With several prospects who are either on the cusp of the majors or in a “prove it or lose it” stage of their career plus a few “AAAA” type players, the Rainiers almost have to be an early favorite to challenge for the PCL title again in 2011. That isn’t to say they’ll have an easy road at it; the PCL looks like it should be very, very good this year.
Still, even if they fall short, the Rainiers should provide plenty of entertainment and quality minor league baseball for their fans in the first season of the new Cheney Stadium.
Prospects To Watch:
- 2B Dustin Ackley: Ackley is not long for the minor leagues, as he only needs to work on the consistency of his defense (and work the service clock a little) before getting his call to the majors. Ackley will probably be up any time after Memorial Day, but in the meantime he’ll be a treat to watch, especially with his sweet swing at the plate.
- OF Greg Halman: Halman is getting a second go at AAA, and is hoping to build off his 2010 success. He’s in his last option year, however, and still has a couple things to work on (contact and plate discipline), so this is very much a make-or-break year for the young Dutchman. If he does well, he and his prodigious power could get a major league call this year should an outfielder be needed in Seattle.
- RHP Blake Beavan: One of the pieces acquired in the Cliff Lee trade, Beavan has transformed from a wild young fireballer to a command and control righty. While he doesn’t get the same velocity he once did, Beavan does still have better stuff than your typical C&C pitcher, with a fastball that can get in to the low 90’s at times (typically sits 89-91), with a nice slider and improving changeup.
- RHP Dan Cortes: Cortes ended the 2010 season in the majors, but his poor control in Spring Training cost him a chance to go right back to open the 2011 season. Control is the number one thing that Cortes has to work on, and it always has been. Don’t be surprised if pitching coach Dwight Bernard works with him to smooth out his mechanics a bit to gain some better consistency in his delivery.
- 3B Alex Liddi: Liddi’s star has risen over the last two years, but he now has to solidify his status in a crowded corner infield situation in Tacoma. While his bat is impressive at third base, his glove could be the deciding factor on how much playing time he gets there.
Other Players Of Note:
- 1B/OF Mike Carp: Carp still has value, but the acquisition of Justin Smoak may have turned him in to the new Bryan LaHair in spite of his impressive 2010 campaign.
- LHP Luke French: Squeezed out of the 25-man roster despite his decent 2010 major league numbers, French figures to be the first starter summoned from the minors if/when Seattle needs one.
- LHP Cesar Jimenez: The last man cut during Spring Training, Jimenez could figure in to the Mariners’ bullpen plans if something happens to Aaron Laffey or if, for some reason, a second lefty is needed.
- RHP Justin Miller: Miller is a vet with a fairly decent history out of the bullpen, including a good stint with the Marlins in 2007. He should see Seattle at some point this year, and will help Tacoma in the late innings in the meantime.
- UTIL Matt Tuiasosopo: Tui is probably on his last chance to try and become more than a role player in the majors. He has to start hitting early, and keep it up if he gets promoted, or else he’ll probably get firmly slapped with the dreaded “AAAA player” tag.
Breakout Prediction: OF Carlos Peguero
This is probably as bold a breakout prediction as you’ll see in this series. Peguero is in a similar boat to Greg Halman last year: tons of power, a lot of promise, but just never been able to put it all together. Unfortunately, Peguero’s issues mirror Halman’s (poor plate discipline, contact problems born of a long swing and poor pitch recognition), and might even be more pronounced.
Still, there are plenty of reasons to hope Peguero figures it out. He had a good spring, and will be hitting in a friendlier offensive environment. If Alonzo Powell can help him improve his patience and pitch selection like he did with Halman last year, Peguero could put up some very impressive numbers.
Peguero’s 2011 batting line estimate: .250/.305/.505, 29 HR, 85 RBI
Team Outlook: This is a very solid roster for Tacoma, though the catching depth has already taken a knock with Chris Gimenez getting called up and replaced by Jose Yepez. Still, this is a club that figures to put up a lot of offense. Look for Tacoma to make another run in to the PCL playoffs and push for another league title.