2011 Tacoma Rainiers Preview
This our triple-A team. I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking repeat. The new park down there in Tacoma is also looking really nice now and I’m looking forward to checking it out in the coming weeks, as soon as they’re playing at home and I have the free time to get there.
With this, the minor league preview season is done and the minor league regular season starts tomorrow. I won’t have a wrap up for the first Monday, because four games isn’t so much to look at, but things should resume their usual routine on the following Monday. I’ll be working on other projects in the meantime.
Pitching Staff: RHP Denny Bautista, RHP Blake Beavan, [LHP Fabio Castro,] RHP Dan Cortes, RHP Manny Delcarmen, LHP Luke French, LHP Cesar Jimenez, RHP Justin Miller, LHP Edward Paredes, LHP Royce Ring, RHP Chaz Roe, LHP Chris Seddon, RHP Chris Smith
Unlike the other levels, we actually know who is in the rotation here. It’s going to be French, Beavan, Seddon, Roe, and Castro is rumored to be joining the team later as the fifth starter. I can say it’s in that order thanks to Mike Curto’s blog. French is nominally the ace of the staff, and has come off two triple-A seasons with a sub-3.00 ERA. The weird thing about that is that he lost nearly three strikeouts per nine innings last year and still managed to get by. We’re hoping that he continues throwing the slider and recovers some of those Ks he had back in the Tigers org.
Beavan is another guy who could be in consideration for the back part of the rotation soon enough. His spring training wasn’t all that impressive, as he gave up five runs on nine hits and ran a 3/2 K/BB in 7.0 innings. There were some rumors going around that he came to camp with an extra tick or two on the fastball, which would be nice, as he’s had a surprising number of runs score against him since joining the Mariners org. I’m all for anything that makes the Rangers look more foolish in that trade.
Third up is Seddon, who briefly saw time with the Mariners last season. His 2010 campaign was an improvement over his 2009, with fewer hits, home runs, and walks allowed and a few extra Ks here and there. He’s also in his physical prime, so it kind of makes sense to have him around.
Roe was the guy we got for Jose Lopez, which means that whenever he pitches you can remember that Jose Lopez is no longer a Mariner. He pitched pretty well in his second trip through double-A, but really got lit up in Colorado Springs, as is often the case. In his case it was mostly hits and not the home runs. He has good stuff and unimpressive command. The fact that he’s still reasonably young means we’re still interested in him.
Last in the rotation is the system’s shortest pitcher, even smaller than the recently released Derrick Saito. Last season was the first in which Castro pitched entirely in triple-A, as the previous four seasons he had bounced between double-A and triple-A. He may have finally made the adjustment, but it’s hard to tell. He’s also still technically youngish at 26, and could get some consideration for the M’s staff if the need arises and he’s showing something resembling command of the strike zone.
The bullpen looks like a who’s who of quad-A types who can strike out fellows but lack that extra bit of command that would allow them to succeed in the big leagues. The exception here (to the quad-A label at least) might be Dan Cortes, whom a lot of people liked as a candidate to break camp with the Mariners and perhaps even close in the future. And then it was discovered that he was still on poor terms with the strikezone. Whoopsies. Cortes was still a starter halfway through last season, so there remains some hope that something in relieving clicks with him and he’s suddenly able to throw the ball for strikes as though by magic.
Going over the other farm system products, we have Jimenez and Paredes. Jimenez has pitched less than thirty innings in the past two years and was still put on the 40-man roster in the offseason for reasons foggy to most of us. He had a good ERA, but pretty bad command for the Cardenales in the offseason. I don’t know what else to say about him beyond “he’s still here.” Change-up specialists with limited breaking balls aren’t often the best options in relief because they struggle to get same-handed hitters out, which is supposed to be the point of having them around. Paredes got his first taste of triple-A last year and was just awful. Improvements in his command that seemed to have happened in 2009 are now forgotten and dismissed as being probably illusory. His stuff is still good enough to make the cut, but he’s also a guy who I can see filling out a spot in a triple-A bullpen five or ten years from now while everyone else wonders if this could be the year for him. I really hope that’s not the case though.
From there, we have Delcarmen, Miller, Ring, Bautista, and Mr. Smith. Ring was the closest to making the team out of camp. He’s still the same guy that you don’t want facing a right-handed hitter ever, but overall, there aren’t a lot of guys in our current bullpen scheme that are indispensible and if it seems like we’re struggling against left-handers late in games, he could make his way up. This assumes that the Mariners will ever have a lead again. Bautista is this year’s Jesus Colome. Awesome stuff, unwatchable command. At least he’s coming off a campaign in Fresno where he posted one of the lowest walk rates of his career at 3.6. Today I discovered that he’s a cousin of Pedro and Ramon Martinez.
Delcarmen was good for the Red sox years ago, but has lost his mojo, it seems. In spring training, there was no evidence of it, and his velocity seemed to be down into somewhat dangerous territory. Miller is the most tattooed player Tacoma has had since Bobby Madritsch. Miller has a big LA tattoo for the Dodgers, whom he pitched for last year and is not pitching for now. He had a 1.95 ERA last year in the minor leagues which hardly seems possible when Albuquerque is your home park. Chris Smith’s middle name is Michael, which really just adds to the effect (did you know that Carp is also Christopher Michael Carp?). He works hard and exceeds expectations despite middling stuff, though he had kind of a rough tour of the PCL last year, relative to the previous campaigns.
Catchers: Josh Bard, Chris Gimenez
With the injury to Moore today, who knows what this will look like tomorrow, but for now, Bard and Gimenez. Bard hit .235/.284/.412 in twenty-four games for the Rainiers last year and then was .214/.276/.357 in thirty-nine games in Seattle. I remember a time when it seemed like he could hit, back when he was with the Padres, but that’s a fading memory these days.
Due to how the roster is constructed, Gimenez figures to spend most of his time behind the plate and not in the outfield. This is his first year out of the Indians organization, but with Wedge nearby, I suppose the circumstances aren’t totally unfamiliar. His recent hitting has been better than what Bard has managed, though it’s not saying a whole lot.
Infielders: 2B Dustin Ackley, UT Leury Bonilla, 1B/LF Mike Carp, IF Jetsy Extrano, SS Sean Kazmar, 3B Alex Liddi, 1B Matt Tuiasosopo
Ackley! Some other guys! From May on, Ackley was drawing more walks than strikeouts and just barely missed having an even season total. The walk rate declined significantly once he got to triple-A, but he also experienced and interesting power surge and ended up hitting five home runs for the Rainiers. More than anything, he’s down there to work on his defense. I still think that he’s a guy that could take a little while to get adjusted to major league pitching, but one never knows.
Elsewhere on the infield, we have Liddi, Kazmar, and Tui as the probable third baseman, shortstop, and first baseman. Liddi had a follow-up to his Cal League campaign which was solid enough to indicate that it wasn’t merely a park-induced breakout. He’s still not really a great third base prospect, and could stand to improve the mechanics of his defense while striking out a little less, but overall he’s still worth keeping an eye on.
Kazmar got every spring training at-bat we had to spare. His career high in OPS over a full season is .715, which he set in the Midwest League as a twenty-year-old, with his .707 OPS for Portland last year ( 🙁 ) coming in second. He’s not bad with the glove, though, just not at the level of the existing options, even if he hits roughly the same.
Tui’s 2010 was at best forgettable. He saw fifty games with the M’s and was awful at the plate. He wasn’t any good on the field. He was worth -0.9 WAR. In Tacoma, he just hit .252/.392/.399, though that did come with a near even strikeouts to walks ratio which is really rather surprising. Tui’s value is almost entirely locked up in his ability to hit seeing as how we don’t really expect him to do positive things defensively anymore. Hitting Tui can seem interesting. Not-hitting Tui is not someone you want on the team.
The easy bet for DH would be Mike Carp. Carp fell off the radar with the acquisition of Smoak because there are only so many first basemen one needs. I had lost interest a bit before because even though he hit nearly thirty dingers last year (DINGERS!), almost twice as many as he had the year prior, he had a .200/.300/.324 line against left-handers. All but three of his home runs came against right-handers. So really, these days he’s looking like half a platoon. It’s really odd considering that his previous years splits were close to even, but here we are. Minor league baseball sure is funny!
Filling the utility roles for the foreseeable future will be Leury Bonilla and Jetsy Jens Extrano. Bonilla got his first full year in double-A last year and had a .739 OPS. He played every position for the D-Jaxx last year, and has pitched in the last four seasons when the need arises. Bonilla is no prospect, but he’s a pretty cool guy to have around. Extrano was in Pulaski last year, so the promotion is likely an emergency maneuver. He’s a decent defender with limited bat skills, and, sorry Curto, he’s not a burner on the basepaths.
Outfielders: CF Greg Halman, RF Carlos Peguero, LF Mike Wilson
This is right up there with the Dunigan/Halman/Sams outfield of the 2007 Aquasox for visual entertainment value. Big dudes, and all home run hitters. Halman figures to take over in center as the best of the available options, though Wilson could get starts if Halman needs a day off (I’d advise using Bonilla instead). Halman walked a little bit more last seasons, which is certainly nice, as were the thirty-three home runs, but factoring for total number of plate appearances, his strikeouts didn’t go down at all. He remains the same exploitable hitter he has always been.
In right field, we have Peguero, who hit a bunch of home runs in April of last year and then didn’t do much after that. He doesn’t have too big of a platoon split, but it seems like left-handers try to jam him more than right-handers do and that results in a lot more pop ups and a lower average overall. I would say handling inside pitches is one area he could stand to improve, but we’re also talking about a guy who struck out 178 times last season. At least he seems to be a little concerned about his defense these days.
Wilson has been in the system longer than I’ve been covering it, and about as long as I’ve been paying attention to it. He hopes to stick with Tacoma for a full season this year after spending parts of the last five seasons in double-A (he too, knew what it was like to have our affiliate in San Antonio). Staying healthy is one of the important things for him. Another would be improving on defense, as we saw in spring training when everything that went to him seemed to be a disaster in the making. The org still seems to like him even if I don’t.