M's Minor League Transactions Update: 5/1
Tacoma Rainiers – Triple-A, Pacific Coast League
RHP Albie Lopez signed to a minor league contract
A veteran of parts of eleven seasons in the majors, the Mariners became interested in Lopez' services around the time they decided that they were going to release Dan Reichert (see below). The thought was that they'd use Lopez to replace Reichert in the rotation, once Lopez was stretched out a bit, but Lopez has only pitched in two innings for the Rainiers thus far. Shortly after joining the team, he came down with an ear infection and he hasn't pitched in a game since. The Rainiers are still in need some reliable starters, however, so he could still get a shot when he comes back.
RHP Dan Reichert released
Reichert was brought in to compete for a big-league bullpen job in spring training, hoping that his groundball tendencies would benefit from the revamped infield defense. Unfortunately, the infielders can't make a play if the ball goes over his head, and Reichert's numbers reflected that. The trend continued in Tacoma, with seven hits and three walks scoring seven runs (five earned) in just four innings of work. Reichert hasn't turned up with any other professional team yet, so it's hard to tell if other teams had been talking to him before his release, but realistically, it's probably for the best. With Scott Atchison and Rafael Soriano due to come back later in the season, he was too far back on the depth chart to have a shot outside of spring training.
OF Shin-soo Choo re-called to Seattle
When IF Scott Spiezio went on the DL with a strained left oblique, Mariners manager Mike Hargrove decided it might be a good to have another left-handed bat off the bench. You might not have been able to tell though, as Greg Dobbs is 3-for-9 in pinch-hitting appearances and, aside from his major league debut at-bat on the 21st, Choo has been riding the pine. The 22-year-old really belongs in Tacoma, getting everyday playing time and preparing himself for a possible outfield job in 2006. Expect him to be headed back down to Tacoma shortly to make room for a recent signing.
RHP Cha Seung Baek placed on the disabled list
Injuries have a bizarre tendency to hit a system in packs. Last year, the oblique strain was a popular number, but since the end of last season, the strained flexor bundle has been gaining a cult-like following. Baek was pulled from his start on the 20th after facing just seven batters, complaining of elbow soreness, and is the latest pitcher to come down with this injury. For Baek, this injury couldn't have come at worse time, as he was the reigning Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Week when he went on the DL, having won both of his starts and allowed just five hits in eleven innings the previous week. He'll have to try to pick up where he left off a few weeks from now.
LHP Damian Moss reinstated from the suspended list
Having lost Travis Blackley to season-ending labrum surgery, the Mariners signed another Aussie left-hander to fill his spot in the Rainiers rotation in Damian Moss. The 28-year-old veteran of five organizations joined the team late in spring training, but was still subject to the same steroid test rules as the other minor leaguers. He was placed on the 15-game suspended list when something in one of the supplements he was taking showed up in the results. Now swearing off the things, Moss is finally filling that spot in the Rainiers rotation and should hold it down for some time to come.
RHP Albie Lopez placed on the disabled list
LHP Melvin Pizarro called up from San Antonio
Another one of Charley Kerfeld's independent league signings, Pizarro was picked up prior to last season. He had a three-year period in the middle of his career where he did not pitch professionally at all, so at 27-years-old, he's a little more advanced than his competition and probably deserves to be challenged in order to see what he's truly capable of, and if he can contribute at the major league level. He pitched decently for Inland Empire last year, ending the season with a 3.86 ERA over 70 innings of relief work, but how well he can fare against Triple-A competition remains to be seen.
OF Jamal Strong placed on the suspended list (10 days)
When it was announced that Strong had failed his drug test while with the Mariners in spring training, a murmur of disbelief swept through the clubhouse. Known more for his speed than anything else, the 26-year-old doesn't fit the profile most would imagine when thinking of steroid users, and certainly hasn't experienced any noticeable power increases. Still, it's possible that he could have been taking a supplement to help heal the nagging injuries that have plagued him for the past few seasons, and something from that could have shown up in the tests. Regardless, Strong's sentence will be 10 days as opposed to the fifteen games reserved for minor leaguers, due to the fact that he is on the 40-man roster for the Mariners.
OF David Hall called up from Wisconsin
A pick in the 22nd round of last year's draft out of San Diego State University, Hall was one of the more impressive offensive players for the Peoria Mariners, tied for sixth in the league in doubles with 13, and all the players ahead of him had at least ten more at-bats. This was part of what earned him a ticket to Wisconsin to start this season, and perhaps factored into the decision to call him up as a reserve outfielder for a the Rainiers. After four games, he's only been in one game, and that was as a pinch-runner, so don't expect to see him get too much playing time in triple-A; he'll be headed back to the Midwest League soon enough.
1B/3B Dave Hansen signed to a minor league contract
When the Mariners decided they needed a veteran pinch hitter on the bench this season, they called on Hansen, who had filled the part with the team for half of last year. Hansen was invited to spring training with the Chicago Cubs, but was subsequently released after hitting just .227 in 22 at-bats. The Mariners are still convinced he can hit, and he should continue to get plate appearances split between third, first, and designated hitter with the Rainiers until he proves it.
San Antonio Mission, Double-A, Texas League
CF Gary Harris called up from extended spring training
RHP Juan Done called up from extended spring training
OF John-Austin Emmons sent to extended spring training
LHP Nick Bourgeois sent to Inland Empire
Harris isn't a stranger to playing in San Antonio, in fact, he was called up and put on the Missions playoff roster on two occasions during his minor league playing career. The 25-year-old was scheduled to spend a full season in San Antonio this time, but he strained a pectoral muscle while lifting weights late in spring training and had to be held back for a few weeks. Once he gets back into the swing of things, he should provide a threat on the basepaths at the top of the order, as he led all of the minors with 18 triples last season and was second in the system in steals with 34. Manager Dave Brundage loves to have guys who can swipe a bag here and there, so expect to see him running quite a bit.
One of many players returning from last year's team, Done also spent some extra time in extended spring training working off an injury of his own. Though he was used solely as a starter last season, the rotation is set at this point and he should work mostly in relief, a role he was familiar with in his 2003 tour of the California League. Done has the ability to dominate a lineup, but has been thus far unable to do it with any consistency. A switch to relief may help to remedy that problem, but the early results (27.00 ERA in four appearances) have been rather unimpressive, to say the least.
3B Jesus Guzman reinstated from the suspended list
RHP Renee Cortez reinstated from the suspended list
LHP Melvin Pizarro called up to Tacoma
UT Eric Blakeley sent to Inland Empire
It's not often that 20-year-olds get to play at the Double-A level for any length of time, but Guzman has earned that right. The Venezuelan hit .310/.393/.443 in 442 at-bats in the California League last season, despite being originally called up as an injury replacement, and continued to tear it up in the minor league portion of the Venezuelan Winter League following the season. Guzman's stats from last year aren't that different from what he had been doing the previous years of his career, so it's hard to tell if he was caught doing anything knowingly or if he just picked up a bad supplement while playing in winter ball.
Another player returning from last year's squad, Cortez had a disappointing season, plagued by a back injury and pitching in the fewest number of innings in any year of his career, including his rookie season. His control continued to fail him in winter play, only getting a few appearances and allowing 21 hits in 12.0 innings. Though no player likes to repeat a level of play, this should benefit him in the long run and could help him return to the form that made him a star in 2003, provided he can stay healthy.
Inland Empire 66ers, Advanced-A, California League
LHP Nick Bourgeois sent down from San Antonio
Bourgeois came into the organization in the winter as a minor league free agent out of the Phillies system, where he had been a 4th round pick and gotten as high as the Advanced-A Florida State League. The 24-year-old posted some slightly below-average numbers there, as he had at every other stop, so it wasn't too surprising to see him struggle in San Antonio, allowing twelve baserunners in just six innings of work. Since the California League is also ranked Advanced-A it should be more in line with where he is as a player. Though the Sixers have used him solely in relief work so far, they could decide to put him in the rotation if a starter goes down, trying to harness the potential that once made him a high-round pick.
2B Michael Garciaparra placed on the disabled list
It's just one thing after another for Garciaparra. The former first-round pick has spent at least a month on the DL in each of the past three seasons and it looks he's filled that quota again for this year. Garciaparra tore his meniscus on April 19th and will be sitting out for the next four weeks following surgery. Oddly enough, his older brother Nomar Garciaparra tore his groin around the same time and is expected to miss a few months. At the time of the injury, the younger Garciaparra was playing second base and was off to a hot start, batting .300/.432/.467 in the leadoff spot for the Sixers.
April 23 UT Eric Blakeley sent down from San Antonio
The Missions needed a backup infielder in case of emergencies while Guzman was suspended, and as soon as he was reinstated, the Sixty-Sixers found themselves in a similar situation with Garciaparra out. Enter Blakeley on both occasions, a 25-year-old capable of playing any of the infield positions as well as the outfield. Considering that he had never previously played above the Midwest League, Inland Empire is a good fit for his skill level and should put his talents to good use.
April 30 OF Casey Craig called up from extended spring training
Through the first month of the season, the Sixers have had some stud pitching, but were held back by an offense that is almost dead last in batting average and on-base percentage. Craig won't be able to save them single-handedly, but if there's anyone in the lower half of the Mariners system who could help them in both categories, it's him. As a 19-year-old in the Northwest League last season, Craig led the Everett Aquasox with 45 walks and a .398 on-base percentage. Though the returns of Carlos Arroyo (minor shoulder surgery) and Josh Ellison (hernia) are still a month or more away, Craig will be able provide the team with a much-needed boost for the time being.
Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, Intermediate-A, Midwest League
SS Asdrubal Cabrera reinstated from the DL
The original verdict when Cabrera sprained his ankle in the first game of the season was that he'd be on the disabled list for four to six weeks. Not to be so easily defeated, the 19-year-old made it back in less than three. Cabrera showed some hot hitting in the opener, going 2-for-3 with a double, a run scored, and a walk, and the layoff has done nothing t o affect his swing. Since coming back on Tuesday, he's been batting .391/.417/.478 over five games. The only issue now is where to put him, seeing as how the Timber Rattlers have at least four players on the roster capable of playing shortstop.
OF David Hall called up to Tacoma
OF Sebastien Boucher called up from extended spring training
C Omar Falcon reinstated from the suspended list
Due to the work visa issues that plagued the minor leagues last season, Boucher couldn't make his professional debut after being drafted in the 7th round, simply because he was a Canadian citizen. Though he wasn't allowed to get into a game, he spent the rest of his summer at the Peoria Sports Complex and seems to have made an impression on those in player development. Now, with Hall heading up to Tacoma, Boucher is getting an opportunity to show off a little earlier than he might have otherwise. Many other teams passed on drafting Canadian prospects in the early rounds last year, but their loss may be the Mariners' gain.
The Mariners have frequently dipped into the minor league Rule 5 draft to bolster their ranks and Falcon was one such pick in the winter of 2003. Lacking catchers in the low minors that could hit, drafting the former third-round pick of the Padres seemed like a good idea, but the same problems that plagued him in San Diego followed him to Seattle. Already a veteran of five minor league seasons at the age of 22, Falcon has never played more than sixty games in any year, nor has he been in any more than a handful of games in a full-season league. He's still young and has some time to make a career for himself, but getting caught in testing is certainly going to hurt him a bit.
Extended Spring Training
RHP Aaron Thorne placed on the DL
During spring training, Thorne noticed some soreness in his shoulder, and though he shrugged it off as a natural part of his pitching life, the M's were not so convinced. When they opened his shoulder up they discovered that the humerus bone had broken off, though the muscles surrounding it remained attached. Whenever the bone had started to heal, Thorne started pitching again and broke it. After inspecting the area and finding no discernable damage to the muscles and ligaments, they cleaned out the bone chips and screwed the bone back into position, leaving him in a rather elaborate cast for the rest of the season. Though Thorne had hoped to make his debut this season with his old teammates from the New South Wales Institute of Sport, OF Tim Auty and IF Dean Zorn, he'll have to watch this season from the sidelines.
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