Curto, Tacoma Rainiers

Roaming The Back Fields Of Mariners Spring Training

My spring training trip wrapped up with a lot of baseball on Thursday, at both the Seattle Mariners complex and the Texas Rangers spring home.

The morning saw Mariners major and minor leaguers going through various drills on the back fields of the Peoria complex. The big club had an away spring training game at nearby Goodyear, against Cleveland. When that happens, the team takes batting practice and does infield drills at its home complex in the morning, and then whoever is playing in the game that afternoon gets on a bus and drives to Goodyear, arriving shortly before first pitch.

So that was happening as I walked into the complex, and I had one mission: find and meet new Tacoma Rainiers manager Tim Federowicz, who is supposedly assisting the major league coaching staff at this time. Unfortunately, I must report that the mission was not accomplished.

I wandered all over the place looking for him. It didn’t help that all of the dozens of coaches were wearing pullovers instead of uniforms – no names or numbers. And it didn’t help that I don’t know what the man looks like. I ran into Kristopher Negron and he said “I think he’s at one of the down fields” while motioning vaguely towards the farthest off minor league fields. (Kristopher says hello to the Rainiers fans, by the way). I soldiered off in that direction, eventually finding a training table at the hub of a four-field layout, where several Mariners minor league athletic trainers were milling around. Trainers are always helpful, I’ll ask them. I met new Tacoma head trainer Michael Feliciano, chatted for a bit, asked him where I might find Federowicz… and he says he’s with the big leaguers, all the way back at the main field where I had just came from.

So off we went again. I felt like I was getting the runaround, like a brand new intern who gets told to find the keys to the batters box or the bucket of curveballs. Eventually I ran into Rainiers clubhouse manager Shane Hickenbottom, who did not know where Federowicz was, but did offer this: “everyone keeps saying he looks just like me.” So now we have a manager who looks like our clubbie. That’s kind of funny and greatly increases the chances of our clubbie getting ejected from a game accidentally, which would be beyond hilarious.

I never found Federowicz, but Shane did say that several Rainiers players were going to play in the minor league game at the Texas Rangers complex that afternoon, so I decided to spend the rest of the day in Surprise.

Anticipated Tacoma Rainiers starting pitcher Ian McKinney drew the assignment, facing a lineup of Texas Rangers hitters with a decidedly Triple-A look to it. Remember last year, when the Rainiers broke camp with just two stretched-out starting pitchers for reasons we never really figured out? I’ve been a little concerned about something like that happening again, but perhaps it’s not an issue: McKinney is ready to go. He went four innings and threw approximately 60-70 pitches, which puts him right in line to handle a normal starting pitcher’s load come opening day.

It didn’t go well in the first inning, when he walked the leadoff man before allowing a two-run homer to Rangers major league catcher Jonah Heim. A double play grounder got him out of the second inning unscathed, and he impressively retired the side in the third, sawing off two bats with wood flying all over the place. Another leadoff walk led to a run in the fourth – he went four full innings, allowing four hits, three runs, and three walks with five strikeouts. But the big thing was the distance. It was nice to see a pitcher go four innings so early on.

One player who has put himself on the radar as a possible Tacoma contributor is infielder Jose Caballero. He appeared late in the big league game against the Cubs on Tuesday, and yesterday he started at shortstop in the high-level minor league game. He made a couple of nice defensive plays, and also lined a solo homer to left field off Rangers lefty Jake Latz. Caballero played in only 20 games last season, presumably due to injury, but was sent to the prestigious Arizona Fall League to get more reps. He could end up in a Rainiers uniform at some point.

Newly signed corner infielder Zach Green played in the game, and he’s an interesting one. Green strikes out a lot – I mean a lot – but when he connects, good things happen. Green had a great run with Sacramento in 2019, appearing in 72 games and hitting .282 with 25 home runs and 64 RBI, and a whopping .659 slugging percentage. He earned his first call-up that year, getting 14 at-bats for San Francisco. Last year he spent the entire season with Nashville, and his average fell to .214 but he still hit for a ton of power with 33 of his 70 hits going for extra bases.

One relief pitcher of note who got some work in on Thursday was reliever Matt Koch. Koch – pronounced “cook,” believe it or not – was signed as a minor league free agent a month ago. A former major leaguer with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Koch delivered about as easy of an inning possible in the fifth by retiring three batters on less than ten pitches. He showed some good sink while getting two quick infield grounders, and then struck out the third man.

On Wednesday the Mariners had a day off – including the minor leaguers – so I wandered over to the Padres side of the Peoria Sports Complex, where games were being played. Rainiers 2021 pitching coach Rob Marcello was over there, in his new job as Director of Pitching for the Padres organization.

Fittingly for his new title, Marcello was seated in a shaded golf cart as he observed several Padres pitching prospects working on multiple fields. He said that he is roving throughout the Padres organization this year, visiting all of their affiliates, and he has El Paso’s trip to Tacoma in July circled as one he hopes to make.

There were a lot of scouts on the Padres backfield (seemingly all of the Padres hyped young hitting prospects were playing on one field), and a couple of them I know pretty well. I bounced the subject of our last blog off them. Is Julio Rodriguez really skipping Triple-A and going straight to the big leagues? Scouts had a very different opinion than the sportswriters, saying that seems really unlikely. We can only wait and see.

That’s a wrap for this year’s spring training trip. Look for a post later next week that takes a closer look at a potential Rainiers opening day roster.


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