2014 Tacoma Rainiers Preview
If you’re now wondering about this or that player whom you may not be seeing in these previews, I’d recommend starting here and scrolling back through their archives to see who has been released lately. Those not released are either in extended or injured in some way. This year it was particularly a who’s who of “oh yeah, I remember that guy! Man, whatever happened to him?” Lots of guys who at one point were draft intrigues or ranked at the back end of top 30 lists based on an interesting thing or two that they could do. The Rainiers this year seem to be… average? The rotation is uninteresting and uninspiring at the moment, but competent. The bullpen fares better on the account of employing a couple Destroyers of Worlds and a few other guys who you could probably trust with a lead. The catchers know how to catch and the infielders mostly know how to hit and the outfielders, if nothing else, can run a ball down. It’s not a star-powered roster or anything but it can probably manage out there in the wilds of the PCL.
As for where the ramblings take us, we have schadenfreude, pica (sort of), everyone’s favorite rhetorical technique, guys who could be in Pantene commercials, the 188th most popular male baby name of the 1980s, dread and doomsaying, players the Oakland A’s would probably like, and repeated instances of name confusion and pointless conjecture. Let’s get to it.
Rotation: RHP Blake Beavan, RHP Andrew Carraway (DL), LHP Anthony Fernandez, LHP James Gillheeney, RHP Brandon Maurer
I remember back in the day, I used to laugh at the Angels for starting Chone Figgins on a regular basis. Sure he walked and demonstrated a lot of speed every now and then, but he didn’t hit or slug well enough to seem to justify playing him all the time, particularly if those spots were going to be traditional power positions. Then the Mariners signed him, and for a while a lot of smart people were trying to convince me that the dread and cognitive dissonance I was experiencing were really nothing to worry about because he was a Good Player now and would help our team, in theory. I’m not sure how exactly this feeds into a discussion of Blake Beavan, but it was the first anecdote that came to mind when I thought of him. The parallels are there: he’s formerly a member of a division rival and was highly-esteemed by them for a time, and while I would make fun of the Rangers for having him, now he’s ours and it feels like chowing down on cold ashes. Beavan was a first-round pick on velocity, which he subsequently lost. In the majors, he’s given up dingers and hits, walked no one, and struck out few dudes. It would be funny in that way of universal capriciousness were it not presently happening to us.
Ruffin was traded to the M’s in August of 2011, so he’s been with the org for four more months than Luetge. Doesn’t feel like it, probably because we aren’t accustomed to seeing him, probably because he was also DFA’d. Last year’s brief major league appearances brought more of everything: hits, home runs, walks, Ks. In a way it resembled the other stretch he did with the Mariners in 2011 after the trade. Fangraphs informs me that the fastball and curve were slightly slower and the slider a bit harder, but when you’re comparing samples of 349 pitches and 185 pitches you may as well admit that you’re trying to fill out an arbitrary word count. So here’s some material for you, back when he was in Erie and Toledo his K%s were 30.9% and 26.2% respectively. In Tacoma (’12), Jackson (’13), and Tacoma again (’13, mostly relief), those drop to 16.7%, 16.4%, and 20.3%. Ruffin hasn’t be striking out as many since arriving. He’s also had more balls leave the park and reduced his overall walks. These are things that are happening. They’re also moving him back to the rotation. That’s happening too.
I’m rolling the dice on Maurer being in the rotation for now, though I could easily see him as a reliever too. On the whole, he’s seen better years than last year. He’s been a long-time favorite of mine so I was excited if slightly squeamish about the prospect of him skipping triple-A and going right to the majors. The stuff was always good, but could he remain healthy for a full season? If you had told me I wouldn’t have to worry about him getting seriously hurt, I would have been delighted. The future of his stuff not playing up well and his fastball being 92-4 instead of 93-5 and touching higher, that would have been a buzzkill. It was, in fact. Non-ERA metrics liked him a bit better, but he got knocked around a bit in the actual games and didn’t do so hot in the PCL or the AFL following the season. I need some positive points here, so let’s reflect on his dropping .071 in his wOBA from the first half to the second. Maurer had a rough year. That doesn’t mean he’s going to have a rough career. I rhymed there, so it makes it feel truer.
Fernandez is not Anthony Vasquez or Anthony Varvaro, but may be confused for either since both were Mariners and Fernandez is probably the least known guy on the 40-man. He’s probably in that precarious position Medina formerly held, in part because his profile isn’t terribly exciting. He’s made a BA Top 30 once, two years ago, when he ranked last. He’s got an average fastball for velocity and like a lot of southpaws, he’s got a good change and can generally spot his pitches well, which helps play up the tertiary breaking offerings. Last year he was in double-A for the duration and while he wasn’t new to the league, he was below-average overall as his K% was below fifteen, where usually he’s around 20%. Not much margin for error there. I’d expect he could have a major league career (his stuff at least exceeds that of Vasquez), but he’s in a vulnerable position unless he improves dramatically or something we don’t want to know about happens.
Rounding out the group is Gillheeney. Two Ls, three total Es. I don’t know how I’m mentioning him twice in the same preview, especially considering that he’s no longer with the org (released), but remember Anthony Vasquez? Gillheeney’s arsenal resembles that of Vasquez, except maybe he throws a bit harder and can mix in a slider now and then. To compare the two side by side, Gillheeney gives up fewer hits, though they travel farther (Dingers ), walks a few more guys, but also strikes out several more. He’ll have his range of good, mediocre, and bad games and in the overall scheme of things, he’ll give the team a chance and will probably finish out the season with a .500-ish record like he always does. He won’t have to pitch for the Mariners. We’ll have other people do that.
Carraway, I can have fewer reservations about liking because he came in with a limited reputation and has exceeded it. He seems like a nice guy too, smart, and I could imagine carrying on a conversation with him on the finer points in life that mostly consisted of us starting off into indefinite points in the distance and quietly pondering while ice dilutes the whisky. Carraway was pretty awful last year. It probably wasn’t supposed to go that way. Prior to his arrival in triple-A he had been good for about four Ks to every walk and only manifested the vaguest home run issue in High Desert despite being pretty firmly a flyball pitcher. In 2012, over twenty Tacoma starts, he had 2.3 Ks for every walk and gave up dingers. Last year, in twenty-two starts, he had 1.53 Ks for every walk and gave up dingers. There’s a wall for guys with mid-80s heaters, decent breaking pitches, good control, and little else. The PCL may be Carraway’s wall. He’s currently on the DL though. Ditto Mark Rogers, another starting candidate provided his healthy, which has not always been the case for him.
Bullpen: RHP Logan Bawcom, LHP Nick Hill, RHP Logan Kensing, RHP Dominic Leone, LHP Lucas Luetge, RHP Zach Miner, RHP Matt Palmer, RHP Ramon Ramirez, RHP Chance Ruffin, RHP Carson Smith
In a fair-ish world, Leone probably would have just made the Mariners out of spring training in some moderate leverage role that he proved himself in, but instead we get stuff like Beimel and that dread of just knowing that Hector Noesi might show up whenever. Like last night *shudder*. But Leone? 10/3 K/BB and six hits allowed in the Cactus League? Do these numbers mean nothing? Not exactly but eh close enough. But what about the AFL where he had a 15/1 K/BB in 12.0 innings and allowed only fourteen hits? This is going nowhere. Leone throws low-to-mid-90s and some other snappy breaking and non-breaking pitches that turn bats into toothpicks and spinning death instruments. He’s probably a setup man who specializes in late innings and making dudes feel bad as they take their stump of a tree stump back to the dugout, fully emasculated. He has slight reverse platoon splits, or did last season, so that’s sort of weird. Watch that. Maybe he needs a change-up, but then he may well ascend to the heavens and no longer need our human baseball. This summary has been brought to you in part by the rhetorical technique, hyperbole.
But the Rainiers don’t just have one guy like that. They have two guys like that, and the other one is Carson Smith, who might actually be better. Last year, he sent over a third of the batters he faced back to the dugout with a K. Overall, about 30% of the batters that faced him went down swinging. Sometimes he walks a guy. He doesn’t give up home runs. Or hits really. Or much other than groundballs and Ks considering that his GB% was about 2/3rds last year. I’d say that the easiest way to make him lose is probably to have him walk someone and then replace him with an inferior specimen who then allows said runner to score. What’s weird about what Smith does is that he doesn’t do it with the blow-away velocity of Leone or Capps, he’s in the more baseball-human realm of the low-90s, but as one can tell just by looking at how it breaks down, them pitches move. The slider included too, of course. I think the only thing I wonder about with him is that he’s always had this super-high effort delivery, which contributes to the loss of command (he walked three in an outing twice last year) and makes people wonder about injuries, but that’s about it. He’s good. He’s ours. He will make men who do a thing for their livelihood feel as though they are bad at that thing that they do.
Bawcom is probably the system’s third-most interesting reliever at the moment behind Smith and Leone, which is probably a drag for him. He doesn’t have the sheer velocity of either of those two, though he can throw faster than you, me, or the people that generally read this blog. He’ll also throw a snappy little slider that has some cutting action on it, but neither that nor his fastball are “wow” pitches as such. One thing I’ll note from last year is that it was the first full season in which his total GB% was below 40, coming in at 35.2%. While his HR% was in line with the norms, he did lose some off his K% (now below 1/4th) and dropped below double-digits in his walk% for the first time. Bawcom is slightly different from when he was with the Dodgers. But will this lead to success, or an indefinite span of conjectures pertaining to possible success?
Lucas Luetge’s middle name is Lester. Family likes their Ls. As I remember, his hair also had its own twitter account, which never happened to Chris Seddon so far as I know. One thing of interest as I go over the stats again is that Luetge gained ~ two mph on most of his offerings last year and simultaneously became more of a contact pitcher, losing both Ks and walks. That’s weird. It was also only in the major leagues because in the minors he was walking and striking out guys more than ever. The sample sizes are also close enough to equal. Baseball’s pretty weird. Luetge also lost a bullpen job to Joe Beimel, who would likely project to a similar overall value except that Beimel had to be added to the 40-man. One wonders if it’s so much an indictment of Luetge as much as it’s one of Xavier Avery or Carlos Triunfel.
The other pen lefty is Lt. Nick Hill. From 2011 to 2012, Hill threw three innings. First he had Tommy John surgery and then, as he was recovering from that, he developed a stress fracture in his left foot that kept him out for much of the next year. I have one of those in my right foot now. It’s obnoxious. So, as we’re looking at Hill’s nearly fifty innings in Jackson last year, we note that the Ks are roughly in line with expectations and the walks aren’t doing so hot relative to what he had done before when healthy and oh by the way he had a knee strain in 2010. This all helps to explain why he isn’t starting anymore. As the months went on, his strikeouts had a general positive trend upwards but the walks remained somewhat static with monthly spikes of 5% higher now and then. The combination of the two injuries is unusual, because TJ is possibly going to throw of velocity and command and stress fractures could throw off the mechanics. I guess the only way we’re going to figure anything out is by throwing him out there again. As with anything.
The rest are mercs, so I’ll take them in any old order. Ramon Ramirez is one of two Ramon Ramirezes and is the more successful of the two. He debuted in ’06 and got a usually around 60-70 innings every year except ’07 in Colorado and ’13 in San Francisco. He didn’t see much time with the Giants but it was enough to get them to say “no thank you” and send him somewhere else. Prior to that, for his career, he’d either been a rather valuable reliever (10th highest WAR in ’08) or one that at least wasn’t going to hurt you much relative to the hypothetical replacement player. Trouble is, while he’s been good for ERA, he’s also outperformed his peripherals a lot of years and the peripherals are unlikely to please. Stick him in front of a good D, see what happens?
Let’s talk guys who may or may not bump Maurer from the rotation. I’ve been typing this out for days but now I’m looking at twitter again and seeing Curto mention Beavan/Fernandez/Ruffin/Gillheeney/TBA. Miner has the minor league… did I just do that? He was a starter or took the majority of his appearances as starter from 2001 to 2008 as a farmhand of Atlanta and Detroit and picked up scattered rotation appearances in Detroit from ’06 to ’09. He was also with the Phillies last year in a similar capacity, which implies that there’s some backwash in that pipeline. Miner resembles a lot of guys who don’t catch on for long insofar as there are some home runs, and about hit an inning, and a K/BB in the neighborhood of 1.5. The offerings are a mean (no, the “average” mean) fastball for a right-hander, sliders, changes, and sometimes the odd curveball to change the eye level. The fastball and change can flash better and for his career he’s actually been slightly better against LH bats. He’s also a Scott Boras client. Whoa.
Matt Palmer has done all right for a guy who was a 31st round pick and didn’t debut in the majors until he was twenty-nine. He’s made sixty-three major league appearances and a third of those were starts. Wow, he was with the Angels for most of those? I swear, as much as I do pay attention to baseball, a lot of this just blurs. Fangraphs informs me that his fastball is average-to-slightly-above in velocity and that he’ll throw a cutter as a secondary and sometimes a curve. He can absorbs innings but hasn’t really latched on anywhere because he hands out too many free passes and despite what the name says, you usually pay for those later. As is the case with the rest of this maybe rotation, one of the signs of the team’s success will be that we don’t have to see him be a Mariner this season. Don’t worry, I do feel bad typing out things like that.
That brings me to Logan Kensing, our latest gain in an ongoing attempt to stockpile Logans. Roy Howell is all making calls to the bullpen. ”Get me Logan. No, the OTHER Logan.” Logan was only the 188th most popular male baby name of the 1980s accords to the SSA, just ahead of Edwin, Omar, and Brad for some reason. Why do we have two of them? I’ve only ever met one Edwin. Focus, focus… Kensing differentiates himself from the rest of these guys in a couple of ways, one being that his fastball has a little bit more giddyap on it (93 avg) and he’s mostly a two-pitch guy, the other being a low-80s slider. The powers that be gave up on him as a starter in his fourth season and he’s gone on for some time since then walking that line where you have enough strikeouts to be interesting but the command isn’t good enough to get you employed doing anything that requires finesse. Like Miner, he’s had slight reverse splits in his major league career, though the arsenal makes that more of a mystery as to why. My suggestion would be that he find someone left over in Tacoma to teach a cutter since that’s apparently the new wunderpitch.
Catchers: Humberto Quintero, Jesus Sucre
For a while, Jesus Sucre was a Mariner. He brought something to the Mariners that hadn’t been seen for a while, in that he could play defense and block pitches okay. It was novel. It lasted all of eight games and then he was hit by a backswing that got him in the hand, and then for a while people came to know that Brandon Bantz was not only a person, but a person capable of playing baseball. Some of you may have already forgotten this . The Mariners being the Mariners, they went back to the extreme of having catchers that were not at all proficient at what the job entails and now we have John Buck, who I hear is hilarious on that front. Sucre is not hilarious because competence rarely is. Or maybe he’s funny if you get to know him and speak Spanish, I don’t know. The point is that he’ll be here holding down the fort if needed. He’s hit all right a few times in his career, but the value is mostly in his average.
The alternative is that Humberto Quintero becomes a thing again, but he’s not on the 40-man presently and I don’t particularly like when my projections take into account The Bad Stuff. Humberto Quintero was a Mariner last year for all of twenty-two games and hit .224/.257/.328. It was his tenth year playing part of a season in the major leagues and only twice in all those years has he had more than 250 at-bats, and neither of those times did he have an OPS exceeding .600. If you were to remind me that Quintero has only been with the Mariners this past season, as I just reminded me, I would have been and was utterly surprised. Perhaps it was just the earlier Padres tenure, but I feel like he’s been around in the system forever. Jose Yepez, Guillermo Quiroz… they all blend together after a while.
Infielders: UT Leury Bonilla, 1B Ji-man Choi, SS/UT Nick Franklin, UT Ty Kelly, 1B/DH Jesus Montero, SS Gabriel Noriega, SS Chris Taylor, 3B/UT Nate Tenbrink
There was this dread pervasive in the part of my life devoted to thinking about baseball, the dread that the Mariners, having painted themselves into a corner, were going to trade Nick Franklin for a middling starting pitcher just sort of because. Spring training dragged on. Brad Miller won. Franklin played some outfield and then… nothing. Does that mean the dread was never justified? No. The dread is always justified.
So Nick Franklin’s here now and is probably going to prove that he has little to prove in the PCL, after which he’ll move on to more advanced proofs that involve neat diagrams and symbols most people wouldn’t understand. Two things that I’m thinking about regarding him at the moment: 1) scouts tend to insist that no prospect is going to stick at short because it’s a safe bet and they’re also accustomed to watching waterbugs who will never hit enough to get to the majors anyway (one of which is on this very roster!). These days, they’re pretty tolerant of the notion that Franklin can play short. Aces. 2) Somehow, at the beginning of last season, Franklin managed to “simplify his swing” and suddenly came around to where he wasn’t a liability as a RH bat. But did you know that of his sixteen total dingers last season, only one was right-handed? More progress probably needs to be made.
This is the portion of the preview where I lament the loss of a potential Miller/Franklin infield. He was and still is but doesn’t feel like ours! We could have thrown money at some non-Cruz outfielder, like Ellsbury or something. It’s not like we have that many outfield prospects anyway, that’s just the overflow room now for our spare infielders. Arg… Let’s talk about other things.
One reason people might have to think that Franklin is not long for those organization is that the Mariners already bumped Chris Taylor to the PCL. Taylor’s a funny guy offensively because he has all of ten dingers over eight-hundred-odd minor league plate appearances, but he walks and strikes out like a power hitter. 117/84 K/BB last season to go with his .141 ISO that’s plainly driven up by High Desert. The scouting term for this sort of thing would be “patient to a fault,” but I’ve heard that he does swing at some bad pitches with some frequency. What power he does provide should more resemble something like thirty doubles, ten triples, and a fistful of home runs as a ceiling, which is fine for a middle infielder. Where he adds to the value is in the extreme walk numbers, as outlined, and the capacity to steel some thirty bases. Oh, and he’s also rather good at defense, but I assumed that you knew that just like I’ll also assume that you know that all scouts seem to question shortstop arm strength and that he’s no exception. Overall opinion on him ranges from utility infielder to starter and I think I’m leaning more starter at this point. I’m not encouraged to bet against him at this point.
An intriguing thing to come out of camp is the potential time share between Choi and Montero at first, which prompted the late release of Rich Poythress, who will go on to be written about by some other team’s minor league blogger, who is like and not like me, in similar terms. What this seems to establish is that as rushed as Choi was last season, the Mariners are confident enough letting him do his thing in triple-A. Last year’s splits give some rational basis for this, as it was a trend that he would struggle initially, then adjust and be okay from there out. Scouts still emphatically dislike him because his game is more doubles (~30-40) and plate discipline (near even K/BB, 60+ walks) than muscling pop outs into home runs (probably high teens and twenties), but then I think that the Oakland A’s would probably make the playoffs multiple seasons with a first baseman of Choi’s mold. The question is whether the Mariners would so much as attempt it. Now if he suddenly becomes an amazing defender at first, he could be in the same broad grouping as, I don’t know, John Olerud?
Montero is more the traditional first baseman in projected production and middling athleticism that necessitated that he as a grown man be taught how to run (hehehe, look at his little legs go!). When Montero came to camp having spent most of the past few weeks eating, the Mariners hung him out to dry and a lot of us, coming in from that positive high of following Pete Carroll, soured on the move on principle. Why should a player be publicly called out like that? But then he got motivated and both the reports and the numbers suggest that he was really hitting well. Motivation is a tricky thing. Either of these guys could resolve into a first baseman or DH of the future, or neither could, or it could go to D.J. Peterson, or someone we don’t even know about yet. Projections are hard.
Noriega is also around, but I don’t think that anyone really expects him to take at-bats away from Franklin or Taylor, which makes you wonder why he’s there at all. He can field. He strikes out more than one would like for what he provides as a contact hitter, doesn’t walk, and his power may not actually round to zero, but I totally thought about saying it. It’s more than what Marte in Jackson has shown, I can tell you that much. He’s still managed 400 or more plate appearances in each of the last four seasons, coinciding with his tenure in full-season leagues, but it’s hard to see that happening here without depressing roster reconfiguration which will probably happen. Ugh.
By now, Tenbrink’s story seems so familiar that I can abbreviate somewhat: hitting wunderkind, serious concussion, not-yet-recovered production, not totally established position on the field. He played some winter ball this past offseason and was amazing in the LVBP, batting .300/.429/.525 for the Bravos, but the other half of the season he was batting less than a third of that all around for the Etrellas in the Dominican league. More positive sorts would latch onto the recent events of him being good in spring training and I would like to as well, if not for its notorious vagaries. Bold predictions: Tenbrink will hit, or not hit, or somewhere in between. He will play the field somewhere or he will DH.
Kelly is kind of in a similar position as Tenbrink insofar as his being an offense-first utility player. Kelly stands out because he walks more than anyone else in the organization by a considerable margin. Doesn’t hit for much more than doubles, but the man can draw a free pass. He had five of them in spring training with only something like twenty-two plate appearances. It’s uncanny. Heck, I’ve written up guys here in the past couple of days that might have as many walks in three or four seasons as Kelly can manage in one, since he had over a hundred last year. One just wonders if it’s enough given that no one knows where to put him defensively. This seems like another problem for the Oakland A’s to someday solve.
It’s been some years since Bonilla played all nine positions in a game, and yet, the fact that he did it makes me still want him in the organization on a lifetime contract either coaching or doing as he will on the field. I don’t particularly care that he has a career .245/.318/.335 line in double-A and a .244/.284/.320 line in triple-A. That he managed, courtesy of a triple, to post a 2.000 OPS in spring training this year doesn’t really concern me either. He’s not likely breaking out, he probably would never see the Mariners except in a Jamie Bubela or Mickey Lopez “lost season” capacity, nor is he taking at-bats away from someone more valuable or likely to break a team’s playoff chances as the last man on the roster. I just like him. I like knowing that he’s there.
Outfielders: CF Xavier Avery, CF Endy Chavez, OF Cole Gillespie, RF James Jones
Last year, it appeared as though James Jones had solved his “I-can’t-hit-in-April” issue and eventually did enough to warrant an addition to the 40-man in the winter. In Cactus League action, he basically charmed everyone and drew strong reviews for his speed and arm strength. He did not hit especially well. That’s sort of where I’m at with Jones right now: I like him as a player, but where I am now convinced that he probably doesn’t have to switch to the mound (Johermyn Chavez waves from the distance), whether he’ll hit enough to stick as a 4th OF let alone a starter is something that I wonder about, especially with his offensive production looking classically like the tweener setup of “doubles, triples, some walks, few home runs.” He’d more easily establish himself by playing more center, in my opinion, and I absolutely believe that he can and likely should.
Endy Chavez has already done the fourth outfielder turned starter thing, multiple times! He even was a Mariners opening day left fielder, but sometime later Yuniesky Betancourt happened. I feel like I could make the “Mariners left fielders are like Spinal Tap drummers” analogy, but it’s been made so often that I really would prefer a better second part to that. Endy can hit a bit, run, defend. The Rainiers will have a good defensive outfield because of him and may need it with the scrubs they have out there. Maybe he plays for the Mariners this season, maybe not.
After clearing waivers, Avery has landed in Tacoma. His names kind of blend together. Xavier Avery. Ex-Aviary. He bats and throws lefty, plays center mostly, has some speed, strikes out a lot, walks tolerably well, and has limited power. In the event that something happens with Almonte, he’s probably our second line of defense after Chavez, which itself presumes that the Mariners don’t instead do something like move Saunders back to center and slot James Jones in right, which also seems like a plausible scenario.
I keep confusing Cole Gillespie with Conor Gillaspie. One was a first-round pick and plays for the White Sox at third and the other is a former Brewer which means that he’s probably our guy. Gillespie with an E (you can remember it because his first name also has an E) has bounced around three orgs and has a career line of .290/.386/.475 in some five-hundred-odd triple-A games, playing mostly the outfield. He has not latched on to a major league team for long enough to prove anything and the Mariners this time around decided they preferred Stefen Romero, who is not thirty. Such is the minor leagues, I guess. I’m sure he’ll get back to the majors if he remains healthy, but it may not be with the Mariners.