frame to help record a tough out on a grounder in the hole to the second baseman.
  • I saw Robinson Cano‘s cousin, Burt Reynolds. He looks absolutely nothing like this guy.
  • On the pitching side, Tyler Pike tossed the first four innings and allowed three runs. He’s not going to break camp with the Rainiers but we could see him someday if he regains the form he showed in 2013 with Clinton. Pike is only 21 years old.
  • More guys who aren’t likely to be Rainiers this season pitched the middle innings: Moises Hernandez tossed a 1-2-3 fifth inning, and Jordan Shipers worked two rough frames.
  • Finally Rainiers reliever Lucas Luetge entered the game. He pitched two scoreless innings to wrap things up, retiring six of the seven batters he faced. I stood behind the radar gun briefly and saw him reach 92.

Apparently Luetge is taking this whole pace-of-play plan seriously: he got called for quick-pitching to Omaha’s Dusty Coleman! The umpire ruled Coleman was in the box but not ready to hit. The Rainiers disagreed – it would have developed into a situation if it wasn’t a meaningless minor league spring training game.

It was fun to be at the field and see a game again. We’ll do it tomorrow, too.

Links:

Like today, tomorrow’s post will come late in the day, after I get back from the fields.


Carraway Calls It A Career

March 23, 2015

Word developed late last week (on this very blog, in the comments section) that Rainiers pitcher Andrew Carraway retired from baseball, and Bob Dutton of The News Tribune confirmed it with the Mariners over the weekend.

Carraway, 28, was a steady member of the Tacoma Rainiers starting rotation over the past three seasons. He made a total of 64 starts for Tacoma during that time, going 19-20 with a 5.13 ERA.

He arrived with a statement: in his Triple-A debut on May 11, 2012, Carraway tossed seven innings of one-hit ball against Albuquerque at Cheney Stadium. The following month he pitched a complete-game two-hitter against Fresno.

A finesse-style right-hander, Carraway relied on exceptional command of his pitches in order to have success. On days where he could place the ball exactly where he wanted to, he was very good. But when his command slipped a little bit, hitters got to him.

Carraway has always had things going on outside of the world of baseball. Formerly an elite academic student at the University of Virginia, Carraway spent his off-seasons working for a venture capital firm in Richmond, Virginia. Carraway whittled away the PCL travel days by reading advanced business books on his Kindle – I like to read, too, so I’d ask him what he’s reading and find out he’s plowing through some mammoth tome on the 2008 collapse of the housing bubble.*

We wish Andrew the best with his new career path, whatever it may be. I reached out to him via text and haven’t heard back yet – but if he responds with an update, I’ll let you know.

Andrew Carraway - click to enlarge (photo credit Richard Trask/Tacoma Rainiers)

Andrew Carraway – click to enlarge (photo credit Richard Trask/Tacoma Rainiers)

Links:

  • The News Tribune reporter Bob Dutton put on his analyst hat and looked at the final four position battles in Mariners spring training.
  • Bob Condotta looked at one of those battles, the duel between Taijuan Walker and Roenis Elias for fifth starter.
  • Dustin Ackley is using his ears to get better in left field. Also in this story, Felix Hernandez reminds us (and all of the Kris Bryant fanatics) “it’s just spring training.”
  • Mariners 2014 first round draft pick Alex Jackson hit his first spring training home run in a Cactus League game against Texas on Friday. The game was not televised and there was no video footage… until now. Like the Zapruder film, or the recently unearthed footage of the 1919 World Series, we have some late-emerging documentation. Looks like the 19-year-old prospect went deep off major league reliever Shawn Tolleson.
  • On Sunday, James Paxton made his Cactus League debut and was effective if not exactly in midseason form.
  • Here’s the news story about the big round of cuts the Mariners had on Friday (I wrote about these on Friday – scroll down for the Tacoma take).
  • Catching up on Ryan Divish’s Morning Mariners Musings: today he looks at an apparently improved Mike Zunino, on Sunday he dealt with Rickie Weeks (not really) playing first base, and Saturday‘s edition focuses on the fifth starter battle.
  • Friend of the Rainiers Jim Moore predicts that the Mariners will hit 200 home runs. He breaks it down by player and even by radio announcer.
  • ESPN’s Buster Olney made his World Series predictions – and he has the Pittsburgh Pirates defeating the Seattle Mariners in the Fall Classic. A quick check shows that the planet is still spinning on its proper axis, so I dunno.
  • Ex-Rainiers star Michael Pineda is throwing so well in Yankees camp that “scouts are drooling.”
  • One ex-Rainiers fortune is another ex-Rainiers folly. Asdrubal Cabrera beat out Nick Franklin for the starting shortstop job in Tampa – though Franklin still has a good chance to win at least a share of the second base job.
  • In Texas Rangers camp, Carlos Peguero is having his typical great spring and the team is trying to figure out what to make of it.
  • Chris Young – who was the Mariners starting rotation surprise last year – is working out of the bullpen for Kansas City.
  • Great article by former major leaguer CJ Nitkowski on the anxiety of spring training cut days. It includes tips on how to get cut.
  • In the PCL, Colorado Springs (now a Brewers affiliate) will have two former first round picks on the roster.
  • Weird things happen in spring training, like Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer allowing four triples in one inning. That’s a radio guy dream right there. Four triples in one inning!
  • Great story from Jorge Arangure on the autograph-collecting kid from the suburbs who ended up working for Vladimir Guerrero‘s baseball academy in the Dominican Republic.

I’m off to Arizona for spring training on Tuesday morning. Our blog-posting schedule will be daily but erratic – I’m going to have daily updates on what I see down there, and I’ll be getting those posts up whenever time permits.

* Call me crazy, but I did not dive into any of Andrew’s reading recommendations.


Roster Moves Answer Some Questions

March 19, 2015

The Mariners had another round of spring training roster moves today, and they help shed some light on what the Tacoma opening day roster is going to look like.

Here are the moves:

Optioned to AAA TACOMA (6):

Left-handed Pitchers (1):   Lucas Luetge

Catchers (1):                    John Hicks

Infielders (2):                    Ketel Marte, Jesus Montero

Outfielders (2):                 James Jones, Stefen Romero

Re-Assigned to Minor League Camp (5):

Right-handed Pitcher (1):  Justin Germano

Left-Handed Pitchers (1):  Rafael Perez

Infielder (2):                      D.J. Peterson, Patrick Kivlehan

Outfielder (1):                   Franklin Gutierrez

The moves leave 39 players still in big league camp for Seattle.

There are some surprises here. We expected Hicks, Marte, Montero and the two prospects to get sent to minor league camp around now. But I figured Romero, Jones and especially Luetge would stay in big league camp until the end of the month.

We can now write in Romero and Jones as starting outfielders for the Rainiers. Peterson will play first and third, with Montero also getting reps at first and DH. Kivlehan will probably move between third, first, and left field. Hicks is the catcher.

Luetge is now going to have to hope for a midseason call-up. Maybe he’ll go back-and-forth between Triple-A and Seattle, like he did last year. The remaining left-handed relievers in big league camp shooting for a roster spot are David Rollins, Tyler Olson, and Joe Saunders.

I’m curious to see what role Rafael Perez has if he pitches for Tacoma. His MLB experience is as a left-handed set-up guy, but his career resurrection last year came as a result of working as a starting pitcher. I’ll try to see find out what the plan is for him when I get to Arizona next week.

What about Franklin Gutierrez? He sat out all of last year to get healthy, and now he isn’t playing in spring training games due to a groin problem. From the outside, it’s hard to speculate how committed the Mariners are to giving him a chance on a crowded Triple-A roster.

Over at Cheney Stadium, we are very proud of our creative team led by Tony Canepa and Ben Spradling. The duo helped the Rainiers win seven “Addy” awards from the Seattle chapter of the American Advertising Federation, beating out several large advertising agencies.

The big winner was the season ticket renewal piece, which was designed as a classic children’s book.

Congratulations to Tony, Ben, and everyone who assisted them. Don’t let it get to your heads, though – we’re still gonna have tarps to pull next month.

Links:

Have a great weekend, and be safe while you indulge in National Corn Dog Day.


Three Week Countdown

March 18, 2015

Tomorrow we will be exactly three weeks away from the Tacoma Rainiers season opener, which will be played in lovely El Paso, Texas on April 9. Things are starting to heat up around here, as more tasks stack up in preparation for the season. Just when you cross a few items off your list, you think of six more things you need to get done before opening day.

My annual trip to Mariners/Rainiers spring training camp will be next week. I’ll be at the complex watching games on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. It will be a busy week on the blog as I’ll pass along what I see down there.

Minor league “exhibition” games begin this Saturday and run through April 4. The Mariners have four teams put together in minor league camp, and these are classified from Triple-A to Low-A. They will play teams from other organizations who have their camps on the west side of Phoenix. In Saturday’s “Triple-A Exhibition Opener,” if you will, an early form of the Rainiers will play Omaha on a back field of the complex in Peoria.

I’ll be watching these minor league games when I get down there next week – and maybe I’ll sneak into a big league game to catch a few innings.

In the meantime, here’s the latest news from Mariners camp:

Looking to join a free NCAA bracket? Friend Of The Blog Christian Caple is running one through his Huskies page for The News Tribune. See if you can beat me – it’s easy!


Pitching Developments

March 11, 2015

We’ve got two interesting developments on the pitching front which could impact the Rainiers this season.

Danny Hultzen is set to pitch in today’s exhibition game against the Colorado Rockies. This is a big step for Hultzen, who has not pitched in a game since 2013 and is coming off major shoulder surgery. Hopefully he’ll have a good, healthy outing today.

Even if he proves he is healthy, we are not certain if Hultzen will open the season with the Rainiers. The Mariners are understandably going to be very careful as they build his workload up, and it will be a gradual increase in innings/pitch count. They could treat him like a pitcher on a rehabilitation assignment, and have him make his first start in Class-A, then a start or two in Double-A, and then Tacoma.

This is truly a one-day-at-a-time situation. For now, we’ll see how he feels after pitching today.

Yesterday the Mariners announced that they signed major league veteran Kevin Correia to a minor league contract, meaning he could theoretically open the season with the Rainiers.

Correia is going to compete to make the Mariners starting rotation, which seems like a far-fetched idea right now. Except… well, he’s done it before. A lot.

The 34-year-old right-hander has started over 200 games in the majors, and he has been a regular member of a starting rotation in the big leagues since 2009. He’s generally been a 4th or 5th starter and has a career record of 76-95, with a 4.59 ERA.

Correia fits in as depth. A spring injury or two and all of a sudden you are real happy that you signed him.

For the Rainiers, the question is more about if he is willing to pitch in Triple-A if he doesn’t make the Mariners. Due to his experience, he probably has an opt-out in his contract if he doesn’t make the M’s opening day roster. Correia hasn’t pitched in a minor league game since 2008.

He is a former PCL player: Correia came up through the Giants system and pitched for Fresno from 2003-2005 before establishing himself in the big leagues.

He should be quite good if he is in the Rainiers rotation – but that seems kind of unlikely right now.

Links:

I happen to be in Vegas right now, for the Pac-12 Tournament (my favorite event of the off-season – hoping for a lot of close games, and Go Bears!). But we’ll still have a blog update for you on Friday so come back then.


Rainiers Go Red, Commit To The ‘R’

March 9, 2015

Hey guys, we got new uniforms!

The Rainiers announced some changes for 2015 to the official uniform lineup.

Tacoma has a new red jersey which is officially the alternate uniform and will be worn on Thursday and Sunday home games (Minor League Baseball allows three uniform sets: home, away, and alternate). The red uniforms replace the navy-blue-with-red-sleeves alternates that the team has worn for the last five years.

The main home and away jerseys remain pretty much the same, with some updated lettering on the front. In particular, the lettering of the “Tacoma” across the chest of the away jerseys has been changed to look like the original Tacoma jerseys from 1960.

The club also announced that the batting practice hat will have a brand new mountain-and-icepick logo.

The big change is that the Rainiers have switched to the ‘R’ hat as the game hat for all uniforms.

I love that the team decided to make the ‘R’ the official game hat. This hat has been sold in the team store for the past two years, even though it hasn’t been worn on the field. Those of us who work for the team keep an eye out for Rainiers gear around town, and it is clear that people like wearing the ‘R’ hat more than the hats that the team has worn in games recently. So due to a pretty obvious popular opinion, we’re switching.

As for the players, my hunch is that they are going to really like the red sets.

Click here for a look at the various uniform combos. We also have a picture of some of the guys posing in the new gear.

A few roster notes from Arizona:

Ji-Man Choi was removed from the Mariners 40-man roster. He cleared waivers and was outrighted to the Tacoma roster. This means the Mariners retain his rights and he’ll play in the organization when he gets healthy – which might not be until 2016, or could be toward the end of this season.

Lefty reliever Edgar Olmos is back in the fold. Last week he was removed from the Mariners 40-man roster, claimed off waivers by Texas, didn’t pass his physical due to shoulder soreness, and was returned to the Mariners. For now he retains his spot on the Mariners 40-man roster, and we’ll wait for more information on his health. Prior to the injury, we had Olmos pegged as a Tacoma reliever this season.

Links:


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