Happy Rainers Opening Day
We just had opening day in MLB, and look how great that felt. Why not do it all over again, but in dozens and dozens of smaller cities across the country? JY’s given you the run-down of the rosters and who to watch, but I can’t let this day go without saying something about the greatness of the minors and some of the interesting series to put on your calendar.
Today’s Rainiers game pits Blake Beavan against righty Stephen Fife of the Albuquerque Isotopes. Both starters fall into a rather unfortunate category – those who are probably better suited for MLB than the PCL, but aren’t terribly well-suited to MLB either. Not quite good enough to crack the roster of their big league club, they have to make their low-90s/high-80s work in an environment seemingly built to destroy low-90s fastballs. Fife has the good sense to throw sinkers in the high-altitude environment of Albuquerque, and Beavan’s fly-balling ways are well-suited to Tacoma-in-April, but the league context is so toxic, that they’re not looking to put up gaudy stats and force a call-up. They’re here to get in work and wait for the call.
The Rainiers look to be a solid club this year, with a solid offense hopefully making up for a so-so rotation. As Jay mentioned, the bullpen looks excellent, so if they can get leads, they stand a good chance of holding on to them. Nick Franklin’s obviously the guy to watch on offense, and I’m curious to see how James Jones takes to the PCL this season after seeing him for just a couple of days at the tail end of 2013. Carson Smith is, to me, the best pitching prospect, with his sidearm delivery and 92-94mph sinkers/sliders causing serious problems to batters throughout his tenure in the org. Dominic Leone has more pure velocity, and he could see Seattle this year as well.
Games to see: We’ve talked about it before, but pitching depth was at a premium in MLB this year, as so many starters went down in the off-season or during spring training. That’s meant that a lot of pitchers who ordinarily might have been ticketed for the PCL are now in the majors (like Roenis Elias), and it feels like we’re not seeing quite as many great starters begin in AAA in 2014 as we did last year with Wacha, Walker, Paxton, Miller, etc. That said, the PCL isn’t bereft of great pitchers. The early season series to target if you want to see high-quality arms is probably the early-May four-gamer in which the Rainiers host the Las Vegas 51s. Las Vegas is the Mets’ affiliate, and boasts Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero. IF Wilmer Flores will be around too.
A few weeks later, the Reno Aces come to Tacoma, which ought to give us the opportunity to see #5 prospect in baseball Archie Bradley. Salt Lake’s in town to close out May, and they should sport the Angels top prospect, 2B Taylor Lindsey, but “top prospect for the Angels” hasn’t meant a whole lot in the barren, post-Trout years. We haven’t mentioned Javier Baez, far and away the best prospect in the PCL, and perhaps all of AAA. That’s because his Iowa Cubs don’t come to town until late August, and if Baez (and double-play partner Arismendy Alcantara) are still on the team, something may have gone wrong. Baez made a splash in spring training, including hitting one HR against the M’s that still hasn’t come down, and I just can’t see him lasting until August.
The other big position player prospect to catch would be George Springer, who, somewhat surprisingly, returns to Oklahama City to start 2014. OKC heads to Tacoma June 21st-24th, and they also feature 1B Jon Singleton and RHP Mike Foltynewicz, meaning that they have three of the top 100 prospects in baseball (or did…not sure Singleton is/should be on there anymore). The second series of the year features new PCL club El Paso, the new Padres’ affiliate (they’re building a new stadium in downtown El Paso, but it isn’t done yet, so they’ll be on the road essentially all of April). They’re not exactly loaded (though pitcher Keyvius Sampson’s worth seeing), but they’re called the Chihuahuas, and there’s something perfectly minor league about that.
Cheap beer night is Thursday (including tonight), GOOD beer night is Wednesday (NW Craft Beer night, $5 20oz beers from the featured brewery each Wed. home game). You should go early and often.