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2011 Tacoma Rainiers

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The minor leagues' highest level hosts the hoards of veterans on the fringe while also weeding out another wave of supposed prospects, meaning AAA isn't always much of a prospect hot spot.  Indeed, the Rainier's roster features several players trying to eek out another big league paycheck or get their career back on track in Josh Bard, Manny Delcarmen, Denny Bautista and others, as well as rehabbing David Aardsma and several prospects that have lost the luster of years past like Matt Tuiasosopo (who is now a 1B/OF exclusively) and, to a lesser degree, Mike Wilson.

Many of the other youngsters on the club aren't in much better shape.  Alex Liddi jump started his career with High Desert back in 2009 and had a strong follow up season with the bat in 2010, but there have been red flags all along the way and early reports on Liddi this season aren't positive.  Here's a excerpt from Jason Churchill's recent writeup over at Prospect Insider:

"He can't play there," the scout said of Liddi's chances to play third base. "He doesn't have good hands and he I wrote the word 'stiff' by his name after the first two games here."

Liddi's swing path is long and he lacks the bat speed to make up for it. His other plate skills -- pitch recognition, strike zone judgment, plate coverage -- all grade below average right now. He's not hitting the ball the other way like he did a few years back in High Desert, prompting the scout to suggest that "somebody told him to hit home runs."

It's too early to write off the 22 year old (as JAC goes on to note), but it's hard to see Liddi as a major part of the Mariners' future.

Matt Mangini, a former supplemental first round pick, had mostly fallen off the radar before breaking out with Tacoma last season, hitting .313/.353/.521 with 18 dingers over 477 plate appearances.  He's got some pop from the left side but it's hard to see where he fits in at the next level.  His once-lauded on-base ability has apparently left him (5% walk rate last season), he strikes out quite a bit and, perhaps most damning, he isn't a capable defender at third base while lacking the bat to play first full-time.  He's probably a bench bat and will have to fight for at bats for the time being.

Mike Carp reworked his swing last year and put together the best power year of his career as a result.  He hit 29 home runs, outdoing his previous high by 12.  That was definitely good to see, but the presence of Justin Smoak has obviously made things more difficult for Carp (not that we're complaining).  Carp is now in the process of trying to prove himself as a full-time outfielder; that he's getting that chance might show that the organization sees him as a big league hitter.  Carp will first have to show that he can bring last season's power with him to 2011 and beyond.

Greg Halman is on the DL with a broken wrist suffered on a hit by pitch but he'll be someone to watch once he returns.  Will he come back strong hoping to build on his bounce-back 2010 season?  Or will it zap his power?  And if it does affect his power -- his greatest offensive attribute -- I wonder if it might help him focus on the other parts of his game.  Or, you know, he could just flounder and waste the season.  Or we can cross that bridge when/if we come to it.  Halman, of course, has great physical tools but is a work in progress in terms of pitch recognition and plate discipline.

Josh Lueke you should know by now.  He's returning to Tacoma to try and find the velocity and control that were prevalent in all his scouting reports leading up to his Major League debut. 

Blake Beavan will be the last piece of the Cliff Lee trade to make his Mariners debut (discounting Matt Lawson who was traded for Aaron Laffey).  Beavan was drafted as a brash flame thrower out of high school but is a completely different pitcher these days following the Rangers' overhaul of his once-violent mechanics.  Now you'll see someone comparable to Doug Fister-- 6'7, average arsenal across the board, lots a strikes, low margin of error. He's far from exciting but it's great to have these low-cost guys waiting a level below.  File Luke French in the same category.

And then there's Dustin Ackley. He is the best prospect on this squad by leaps and bounds and the hope is that he'll join Felix Hernandez, Michael Pineda and Justin Smoak as franchise cornerstones sooner than later.  I don't think there should be any rush to get him to the big leagues, however, as Adam Kennedy's solid showing and Luis Rodriguez's flashes of brilliance take the pressure off the Mariners in the short-term and Ackley still has plenty to work on.  Defense, of course, is the most discussed area he needs to improve but he's also yet to figure out how to hit for the high-average we're all hoping for.  He's still drawing walks by the truckload, but some have remarked that he could improve his pitch selection within the strikezone to avoid rolling into easy outs. 

Check out Jay Yencich's post from earlier this month for a rundown of the entire roster.

Previously: Clinton (they've since added James Paxton and Jabari Blash, by the way), High Desert, Jackson