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2017 Tacoma Rainiers Opening Day roster announced

O’Neill, Unsworth, and Harper will all be on a Triple-A roster for the first time

Milwaukee Brewers v Seattle Mariners Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

The Tacoma Rainiers, Triple-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners, officially released their opening day roster yesterday evening. While there are some small surprises here and there, there isn’t anything too crazy to be found. Here, have a rundown:

Starting Pitchers (5)

Chris Heston (RHP), Sam Gaviglio (RHP), Dylan Unsworth (RHP), Christian Bergman (RHP), Chase De Jong (RHP)

The starting rotation in 2017 will be some combination of the five guys above, with one of them likely getting booted (cough, Bergman, cough) when Rob Whalen returns from injury.

For the most part, this group is pretty close to what was expected. Unsworth is perhaps the most unexpected of the selections after trekking through an injury-filled 2016 season, but he managed 100+ strong innings against Double-A competition over the past two years and he was able to turn heads some in the Arizona Fall League and spring training. Like I mentioned yesterday, if he manages to secure a cup of coffee at some point in his career, he will be the first South African baseball player to ever reach the big leagues.

De Jong reaches Triple-A after a brilliant full-season stay at Double-A ball (141.2 IP, 3.68 FIP) in 2016. He had nothing left to prove at the level and he always seemed to be destined to start out the year in Tacoma, even with fellow prospects Andrew Moore and Max Povse pushing for a spot, as well.

Gaviglio, an Oregon State product, will be making his third tour of duty with Tacoma. Aside from a couple ugly starts, Gaviglio was a consistently reliable presence for the Rainiers in 2016 and figures to stick around all year in 2017. He won’t be making an appearance in Seattle unless extremely extreme emergency strikes, but he’s the kind of guy every minor league team needs over the course of their long season.

Relief Pitchers (9)

Paul Fry (LHP), Nick Hagadone (LHP), Dean Kiekhefer (LHP), Ryne Harper (RHP), Mark Lowe (RHP), Jean Machi (RHP), Emilio Pagan (RHP), Ryan Weber (RHP), Tony Zych (RHP-REHAB)

There really aren’t any shockers here. The bullpen will be a nice blend of young talent (Fry, Pagan, Kiekhefer) and veterans with loads of MLB experience (Lowe, Machi, Hagadone). Ryan Weber will also be there, just hanging out.

Perhaps the biggest story to emerge from this group is that the 28-year-old Ryne Harper has finally, finally, finally made it past Double-A. For those who haven’t followed along, Harper has turned in four consecutive brilliant seasons in Double-A between the Braves and Mariners organizations. His FIP tallies at the level over the last four years have been 2.80, 2.63, 2.38, and 2.10. He hasn’t had a K/9 below 10.30 since 2013. He’s blasted the level to pieces, and now he finally gets to take his talents to the Pacific Coast League. Hell yeah, Ryne Harper.

Tony Zych will also be rehabbing for a bit, if mid-90s fastballs and deadly sliders are your thing.

Catchers (2)

Tuffy Gosewisch, Steve Baron

From a prospect standpoint, there isn’t a less interesting group than the catchers; Gosewisch has a career 36 wRC+ and Baron was designated for assignment and released by the Mariners at one point this offseason. From a “I want to watch the Rainiers destroy everything in their path” perspective, however, they could do a lot worse. Gosewisch demolished Pacific Coast League pitching a year ago, slashing .342/.399/.553 over 219 plate appearances with the Reno Aces.

Baron likely gets the nod over Marcus Littlewood for the backup role due to there being more opportunity for consistent at-bats for Littlewood down in Double-A. Be it splitting catching duties with Marlette or popping in at DH from time to time, there’s much more flexibility for Littlewood down there.

Infielders (6)

Gordon Beckham (2B), Tyler Smith (INF), Mike Freeman (SS/2B), Daniel Vogelbach (1B), D.J. Peterson (1B), Zach Shank (3B)

Once again, no surprises here. We don’t know how exactly they’ll split up infield duties between Beckham/Smith/Freeman/Shank yet, but Shank figures to be the primary third baseman and I assume Beckham will be the everyday second baseman. Smith and Freeman are both capable of playing a solid shortstop, but the Mariners value their ability to fill a utility role and will likely move them around all over the infield over the course of the season.

Vogelbach and Peterson, meanwhile, will fill the roles of first base and designated hitter. I expect Vogelbach to get the bulk of the first base duties early on to continue his development in the field.

Outfielders (4)

Ben Gamel, Dario Pizzano, Tyler O’Neill, James Ramsey

If I had to choose which position group will undergo the most change in the early stages of this season, this is the one I’d go with for a few reasons.

Gamel missed the 25-man roster by a hair and could be back up in Seattle fairly soon. The group doesn’t include a true center fielder and Boog Powell should take over the starting job when his suspension ends. The 25-year-old Pizzano is coming off an awful 2016 campaign. When you look up ‘organizational player’ in the dictionary, a picture of James Ramsey pops up. Aside from Tyler O’Neill, everyone is just kinda there, hanging out and either filling a gap or waiting for the call up to the big leagues. I also expect speedy outfielder Ian Miller to be up in Tacoma sooner rather than later.

Overall, this has the makings of a very exciting Triple-A team, especially if guys like Gamel and Vogelbach and Beckham stick around for awhile. The rotation could morph into must-watch baseball for Mariners fans if Povse and Moore eventually join De Jong. You can view the official (prettier-looking) roster here.