A recent scouting trip took me to Sacramento where I saw the A's Triple-A club play a series with the Tacoma Rainiers, the Triple-A affiliate of the Mariners. Here's a look at what I saw regarding Seattle's Tacoma club:
To begin, some of the more highly prized prospects were playing at Double-A Jackson at the time of my visit. They included top-prospect left-handed pitcher Danny Hultzen, right-hander Taijuan Walker, third baseman Francisco Martinez and shortstop Nick Franklin. Franklin and Hultzen have since been promoted to Triple-A and neither has gotten off to a rousing start. They are both top-notch prospects, so their adjustment struggles can be overlooked for now.
I did get a long look at several other Mariners prospects that I will include in this summation.
Adam Moore is a catcher that may appear at first blush to have been around longer than he actually has. He has played parts of six seasons in professional baseball, but he's been on the Mariners' radar screen most of that time. Bottom line: I saw Moore when he played in the Arizona Fall League after coming back from injury. His play at Tacoma is as uninspired as I saw in Arizona. I saw a complete lack of energy and relatively poor in-game management in Arizona and more of the same when I watched him in Tacoma. He's 28 years old and his clock is ticking. He's currently hitting .213/2/9 in 142 plate appearances at Tacoma.
With their current catching corps of Jesus Montero, Miguel Olivo and John Jaso, there seems to be little, if any room for Moore.
In a recent discussion with the media when the Mariners were in Phoenix, manager Eric Wedge indicated he would "ramp up" the catching opportunities for Montero. With Olivo signed through next season, it seems the Mariners will have little use for Moore at the big league level any time soon. To that end, I would say Moore has no fantasy value for at least two years, if not longer.
Alex Liddi spent the first couple months of this season at the big league level. The problem? He didn't hit.
Liddi played in 38 early season games for Seattle and hit only .231. He did smack three homers and had 10 RBI. During his stay, he played third base, left field and first base. He doesn't play any of them well defensively. If the native of Sanremo, Italy ever makes the team for good, it will be because of his bat.
When I saw him in Sacramento he was late on higher velocity fastballs and he looked hopelessly lost at the plate. He has since improved, hitting a steady .286 with two home runs in 11 games that have included 50 plate appearances.
I see some offensive hope for Liddi, especially from a power standpoint. He can get lift on the ball with a slight uppercut swing.
Liddi is a big guy at 6-feet-4 and 230 pounds. He's almost too big to play third. I like him better at first base, where I think he can be a bit less of a defensive liability.
I see Liddi as a potential designated hitter/utility player for the Mariners with a chance to move more into an everyday role as time progresses. He isn't agile, but he has enough pop in his bat for fantasy players to pay attention. He is on the Mariners' radar screen, and because he can play first base other clubs are likely watching him. Right-handed power hitters are hard to find. He is a valuable player to Seattle. I suspect roster numbers had much to do with Liddi being sent down to Tacoma.
Vinnie Catricala is a fan favorite among diehard Seattle fans. In a short time, he has a following of fans that believe in his bat. I do think there is a chance he will succeed.
Catricala played baseball at the University of Hawaii and was drafted in the 10th round of the 2009 first-year player draft by Seattle. He has played parts of four seasons in the minors where he has a .307 cumulative batting average. He has really skyrocketed through the Mariners 'system, already playing at Triple-A after stopping at each level.
So far this season, Catricala has hit six homers and has driven in 41 runs for Tacoma. His batting average, however, is only .238. Last season over two classifications, he hit a combined .349. The decline in batting average could very well be due to improved pitching quality at Triple-A.
Regardless, I didn't really like what I saw of his mechanics in the Sacramento series, but I think he has potential to become a solid hitter. Further, I think the Mariners like his upside and his grit. He's a good athlete with a strong, well-proportioned body. He's 6-feet-3, 220 pounds. At 23 years old, he still may have a bit more muscle development ahead.
From a fantasy standpoint, Catricala is a guy to watch closely.
Carlos Triunfel was seen as the shortstop of the future when I was scouting for Seattle. At one point he was suspended from the club for reasons that were never disclosed publicly.
Triunfel is undisciplined at the plate, swinging at pitches way too often. His poor overall contact is a direct result of impatience and poor pitch recognition. At Tacoma so far, he has struck out in 52 of his 303 plate appearances and walked 17 times. He has to be able to see more pitches and take deeper counts to be of value at the top or extreme bottom of the batting order. His swings have to result in hitting more of the barrel rather than the end or the handle of the bat due to poor timing and "recovery" swings.
Triunfel is much more valuable right now as a defensive rather than offensive shortstop. In that regard, he is similar to Mariners everyday shortstop Brendan Ryan. So if the two are similar in their offensive and defensive abilities, why not just keep Ryan? Well, that's where Nick Franklin comes in.
Franklin is the shortstop of the future. Probably as soon as next season. He's a better overall hitter than Ryan or Triunfel, but he's not as good a defender. He's certainly acceptable. Franklin has a strong, if not always accurate arm. I have seen him make easy plays look tough. Dustin Ackley is the second baseman of the here, now and later. So where does that leave Triunfel? Probably as a trade candidate or as a backup infielder. His chances of a roster spot increase if Ryan is traded away in the offseason.
Outfielder Trayvon Robinson is a speedy center fielder the Mariners got from the Los Angeles Dodgers. He has the ability to steal bases, though he has never really gotten a sustained opportunity to see what he can do over a long haul. He has had high strikeout rates wherever he has played, but this year he seems to have improved his contact. He's also seeing more pitches and walking more.
The Mariners have a rather crowded outfield with guys like Michael Saunders and Franklin Gutierrez capable of playing center. Casper Wells, Mike Carp, Chih-Hsien Chiang, and Carlos Peguero are also hanging around waiting for their turns to break into the outfield.
I think Robinson has potential to be a good leadoff hitter for a club looking for a switch-hitter with bunting ability and the skill to hit the ball on the ground. It wouldn't be a surprise if Robinson won a utility role in Seattle, but he wouldn't be getting the type of at-bats that make a difference for the club. He could, however, be a good fantasy selection in the same way Tony Campana is for many fantasy owners. But make no mistake, Robinson does not have Campana's speed.
Carlos Peguero is another holdover from my time as a Mariners scout. He and the late Greg Halman were seen as two top of the organization power hitting prospects. So far, Peguero has not been able to put enough balls in play to make an impact. His high strikeout rate and the lack of consistent home-run power have stunted his progress.
Peguero went through a streak during spring training when it looked like he had turned the corner offensively. He has had major league at-bats in the past, but he hasn't taken advantage of those opportunities. Last season he went to the plate 155 times for Seattle and hit .196 with six homers and 19 RBI. He struck out 54 times.
As I indicated above, the Mariners' outfield situation looks very crowded and I just don't see a spot with Saunders and Wells around. Ichiro will likely re-sign at the end of this year. I don't believe Peguero has much value for fantasy owners unless the left-handed hitter is traded. But clearly, upside remains in the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Peguero, as he is only 25 years old.
Mike Wilson is a right-handed hitting Carlos Peguero, but with more professional experience. He has played for Tacoma since he was 26, or parts of four seasons.
The stocky Wilson can really put a charge in a pitch. However, he really doesn't appear to be more than a Quad-A player for Seattle. He's a guy I think deserves a chance to play for a big league club on a consistent basis. I wonder what he could do with 500 or 600 at-bats?
The right-handed hitting, 6-foot-2 inch, 245-pound Wilson will turn 29 on Saturday. It seems I've seen him play forever. And I've always come away impressed with his power. In parts of nine seasons of minor league service time he has hit 150 home runs. He also has a respectable .269 lifetime minor league average, but he can't get a break.
Unless and until Wilson is gone from under the control of the Mariners, he has no fantasy value.
Darren Ford can really, really run. Ford was signed by the Brewers and has played for the Giants. As a Major League player, Ford has only 16 big league plate appearances. I was surprised when I saw that statistic. I thought it was more. He hit .286 for San Francisco in his brief 16 plate-appearance trial in 2011, but went 7-for-13 as a basestealer. While Ford is extremely fast, he was caught too many times. The Giants released him and the Mariners signed him for depth.
He's hitting well with Tacoma, averaging .314 in 38 plate appearances over eight games.
I don't think Ford has enough skill beyond his speed to consider him a viable fantasy option. Although he is only 26, the right-handed hitter could raise some eyebrows or gain attention from a team needing speed. With a good base running coach, Ford could be in someone's future.
Blake Beavan has started 12 games so far this season for the Mariners. His 5.92 ERA and 1.312 WHIP landed him back at Tacoma.
When I saw him pitch, it wasn't very pretty. While he has good stuff, he had trouble finding the plate. His walk rate wasn't very high, but hitters were swinging at bad pitches. I was surprised they weren't more patient. So far at Tacoma, Beavan has pitched only two games and a total of 12 innings. The opposition has 17 hits and five walks, giving him a WHIP of 1.833. That won't get him back to Seattle right away.
Beavan is huge at 6-feet-7, 240 pounds. He should be able to overpower hitters, but that just isn't the case. He just doesn't have any real "out" pitch. He has a good enough sinker, but he can't always command it on a consistent basis. It's the pitch he has to have to find success. His secondary pitches are mediocre.
I don't believe Beavan has much of a chance to crack the future Mariners rotation if Felix Hernandez, Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Hector Noesi and even Jason Vargas are all around. Vargas is probably on the bubble for the future, but the rest aren't. It will be tough for Beavan to crack that group unless he steps it up.
Without a doubt, the best pitcher I saw in Sacramento was left-handed specialist Bobby LaFrombose. I think he has a chance to be a high quality major league situational lefty. He has a low, three-quarters delivery with an ability to hide the ball well. Lefties will have a tough time hitting against him.
LaFrombose will have little value as a fantasy pitcher. He will be more useful for leagues where holds are counted, but the guy can pitch. Interestingly, I mentioned him to general manager Jack Zduriencik when his club played here in Phoenix two weeks ago. Zduriencik nodded and smiled and gave me an approving type of assurance that LaFrombose was on the radar screen.
I have said for the past year and a half I felt the Mariners could be a very dangerous future team. Why? They have outstanding minor league depth in the outfield, shortstop and third base. There aren't many first base options. Their pitching depth is really sound with the prospects I've mentioned.
Will the Mariners ever hit? Not with Ryan struggling, and with Smoak and Carp looking for consistency. Ackley has had a much rougher year than I anticipated. He has regressed to the hitter I was not bullish about in his rookie professional season. He got better, but has slipped badly. Third baseman Kyle Seager has been a pleasant surprise. The power of Michael Saunders is welcome. Franklin Gutierrez has to remember how to hit after being out for the first three months of the season. Ichiro isn't Ichiro anymore. It's a very iffy offensive club and a worse pitching club at this point. They are solid defensively at short and center field. Ackley is adjusting at second. Montero is brutal behind the plate. Smoak is very good defensively at first. Fortunately, Ichiro is still Ichiro defensively, but as a whole, they are average, not great. The future is much brighter. Pitching, pitching, pitching.
The best future fantasy options? Hultzen, Walker and Paxton on the mound. Liddi, Franklin and probably Catricala offensively.
*This is the time of year teams begin to bring players up from the minor leagues. Watch the transaction pages carefully. Some like Anthony Rizzo and Trevor Bauer will be obvious. Others like Martin Perez and Leonys Martin, not so much.
*The loss of RHP Colby Lewis is a tremendous blow to the Rangers. They have good pitching prospects, but they have just been clobbered by pitching injuries this season. Do they have enough arms to overcome the Angels? Actually, I don't think so.
*Here's my take on Trevor Bauer for what it's worth: He'll throw lots of pitches and struggle to get through five innings initially. Lots of deep counts. Lots of foul balls. Lots of strikeouts. Wins.
*Alfonso Soriano is a brutal outfielder. To be fair, he was a second baseman that was converted. I just can't watch when a flyball goes his way. It's a shame. Give him a low fastball at the plate, however, and a fan will take home a souvenir homerun ball.
*I still see the Cardinals in the NL race as long as Carlos Beltran and Rafael Furcal can stay off the disabled list. I'm not sure that can happen.
*It still bugs me. Who is the real Mat Latos? His last start when he struck out 13 or the one before when he was beyond brutal? His inconsistency start to start is why I didn't like the Reds trade with the Padres. Latos has not pitched like an ace. At least, not yet. But his second half may be awesome. That's what the club will need. The Reds gave up the future for the present. I hope it works for them.
*I'll be in Kansas City for the Futures Game, Home Run Derby and All-Star Game. I'll be tweeting at each of those events and writing several On The Scene columns about what I see.
Bust Of The Week: Jeanmar Gomez. Adios Amigo. You're killin' me, but you can't do that from Columbus. And I believed in you.
I hope you'll follow me on Twitter when I comment on every D-Backs home game @BerniePleskoff. You can read my scouting articles on MLB.com by clicking the "Voices" column and looking for my name. Thanks. I'm out.