On each Monday during this minor league season, we gave our readers a rundown of the best and worst from the minor league week that was within the Seattle Mariners system. We covered crazy good stretches and crazy bad stretches. We covered the highs of no-hitters (Jordan Shipers), 3-homer games (Steven Proscia) and 37 RBI months (Dan Paolini) and the lows of strikeouts (Guillermo Pimentel), strikeouts (Carlos Peguero) and more strikeouts (Jose Leal).
Hopefully we've helped to keep you up to date on the goings on around the Mariners organization on a weekly basis, and give you a wider look of what talent is in the system by spreading the coverage around.
In this week's Three Up, Three Down, we check in on six players with the Tacoma Rainiers and what their weeks -- but more so, what their seasons -- have meant for their chances to see MLB time now that the expanded rosters are here.
Alex Liddi - Tacoma Rainers: .323/.333/.613 (10-31), 3 2B, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 1 BB, 7 SO
There was a point in the season not so long ago that I think a lot of people were ready to pull the plug on any thoughts of Liddi ever becoming something useful. He hit just .198/.271/.311 in July, striking out 36 times in 118 plate appearances and he had just four home runs in his first 45 games for Tacoma this year after slugging 30 last year. As play began on July 30th he was slugging just .344 in Triple-A as a 24-year-old.
But Liddi hit .341/.368/.579 (43 for 126) in his next 32 games, slugging six homers among 16 extra base hits and striking out only 17 times to salvage his year. His combined season line of .255/.312/.417 (101 for 396) with 36 extra base hits between Tacoma and Seattle says there is still promise there and still a reason to give the big right-hander MLB looks. The 116 strikeouts says there is reason to keep preaching a better approach, too.
Liddi has played 47 games at third base, 31 games in left field and 28 games at first and he has good hands and a decent arm, but it is his bat -- particularly his power -- that is going to determine if he can play and stay in the big leagues or not, and that means he has to get a handle on the strikeouts. With several other players in the organization having a similar profile on both offense and defense, Liddi needs to show in his September chances that he has made and, can continue to make, the necessary adjustments required to succeed and contribute.
Carlos Triunfel - Tacoma Rainers: .321/.321/.393 (9-28), 2 2B, 4 RBI, 0 BB, 7 SO
Triunfel didn't exactly light the world on fire during the last full week of play for the Rainiers, and despite a couple of pretty extended hot streaks during the season, his overall numbers on the year aren't all that impressive either: .258/.306/.386 with 29 2B, 10 HR, 60 RBI, 23 BB, 89 SO and 30 errors. But despite not knocking down the MLB door with hits and defense, Triunfel should still get a look in September in Seattle.
He's played a lot of second base and done so fairly steadily, and despite the high error total, his defense at short is actually grading out a bit higher now, too. Add to that the fact that his rather modest offensive totals still represent career bests in a number of cases and that -- yes I'm going to point it out again -- he's still young for his level, and it stands to reason that the M's will want to get a look at him in MLB action this month.
Triunfel has long been touted by the M's as a future big league talent, and while Brendan Ryan's defense has been nothing short of spectacular this season, his bat has been even worse than what his poor track record suggested it would be this year. Nick Franklin and Brad Miller are more promising overall prospects at shortstop/second base, but Triunfel is on the 40-man roster now while the other two are not. Ryan still has a year of club control left, but Seattle has to be interested to see if Triunfel has the ability to help out the offense a little bit more than Ryan, or at least more than backup Munenori Kawasaki. If they aren't interested, then Triunfel may be wrapping up his career as a member of the Mariners. But the club invested a lot of time and money in Triunfel, and giving him a big league shot in 2012 after nearly two-thirds of his minor league action has come at Double-A and Triple-A seems likely.
Look for Triunfel to get some action at both middle infield positions in September and if he can hit a little, it isn't out of the question that he would head into 2013 with a real shot at an opening day roster spot for the club.
Hector Noesi - Tacoma Rainers: 1-1, 5.84 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 12 1/3 IP, 21 H, 8 ER, 2 BB, 9 SO, 1 HR, .396 oAVG
Those numbers for the week for Noesi aren't pretty, and he turned in a stinker of an outing against Las Vegas at the beginning of this week, and his season ERA in Triple-A is still 5.74 and opponents are still hitting the right-hander at a .303 clip after 11 starts. But he rebounded nicely in his start on Sunday and going back to the beginning of August (including the stinker) he has been a lot better than those overall numbers look and he's improved in the areas that were hurting him the most, both in Tacoma and in Seattle before his demotion.
Noesi has posted an ERA of 3.91 over those last seven starts with 7.6 SO/9 and a 3.9 SO:BB ratio while holding opponents to a .268 clip. He also has his pitches-per-inning down to 14.2 in that time and is throwing 69% strikes. Noesi made it through 7 innings needing just 87 pitches on Sunday.
He may still be better suited in the bullpen long term, but Noesi has enough talent, enough ability to miss bats and a good enough arsenal of pitches at his disposal that the Mariners are likely to give him another couple of starts in the season's final month to see how he has adjusted. The 2013 roster will need starters, and remember that there were those that opined back at the time of the trade that Noesi could end up being better than Michael Pineda as a starter.
Danny Hultzen - Tacoma Rainers: 23.14 ERA, 4.71 WHIP, 2 1/3 IP, 6 H, 6 ER, 5 BB, 3 SO, .500 oAVG
To say that Hultzen has hit the wall may be a huge understatement. Is this even the same guy that tore through the Southern League earlier this season? His command is just nowhere to be found and everyone is hitting him when they know he has to take a little off to come in the zone. His Triple-A totals just are flat hard to look at: a 6.09 ERA, a 1.92 WHIP and 7.7 BB/9. He even issued four bases loaded walks in 17 opportunities with the Rainiers. And although it seemed like a forgone conclusion back in mid-June that Danny would pitch for Seattle this year, this week's start all but guaranteed that Hultzen won't be seeing any starts for the M's during the last month of the 2012 season.
He's turned into an extreme fly ball pitcher and left-handers -- who he utterly dominated while he was pitching for Jackson -- are getting on base in nearly half of their plate appearances against him in Tacoma and are hitting .327/.486/.423 in 70 plate appearances. With 119 2/3 innings on his left arm this year following a full load at Virginia an in the AFL last year, it appears that Hultzen is just out of gas.
He isn't headed to the AFL this year and could use a nice long rest over the offseason to get his legs back under him and get his arm ready for a deeper run of effective innings in 2013. And despite the setbacks over the last month or so, it shouldn't be ignored that Danny still posted a 3.01 ERA and 10.0 SO/9 in 24 starts in his first pro season. He still figures very prominently into the 2013 MLB rotation plans for the Mariners, and fans of the team shouldn't worry too much.
Vinnie Catricala - Tacoma Rainers: .217/.217/.478 (5-23), 2B, 3B, HR, 6 RBI, 0 BB, 5 SO
If a prospect could script themselves a breakout season, it would look a lot like Catricala's 2011 campaign. Crushing across two levels, improving on his already crazy big numbers while moving up the ladder and from a hitter-friendly environment to a pitcher-friendly one and adding some defensive versatility along the way saw Vinnie skyrocket up Mariners prospect rankings, and SeattleClubhouse was no different as we had him at 6th on our Top-50 over the off-season. And after a very strong Spring Training, all signs pointed to him becoming a likely big leaguer at some point relatively early in 2012 in Seattle. But something went incredibly wrong along the way to the big leagues for Catricala.
His bat -- which had never produced worse than a .301/.363/.493 slash -- started the season ice cold (.182/.240/.205 in April), and although he showed some slight hints at breaking out of his funk at times, a terrible August (.176/.247/.324) sunk his numbers even further. Now with one game to go, Catricala -- who hit .349/.421/.601 last season with 77 extra base hits, 25 HR and 106 RBI in 133 games between High Desert and Jackson -- is hitting .229/.293/.349 for Tacoma. His .641 OPS represents the 2nd lowest number among all qualifying PCL batters and is more than 100 points below the league average.
The organization is still showing faith in the 23-year-old right-handed hitter and recently named him as one of the eight players heading to the Arizona Fall League next month. Hopefully Catricala can get his bat back on track and clear this disaster of a season from his memory with that experience and get back to being a future impact bat in the major leagues.
Chance Ruffin - Tacoma Rainers: 3.00 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 3 G, 3 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 SO, .200 oAVG
Following his decent length look in the big leagues in 2011 in Seattle (13 appearances and 14 innings), it seemed reasonable back in February to expect Ruffin to break camp with the big club and head North as a member of the MLB bullpen. While he didn't flash great command of his pitches last year, he did show swing-and-miss stuff (15 strikeouts) and had what looked like a good combination of pitches to keep right-handers and left-handers off balance at the plate. A 2010 draftee that signed late, Ruffin had breezed through the minors in his first pro season, posting a 2.03 ERA and 11.1 SO/9 at two stops for Detroit before his trade to Seattle.
But Ruffin had trouble commanding his fastball in the spring and the club chose to keep a different hard throwing option (the since departed Steve Delabar) on the big club. Ruffin went to Tacoma as their closer, but with his command and his mechanics still not what they needed to be, he quickly lost that role. Ruffin allowed six earned runs while facing 10 batters in his third appearance and that started a two-and-a-half month run of mediocre to terrible outings for the 23-year-old right-hander. On June 20th -- 27 appearances and 37 1/3 innings into the 2012 season -- Ruffin had a 9.16 ERA.
He's been much more effective at limiting the damage since and on his appearance Friday he got his ERA under six (5.99) for the first time since that disaster-inducing third appearance of the year. But he has struck out just 54 of the 323 (16.7%) batters he's faced this year after fanning 65 of 266 (28.2%) between the minors and majors last season. Ruffin still has good stuff, but several relievers in the Mariners system have passed him on the depth charts already this year, and fellow Rainiers right-hander D.J. Mitchell seems more likely to get September innings than Ruffin at this point.
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