The Mariners have set their minor-league rosters (you can find them here), and they’ve broken up the so-called “Big Three.” Danny Hultzen and James Paxton will start the year with Triple-A Tacoma, where they will be throwing to the Mariners’ top position-playing prospect, catcher Mike Zunino. It’s quite a rise for Zunino, who this time last year was at the University of Florida, and finished last year at Double-A after the Mariners drafted him No. 3 overall.
Taijuan Walker, meanwhile, will be back at Double-A Jackson, where he spent all last season. That’s a reflection both of his age (20) and the fact that Tacoma’s rotation is pretty jammed up. Hector Noesi, in fact, is also with Double-A, which very well might be the Mariners sending Noesi a message after his spring-training struggles on top of a poor 2012 season in both the majors and Triple-A. Another pitcher with major-league experience who will start at Jackson is Chance Ruffin. A reliever throughout his career, Ruffin will be used as a starter as the Mariners try to get him back on track. Others in the Jackson rotation will be lefties Roenis Elias and James Gilheeney.
John Hicks, so impressive in spring training, will catch for the Generals, while Carson Smith is the likely closer. Vinnie Catricala, the Mariners’ Minor League Player of the Year two years ago, is with Jackson after struggling last year in Triple-A.
Stefen Romero, last year’s top minor leaguer, is on Tacoma’s roster, but on the disabled list from the oblique injury he suffered in early March — right after a two-homer game. I’m told Romero is progressing well and could be doing baseball activities by next week. Also on the Tacoma DL is Erasmo Ramirez, though his injury is not specified. Ramirez had trouble bouncing back from starts late in camp, which factored into his getting beat out for a rotation spot. Tacoma’s rotation, meanwhile, will consist of Hultzen, Paxton, Andrew Carraway, D.J. Mitchell and Jeremy Bonderman, the latter continuing his comeback from arm surgery. Danny Farquhar lines up as the closer.
Nick Franklin and Carlos Triunfel are back in Tacoma to share middle infield duties, while shortstop Brad Miller, a potential fast-riser, will be at Jackson. First baseman Rick Poythress moves up from Jackson to Tacoma, as does infielder Nate Tenbrink. Alex Liddi returns to a corner infield spot, while the outfield includes Endy Chavez, Eric Thames and Carlos Peguero, with Casper Wells a possible addition if he clears waivers.
Tacoma opens its season Thursday at Fresno, and will begin its first homestand Friday, April 12 at 7 p.m. Jackson opens tomorrow night in Jacksonville.
Victor Sanchez, one of the Mariners’ top pitching prospects, will remain in Peoria. Sanchez, 18, is being brought along slowly after undergoing both an appendectomy and hernia operation during the offseason in Venezuela.
Among the Single-A players I’ll be keeping tabs on are, at High Desert, Michael Dowd, another catcher the organization is high on; Ji-Man Choi, converted from catcher to first base, and speedy outfielder Jamal Austin. At Clinton, there’s Marcus Littlewood, a high draft pick at shortstop now converted to catching; infielder Pat Kivlehan, a Rutgers football player who has great power potential; outfielder Gabriel Guerrero, Vladimir’s nephew; and Guillermo Pimentel, a touted international signee from the Dominican Republic who is just 20 years old.