Curto at the Cactus League - Day 1

By Tacoma Rainiers | March 24, 2008 6:20 PM

Hey Rainiers Fans,

It's your radio announcer here, Mike Curto. I'm on my annual pre-season Spring Training trip and the Rainiers asked me to "blog" my four days in Peoria. So, here we go!

DAY ONE (Monday, March 24)

OK, its not really madness. This is a four-day trip during the NCAA's off-days. Nonetheless, choosing the proper location near the Phoenix airport for the WSU-UNC game on Thursday evening is a priority.

As for priority number one, the In 'N' Out Burger was fantastic. No animal style for me, simply a double-double works fine. Once satiated, it was time for some baseball.

Minor league spring training is so close - yet so far - from Major League spring training. The big league club - and those who are still clinging to a major league roster spot - play in the main stadium in Peoria, in front of 10,000 fans. The minor leaguers play in a well-groomed facility "out back" behind the major league stadium. There are six fields, with one or two bleachers each, where minor leaguers desperately try to make an opening day roster - or see their baseball dreams die. Games are played in front of a few family members, a handful of scouts, and a couple curious onlookers. This is where I spend my spring training.

Today I arrived in time to catch the last six innings of a surprise intrasquad game between the M's current Triple-A and Double-A affiliates. I say current because the rosters will change dramatically between now and opening day (just 10 days away!). I say surprise because the current Rainiers were supposed to play the Padres' Portland affiliate - but the game was cancelled in favor of an intersquad, and the time was moved up. This is a common occurrence in minor league spring training.

At this time there are still at least 10 players on the Mariners major league roster who will be sent down to Tacoma - meaning 10 players who played in the minor league game today with Tacoma will be sent to AA - or sent home. This roster crunch happens every spring, and the veteran players know it.

Speaking of veterans, the Rainiers have a lot of them - and that will be the subject of tomorrow's blog. The M's have apparently changed their philosophy in regards to signing veteran Triple-A players, and there are a half-dozen of them in camp. If a few of these guys make the team (by beating out much younger players), Tacoma could be very strong in the PCL North this year. More on this tomorrow!

Anyway, here's what I saw in my six innings today:

•   Jon Huber looked really strong, pitching two scoreless innings against the current AA team. We all know that Huber is a major league caliber reliever when he is healthy, but health has been the problem recently. Today his fastball jumped and his slider had the great movement that you saw when he was healthy on 2006.

•   Matt Tuiasosopo is battling to be Tacoma's starting third baseman this year. The Woodinville native ripped a bases-loaded triple to right-center today, driving in three runs. This ball was hit hard. Tui appears very strong but has not hit for power in his pro career. He's only 21 years old and could have a very bright future with the Rainiers - and the Mariners.

•   Future Rainiers outfielder Michael Saunders pulled a deep home run to right field. Saunders will start in AA but he is a Name To Know. A BC native, Saunders had a big year last year in the Cal League, and then he played well for a month after a late-season promotion to AA. We might see him in T-town later this summer. Saunders launched his homer off an A-ball reliever, but it was a left-vs-left situation.

OK, intrasquads are not that fun. Tomorrow I'll see the Rainiers play the Rangers AAA affiliate (Oklahoma RedHawks) in Surprise - and I'll let you know what happens. Also I should get a chance to visit with Rainiers skipper Daren Brown and pitching coach Dwight Bernard tomorrow - they should have some insights, too.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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