Remember, Everett and Arizona do not begin their seasons until late June.
Here are my thoughts:
The Rainiers pitching staff might be the best the club has had on opening day in maybe five years, perhaps more. Not in terms of prospects, per se, but ability. Still, it’s not likely to be great, but there are some legit arms that will get Triple-A batters out with consistency.
James Paxton is the biggest name here, followed by rotation mate Adrian Sampson. Veteran pick-up Steve Johnson could start the year as the closer and the stuff Casey Coleman, Jonathan Aro and eventually Justin De Fratus all bring to the table will play in the Pacific Coast League.
Donn Roach should start, in my opinion, though he was used in relief all spring by the Mariners in big-league camp. Blake Parker is a pure reliever for me, but potentially a pretty good one. Same goes for Cody Martin and lefty Paul Fry, who I believe will see time in the majors before the end of 2016.
Former Rule 5 pick David Rollins could dominate at times with a 90-93 mph fastball and a slider that will be good enough to get minor leaguers out; he’s still fringy for me for the majors, I prefer Fry due to a better delivery and more consistency, with fairly equal raw stuff.
The catching will be done by Mike Zunino and Steve Lerud. Lerud can catch as much or as little as the Mariners want him to, which is ideal for the club’s plan for Zunino which is all about his swing mechanics and game plan at the plate. There’s little chance Zunino sees the majors anytime soon, but don’t be surprised if he’s up sometime in the second half, even if its just the final 3-5 weeks.
The infield will consist of first basemen Ed Lucas and Mike Baxter. Lucas can help at third and in the outfield in a pinch. Efren Navarro is also capable of handling first and can manage in left or right field, too. Tyler Smith and Chris Taylor will share the middle-infield spots; Taylor is more accomplished but Smith has surpassed Taylor in status for me thanks to a better swing and improved consistency defensively.
Shawn O’Malley is listed as an infielder, but he can play all three outfield spots in the minors, including spot duty in center.
Boog Powell, my No. 5 prospect, will be the regular center fielder and likely lead off for the Rainiers. Dario Pizzano’s solid plate skills make him a bat-first outfielder but perhaps a good one with on-base ability. Daniel Robertson and Stefen Romero round out the outfield group. Robertson can help in center on occasion and Romero is likely to see plenty of time in the corners of both the infield and the outfield, most prominently first base and right field.
Pat Listach returns as the skipper with Lance Painter, a long-time M’s minor league coach, the new pitching guru. Scott Brosius is the hitting coach, replacing Cory Snyder.
Jackson’s starting rotation will feature legit prospect Ryan Yarbrough, my No. 15 prospect in the organization, and Edwin Diaz, who ranks No. 3. Right-handers Sam Gaviglio, Stephen Landazuri and Dan Altavilla round out the rotation. Altavilla was No. 23 for me, but he has a chance to move quickly if he takes on a relief role.
Matt Anderson, Brett Ash, Ryne Harper, Andrew Kittredge, Jordan Pries, Kraig Sitton, Dylan Unsworth and Emilio Pagan will handle the relief duties. Pries and Unsworth can start, as can Anderson. Pagan would be my choice to close.
Danny Hultzen is on the Generals roster, but is not active. Offically he will be on the disabled list once the season starts.
Steve Baron and Marcus Littlewood are the catchers and it may be a make or break year for both if they want to prove they can help in the big leagues.
One of my favorites, Tim Lopes, is likely the second baseman with Patrick Brady and Benji Gonzalez playing shortstop despite both fitting better at second.
Zach Shank is likely to play a lot of third base and D.J. Peterson is the regular first baseman, Daniel Paolini will DH a lot, but he can play first, too.
The outfield here is actually pretty exciting. Cuban signee Guillermo Heredia, 25, will play a lot of center field with Leon Landry and Ian Miller also legit center field gloves, and Tyler O’Neill manning one of the corner spots — I’d put him in right and let him go. The defense here will be something special considering it’s a Double-A club. Miller is one of the top 5 defensive outfielders in the org, Landry is a solid left fielder and average center fielder and Heredia comes with big-league center-field chops.
The Generals have a chance to be a very good offensive club with Peterson, Paolini, O’Neill and Lopes leading the way. We’ll see what Heredia can do — and if he does what the M’s hope he’ll be in Tacoma by June 15. Miller can really run.
Jackson will be managed by Daren Brown — whom you may remember managed the Rainiers for several years — with Andrew Lorraine the pitching coach and Roy Howell the hitting coach.
At first look at the Blaze roster the first thing that stands out is the repeat assignments. Outfielder Austin Wilson, No. 19 in my Top 25, and Tyler Marlette, No. 24,
both return to the California League. Marlette saw some time in Jackson last year.
The pitching staff will consist of Andrew Moore, No. 12, lefties Ryan Horstman, Kyle Hunter, Anthony Mislewicz, Eddie Campbell and Tyler Pike, and right-handers Aaron Brooks, Tyler hErb, Kody Kerski, Isaac Sanchez and Kyle Schepel. The most intriguing reliever on the roster is Ramon Morla, a former infielder who touched 99 mph a few years back who is coming off Tommy John surgery. He did throw some a year ago and is expected to be 100 percent in 2016.
Marlette will share time with Daniel Torres, though Torres is likely the 2-day per week guy.
The infielders are Jay Baum (3B) and Joe DeCarlo (3B), Kyle Petty (1B), Gianfanco Wawoe (2B) and Drew Jackson (SS). Jackson, No. 4 on my Top 25, is the name to watch here. He can really run, has the strength to hit for a little power if he learns to create some loft and he can play shortstop — he won’t have to move to third or the outfield.
It’s a fairly agressive assignment for Jackson, who was the MVP of the short-season Northwest League a year ago, but the Cal League being hitter-friendly and it’s nice to see the club showing confidence in Jackson.
The outfielders joining Wilson are Chantz Mack, Austin Cousino (CF) and Arby Fields.
The Blaze will be managed by former M’s minor leaguer Eddie Menchaca with Max Venable the hitting coach and Ethan Katz the pitching coach.
Clinton’s pitching staff will be interesting with Lukas Schiraldi repeating and left-hander Nick Wells getting the full-season assignment. Right-hander Zack Littell is a favorite of mine. Filling out the staffa re right-handers Darin Gilles, Vinny Nittoli, Joey Strain, Matt Walker, Art Warren and Kyle Wilcox, and left-handers Dylan Silva and Nick Kiel.
Wells is No. 13 for me.
James Alfonso and Arturo Nieto will dot he catching. Neither are prospects, but both are solid-average receivers. Alfonso is repeating the level.
The infield consists of shortstop Rayder Ascanio, a legit glove, Rafael Fernandez (2B), Conner Hale (3B/1B), Dalton Kelly (1B), Chris Mariscal (2B/SS) and Logan Taylor (3B).
The outfielders are Gus Craig, Ricky Eusebio and two prospects, Braden Bishop, my No. 9 prospect, and Luis Liberato, who has intriguing tools but has yet to show the kind of instincts that typically are necessary.
The manager is Mitch Canham (of Marysville, Wash.) with pitching coach Rich Dorman and hitting coach Cesar Nicolas and Luis Caballero rounding out the staff.
Missing in Action
As you may or may not have noticed, there are some notable names missing from these rosters, including No. 2 prospect Alex Jackson. Bob Dutton of The News Tribune reported late last week that Jackson will remain in extended spring training to work on things. This isn’t a great sign, especially with some of the negative things I have been told about Jackson’s approach to the game, but let’s see how he responds to this kind of adversity.
Right-hander Nick Neidert also is not on a full-season roster, but this is no surprise. He was a high school kid 10 months agp. Lefty Jacob Brentz did not break camp with a full-season club, but he may be sent out fairly soon; he wasn’t ready to be stretched out early in MiLB camp, so he’s been kept back. Hopefully this doesn’t suggest an injury, as Brentz, my No. 8 prospect, Has the raw stuff to dominate in a relief role or be a poor man’s Scott Kazmir as a starter.
Dylan Thompson, like Neidert, is just a teenager still, so taking care of his arm and mechanics are most important in April. Greifer Andrade, Brayan Hernandez, Gareth Morgan, Christopher Torres, Carlos Vargas and Jio Orozco also are teenagers that weren’t necessarily best served by full-season ball right now. Click here for links to full reports on all of the above.
Also not listed on a full-season roster:
Luis Rengifo, 2B; Juan De Paula, RHP; Ismerling Mota, C. All are candidates for the rookie Arizona League this summer, along with Andrade, Torres, Hernandez, Orozco, Cargas and Morgan.
Jason spent 4 1/2 years at ESPN and two years at CBS Radio prior to joining HERO Sports in July, 2016.
Find Jason's Mariners podcast, Baseball Things, right here and follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider.
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