Chris Prieto's major league career began with a cup of coffee.
A 32-year-old minor league veteran, Prieto had ticked off 13 seasons since he was drafted by the San Diego Padres as a fresh-faced 21-year-old in 1993. He carved a place for himself on the basepaths, racking up an average of 26 steals per season even after he had ascended to the Triple-A level. The center fielder hit his stride in 2001 with the Las Vegas 51s of the Pacific Coast League, whose arid atmosphere nearly doubled his home run totals from the previous season and brought his slugging percentage above .500 for the first time in his career.
When the call to the major leagues finally came in 2005, Prieto had just completed his sixth full year at the Triple-A level, batting .284 with 41 RBI, 28 stolen bases, and three home runs for the Cardinals' Memphis Redbirds. During the offseason, the Angels signed Prieto as a free agent and gave him a shot at the big leagues on May 14, several days after the Angels' starting center fielder, Steve Finley, was ruled out with a groin strain. Anaheim skipper Mike Scoscia told the press that he believed the veteran would slot in best as a pinch runner, situational batter, or defensive replacement.
It was not to be. Prieto appeared in just two major league games for the Angels during the club's nine-game road trip. He opened his major league career in the first half of a doubleheader, starting in center field and contributing one sacrifice bunt in the Angels' 3-2 loss to the Tigers. His next opportunity arrived in the opening game of a three-game set against the Indians, during which Prieto subbed in for future Mariner Chone Figgins in the 3-1 win.
Prieto finished the season with the Angels' Triple-A Salt Lake Stingers. Over 97 appearances, he maintained a .317 average, 26 stolen bases, and a career-best 12 triples. He was officially released by the team on October 15, 2005 -- and, from that point on, faded from professional baseball altogether.
Six years later in Eugene, Oregon, Prieto surfaced in a new role as a minor league hitting coach. He spent two seasons with the Padres' short-season Emeralds and helped guide the 2011 squad to first place in the Northwest League West division. In 2013, Prieto was snapped up by the Mariners' organization to head their rookie level prospects in Pulaski, Virginia. The 40-year-old thrived in his first managerial position, directing the club to a 41-27 record and their first championship title under the Mariners' banner. No title had been acquired by any Pulaski club in over two decades.
In 2014, it only seemed natural that Prieto's success with the Pulaski Mariners would precede a promotion. Rumor had it that the 41-year-old was in line to manage the Mariners' Class-A Clinton LumberKings, but the head honchos in Seattle had other ideas. Not two weeks before Opening Day, Prieto was promoted to Quality Control Coach for the parent club at the behest of manager Lloyd McClendon.
According to McClendon, the responsibilities of a quality control coach include throwing batting practice sessions, running infield drills, determining which scouting reports and statistical information are most vital to the managers and coaches, arranging defensive strategies, and traveling with the team -- albeit out of uniform, as MLB currently permits just six uniformed coaches in the dugout during games.
"He'll give us a different perspective, not only the ability to scout other teams, but also scout ourselves," McClendon told MLB.com's Greg Johns following the announcement. "If there's something we need to do different or a weakness we can shore up, that's something we need to look into and I think he'll be a big help for us."
After 22 seasons of shifting roles, teams, and cities, it looks like Chris Prieto is finally here to stay.
A few more things about Chris Prieto...
- Prieto was born and raised in Carmel, California, where he attended and graduated from Carmel High School. He is the second Carmel graduate to become employed by the Seattle Mariners. The first was former major leaguer Kerry Woodson, a 23-year-old right-hander who survived just eight games in Seattle back in 1992.
- Chris is the tenth player from the University of Nevada, Reno to make an appearance for a major league team. Only 18 alumni have made it to The Show, including Lyle Overbay, Kevin Kouzmanoff, and one-time Mariners Shawn Burton and Chris Gimenez.
- Throughout his 13-season tenure in MiLB, Prieto served on two minor league championship rosters: the 1994 High-A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes and the 2003 Triple-A Sacramento River Cats.
- During Prieto's brief stay in the major leagues, he ran into a few former and future Mariners. On the day of his debut, second baseman Chone Figgins and pinch-hitter Adam Kennedy flanked Prieto in the lineup; opposite him, playing for Detroit, was designated hitter Carlos Guillen. Two days later, Prieto faced off against the Indians, who were managed by Eric Wedge and featured left-hander Cliff Lee on the mound.
- Only two other major league teams have employed quality control/assurance coaches as of the 2015 season (though other teams may fill the same role under a different title): the Arizona Diamondbacks' Mike Fetters and the Chicago Cubs' Henry Blanco, he of the former backup catching role for the 2013 Mariners.