2010 Tacoma Rainiers Preview
Happy Minor League Opening Day, all.
I wish the Rainiers were as neat as the D-Jaxx. They aren’t at the moment, sadly. You have a few interesting pitchers here and there who might see time with the club (more, if Lee and Bedard come back healthy later), multiple slugging first baseman and only two positions they can comfortably occupy, and outfield entirely of 40-man members which run a spectrum of risk and reward. It’s not the most exciting triple-A squad out there, but if you’re nearby, I’d say the outfield provides enough reason to go, if not the possibility of Brad Nelson playing it.
RHP Andy Baldwin, RHP Steve Bray, RHP Jesus Colome, RHP Chad Cordero, LHP Luke French, RHP Mike Koplove, LHP Garrett Olson, RHP David Pauley, RHP Yusmeiro Petit, LHP Chris Seddon, RHP Steven Shell, RHP Levale Speigner
It’s hard to know what to do with this pitching staff, which has a variety of quad-A types and a few 40-man members, but let’s start out with Luke French. French had eight unspectacular appearances with the M’s last season, in which he was proficient at putting men on and not great at striking them out. What makes him interesting to me is that, while he was a pretty strong flyball pitcher last season, he was a groundball pitcher in the minor leagues, and had two worm-burners for every fly in spring training this year. If that trend continues, he’s more valuable. French will have to wait until game two though, as Pauley will be first up. You may have heard over the course of camp, but Pauley has a Belief System. He does not really have stuff, as he gave up 22 hits in 19.1 Cactus League innings, walking four and striking out six. His fastball is average in velocity, so he ends up surviving on his change of speed pitches, which aren’t bad. If the M’s are on to something with him, great, but given how the year started out with regard to the rotation, I’d prefer not to be at a point where we have to use him. After French, Shell, Seddon, and Petit round out the group. Shell is a bigger guy who has logged a bit of time in the major leagues with the Nats. None of his offerings are bad exactly, but scouts have been pondering over him for years because it seemed like they should be getting more out of him than he did. After spending a fair amount of time in the winter leagues in the offseason, the M’s have helped retool his delivery, and that might yield the kind of results people had been hoping for. It’s something to talk about, at least. Seddon has played parts of four seasons now in triple-A. His Ks were off last season, down to 5.5 per nine after 7.5 in Albuquerque the prior season and marks over six when he was in the Rays organization. He can give you innings, if nothing else. So can Petit, as he’s logged over a hunted innings every year going back to 2004. He’s a test case for how guys with a lot of command and little velocity will eventually hit a wall. The wall, in this case, was triple-A, where he’s given up more than a hit per inning and dropped to seven Ks per nine from earlier, double-digit heights. But hey, innings!
The other pitcher on the 40-man, Olson had a pretty bad spring training showing and was shooed out of the rotation after running a 2/8 K/BB in 3.1 innings. He’s in his last option year and he hasn’t done that well despite possessing a decent breaking pitch because his fastball is really bad. Putting him in the bullpen may give him a few extra mph on the heater, which would help. One of the good stories coming out of camp was that the coaching staff apparently figured out what was wrong with Colome, who has good but erratic stuff. He’s walked nearly five men per nine in the major leagues, while striking out around seven, and in the Cactus League season was down to two walks and up to nine Ks. He lost out in part because he wasn’t on the 40-man, but keep an eye on him. Cordero is also worth watching, if only for his history of being a 47-save closer in Washington five years ago. His fastball has reportedly returned to being a good pitch again, which is a plus, because he didn’t have a whole lot of velocity to lose in the first place. Bray was a savior for the D-Jaxx last season, coming out of nowhere to give them 144.2 innings of pretty good pitching. He doesn’t strike out that many though, and is a pretty extreme flyball pitcher, which is a comfortable fit with the park and the outfield defense, but not so hot for potential dingers he risks in some of the less favorable PCL locales. Baldwin spent the better part of two years in the Rainiers rotation before being shifted to ‘pen work for the time being. He actually improved in his second season, going from a K/BB of roughly 2.1 to 2.7 while dropping off some hits as well. I’d put him back in the rotation before I moved Olson. Speigner is a less extreme version of the Petit prototype that loses Ks as he moves up, but because he was already 22 when he was drafted, he never had the top prospect billing. Koplove has pitched in six organizations going back to 2006, three of them last season. He’s been slightly above average as a reliever in the big leagues, but that’s with three good years with the D’Backs followed by two+ years of replacement level production.
Eliezer Alfonzo, Josh Bard
For the first time in what feels like forever, the Rainiers don’t have a prospect behind the plate. Instead, they have old guys. I’m sorry, Veterans. Bard hit .338/.406/.537 for the Padres in 2006 and hasn’t done that much since. Nonetheless, he’s played only twenty-three games in the minor leagues since 2004, so I’m kind of surprised he didn’t have a clause that allowed him to get out and find a job somewhere else in the event that Moore did beat him out. Alfonzo didn’t get his first big break until he was twenty-seven (Oliveros, there’s hope for you yet) when he ended up catching eighty-seven games for the Giants, which were already his fourth organization. The M’s are his sixth, as he came through the Padres pipeline. He’s a decent triple-A hitter, batting .288/.330/.515 in parts of five seasons there, but has not impressed in the big leagues.
1B Mike Carp, 1B Tommy Everidge, 3B Matt Mangini, 1B Brad Nelson, SS Josh Wilson, SS Chris Woodward
It could be worse, you know. The Rainiers could have had four first basemen on the roster like they did last year, and then ended up with someone else who had to DH. As it stands, they’ll manage with just three. Carp is the only real prospect type of the group. He doesn’t have a significant left/right split and possesses a good eye, but his power output is inconsistent, though not as bad as the previous Rainiers first baseman. For example, in July, he did not hit a single home run and had an isolated slugging of .072. I think we can do better than Carp, and perhaps have in Kotchman, but he’s there. As is Everidge, a former A’s farmhand who has averaged over twenty home runs for the past four years. I would suppose that he serves as Sweeney insurance, but then again, Kotchman is not a platoon player, and having a guy who can only backup at first is kind of silly. If neither of those two suit your liking, there’s Brad Nelson, who hit .308/.399/.525 against right-handers in 2008. Last year was a below-average season for him, though I suppose he’s less blocked here than he would have been in Milwaukee.
Moving on to the semi-mobile guys, Mangini is the team’s starting third baseman. He hit .273/.339/.424 for the D-Jaxx last year after struggling to do much of anything in the previous half season he had in double-A. He also kept on improving over the course of the season, slugging .500 in August, though I wouldn’t want to put him in against a tough left-hander. Josh Wilson would have been the M’s back-up infielder, but since he was out of options and would have needed to be put on the 40-man, the M’s went with Tui. He’s not a good hitter in the minor leagues and hasn’t ever been even average in the majors, but he knows how to use a glove. Woodward was a passable hitter at one point, though he hasn’t been good since he turned thirty. All the same, those two are probably your starting middle infielders.
CF Ezequiel Carrera, RF Gregory Halman, LF Michael Saunders
That brings us to the final segment of our previews, which is the Rainiers outfield. I’m excited about this group, and not just for the surprise of seeing Halman in a Tacoma uniform, when they could have left him in double-A again and moved up Wilson instead. First up, Saunders, who will probably be taking over left field for us at some point. I don’t know what else there is to say about him at this point, save that what you saw of him in Seattle was not really representative. Last year in Tacoma, he cut down his strikeouts by about 30%, going from one K every 3.6 at-bats to one every 5.1, which is a pretty big deal. The only chink left in his armor is that his OPS was almost three hundred fifty points lower against left-handers last season, whereas before in his career, the split was only minor. It’s something for him to work on down there. Next is Carrera, a recent 40-man add who led the Southern League in both average (.337) and OBP (.441) last season. He’ll steal twenty-five+ bases for you in a season too, though he’s not exactly a burner, and his defensive ability is based more on reading the ball well. It’s worth noting that he’s not the most efficient baserunner either, with a success rate just under 70%. I see him as a fourth outfielder in the future. He could be more than that. We end with Halman again, he of the near 30-30 season two years ago and the .210 average, 25-HR season that followed it. Halman is an extreme boom or bust type, and while not quite as comical as his countryman Sams, he’s still prone to goofy swings and a distressing number of strikeouts. If not for some time off last season, he might have K’d 200 times last season. Caution might be excessive at this point, so instead I’ll remind everyone that he’s just 22, and already in triple-A, so it’s not impossible for him to eventually develop such important skills as pitch recognition, or at least the fortitude to hold up, ride through slumps, and not try to hit a six-run home run every time he comes to the plate.