2019 Tacoma Rainiers Preview

Jay Yencich · April 3, 2019 at 6:00 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Writing what amounts to 14,000+ words of previews over a short period of time ends up being rather draining on me, to say nothing of the deletions that are needed to streamline reading. I say this as a flimsy apology for free and detailed content. The Rainiers are really a team worth heading down I-5 to see, I just end up loopy and more prone to digressions.

The rotation features two potential major league starters, one MLB vet, and two guys who haven’t made it yet but seemingly could with the right improvements. The bullpen will become more or less familiar depending on the needs of the parent club and has quite a few arms that are viable or near viable major leaguers. Catching, I think is geared more towards pitching development, which again, isn’t bad at this level. There are a few exciting infield starters and the outfield is really, really fast and thus will be limiting the variables there for the flyball pitchers on the roster. So go visit Cheney Stadium, unless the Mariners continue their absurd run, in which case, do it anyway but wait for an off-day or a road trip.

RHP Nabil Crismatt, RHP Tyler Danish, LHP Tommy Milone, LHP Justus Sheffield, RHP Erik Swanson

Sheffield is probably the guy we’re most looking to for results, and one that could conceivably come up and start whenever we decide Kikuchi needs a break. He brings a mid-90s fastball and a plus slider as the core of his arsenal, with a change-up that’s too firm for some, sitting in the mid-to-high 80s. Felix made it work before, I guess? The command, mechanics, and high-effort approach leave something to be desired, and some would prefer a taller specimen, but I feel like the profile reminds me a lot of the very guy he was traded for. Paxton had a career minor league walk rate of 10% and a K-rate of 25.1%. Sheff is looking at an 8.9% walk rate and a K-rate of 24.5%. Granted, our pal Pax kept making mechanical changes which further improved his command, but Sheffield also is in better shape already with his walks. Oh, and he had 6/1 K/BB with one hit allowed over four innings this spring, so that’s cool.

The named opening day starter (and perhaps first in line for a call-up) is actually Swanson, though. Swanson also reminds me of a former Mariner, but in this case it’s Andrew Moore. Both are command-focused right-handers who get talked up due to the extraordinary spin rate on their pitches. The difference is that Swanson’s stuff is better, with a couple of extra miles on the fastball, that he’s minus the curveball in his repertoire, and is taller and more successful at keeping the ball on the ground / in the yard. Otherwise, they’re similar contemporary prototypes for a back-rotation starter. Swanson has all of 73.1 innings in triple-A, so he’ll be working on his command there and seeing what more can be improved.

Writing about major league veterans who are stuck at the triple-A level is always weird so here’s Tommy Milone. I associate Milone with a specific type of Oakland Athletics pitcher that will embarrass us at an inopportune time, so I’m surprised to discover both that he hasn’t pitched for the A’s in five years and that he had a 3-5 record against us over eleven appearances. The link wasn’t entirely off as Milone had his best years there and, outside of a 1.7 WAR season with the Twins in 2015, hasn’t held a regular rotation role much since. He got five appearances in with the Nats last year, good enough for a 0.2 WAR. He’s your veteran, pitch-mixing southpaw presence who serves as insurance if Sheffield or Swanson aren’t ready.

My favorite bit of Rainiers roster trivia is that Nabil Crismatt was born on Christmas. You guys! His first name could be Jesus, or Natividad, or Noel, but instead it’s his last name that’s Crismatt! AH! Crismatt was signed out of Colombia by the Mets and spent 2012 through 2015 in short-season leagues. He didn’t start a game until that same 2015 season, but has been pretty consistent there since and even took his show to Licey in the Dominican Winter League for seven starts this past offseason. Crismatt was named an Eastern League All-Star last year, ranking in the top five on the strikeout leaderboard at the time. I don’t know a single thing about his stuff. He seems to have had more issues with allowing hits and walks in the high minors.

I don’t know who to expect as the final starter, so I’m plugging in Danish here because he’s been mostly a starter through his career with the White Sox with a hiatus last year. As they’re both 24, neither Crismatt nor Danish are non-prospects and Danish was formerly a respectable. His best pitches are a heavy sinker that comes in around 90 and a plus change, while the breaking offerings are less impressive. He was quite reliable for groundballs in the minors, but the past few years he’s struggled to keep up as he’s lost some strikeouts and kept missing outside of the zone. With the disclaimer that it’s not at all representative, his line as a 22-year-old in the International League was particularly baffling in how bad it was, with a .305 average against, 7.4% walks, and just 11.2% Ks. Maybe we get him back on track.

RHP R.J. Alaniz, RHP Dan Altavilla, RHP Ryan Garton, RHP Robinson Leyer, RHP David McKay, RHP Nick Rumbelow, RHP Tayler Scott, LHP Matt Tenuta

Reinforcements? I understand the rationale involved in not doing it with the Red Sox being who they are and the lead being what it was, but I’m sad McKay didn’t get to debut on his birthday last Sunday because I’m irrational and love trivia. The Mariners spent a dollar last spring to pry him off the Royals and now he’s on the 40-man, having switched to relief and dropped his arm angle to get greater depth on the low-to-mid-90s fastball and the mid-80s slider. We’re still waiting for that to turn into groundballs, but if you want some numbers to look at, his K-rate with the Royals was 20.2% and his walk rate was 6.4% and with the ‘Ners, he’s been at a 34.1% K-rate and 8.8% walks. More reps could help iron out the kinks, but hell, I’ll take it.

While he’s still seeking out major league effectiveness, I have a fondness for Altavilla. Quadzilla’s main offseason goal, as I remember reading, was improving his flexibility so that he can more readily repeat his deliveries. This seems prudent, partly because his limited triple-A time has had him walk 14.1% of the batters he’s faced, and partly because he pitched fewer than thirty innings last season due to a UCL sprain. Flexibility isn’t exactly a cure-all, but it’s something that athletes don’t always remember to work on even though it’s a good preventative measure and means of getting the force distributed properly. I don’t know if it will be the key for him, but here’s hoping.

Garton is a holdover from the era when we used the trade market to patch up our catching and middle relief depth. We don’t do that anymore. Now we (looks at transaction logs) use the waiver wire for that. Mike Marjama ended up playing in a couple more games than Garton but it’s hard to say who was the headliner. He a fastball-cutter type and gets good velocity with some groundballs mixed in, but he also turned 29 over the offseason and has had stretches of really bad command without a clear indicator that he’s going to work out of it. With younger options on hand and the team in re-tool mode, it’s hard to see a clear space for him.

I don’t know when Alaniz went from “Ruben” to “R.J.,” but it’s nearly everywhere now. I was trying to figure out his status as a high school NDFA when I discovered that his senior season was canceled due to a swine flu outbreak so, you know, normal stuff. He was thought of as having an excellent curveball, but the strikeouts didn’t start coming along until he was switched to relief. This is his fourth organization, preceded by Houston, Detroit, and most recently Tampa where last year he struck out 29.3% over four different levels while walking 8.8%. He still hasn’t made his major league debut yet, but he’s on the 40-man in the event the breakout is real. He’s probably heard every “Alaniz” Morissette joke you could come up with but I’m only thinking about it because the internet was arguing about Jagged Little Pill a few weeks ago.

Rumbelow is also on the 40-man hahaha we saw him not long ago remember that? Well make fun of the double-digit ERA all you like, but he’s only pitched in WINS so far. I was never quite sure of the wisdom of trading JP Sears and Juan Then for him, but he’s not been much used on account of having TJ in 2016 and then recovering from that. He likewise began last year on the DL with what the media guide calls a “brachial plexus injury,” which I’m informed is the nerve bundle that connects the spinal cord to the shoulder and down on through to the hand. That sounds like a rather foreboding injury for a pitcher to have and since his command has been off the last two years, I’m worried.

Leyer comes over from the Reds organization (no, I can’t spell Cincinnati on the first try), having spent a year there after initially signing on with the White Sox. The spring training broadcasts were eager to point out that he could air it out and hit 96 and above on the gun, yet it doesn’t seem like he’s a finished product just yet. The good news is that his past couple of years in the minors, and in double-A overall, he’s brought his hits down from the .250-.300 averages against he used to post, and the Ks have come up to a respectable 23.1%. The bad is that his walk rate at double-A is 11.9%, a significantly worse mark than where he had been earlier in his minor league career.

Scott, who gives us a variant spelling on “Taylor,” was drafted domestically but has the distinction of being born in South Africa. I miss scouting down there, those guys were fun. He was, perhaps, more of a soccer player at one point but was pitching in high school and impressed with his athleticism, his low-90s FB, and his breaking ball, enough to get picked in the fifth round by the Cubs in 2011. The overall profile originally looked to be “starter, assuming you were willing to be patient,” but Scott hasn’t started a game since 2015 and that year, only the once. His command has never been impressive as a pro, but his Ks at least improved since shifting to relief. He also did some time at Sioux City in the American Association. I just like typing “Sioux City.”

Tenuta is the ‘pen’s lone left-hander and, like McKay, is a guy who we spent a dollar on and had that turn into a winning scratch ticket. His career as a starter was not especially distinguished, but he really turned it on as he was moved to relief while repeating the Texas League, striking out 27.2% of faced batters while walking 7.3%. Things got rougher for him in a very small taste of triple-A, fourteen innings where his K% slipped to 14.9% and his walks spiked to 13.4%. The double-A version of Tenuta is a guy that looks like he could fit in a major league bullpen, especially one without a solid spot for a southpaw reliever. The triple-A version, far less so.

David Freitas, Jose Lobaton, Austin Nola

Papas Freitas got to make the opening day roster and helped Marco Gonzales navigate a difficult Red Sox lineup before getting “rewarded” with a ticket to Tacoma after Tom Murphy became available. I don’t know, I recognize that he’s only managed a 62 career OPS+, but the roster maneuvering almost feels compulsive and consequently, hard to settle in with. Freitas hit really well in 166 PAs in the PCL last year, .955 OPS, good deal, and furthermore batted .421/.450/.526 in limited spring training time. I probably shouldn’t be weirdly fixated on this move as I’ve ended up. It’s not like we didn’t need a third catcher on the 40-man. Sigh.

Lobaton seems like a useful high-minors back-up and major league understudy, coming from Venezuela and providing a steady glove behind the plate. His career line in the majors is a dismal .215/.293/.319, though in triple-A, where he’s logged four hundred fewer ABs overall, he has batted .280/.363/.443, so I wonder how the offense never fully translated. Previously, he might have had a clearer route with us, so I wonder if he’ll still be with the Rainiers by July. Fun Fact: He was once traded from the Rays to the Nationals for former Mariner Nate Karns.

Nola resembles our pal Joey Deeks in that he was drafted as an infielder and found himself catching part time in his fifth season, and during the AFL at that. Since then, that’s been his primary, and he logged seventy-five behind the dish in 2017 and sixty-eight last year. I don’t know what the M’s foresee for him as there are a lot of infielders around without any clear holes that need patching, but then the organization probably wasn’t expecting to grab another major league catcher at the last minute. In any case: Sorry Nola.

SS J.P. Crawford, 1B Joey Curletta, IF Adam Law, UT Shed Long, 2B Tim Lopes, 3B Kristopher Negron

Oh my goodness a viable triple-A infield. Crawford has the major league experience of the bunch and came over in the Segura trade. Despite being a high school draft pick, he was in the majors by age twenty-two, and if you think that’s aggressive, you might be right. Ackley and Zunino don’t work as comparisons, but Adam Jones does and made the majors for the first time with roughly as many minor league ABs, about a hundred fewer overall. You may also remember that it took Jones a few seasons to properly get his legs under him, so I don’t see it as a bad thing that Crawford is being sent down (that Beckham guy is pretty good anyway) to work on his defense and hitting. Also he and Carl Crawford are cousins. Now you know.

Long was just a lot of fun to watch in Spring Training as he hit .273/.407/.455 over twenty-seven PAs. The walks! The key hits! Shedric’s bat is so fast that a lot more power seems to come of it than you’d anticipate from a shorter dude, but as Altuve has proven, shorter dudes can play. Less certain is where the position him. During spring training, the emphasis was playing time in as many different spots as possible and we saw him at second, third, and in left. Having a power-hitting, everyday utility guy would be exciting, but the Mariners are also lacking a clear heir at second once Dee Gordon’s contract runs out, and moreover, work on refining Long’s defense elsewhere hasn’t made his future any more secure. I wonder if it would be smarter to keep him in one spot and try to make him the best he can be there, rather than have him be passable at several other spots.

Curletta, to my disappointment, was kept out of Cactus League games due to an oblique injury that was keeping him from swinging. Then again, considering that we couldn’t even get Evan White proper at-bats, how much would we have seen? Curletta is one of the better power bats in the system and it seems remarkable that we’ve gotten this much out of him while only having to give up our amphibious pitcher. His XBH percentage tapered off as expected when moved to double-A, but his walk rate increased by 2.9% and he was named the MVP of the Texas League. I want to have some hope for him, but the oblique issues have me concerned in the short term that his swing mechanics will be off. It’s his primary selling point as, despite coming up as a right fielder in the Dodgers system, his conditioning has pushed him to first base in his time with the Mariners, where he’s not even an average defender yet.

Some dudes just boomerang a bit and Lopes has come back to us after two years in the Blue Jays system, where he was traded for Venditte. So, in a weird way, we traded Lopes for Curletta by the transitive property? Algebra. Lopes has played around the infield with some advanced savvy, but his profile seems to work best at second. While he’s now usually above a .700 OPS, his baserunning could still use a little more refinement as he’s got caught over a third of the time for his career. Everyone likes him. I see him as a back-up at best. They probably do too. It’s the holistic view that’s important.

In beginning the write-up of Adam Law, I was suddenly and strongly compelled to look up Sylvester Stallone clips from 1995’s Judge Dredd. I know it’s not good, but in my defense, consider that I made a ’95 reference that wasn’t baseball nostalgia. Law could be a third-generation major leaguer after having a grandfather who won the Cy in 1960 and a dad who played third in the majors. He’s played everywhere but backstop in the minors. Everyone loves position versatility! The bat is not so neat and his line over 791 double-A plate appearances is .261/.333/.328. The results from his first look at triple-A last season got a boost in power but weren’t all that different otherwise. LAW!

Negron came in last season when we bought him off the D’Backs, whose rebuild / retool seems more substantial. He came in during the spring to compete with Dylan Moore for the back-up infielder spot and lost out as his .167/.300/.208 line as a 33-year-old was less impressive than Moore doing .222/.382/.296 at age twenty-six. Sure, everyone was flipping out over the errors, but it happens sometimes. As for Negron, he’s more an all-around competent defender than a guy who will do much for your offense. Perhaps he sees time with the Mariners later, perhaps the team gets a phone call from another organization seeking a veteran guy who can play everywhere.

CF Braden Bishop, CF Ian Miller, OF Tito Polo, OF Eric Young Jr.

Gotta go FAST! So, Bishop’s here after getting his first MLB at-bat during the Japan Series, aw, good for him. It was a nice reward after he hit .379/.419/.724 in the Cactus League, silly numbers but somehow less silly than what his brother is doing at ASU. That joy aside, what I said before of the next fella on this list is increasingly true of Bishop’s situation. He’s done well to tap into more power, but he has a short window with which to establish himself, given the Arkansas outfield of Fraley, Lewis, and Thompson-Williams. With those on the horizon, and more beyond in West Virginia, I think that Bishop’s path will soon be to establish himself as a back-up center fielder, a role that may be increasingly viable as the MLB plans to expand active rosters. That said, I keep harping on this, but DUDE, get some baserunning coaching! Just seven attempts over eighty-four games last year is not going to help you find a role as a pinch-runner.

I used to warn Miller ominously about the threat of aging while a guy with a similar skillset was closing in on him. Now they’re both in the same predicament. Miller did his thing last year of a mid-.600s OPS, 40+ walks, and 30+ stolen bases. It was respectable, though not extraordinary for him. He didn’t stop there though. It’s hard to get the fast man to stop. He proceeded to play eighteen games of Arizona Fall League and thereafter went to the Tomateros de Culiacan for thirty games in the Mexican Pacific League, where he was quickly dubbed “The White Flame” for his defense and baserunning. After all that, he didn’t even get a spring training invite but still, STILL!, was enough of a standout on the backfields to where he got 17 PAs in the Cactus League and batted .200/.294/.467. It’s probably my own nervousness speaking as someone who routinely fails to set healthy limits and expectations for himself, but the fact that Miller is now on a second full year of baseball with no rest in between makes me uncomfortable.

Tito Polo is the LL Twitter’s Adopted Art Son, because he’s an outfielder that likes to develop his creative practice in his down time. As Marc and I previously had a fascination with former A’s, Blue Jays, and Seibu Lions pitcher Neil Wagner for his propensity to post poetry and review local art museums, I welcome it. Polo has bounced around the Pirates, Yankees, and White Sox organizations before landing with us, being a frequent addition to trades. He’s been touted in the past as a “speed and power guy,” covering enough ground to play center easily, I just don’t know about the power aspect. At advanced-A and above, he’s slugged under .400 and hasn’t ever hit double-digit home runs outside of a half-season in West Virginia (under its earlier Piratical management) when he knocked out twelve in fifty-four games. “Power” could be something to keep tabs on in his first taste of triple-A ball, but even with the Colorado Springs affiliate being demoted (R.I.P., Love the Springs), there are ridiculous ballparks that may give us false positives.

Young is one of the elder statesmen of the roster and it’s as if words have been divorced from their meanings and we’re descending into chaos. He hit .323/.462/.452 but couldn’t manage to find a spot on an Orioles team that was okay with keeping two Rule 5 Kids, but I see that Birdland is in second place in the AL East so what is anything? Young led the majors in stolen bases with 46 back in 2013 but Rickey could have done that by the All-Star Break. I feel like I’m clumsily working through “what to say about a ten-year veteran who has nearly 2,000 plate appearances and whose father played for fifteen years collecting nearly 7,000 plate appearances,” but it’s interesting to muse on these types of things as baseball appears to be increasingly a family business.


5 Responses to “2019 Tacoma Rainiers Preview”

  1. Stevemotivateir on April 3rd, 2019 8:02 pm

    Nice work on all of these, Jay. I’m curious which of these Rainiers will be sent packing for Arkansas graduates around the break.

  2. LongDistance on April 4th, 2019 1:24 am

    Very much appreciated, Jay. You put together a very clear snapshot of where everything is right now, and through the haze, and idea of where things are going. Thanks much.

  3. bat guano on April 4th, 2019 10:09 am

    Great stuff as always. Thanks for taking the time to put these together!

  4. Kevin Rudolph on April 4th, 2019 3:09 pm

    Curious about Gerson Bautista? You didn’t mention him here. I know we haven’t seen him since he left the cactus league game with an injury. The next day they said it didn’t appear to be serious. So #1 Is he healthy? #2 If/when he is healthy where does he go? I thought he has the makeup to possibly be a closer. Almost reminds me of a poor man’s Diaz.

  5. Jay Yencich on April 4th, 2019 4:17 pm

    He still has a busted tit, and doesn’t look to be clear to rehab yet, although I’ll note that Armstrong is in Tacoma and I didn’t mention him either because he’s not “official” in that he counts against the roster. Returning to Bautista, he has the stuff to close, surely, but it’s a straight fastball and an inconsistent slider. He’d need significant improvements, otherwise he’s a younger version of the guys that fill out NRI lists every spring.

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