PCL Preview/Tacoma Home Opener

marc w · April 5, 2018 at 6:15 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

You’ve read JY’s great overview of the Rainiers, you’ve seen Mike Curto’s preview, you can scan the roster here – if you’re still in the mood for more Rainiers coverage, particularly after that unfortunate M’s loss, you’re in luck. As in past years, I’ll run through the Rainiers, who might make it up later in the year, and some of the notable prospects who’ll come through Tacoma at some point in 2018. I love the M’s and all of their affiliates, but the Rainiers will always be my favorite, a product of growing up in Tacoma and then close to Cheney as a fledgling M’s blogger.

So it pains me to say that the Rainiers look a bit like an independent league team. I’ll love them nonetheless, but the Rainiers have 12 pitchers, and exactly none of them were drafted by the Mariners. Hell, four of them have been in the organization for less than a month. That’s as many players who pitched in the M’s org last season. The Rainiers two catchers joined the organization on March 29th and March 23rd. All told, 10 of the R’s 23 active roster spots joined the Mariners organization after New Year’s day. It’s AAA, and you don’t always have the luxury of watching a cohort of prospects move up the ladder en mass, but fans, coaches, bloggers – we’re all still trying to learn who’s who. The Rainiers have been where the org has felt the impact of Jerry Dipoto’s free wheelin’ ways the most, and as a result, they’ve been a club in constant flux, from the beginning of 2017 right up until a few days ago, when the club’s starting catcher, a gentleman named Garrett Kennedy apparently, joined the organization.

Now, just because a club is full of guys who started with other organizations, that may not make them a poor team – indeed, hiring a squad of AAAA veterans is often a way to put together a competitive club. It’s hard to know how this lot will fare, but if they succeed, it’ll be due to a tremendous job of coaching by manager Pat Listach and pitching coach Lance Painter. Holdovers from 2017, the two are accomplished coaches, but had little to no continuity with any of their charges last year; Painter had the pleasure of coaching a jaw-dropping 52 pitchers last year. So no matter what their record, this season will be a success if they actually get to do a bit of development work with some of these newcomers.

As JY mentioned, the most prospect-y group on the roster – which is not saying a whole lot – is the pitching staff, with Max Povse, Rob Whalen and newcomers Dario Alvarez and Erik Goeddel. All have MLB experience, but not a ton of it. Alvarez and Goeddel seem quite close to becoming big league relief arms, while Povse and Whalen will get the chance to start full time; the R’s won’t be repeating last year’s role-change with Povse. Josh Smith just joined the org as a free agent having pitched for Oakland last year, but his stuff’s a bit behind Alvarez/Goeddel.

None of the position players are currently on the 40-man roster, which is pretty amazing, frankly. The best chance to crack the roster probably goes to Gordon Beckham, who managed that feat last year, and then re-signed with the org after his opt-out this March. Former Reds IF Zach Vincej had an interesting year in the minors last year, but easily cleared waivers when the M’s outrighted him after acquiring him from Cincinnati. Local product Matt Hague will start at 1B, and while his road to the active roster is a tough one, Ryon Healy’s start reminds you that it’s not impossible. The outfield is a pair of minor league FA signings in Kirk Nieuwenhuis, John Andreoli, a waiver claim in Cam Perkins, and the one M’s draft pick/fringe prospect, Ian Miller. Miller’s a speed/defense savant with next to no power. That’s a similar profile to AA CF Braden Bishop, who’s generally seen as the better pro prospect, but Miller’s got the easiest path to the big leagues, as his baserunning and defense would make him a perfectly reasonable 4th/5th OF right now if any teams still wanted to carry 4th/5th OFs instead of 8 or 9 relievers. Former indy leaguer Danny Muno’s back in Tacoma, and he’ll play 3B, with Vincej at SS, Beckham at 2B, and Hague at 1B.

Cheney’s a great place to see a game, so put the thought that this club is half waiver claims and half minor league free agents (plus Ian Miller!) and just go. The club opens up with traditional divisional rival Sacramento tonight, the AAA affiliate of the SF Giants. The RiverCats have a few interesting prospects on their roster, with ex-Mariners prospect Tyler Herb and ex-Red Sox/Padres prospect (and one-time two-way player) Casey Kelly. Herb was sent to the Giants org in exchange for Chris Heston, and who should join Herb in the RiverCats rotation this year but Heston himself? CF Steven Duggar’s the Giants’ 4th-best prospect, and he’s flanked by their 3rd best in OF Austin Slater. If you miss them in the opening series, Sacramento returns on April 21st for another series.

In mid-April, the Albuquerque Isotopes head to Tacoma, and the Rockies’ affiliate has several players worth watching. Org #10 prospect Yency Almonte’s on the pitching staff, while OFs like David Dahl and Raimel Tapia are extremely talented players who’ve yet to quite lock down a role with the MLB club. It’s early yet for org #1 prospect Brendan Rogers to head to AAA, so in the meantime, the club has former Rainier and long-time M’s farmhand Anthony Phillips around. Phillips was one of the first, maybe THE first, prospect ever signed out of South Africa. He played in the AZL 11 years ago, but he’s still just 27. Like with the RiverCats, you’ll have two chances to catch Albquerque, as they’re in Tacoma for series starting on April 17th and then again on April 30th.

On May 17th, the Mets’ club, the Las Vegas 51s, head to Tacoma. The 51s are led by former phenom Zack Wheeler, who’s still trying to regain the form he had in 2013-14, when he was one of a myriad hard-throwing Mets prospects who’ve since lost serious time to injury. Old friend Ty Kelly’s back with the 51s for another tour of duty, having played in several orgs since he left the M’s org a few years back. 1B Dominic Smith’s the team’s best prospect, and he’ll start the year on a rehab assignment with Las Vegas – we’ll see if he’s still in AAA by the time May rolls around. If not, the Mets could call up one of their top prospects in Peter Alonso from AA. Their OF has tons of AAA experience, and includes the HR derby champ from last year’s all star festivities in Tacoma, Bryce Brentz.

The El Paso Chihuahuas finish off that mid-may homestand, and the Pads affiliate’s been shockingly successful in their four years of existence. The club’s got several organizational prospects, including SS Luis Urias (who’s just 20), IF Javy Guerra and OF Franmil Reyes. The Pads have several top prospects in AA, including Cal Quantrill, who starts tonight’s opening day in the Texas League, and Fernando Tatis, Jr. Ex-Rainier Jonathan Aro’s in the Chihuahua bullpen.

We close out May with a visit from the Salt Lake Bees, the Angels affiliate. The Bees have quite a bit more former M’s-farmhands than the Rainiers themselves, with pitchers Vicente Campos (part of the legendary Michael Pineda trade) and Osmer Morales (lost in last year’s minor league rule 5 draft) joined by OF Jabari Blash, who moved from the Padres to the Yankees to the Angels orgs this winter. They’ve also got prospects Eduardo Paredes, SS David Fletcher, OF Michael Hermosillo, and org #6, pitcher Jaime Barria.

In mid-June, the Rainiers welcome the Omaha StormChasers, the Royals’ affiliate, to Cheney. Omaha has a roster full of pitching prospects rounded out with MiLB vets in the OF. Pitchers Josh Staumont and Richard Lovelady are the biggest stars on the mound, but Heath Fillmyer’s not too far behind. Former 1st round pick Hunter Dozier starts in the IF, while former Rainier Abe Almonte fights for the starting CF job with long-time PCL speedster Billy Burns. Speaking of speed, Royals pinch-runner extraordinaire, if any pinch runner can truly be called extraordinaire, Terrence Gore, is on hand too.

The Rainiers finish off this midwestern homestand with the Iowa Cubs. The Cubs look pretty barren from a prospect standpoint, though SP Dillon Maples is around #10 in the Cubs lists. Randy Rosario is a fringey guy for the Cubs, and I suppose you could still count Mariner-for-a-week Jacob Hannemann in that camp, too. They’ve also got ex-M’s farmhands Efren Navarro, Chris Gimenez, and Mike Freeman around. The Cubs have pushed a few prospects past Iowa to the bigs (like Victor Caratini), but they could see some reinforcements from AA, including pitcher Adbert Alzolay, their #1 overall prospect.

After seeing Las Vegas again, the Rainiers host the Reno Aces to close out June. The D-Backs affiliate is paced by a trio of pitching prospects: Braden Shipley, Jimmy Sherfy, and #3 D-backs prospect Taylor Clarke. Their staff’s rounded out with MLB vets Neftali Feliz and Kris Medlen. SS Jack Reinheimer’s an ex-M’s draft pick, sent to the desert in the Mark Trumbo deal a while back, and Kevin Cron – an M’s draft pick who didn’t sign – will man 1B when he comes off the DL. The OF includes Jeremy Hazelbaker, who had a great first month with the Cards, ill-fated Cuban signing Yasmany Tomas, and the excellently-named Socrates Brito.

Tacoma finally plays host to Fresno in mid-July. The Astros affiliate is perhaps a bit light on prospects, but matches up well with essentially every other team in the league. The pitching staff has guys who’ve reliably struck out a ton of batters at this level, like Francis Martes, James Hoyt, and Brendan McCurry. Cuban signed Rogelio Armenteros is the big prospect, and he could be joined by Forrest Whitley, one of the minors’ top arms, by July. Garrett Stubbs, their catcher, is in the Astros’ top 20, but the team’s offense is paced by two former prospects, slugging 1B AJ Reed and 3B Tyler White.

After the Grizzlies leave, the R’s welcome the Bees back, and then play host to the Oklahoma City Dodgers to start August. The Dodgers club should include their top hitting prospect, OF Alex Verdugo, and top arm Walker Buehler. If that wasn’t enough, they’ve got a ton of ex-Rainiers, from Edward Paredes, who pitched for Tacoma back in 2010, and Brian Moran, who was great for Tacoma in 2012-13. Switch-pitcher Pat Venditte’s around as well. The OF has Andrew Toles, who looked like he was going to be a fixture in the Dodgers OF before injuries and trades closed that door.

On August 4th, the Rainiers host Colorado Springs for the last time. As Curto reports, the club is leaving the PCL, and the ownership group will move them to AA. Meanwhile, Colorado Springs will get a Pioneer League (rookie league) club instead. The SkySox, a Brewers affiliate, have a few prospects, like the delightfully-named SP Bubba Derby, C Jacob Nottingham, and CF Keon Broxton, who’s been the starter in Milwaukee for a few years before being displaced by Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain. They also have Brett Phillips, the team’s #6 prospect. 1B Ji-Man Choi’s the club’s ex-Rainier; the Korean slugger nearly made the big club, and may have if not for a last-minute signing. Like many of these guys, he could be in Milwaukee by the time the SkySox head to Tacoma.

The Rainiers end their home slate with return visits from Fresno, Reno and El Paso.

So, hey, it’s opening night! It’s a little damp, but it looks OK as of posting time.

Your initial 2018 line-up:
1: Andreoli, CF
2: Beckham, 2B
3: Nieuwenhuis, RF
4: Hague, 1B
5: Perkins, DH
6: Vincej, SS
7: Muno, 3B
8: Kennedy, C
9: Miller, LF
SP: Bergman


3 Responses to “PCL Preview/Tacoma Home Opener”

  1. Sowulo on April 6th, 2018 5:59 am

    What happened to Evan White? I know Kyle Lewis is (again/still) rehabbing. But E.W. showed some stuff in Spring Training and now seems to have disappeared. I can’t find him on any of the affiliate rosters.

  2. Jay Yencich on April 6th, 2018 11:23 am

    White was reported as having a minor groin issue late in spring training. He should be in Modesto or Clinton in another week or so.

  3. Sowulo on April 6th, 2018 6:16 pm


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