- The Pirates and Mariners are considering some bullpen help.
In a somewhat surprising move, the Mariners announced that first baseman Dan Vogelbach has been optioned to Triple-A. GM Jerry Dipoto told reporters (including Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times) that veteran Danny Valencia will be the Mariners’ everyday first baseman, with utilityman Taylor Motter as the backup.
[Updated Mariners roster at Roster Resource]
Vogelbach is hitting just .228/.313/.333 over 64 plate appearances in Spring Training, which Dipoto said contributed to the decision. The slow start hasn’t removed Vogelbach from Seattle’s longer-term plans, however, as Dipoto noted that the the club is looking at the move in a similar vein as the Triple-A stints for Mike Zunino and James Paxton last season. Both players performed well after that extra bit of minor league seasoning, and given how Vogelbach has just eight big league games under his belt, it makes sense that he would get a bit of extra time at Triple-A.
Still, this move is notable since the Mariners spent much of the winter aiming to use Vogelbach as their regular first baseman against right-handed pitching. Acquired as part of the Mike Montgomery trade with the Cubs last July, Vogelbach owns an impressive .286/.391/.481 slash line and 83 homers over 2329 career PA in the minors since Chicago selected him in the second round of the 2011 draft.
While Vogelbach has drawn praise for his power and his patient approach at the plate, however, he is already showing signs of being a bat-only player at age 23, as he possesses below-average defense even at first base. His average and slugging numbers against southpaws in the minors are also well below his numbers against right-handed pitching, which is why the Mariners acquired the right-handed hitting Valencia this offseason.
Instead, Valencia now moves into an everyday role after hitting .287/.346/.446 line over 517 PA for the Athletics last season. With Shawn O’Malley sidelined for at least 10 days following an appendectomy, Motter has stepped up as the M’s top utility infield option. Ironically, first base is the spot where the versatile Motter has been the least amount of action (just 14 career games at first in the majors and minors), as he has been more regularly deployed everywhere else around the diamond except pitcher and catcher. Valencia doesn’t have impressive splits against right-handed pitching over his career and Motter is also a right-handed bat, so there’s a slim chance Seattle could explore one of the left-handed first base options (i.e. Ryan Howard, Justin Morneau or Kelly Johnson) still on the free agent market, but the far more likely scenario is that Vogelbach is promoted after a few weeks.
- Mariners utilityman Shawn O’Malley needed an appendectomy yesterday, which will sideline him for around two weeks, as Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports. He and Taylor Motter are battling for a reserve role on the Opening Day roster, but the health issue could certainly move the needle. Thus far, Motter has the better spring stat line, with a .324/.435/.459 slash against O’Malley’s .278/.333/.278 mark. Both have options remaining and have reached the majors previously, though neither has a significant track record at the game’s highest level.
- The Mariners also got some updates on a pair of righty relievers, Dutton adds on Twitter. Shae Simmons was able to play catch as he works through forearm issues, while Steve Cishek is scheduled for his first pen session tomorrow as he continues to progress from offseason hip surgery. It seems clear at this point that neither will be ready for Opening Day, though the deep Seattle unit should be able to bear the loss, and both could represent intriguing mid-season additions to the relief corps.
- The Mariners are no strangers to analytics, but they also value old-school approaches to player evaluation, MLB.com’s Doug Miller writes. Manager Scott Servais, for example, highlights veteran catcher Carlos Ruiz’s work this spring with pitchers, including 23-year-old Max Povse, who spent the 2016 season at the Class A+ and Double-A levels but has thrived so far in camp. “Max Povse comes out after four innings [thinking], ’Jeez, I never had to shake off a pitch tonight. Never had to think about it,'” says Servais. “You can’t measure it, but it’s there and it’s really important to a winning team.”
Right-hander Kevin Gadea, whom the Rays selected out of the Mariners organization in last December’s Rule 5 Draft, will miss “at least” four weeks of action after an MRI revealed tendinitis in his right elbow, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (Twitter links). Perhaps of more interest, Topkin adds that the Rays were in the process of returning Gadea to the Mariners organization when the MRI revealed his injury. Now, he’ll open the season with the Rays and accrue some Major League service time on the team’s disabled list.
In that sense, the injury could benefit both Gadea and the Rays. He’ll earn the pro-rated portion of the league minimum for the time he spends on the MLB DL — a significant pay increase over what he’d have earned in the minors — and the Rays, in turn, will have a chance to further evaluate Gadea while he progresses through a minor league rehab assignment. If other injuries arise and/or other relievers fail to perform early in the season, it’s possible that Gadea could emerge as a candidate to help out on the Major League roster. Of course, the Rays may simply offer him back to the Mariners once he’s cleared to return to game action.
It should be noted that Gadea, 22, was a long shot to stick on the Rays’ roster out of camp. Signed out of Nicaragua as a free agent back in 2012, Gadea has yet to ascend even to the Class-A Advanced level, having spent the makority of the 2016 season in the Class-A Midwest League. Gadea handled himself quite well there, logging a brilliant 2.15 earned run average with 72 strikeouts (12.9 K/9) against just 11 walks (2.0 BB/9).
- Mariners brass probably felt a mix of emotions as last night’s USA-Venezuela WBC matchup got underway, but as MLB.com’s Greg Johns writes, it ended up going quite well for the organization. Long-time staff ace Felix Hernandez was excellent, but it was new lefty Drew Smyly who opened eyes with his performance. The 27-year-old southpaw notched eight strikeouts against a potent Venezuela lineup over 4 2/3 strong frames, allowing only one unearned run. And he topped out at over 94 mph with his fastball, setting a new personal high-water mark in that regard.
- The Mariners, too, could open the year with an eight-man bullpen, according to manager Scott Servais (as Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune writes). Edwin Diaz is locked in as the team’s closer, and he’ll be joined by righties Nick Vincent and Evan Scribner as well as southpaw Marc Rzepczynski. Servais listed Dan Altavilla and Casey Fien as candidates as well. The Seattle ’pen picture is a bit muddied by the fact that Steve Cishek will open the season on the disabled list and that Shae Simmons is being slowed by forearm soreness. Other candidates for the bullpen include Tony Zych, James Pazos, Chris Heston and Ariel Miranda (as can be seen on the team’s depth chart at RosterResource.com).
While former first-rounder Alex Jackson got the headlines in the offseason trade that sent him from the Mariners to the Braves, Seattle is feeling good about its end of the deal, MLB.com’s Greg Johns writes. Righty Max Povse has impressed in camp, showing a bigger fastball than had been anticipated. Manager Scott Servais praised his current offerings while noting that “there’s a lot of room for growth” for Povse.
- Mariners setup man Steve Cishek is all but certain to begin the season on the disabled list, per Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune. The 30-year-old side-armer had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip last October and is still at least one week, if not two weeks, away from throwing off the mound, according to manager Scott Servais. “I think coming into this camp, it was no secret that we were projecting that he might start the season a little bit late,” said Servais.“We’re still on that schedule.”
- Within that same piece, Dutton notes that the Mariners got better news on right-hander Tony Zych, who is already throwing off a mound and will face hitters in live BP this week. And in a second column, Dutton adds that the Mariners got positive news following an MRI on right-hander Shae Simmons. There’s no ligament damage in Simmons’ elbow, as the hard-thrower is instead dealing with a strained muscle in his forearm. He’ll be out for the next couple of days, but it seems that the former Brave has staved off any form of serious injury.
This is the second trade since last August involving the 31-year-old Venditte, whom Seattle acquired from Toronto for minor league infielder Tim Lopes. A 20th-round pick of the Yankees in 2008, Venditte debuted in the majors with the Athletics in 2015 and has since logged a 4.97 ERA, 7.46 K/9, 4.09 BB/9 and 36.2 percent ground-ball rate in 50 2/3 innings. Twenty-two of those frames came last year for Venditte, who ran up a 5.73 ERA between the Blue Jays and Mariners.
While he possesses the ultra-rare capability of being able to pitch with either arm, Venditte has been far more successful as a southpaw, having held left-handed hitters to a .179/.242/.366 line. Righty-swingers have handled him, evidenced by a .277/.380/.523 line. Currently pitching for Italy in the World Baseball Classic, Venditte will join the Phillies as a non-roster player when the team is eliminated or the tournament ends, per Jayson Stark of ESPN (Twitter link).
Curletta, who turned 23 this past Monday, has also been involved in a pair of trades since last year. The Phillies acquired him from the Dodgers in September to complete the deal that featured catchers Carlos Ruiz and A.J. Ellis. The Dodgers chose Curletta in the sixth round of the 2012 draft, and he has since ascended to the Double-A level. Curletta struggled there last year, though, as he hit just .206/.280/.371 in 107 plate appearances.
Baseball America previously wrote that the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Curletta is a “physical monster” with “light-tower power” as a right-handed hitter. However, scouts have questioned whether he’ll hit in the big leagues, and BA noted that doesn’t provide any speed or defensive value. Curletta will now head to the Mariners’ minor league camp, tweets Greg Johns of MLB.com.