2012 Tacoma Rainiers Preview
Before we get into it, there is one last, less exciting aspect of “who’s going where?” and that is the usual round of releases. The first one in mid-March cleared out thirteen while the second got rid of another ten. A lot of these releases, I was initially pretty surprised by, but then I went to look up the stats from last season and saw that it’s largely the non-performers and guys who saw limited time, but it will remind you of certain things, like how Danny Cruz never lived up to the bonus, how Kasparek’s career stalled, and how McOwen and Shaffer were both interesting fourth outfielder prospects at one time.
And did you know that Colorado Springs has a humidor now? It’s true!
This is the end of this round of graphomania. Thanks to Marc, who let me use some of the pictures he’s taken to help break up the text slightly. I’ll be back not this Monday, but the Monday after to talk about what’s been going on in the first week and a half. For now, enjoy opening day.
Rotation: RHP Matt Fox, RHP Jeff Marquez, LHP Mauricio Robles, RHP Forrest Snow, LHP Anthony Vasquez
I suppose that the main hope that people will have with this rotation will be that it becomes more interesting later. It has some components to it, but relative to Jackson, I don’t think that the fans living in that part of the country are going to be jealous of us. Mike Curto’s blog says the rotation will be Fox, Marquez, Robles, Snow, and Vasquez which seems… alphabetical.
The two guys that you might actually find on some prospect lists (deep into them) are Robles and Snow. Snow made a name for himself in spring training by showing up to the clubhouse each day wearing a suit, but he probably would have already gotten some attention since he went to Lakeside and the UW. He was mostly a starter last year and was showing an average to slightly better velocity and a bunch of wacky change-ups which he calls “Snowflakes.” It’s weird for a right-hander to have a better change than a breaking ball, but whatever. Since he pretty much bypassed Jackson entirely and wasn’t exactly dominating as a starter, I don’t expect to see him with the M’s this year, though crazier things have happened and this year’s rotation is hardly impenetrable.
Robles had a weird run last season. He opened the year needing surgery to pull out some bone chips from his elbow, and usually that’s a minor procedure with limited long-term consequences, except that for whatever reason he lost about three miles off his fastball and couldn’t figure out his secondary offerings. So, where his previous season low in strikeouts per nine was 7.8, and you could generally expect him around ten, last year he was 6.4. While his command had never been good, he averaged less than five walks per nine. Last year he was handing out a free pass every inning. Part of the early goings this season will be an effort to determine how broken he is. Unlike Snow, he’s actually on the 40-man.
One guy you probably won’t find on prospect lists is Anthony Vasquez, who was historically awful last season in his debut and removed from the 40-man after the season. He’s always had pretty bad stuff which he’s outperformed, so no one could figure out where the wall was going to be for him. We found it, you guys! There might be some more velocity in him given the delivery, but I think they’re just hoping that he’s an innings sponge, as he’s always been.
Fox and Marquez were both invites to spring training and fall under the quad-A umbrella. Fox has always had decent strikeout rates, but his walks are higher than one would be comfortable with and he’s had some dinger issues the past couple of seasons. Marquez has hit his spots better in a few of his minor league seasons, but he’s never really had the strikeouts that anyone thought he would have. He was supplemental first round pick by the Yankees back in 2004. Baseball is the weirdest thing.
Bullpen: LHP Charlie Furbush, LHP Cesar Jimenez, RHP Shawn Kelley, RHP Josh Kinney, LHP Oliver Perez, RHP Chance Ruffin
This is a pretty decent bullpen, in large part because, hey, a lot of these guys are or recently were on the 40-man. Let’s start with them, shall we?
Kelley, we all know and love and have talked about fairly recently. He had some surgery last season which wasn’t really Tommy John so much as an attempt to re-attach a tendon from a previous surgery. He got 17.2 innings in the high minors late in the season and then looked like he would be more or less on track to get a job in spring training after going another 12.2 innings in September and running a 10/3 K/BB. The fastball was about two miles off what we had been used to seeing, but it was still somewhat early in the process and he’d have time to get it back. I don’t remember the gun readings for him this spring, but the M’s decided to send him down for their own reasons.
Ruffin is a guy whose name gets dropped in sometime after six on most top ten lists this winter. He came over in the Fister trade as the PTBNL. He throws his heater in the low-to-mid-90s and has one of the best sliders in the system. Some like him as a setup/closing candidate, but I live in some crazy world where Pryor and Capps both reach their potential and who needs a 92-95 mph heater when you have ones approaching 100? Ruffin’s pitched less than fifty innings in the minor leagues and had a walk rate of over four while he was down there, so I don’t think it hurts to have him work on a thing or two down there.
Furbush was the guy that lost out in the Battle of Bullpen Lefties despite a valiant final effort. Luetge struck out more guys in fewer innings, and Sherrill’s spring training numbers don’t matter in the same way that other spring training numbers might, if they do at all. For things that he could work on, I think the walks only need minor improvement, so the real sore spot is the home runs. The past couple of years, he’s been giving up a few too many of those, and no one likes that from a pitcher. Furbush’s middle name is “Roderick.”
Jimenez was recently on the 40-man, and then not on the 40-man. I used to think of myself as a defender of him when he was coming up the minor league ladder as a starter, but that was back in 2004. Jeepers. Jimenez had more walks than strikeouts in the LVBP this winter. He had a .360 average against too. Last year he also had one of his higher career walk rates, but the past four years it looks like he’s been alternating between “below two” and “above four”, not that the sample sizes actually mean much of anything. Last year was a bigger sample; he didn’t do well.
Kinney and Perez are both imports. Kinney was with the White Sox last year and saw time in the majors with the Cardinals before that. His fastball comes in around 90 mph and between that and the slider, he’s pretty much a two-pitch guy with the occasional curve mixed in for flavor. He has had good groundball rates throughout his career. It’s something, but without the 40-man spot that the other guys have, he’s working harder to get himself onto the radar.
In 2004, Perez struck out 239 in 196.0 innings and didn’t get a single Cy Young vote because there were Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, and Roy Oswalt to consider. Four years later, with the Mets, he led the major leagues with 105 walks in 194.0 innings. Following that season, he re-signed with the Mets for $36 million over three years. Since that time he hasn’t pitched well or often. He was in the Nationals’ double-A rotation last year. Oliver Perez is a weird player to be thinking about.
Catchers: Brandon Bantz, Guillermo Quiroz
These guys are holding the spot down for now, but Adam Moore will be back here soon enough and will be working to try to re-establish himself. It’s possible that, if Olivo’s option isn’t picked up, we could be looking at a Montero/Jaso/Moore catching situation in 2013.
If someone were to say, “organization catcher” to me, I might think of Bantz almost immediately. He was the starting backstop for Jackson last year, playing in eighty-three games for them despite hitting .216/.321/.267. It’s the walks that save his wOBA from being way down there, and he can lay down a sacrifice when need be, and he’s thrown around 40% or more of his runners out in each of the seasons he’s played. Not an exciting prospect, but he is what he is and that’s not that bad.
Quiroz was an exciting prospect for a time. #35 in all of baseball prior to the 2004 season! Since then, he’s been less than inspiring and never has hit well in his major league showings. The Orioles tried him out for fifty-six games and walked away with a 40 OPS+ from the position. But he likes us, and keeps coming back even after stints with Texas and the Padres. It’s nice to be needed, and since our high-minors catching situation has been poor for a while, both sides get something out of this exchange.
Infielders: 3B Vinnie Catricala, DH Luis Antonio Jimenez, 1B/OF Johan Limonta, IF Luis Rodriguez, IF Scott Savastano, SS Carlos Triunfel
Man. I’m looking at a Rainiers roster that doesn’t have Matt Tuiasosopo. Weird.
Catricala, doing stuff with the glove
In spring training, Catricala hit .313/.351/.531, which was still worse than what both Liddi and Seager hit and they were both on the 40-man. As a result, one of the better all-around bats in the system is headed to triple-A, which I’ll remind you that he hasn’t seen yet anyway. Here’s an interesting note: in 2010, he struck out 112 times in 577 plate appearances. In 2011, he struck out 92 times in 600 plate appearances. Improvement! The main thing we’re looking out of him is improvement at third, enough perhaps to hold down the position. Spring training demonstrated that he was capable of a really good play now and then, so I think that he could probably pass there long-term if we needed him to.
I guess that means I’m talking about Carlos Triunfel now? Last year was his second full season back from his injury and he hit .281/.340/.392 in Jackson, which was an OPS improvement of over a hundred points over the previous year. He also started swinging and missing a bit more, so with the increased in doubles, about thirty more Ks appeared on the scene. And he stopped grounding into nearly as many double plays. And he’s still rather young. Triunfel’s name keeps appearing on the deeper prospect lists, but I don’t think about him much anymore, placing me in the comfortable place of anything positive being a pleasant surprise.
Triunfel, about to show off his plus arm.
That covers the left side of the infield. On the right side, Triunfel’s double play partner is probably Luis Rodriguez. Some thought he stood a chance to be the backup infielder for the Mariners this year, but then Kawasaki appeared on the scene, Rodriguez failed to hit, and everyone sort of forgot about him. But we will always remember those wacky bloop hits of his at the expense of remembering that he really wasn’t all that good of a hitter otherwise. He could walk though. Oh yes, he could walk. Kidding aside, with the offensive inflation that the PCL experienced last year, I’m curious to see if he can follow up on his 2010 campaign in the International League which saw some impressive slugging numbers.
Savastano is another candidate for second base, I guess. That’s where he played most of last year and second and first are now tied for his most-played position. If only he could play center in a pinch. Sigh. Some people who follow the minor leagues a lot love the guy. I’m not one of them. If you look at the wOBA, he’s been a bit above average for every stop, but a hitter needs more than that if his position is DH or otherwise uncertain. If he keeps hitting, he could eventually find a career as a bat-first utility player.
Limonta has been slightly better in wOBA for a while, but lacks the agility to play around the field as much and the fact that he throws left-handed leaves him at first base a lot. It’s not that he lacks power, he has a couple of seasons of 40+ doubles under his belt, but the home runs seem to show up in fits and starts and it feels like he’ll hit a home run a few days in a row and then go weeks without. It makes the defensive limitations more damning.
Jimenez doesn’t have to worry about being defensively limited as he’s the team’s spherical guy who wants to punish the enemy’s spheres. How this guy didn’t catch on and dominate in Japan, I have no idea. I tried to look up his page on Statcorner, but it looks like he overloaded it. He hit .294/.383/.468 between two stops last year and through 104 games, he only appeared on the field seven times. Truly, he is incredible.
Outfielders: CF Darren Ford, RF Carlos Peguero, CF Trayvon Robinson, RF Mike Wilson
Home stretch! Carlos Peguero is down here where you don’t have to watch him unless you want to, though I suppose there are off switches on the radio and TV, unless you’re in some kind of torture chamber and if so, I apologize, that was insensitive of me. Early on in camp, there was mention of Peguero trying to improve his approach. He looked good early on, then less good, then more or less like the Peguero of old, where he could knock a hung slider out of the park and then swing at and whiff on a pitch in the dirt in the next at bat. It’s worth pointing out that he walked in only 5.8% of his plate appearances in Tacoma last year which was his lowest rate in the past three years. Peguero makes me wonder about the viability/legality of operant conditioning, because his power is still something that very few of our minor leaguers have.
Trayvon Robinson also has a strikeout issue though not in the same way as Peguero or Almonte because he actually walks now and then. A funny thing happened to Trayvon over the past two years. He went from twenty-three doubles and nine home runs in 2010 to nine doubles and twenty-six home runs in 2011. It kind of looks strange, doesn’t it? Also he went from thirty-eight stolen bases to nine. So that happened. Offense was up in the PCL, which we’ve talked about, a lot, and I noticed where there was a shift towards him being more of a flyball hitter last year. Intriguing. He’s on the 40-man and is one of the more viable minor league CF prospects we have, it’s just that there are flaws (strikeouts), and the power that made him really interesting may be something of an illusion.
After ten+ years of being in the Mariners minor league system, Mike Wilson finally made it last year. Everyone thought it was great. He didn’t play much and hit pretty terribly. Then he went away, and people stopped asking me questions about him. Not because he was bad in Tacoma either, he had a wOBA of .433, which was 20% better than the league average even with all the other crazy stuff that was happening. So he got pulled off the 40-man, then came back, and walked a lot in spring training but didn’t hit home runs since Carlos Peguero was the one getting to do all that. He could make it to the major leagues again, since we don’t have a great deal of outfield depth. It’s hard to imagine him as part of The Plan though.
The last guy is Darren Ford, who was in the major leagues with the Giants last year. Oh look, he was once drafted by the Brewers. Will wonders never cease. This will be his first real taste of triple-A ball. He’s had 300+ games in advanced-A, and around a full season in double-A, scattered over two seasons, but only eighteen games in triple-A. Weird. He has some similarities with Trayvon, but doesn’t strike out as much or have quite the same power. He’s been a starter throughout his minor league career and would maintain that if one of Wilson or Peguero takes some of the DH spots, but I’m not in on the plan there.
This overall looks increasingly like what triple-A rosters have looked like to me lately. There are scattered pockets of talent and enough veterans to make the team competitive. I just don’t know if there’s a player here that would compel me to hop in the car and drive down to Tacoma, which I feel bad about, but I am horribly busy at most times. Thank goodness the school year ends before the draft or else I’d really be in trouble. I’m sure Marc will be happy to fill you in on the details in the meantime. Were I any closer, I’d probably be at Cheney a lot more often.
And that’s it. I’m done. SO LONG SUCKERS.