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2018 Mariners Minors Preview: Tacoma Rainiers

The Rainiers look to put an injury-filled 2017 behind them and establish some consistency in 2018

don’t be fooled by his innocent visage. Rhubarb is a wild reindeer who streaks through Cheney

As the Slowest Offseason of All Time™ finally gave way to the 2018 Major League season last Thursday, organizations started assembling their rosters for the looming onset of the Minor League Baseball season.

All four of the Mariners four full-season minor league affiliates open their seasons Thursday night, and in advance of the season officially getting underway, we’re going to preview each of the M’s affiliate rosters. So far we’ve done the Low-A club, the Clinton LumberKings, the Advanced-A club, the Modesto Nuts, and the Double-A team The Arkansas Travelers. Today, we close out the preview series with the Triple-A club, the Tacoma Rainiers. (Check back sometime in June, after the MLB draft, to hear about short-season Everett and the AZL.)

The Starting Pitchers:

RHP Christian Bergman, LHP Ariel Miranda, RHP Max Povse, RHP Rob Whalen

This is the group to start the year, but when Seattle has need of a fifth starter and summons one of these gentlemen (Miranda), expect to see either or both of Andrew Moore and Chase De Jong added to the Triple-A roster, plus maybe some others—we’re hoping for Lindsey Caughel, who struggled at the beginning of the year in 2017 at Double-A but finished strong, throwing a Maddux to close out his year (he was also a podcast guest). Bergman will anchor the staff and hopefully provide some stability to the rotation, if he’s not needed as a call-up (you did all do the ritual sacrifice, right?). Povse and Whalen will be interesting to watch, as each is trying to recover from a season lost for reasons out of their control: Povse with the failed bullpen conversion, and Whalen, who struggled with mental health issues last year. A trimmer, happier Rob Whalen turned in an excellent spring, and Povse had a strong turn in the Arizona Fall League; there’s plenty to be excited about in the Rainiers’ rotation.

The Bullpen:

LHP Dário Álvarez, RHP Shawn Armstrong, RHP Chasen Bradford, RHP Ryan Cook, RHP Erik Goeddel, RHP Ashton Goudeau, RHP Pat Light, RHP Mike Morin, RHP Josh Smith

The only player in this group who was with the Rainiers last year is long reliever Pat Light; everyone else is a waiver claim or jetsam from another organization. Ryan Cook has technically been a Mariner since 2016 but battled injury after injury; he didn’t post great numbers in the spring, but the fact that he’s even throwing off a mound at a velocity close to where he was back when he was an All-Star with the Athletics is a win in and of itself. Chasen Bradford is probably the first option to be called up should injury or ineffectiveness strike the big league pen; he has MLB time as a member of the Mets and looked fairly sharp in the spring with a high-spin fastball and wipeout slider. Álvarez is somewhat of a reclamation project from the Cubs with a devastating slider but command problems; Armstrong is a Driveline kid who will hopefully benefit from being closer to the locus of weighted balls and plyo walls; and Goeddel/Goudeau are members of the fruit basket of prospects gifted from the Kansas City Royals. One of them apparently has impressed Rainiers manager Pat Listach so far in workouts, but I’ll be damned if I can remember which one it is.

The Infield:

Gordon Beckham, Matt Hague, Danny Muno, Zach Vincej, (Taylor Motter)

When the Rainiers open their season this evening, they’ll field an infield with a combined ago of 117 (average of 29 years old). For comparison, the M’s opened their season with a 119-year-old infield (an average of just under 30). While not uncommon for Triple-A to be a popular stash spot for organizational filler/depth guys, the age around the diamond in Tacoma is a real testament to the lack of anywhere-close-to-ready legitimate infield prospects in the system. Fans are plenty familiar with utility infielders Gordon Beckham and Taylor Motter, it’ll be former-Reds prospects Zach Vincej’s first go-round in the M’s system, and Danny Muno could easily find himself in the bigs for the first time since 2015. The switch-hitting likely opened some eyes with his .320/.393/.520 line in 25 at-bats at big league camp this past offseason, and his annually elite walk rates no doubt put him on Jerry’s radar. He played all over the field, including the outfield, for Tacoma last year, but has notably never received time at first. With plenty of 2B/3B/SS options in Tacoma, it remains to be seen how he’ll factor into the equation.

It appears Motter will be back in Tacoma within the next week, at which point it’ll be interesting to see the organizations level of commitment to him as a first baseman, with only the 32-year-old Matt Hague currently the only option there for the Rainiers. It appears the club intends to work outfielder Cameron Perkins into the fold at first base as well.

Catchers: Tuffy Gosewisch, Garrett Kennedy (David Freitas)

Tuffy is top dog at Tacoma, and fully deserving of the “Tuf-fy” chants he gets at Rainiers home games. He runs the pitching staff, mentors his fellow catchers, and is additionally one of the world’s nicest humans. Tuffy will either be instructing ex-Dodger farmhand Garrett Kennedy, who hasn’t played above the Double-A level, or David Freitas, currently filling in while Zunino is down with an oblique injury.

The Outfield:

John Andreoli, Ian Miller, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Cameron Perkins

My long regional nightmare of attempting to spell “Nieuwenhuis” is not over, apparently. The formerly elite Mets prospect will be a key contributor in what figures to be an experienced and exciting outfield. The farm system’s top base stealing prospect in Ian Miller reports back to Tacoma after a 41 game stint during which his offensive stats fell off a bit, but he kept right on swiping bags. Andreoli, demonstrated an interesting power-speed combination throughout his time as a Cubs farmhand, but will look to hit for average and power simultaneously for the first time at a high level this year, which could be his ticket to finally break into the big leagues for the defensively gifted outfielder.

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The Rainiers open their season at home this Thursday at 7:05, weather permitting, and they are offering a pretty sweet deal for Opening Day: