As we inch closer and closer to the
start of the regular season first day of spring training signing of Masahiro Tanaka first day we can talk about anything other than the Hall of Fame, we have to remember that even though it feels baseball left us in the infield of Fenway Park last October, there has been a whole lot of baseball going on in the interim. Baseball played by Mariners, no less!
Now, of course, Winter Leagues can never give us a full picture of progress made by players in the offseason the way spring training--or hell, April--can. But while we patiently await Robinson Cano's first at-bat of spring training, or hope to see the Fresh Prince's name etched on that first week's opening day rotation schedule, some of these guys have been busy preparing for the process where most players prepare for the regular season (which in and of itself can be seen as preparation for the postseason). Here's a quick rundown of some performances by Mariners likely to be on the 2014 big league roster.
1. Abraham Almonte, Dominican League:
Almonte made a little splash when he joined Seattle in September, stealing bases and turning singles into doubles with a tiny frame propelled by cartoon legs that could be in a roadrunner cartoon but are really just indicative of one of the strongest skills keeping him on the Mariners 40-man this year. He also showed a little promise with his bat, but has never really been pegged for more than the club's fourth outfielder, and even if the M's fail to add another outfielder this offseason, I think there is a chance Almonte starts the year in Tacoma. The bummer is that he's only played eight games this Winter, and while his slash line isn't terrible for the 24 year old, it also isn't that wonderful...it's about what we would have expected. There aren't a ton of statistics available here, so any in-depth analysis of his defense and arm will have to come again in spring training, but those four walks in 24 at-bats is pretty encouraging. At the very least, it looks like a younger Endy Chavez has a clone to read lines from The 6th Day with in some alternate universe.
2. Jesus Montero, Venezuelan League
Oh, the story of poor Jesus Montero never seems to take a positive turn anymore. After missing the second half of 2013 after his suspension following an injury and a demotion, he got in a terrible car wreck in November, lacerating his knuckles and ending his season until Spring. Which is a little discouraging, because he was hitting alright in his 22 games, even knocking out five doubles (of which I'm sure at least one could have been a triple for someone else). The good news for Montero, injury and all, is that his conversion to a 1B/DH seems to be at least starting on the right page after taking a couple months off.
The bad news is that alright doesn't earn a job with a major league club, and while his 22 VWL games are almost as many as his 29 MLB games this year, his slash line is only incrementally better in a league with poorer competition (.279/.326/.372 in winter vs. .208/.264/.327 in MLB). Mariners' Minor Leauge Coordinator Chris Gwynn spoke highly of Montero's effort at learning to take ground balls while still hitting in the interim, but...as we've all been saying, wow the Mariners definitely need another 1B/DH today tomorrow and next year and good lord I'm so tired of typing "1B/DH. It's been fun, Montero.
3. Jesus Sucre, Venezuelan League
Well what we have here are some useless statistics for someone who isn't expected to hit a baseball more than twice a week, and is instead, supposed to catch them. I won't really bother trying to make much out of Sucre's performance here, as it would be a bit reductive and pointless for trying to project the Mariners 2013 season, especially considering the team just signed Humberto Quintero, possibly to squeeze between Sucre and Zunino (I still wish it was John Buck, but whatever). This only adds to the point that we all kind of know what Sucre is, and it's a damn good thing the Mariners got at least a little more depth behind the plate. Sucre may be a decent defensive player, but someone slugging .178 in the minors just can't be the second option for a position as volatile as catcher on a team that claims to have intentions of competing, especially when he was, at the time of these statistics, the only guy behind Zunino. I'm not sure Quintero is the answer, but I'm really not sure Sucre is either. Now, Quintero was only signed to a minor league deal, and as Scott predicts, might not even make the club out of spring training. But at the end of the day, Sucre has been given--and still has a few--chances to impress. Hopefully he can do better than this. Maybe he doesn't have to. I wish he would.
I tried to find some defensive statistics for Sucre, but I ended up only finding out the following pieces of information, all of which are somewhat interesting and I feel like might have something to do with everything I just said in the last paragraph: 1. There were three catchers on Sucre's Venezuelan team that played more than he did 2. Casper Wells and Eric Thames were teammates 3. There was a 27-year-old relief pitcher on his team named Mike Piazza. All of those things are interesting, and I can't wait to see if Jesus Sucre does something this spring, because wow this little aside was a waste of time.
4. Hector Noesi, Dominican League
First things first: I really wish there were better statistics available for winter league instead of having to rely on ERA and earned runs. There probably are, and I imagine the first comment I get on this will be someone directing me to that website. But anyway.
This is actually kind of terrifying, only for the fact that I feel just about the same way toward Hector Noesi as I do toward Jesus Montero, and lo and behold he was pretty much the best pitcher in the organization throughout the various winter leagues. His 43 innings were not only the highest out of all Mariners pitchers, but his 33 strikeouts led the organization and he only gave up one home run. Hector Noesi. One home run. This always seems to be the case with the guy: a faint, wavering beacon of promise that quickly gets its batteries torn out and thrown overboard at the first sign of a major league challenge and leaving the light dark and quiet in the middle of the night. The entire premise of this article is hey look maybe some progress can be seen in the Winter Leagues! except with Hector Noesi it's great he just had to do well, didn't he? I'll gladly eat these words in April. Please, Hector, make me eat my words.
5. Erasmo Ramirez, Venezuelan League
Once again, these damn statistics don't do much of anything, but with all this Tanaka talk, I sure hope Ramirez can at least turn into a pretty solid back of the rotation guy. The bummer about Erasmo is that he was the talk of the town in 2011 during the Winter League and offseason, and yet here we are a few years later, still wondering if he's going to break out into something special. Which, well, yeah. Nine walks in 6 games is a bit, well, what we were worrying about Erasmo last year, which isn't encouraging. Still, he's young, clearly has some magic in his arm, and could help the Mariners by throwing baseballs or bringing someone else to the team by convincing other people he knows how to throw baseballs. The great thing about this team is that that second option is actually encouraging.
6. Brandon Maurer, Arizona Fall League
This isn't that surprising, and I'm wondering how long Maurer is going to be starting after still doing stuff like this. He started all six of these games and while it will most likely be a long time until Maurer starts a game in a Mariners uniform (barring some miraculous turnaround or heinous injury storm), it seems safe to think that if he is in Seattle this year, it will be in the bullpen spitting sunflower seeds. Remember how excited the word out of Peoria was late last spring? That feel-good story of Maurer calling his mom to tell her he made the camp before Taijuan or Danny Hultzen or James Paxton? Sometimes baseball stories take a long time to really develop, and those stories are often the greatest stories of all. Sometimes baseball stories never reach their imagined conclusion, and I have a bunch of boxes filled with baseball cards of once-could-have-beens in my attic to attest to that point. I have no idea what Brandon Maurer is going to turn into. But that box has a little more room for the time being.