Erasmo Ramirez vs Sonny Gray, 1:05pm
In 2012, Sonny Gray was coming off a disappointing year in AA, with an RA9 around 4.5, a high walk rate and a K rate under 6 per 9 innings. A year later, he’d made a splash in his big league debut, striking out more than a batter an inning, and outpitching Justin Verlander in a jaw-dropping 1-0 win in the AL Divisional series. This is why prospecting based only on numbers is such a fool’s errand, and why player development is at least as important as good amateur scouting.
The A’s overhauled Gray’s mechanics, and in about a year, he went from undersized, underperforming righty to the unquestioned ace of the Oakland staff. Development isn’t a straight-line path for any pitcher not named Felix Hernandez, and it’s not uncommon to see some ugly lines while a pitcher works on a tweak or learns a new pitch. James Paxton comes to mind, as does Stephen Pryor who was absolutely lost in High-A before learning a cutter/slider in AA and turning into an unhittable relief ace. Today’s two pitchers show that the process simply can’t stop. Both are short righties with solid fastballs, and both continue to adjust on the fly in the big leagues.
In 2012, Erasmo Ramirez made a splash from June through September when he hit the rotation and started relying on his best pitch, the change-up. In every game from June on, he threw his change up more frequently than his breaking balls (slider/curve), and looked like the M’s #3 starter for the next decade. In 2013, he was dealing with arm soreness, and whether it was due to pain or the predilections of then-PC Carl Willis, Erasmo went to his slider a lot. He made 11 starts from August through September and threw more breaking balls than change-ups in 10 of them. He also started using a sinker more than his four-seamer. In his first start this season, the sinker was back, but he paired it with a heavy dose of cambios. The sinker and change have very similar movement, and many (including me) thought that this may have been the reason his change-up was less effective than it had been in 2012. His last few starts of 2013 and his great opening start in Anaheim suggest otherwise – that the speed difference (which is ALSO less than it used to be, but still 10-11mph) is plenty to get hitters to swing over the change. One of his big problems, and one I didn’t see coming, was struggling against lefties. Part of this may have been pitching through injury, but part of it seemed to be the angle on his fastballs – for whatever reason, lefties have hit his four-seamer hard (though his career sample’s still small). Erasmo’s still a work in progress, but his willingness and ability to change on the fly are certainly good signs.
Sonny Gray didn’t look like he needed to make any adjustments after last year’s stunning debut (capped off by a season-ending win against the M’s and Erasmo Ramirez), but he’s got a new pitch this year. When he came up, he threw two fastballs, a change, slider and a curve. He used the big curve a lot, throwing it over a quarter of the time. Against lefties, he’d mix in the occasional change and a very rare cutter. He was great against lefties and righties, but the combo of fastball and curve destroyed righties in particular. Cleveland used a lefty-heavy line-up against Gray on opening day, and saw a flurry of cutters – 21 of them. With two very different breaking balls – the cutter’s a hard one, at around 86mph, and he hit 90 with one of them – he’s in a good position to give left-handers more than one look. His FB/Curve arsenal was great in 2013, but as hitters get more familiar with him, he’s adjusting and giving them more to think about.
1: Almonte, CF
2: Miller, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Smoak, 1B
5: Morrison, DH
6: Seager, 3B
7: Ackley, LF
8: Saunders, RF
9: Zunino, C
8 lefties to face Gray today.
Great day in the M’s system, as Victor Sanchez makes his AA debut for Jackson. South African control artist Dylan Unsworth makes his first 2014 start in the Cal League for High Desert. The Rainiers host Albuquerue as Chance Ruffin makes the start against Dodgers prospect Zach Lee – good game to head to Cheney if you’re in the area.
You’ll notice that Chance Ruffin’s in the Tacoma rotation and Brandon Maurer isn’t. That’s…different. This is something to watch this year; I’m just curious what the plan is for Maurer, who still has big league stuff, but obviously had a very difficult time in his first big league season last year.
King Felix vs. DAN STRAILY. SERIOUSLY. 1:05pm
I swear, one of these times I write that the M’s are facing Dan Straily today, it’ll actually happen. But enough of that: Happy Felix Day!
The A’s left the tarp off their field, the skies opened, and the infield was the consistency of cottage cheese, hence the rain-out of a game in which it wasn’t actually raining. The field was in such a sorry state that it’s not certain that the M’s and A’s will get THIS game in, and it was the deciding factor in playing only one game today instead of trying to get a double-header in. On the upside, the M’s can go back to Felix Hernandez on regular rest and push Chris Young to the long-relief role that had been filled by that guy who came over in a trade or whatever…can’t think of his name.
1: Almonte, CF
2: Miller, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Smoak, 1B
5: Hart, DH
6: Seager, 3B
7: Morrison, RF
8: Ackley, LF
9: Zunino, C
SP: King Felix
I went to the Rainiers opening day double-header last night. They won their opener in grand style, with Blake Beavan going all the way (that’s 7IP), giving up 1 run and striking out 6. The bigger story was the offense, which annihilated Albuquerque’s pitchers, especially starter Stephen Fife. The Isotopes won game 2, despite HRs from Cole Gillespie and Nick Franklin. Those two looked very good; one of Franklin’s few outs on the day was a deep drive caught against the wall in left.
The games were interesting for two reasons. The opener brought back memories of the big three way trade from a few years ago when the M’s sent Erik Bedard to Boston. Trayvon Robinson, who came to the M’s in that deal, led off for the Isotopes. Their battery, Fife and C Tim Federowicz, were the pieces moving from Boston to the Dodgers in that deal. All we needed was Josh Fields, but though he had the most uncertain future at the time, he’s in the big leagues. Where have you gone, Chih-Hsien Chang? The second game featured Miguel Olivo behind the plate and Carlos Triunfel in the infield. All watched over by former M’s scout Hide Sueyoshi, who is also now with the Dodgers (along with Bob Engle).
Taijuan Walker’s rehab start in High Desert went quite well. After a so-so first inning, he settled in, and finished with a line of 4 1/3 IP, 4H, 1R, 1BB, 7Ks. DJ Peterson hit his first High-A HR.
People say you’re not supposed to kick a man when he’s down. But really, you’re just not supposed to kick a man, because who kicks, but if you’re already in a position where you’re kicking, you probably don’t care if your opponent is standing up or lying flat. Hector Noesi probably doesn’t deserve to be literally, physically kicked, but he can go ahead and deal with some frustrated words, and for all I know a solid kicking would be good for him. The Mariners tried everything short of that.
As you’ve read here and elsewhere, Noesi has been designated for assignment, his last pitch as a Mariner having been hit for a walk-off home run. Of course, Noesi could clear waivers and end up in Tacoma, and then that’s only a few exits away from Seattle again, but I’m here to talk about Noesi in the past tense and my hope is that I never have to change tenses. Dominic Leone is coming up to take Noesi’s place in the bullpen, and you can read about Leone here. He’s exciting, and he’s new, and he’s good, and he’s not Hector Noesi, so he’s got a lot in his favor. Leone might well never leave. If Noesi hasn’t left yet, I’ll help him.
You know what gets me? Michael Pineda hasn’t appeared in a regular-season game as a Yankee yet. Jose Campos still hasn’t pitched above Single-A. Pineda’s in the rotation so he’s about to start paying dividends, but to this point, the Yankees have gotten nothing at all from that trade. The Mariners have gotten -1.5 WAR. Or, if you prefer actual runs to FIP, -2.5 WAR. Jesus Montero is the disaster we’ve still got. Hector Noesi is the disaster we’re starting to recover from. The Yankees seem to have won that trade even before getting a single minute of major-league playing time. The Mariners traded for a young strike-thrower and one of the very top prospects in baseball. Nothing wrong with the idea. Nothing wrong with the ideas of the players they got. Plenty wrong with the realities of the players they got.
Noesi interested me, because he could throw strikes. And it’s because of him I’ve come to appreciate the difference between regular strikes and quality strikes. It was a strike he threw last night to Coco Crisp, don’t you know. Missed up, by two feet, but that pitch didn’t go in the books as a ball. Noesi’s been able to find the zone, but he’s been unable to find areas within it, and on top of that, he was the original guy who struggled with 0-and-2 pitches before Erasmo Ramirez struggled with 0-and-2 pitches. A couple years ago, before we knew what Noesi really was, he allowed five 0-and-2 home runs and three 0-and-2 doubles in 48 plate appearances. Ramirez, at least, hits spots and has a good secondary pitch. Noesi’s pitched cluelessly, and he hasn’t had the stuff to get away with it. Reporters picked up on it before I did. I tried to be forgiving for a while. In the long run, Hector Noesi made no friends.
It’s interesting how many people can’t stand him, since he was a bigger factor in 2012 than in any other season. He barely did anything a year ago, and he lasted two appearances in 2014. Noesi spending most of 2013 in the minors did nothing to soften people’s impressions, and I think today’s being considered a joyous occasion, because the Mariners swapped out a long reliever. Even the Mariners got sick of the act, since they put Noesi on the roster and then changed their minds after a handful of days. The general message here is, the team isn’t screwing around, it intends to win this year. The specific message is, go away, Hector Noesi, you are not needed any longer.
You only get so many chances, as a pitcher. Noesi’s 27, so he’s not young anymore. He can throw in the low- to mid-90s, so it’s not like he won’t have a job in a month somewhere, but his stuff isn’t special enough for him to keep getting good opportunities, and his approach isn’t good enough to make up for the stuff. At some point, with a frustrating pitcher, you have to cut ties and move on to the next crop. The Mariners ran out of reasons to be patient with Noesi, and while some other team could and will take him on, Noesi’s career isn’t starting anymore. He’s not some kid who just needs time. Now he’s been dumped by an organization, not in a trade for a player, but in a trade for a roster spot that doesn’t have Hector Noesi in it. Noesi isn’t yet a journeyman, but he’s headed down that path and you have to wonder if he realizes it.
Noesi was born in 1987 in the Dominican Republic, in a municipality named Esperanza. Esperanza is Spanish for hope, or promise, and that’s something Noesi’s always had, and something people have had for him. It’s 2014 now and Hector Noesi is a long way from home. At the moment, in a professional sense, he doesn’t have a home at all.
Hector Noesi’s been DFA’d, and Dominic Leone’s been called up to take his place.
It’s often uncouth to snark your way through a post about a guy losing his job, but let me just say that his last pitch in a Mariner uniform was just so perfectly Noesi.
Chris Young vs. Dan Straily, damn it, 7:05pm
The A’s had changed the pitching order, but the recap went on as normal. Some of the audience thought that the change itself must be wrong. Others sat forward in their seat, wondering when the Post would acknowledge the error. Kids just looked at each other, at first confused, then with a brimming sense of excitement. They picked up on the tension, and were simultaneously excited by the breach of protocol – the sense that established orders were falling before them- and the more mundane excitement of seeing someone fall on his face.
Eventually, the Post waved his arms, stopped talking about Straily’s change-up, and sighed. With another gesture, the house lights came up. The excitement of the older kids was peaking now; the illusions were falling away one by one, and they would KNOW something others didn’t. The Post stepped to the front of the stage, then, his right hand on the edge, he hopped off. Younger kids were completely confused, but excited as well – the Post was going to give them a high five, maybe? Others just demanded answers. In a low, somewhat quiet voice, *so* different from his character’s, the Post explained that he was really Jed Billings, that he was from Tukwila, and that he was an actor hired to explain things like pitch fx and cutters and fly ball rates – things that didn’t make any sense to him. “I’m actually more of a NASCAR fan, to be honest” he said, his left hand wiping off a thick smear of stage makeup from his eye and cheek. One kid murmured to a friend, loud enough for several to hear, “I TOLD you he’s a robot,” Another asked if the Post was always an actor – if there’d been a real life person there, before time, technology and life’s demands led to the hiring of an actor most famous for non-speaking roles in check-cashing advertisements. “I think so, yeah, probably, but I haven’t asked too many questions. It’s fun – I’m glad I have lines!” “So who’s writing all of this,” demanded a mother who’d brought her two young sons, one of whom was crying by now. “Marc does, I guess. I’ve never met him.” “So why couldn’t you have got a NEW script, one with Jesse Chavez and not all of that stuff about Dan Straily?” demanded a voice from the back of the room. “Because,” said Jed, his smooth, rosy-cheeked complexion now replaced by pallid skin and a five-O’clock shadow, “They’re written well in advance. If a team makes a change, we don’t have time to fix it.”
A very young voice said something, but there was too much cross talk and Jed couldn’t hear. He raised his chin a bit, inviting the kid to repeat himself. “I still believe in you, Post! I know that was Straily last night. Tukwila isn’t real.” The crowd didn’t know what to do, and Jed stood there for a moment, mouth open, like he was searching for the right words. The silence was broken by the young fan’s older brother, a boy of about 12. “You’re so STUPID, Henry. GOD.” and he smacked his younger brother on the back of the head.
Ok, I’m reasonably sure it’s Dan Straily tonight, so if you’d like to read more about Straily, please refer to last night’s game preview. If they change it again, I probably won’t get to it, as I’m going to try and make the Rainiers’ opener.
Chris Young is a fly-baller whom you’ve read many, many words about thus far. It’s exciting, I guess, that he was throwing 88, which is a phrase I’ve never thought I’d write. He’s been a very good pitcher at times, and has succeeded in environments both built for his skillset, and those seemingly designed to frustrate it. The M’s have been playing a bit shorthanded in the rotation, and honestly, they and the Rangers have only needed to stay close to the pack in April/May. Both teams figure to be slightly better later on – unless further injuries complicated the picture, obviously. A fast start, of course, would be even better.
1: Almonte, CF
2: Miller, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Smoak, 1B
5: Hart, DH
6: Seager, 3B
7: Morrison, RF
8: Ackley, LF
9: Buck, C
Ok, Ok, actual baseball information. I was going to make a separate post about this, but not sure it deserves one. The biggest storyline in last night’s game was Sean Barber’s strikezone. You can read about here, or here, and hey, even TNT beat writer Bob Dutton posted a link to the Brooks Baseball strikezone map. It was, and should be, a pretty big deal for M’s fans. Barber was making his MLB debut behind the plate, and hey, he can only get better.
This morning, Jeff posted this classically Jeff post at Fangraphs about two pitches right down the middle of the plate, the exact center of the zone, that umps have called balls. It’s great, and you should read it; laughing at the failures of others isn’t the most noble of things you could do with your time, but I’m telling you, RIGHT DOWN THE MIDDLE. One of Jeff’s examples came in a game ump’d by Chris Fagan on 4/2. Fagan, in that game, was also making his MLB debut behind the plate, and in the comments of that post, some aggrieved Washington Nationals fans pointed out that his zone was comically low (the 2nd of the two GIFs in the post seems to provide evidence of this). What happens if you look at Fagan’s strikezone map (it’s here) and Barber’s from last night (here)? They look freakishly similar, especially to RH Hitters. If anything, Fagan’s was somehow *worse,* or rather, more consistently bad, as opposed to INconsistently bad.
I mention this not to let Barber off the hook, or to shrug my shoulders and give a muted “Robot umps now” war cry. It’s just that the two guys just called up both made fools of themselves in the exact same way. Is the PCL/IL strikezone noticeably lower? Have umpires noted that too many youngsters called a lot of high strikes in the past, and so they’ve made the top of the zone a point of emphasis? Or, when you’re nervous, and thousands of people are waiting on your call, is it just easier to keep quiet, as opposed to making the definitive, clear strike call? That is, do new umpires try to let the players decide the game, and in so doing, call the game in a really odd way? Thoughts?
No, seriously, Barber was bad. It’s probably not good if you’re a new umpire and you stick out like a sore thumb on a graph like this.
As reported by…everyone, I just wanted to reiterate that Hector Noesi was DFA’d today. This means his total fWAR in an M’s uniform is -0.7. By BBREF, it’s probably about double that (it’s at -1.3 for 2012-13). Our not-terribly long regional nightmare is over.
Both the Rainiers and the Jackson Generals were rained out on opening day. That’s always tough; home openers draw big crowds, and I’ve attended some extremely wet and cold openers at Cheney. For them to postpone a game, it really has to be coming down.
The Clinton game today’s already been postponed due to cold. Beavan and Anthony Fernandez start for Tacoma, with Stephen Landazuri taking the hill for Jackson.
A whole lot of things happened in last night’s game. As one of said things, this happened:
“It was probably a little bit more up than we wanted,” said Mariners catcher Mike Zunino.
The PITCHf/x coordinates: 0.12 feet in from the middle of the plate, 3.38 feet off the ground. Let’s estimate the target. Let’s say Zunino was set up in the middle of the outer half, at the strike zone’s lower boundary. Using that estimate, Hector Noesi missed his spot by almost exactly two feet. Speaking of two feet, that’s what Hector Noesi can go ahead and leave on.
Roenis Elias vs. Dan Straily, 7:05pm
In the Rainiers piece below, I talked about Blake Beavan as a guy who, paradoxically, has been killed in AAA and only severely maimed in the majors. Dan Straily is the perhaps more well-known opposite case: a guy who was unhittable in AAA, and is merely so-so in the bigs. Straily shot through the A’s system as an unheralded late-round draft pick, and he wasn’t just a BABIP fluke guy. He threw fairly hard, and struck out basically everyone in the minors in 2012, earning himself a mid-season call-up. There, he suddenly struggled with the long-ball. The guy who gave up 10 HRs in 160 innings in the Cal League yielded 11 in just 39 big league innings.
Straily’s four-seam fastball has a good deal of vertical movement, and it comes in around 91. So far, so Beavan. As I look at the repertoire and delivery, I’m not floored that he gives up about a HR per 9 (he was better in 2013 after that initial flurry of gopher balls). I AM floored that his HR rate was half of that in the altitude-and-bandbox-rich Pacific Coast League. I can see why a rising fastball and a willingness to pitch up resulted in MiLB strikeouts, but I’m still a bit surprised they didn’t come with a cost.
In fact, Straily’s rise reminds me a bit of what happened to Brandon Maurer last year. Like Maurer, Straily hadn’t dealt with HR problems, and like Maurer, he hadn’t shown ANYTHING in the way of platoon splits. When the two arrived in the majors, they were suddenly presented with two interlocked problems: lefties hit them, and hit them really, really hard. Straily’s splits from his very small-sample 2012 are kind of laughable, but they also look kind of familiar. In that sense, it’s telling that Straily’s become something of a normal, middle-of-the-rotation arm with sizable but not unheard of platoon splits. What happened? A part of the answer is regression, as that is a part of the answer to just about every question in life. But a part of it may be a change in approach.
Like Maurer, Straily came up a 4-seam, slider, change pitcher, and quickly found his 4-seam and change weren’t fooling lefties. So in 2013, he worked in the odd sinker, and also threw his slider more to lefties, particularly when ahead. The sinker in particular wasn’t a great pitch on its own, but having a few more options probably helped keep hitters off balance. It’s something I know Maurer tried to do last year post-callup, but it’s something for him to work on in Tacoma this year as well.
All of this gets us to Roenis Elias, the newest pitcher attempting to jump to the majors and hope his MiLB success carries over. Now, Elias is a completely different animal than Straily/Maurer, with very different concerns. I’ve mentioned that he’d be the most fly-ball dominant pitcher on the staff if the FO hadn’t brought in literally the most extreme fly-baller in baseball in Chris Young. The M’s OF has been mostly OK, but they’ve also had very little to do in the first series. Almonte looked pretty good, Ackley less so, but with Felix and Paxton throwing two of the games, it’s been all about Ks and GBs. Elias’ tendency to mix arm angles may help his deception, and should help against tough lefties, but it’s tended to come at the price of control/command. Maybe it’s just because I’m thinking about Maurer and Straily’s very early struggles, but at least for a while, that may be a price worth paying. The A’s have looked solid (except for their closer…yeeesh), but Elias shouldn’t feel like he needs to attack Cespedes or Donaldson with men on base. That said, the A’s have stacked their line-up with switch-hitters, so Elias isn’t going to get too many chances to breathe.
1: Almonte, CF
2: Miller, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Smoak, 1B
5: Hart, DH
6: Seager, 3B
7: Morrison, RF
8: Ackley, LF
9: Zunino, C
The lefty-heavy line-up for today, with Hart and Zunino the only righties. Good move, though Ackley/Morrison/Almonte isn’t the *ideal* defensive OF for Elias’ major league debut. Hey, major league debut, wooooo!
At least he’s in a good park for his skillset.
The Fangraphs WE figures have this game basically a 50:50 toss-up. Not sure why, frankly…it can’t be reacting to the M’s offensive prowess so soon. Just feels odd that the M’s were severe underdogs last night and essentially 50:50 in another away game with a guy coming up from AA to make his MLB debut. Huh.
The start of the minor league season is always one of my favorite days of the year. Here’s your annual reminder that MiLB.tv is a bargain and it’s awesome. If you bought mlb.tv, I think you get MiLB.tv for free…use it. The Rainiers games are all televised, and the Jackson Generals should be on as well. They’ll head to Pensacola to face rising prospect RHP Robert Stephenson from 4/30-5/4, and they’ll face 3B Kris Bryant of the Cubs org from 4/14-4/18.
The Mariners are 3-0 and have the best record in the American League. Go crazy!
That is the most-fun fact for now, and it’s a fact I’ve printed out and rubbed all over my body, but it’s actually not the fact I had in mind for this little post. Allow me to do something kind of arbitrary. The Mariners have the best second baseman in baseball. As Dave suggested the other day, they might have the best shortstop in the American League as long as Jose Reyes is hurt. Kyle Seager isn’t great, but he’s perfectly fine. If you combine second, short, and third, the Mariners are projected for the second-best combination in the majors, between the Rays and the Rockies. I know it’s silly — it’s not even just like saying “left side of the infield” — but, within the infield, you can find one of the Mariners’ team strengths.
And something I was thinking about the other day: Robinson Cano was never a Baseball America top-100 prospect. Brad Miller was never a Baseball America top-100 prospect. Kyle Seager was never a Baseball America top-100 prospect. They were never nothing, but coming up, they were simply interesting pieces. They’ve all blossomed into quality regulars, and critical pieces that might drive the Mariners toward contention.
And it’s funny to think about after the disappointment of the last few years. The Mariners were let down over and over by Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, and Jesus Montero, who’d all been among the best prospects on the lists. Smoak ranked 13th and 23rd. Ackley ranked 11th and 12th. Montero ranked 6th, 3rd, 4th, and 38th. Of course, the Mariners could still use success from Ackley and Smoak, right now and going forward, but they no longer need it. The lineup doesn’t depend on those guys.
Credit for Miller and Seager has to go to player development, as well as to the players themselves. With Cano, it’s not like he’s a Mariners product, and they just got him after he was already great, but it’s still of interest to me that one of the absolute best players in baseball didn’t look like a future superstar while climbing through his system. You’ll find a lot of WAR coming from those prospect lists. You’ll also find a lot of WAR coming from somewhere else, and the Mariners infield stands as a demonstration. The two worst starters right now out of the five have been the two most highly-touted prospects.
Felix Hernandez? He topped out at 2nd. Taijuan Walker? He’s topped out at 11th. James Paxton, 52nd. Erasmo Ramirez, unranked. Doesn’t mean Ramirez is worthless. Means Ramirez was overlooked, literally and figuratively, and means Ramirez has done well to get the most out of his skillset. And he’s still developing, and his big-league numbers are terrific for a 23-year-old.
There’s no bigger point, here. This edition of Today’s Fun Fact probably could’ve been condensed into a single tweet. But the Mariners’ players have some interesting histories, and if that doesn’t interest you, the Mariners are also 3-0 and they have the best record in the American League. Go crazy!
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.
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.