The following position preview was originally posted on Booth, Justice, and the American Pastime and is the fifth installment of a multi-part series looking at the Rainiers possible 2018 Opening Day roster.
We continue our positional preview series by looking at potential 2018 Tacoma Rainiers starting pitchers.
Starting pitching is an area that the national media (and much of the fan base) sees as a weakness for the Seattle Mariners, but general manager Jerry Dipoto insists that he is happy with the big league rotation options.
At the Triple-A level, Dipoto has gathered a large group of arms to battle for spots in the Rainiers starting rotation.
The major league starting rotation appears to be Felix Hernandez , James Paxton , Mike Leake, Erasmo Ramirez , and Marco Gonzales . There is a chance Ariel Miranda or Andrew Moore or someone else could have a huge spring training and elbow his way into the group. Injuries are always a wild card, too.
Both Miranda and Moore have minor league options remaining and can be freely sent to Triple-A. Miranda has some added flexibility, with experience as a middle reliever - if he doesn't make the M's rotation, they might slide him into the major league bullpen as the long man.
From where I sit before spring training has really gotten under way, it appears that Moore is likely to be in Tacoma's rotation at the start of the season.
Several other potential Rainiers starting pitchers are also hoping to make some noise in major league spring training.
Christian Bergman re-signed with the Mariners; he split his 2017 season between Tacoma and Seattle. He has a track record of success in the Pacific Coast League and would be a welcome member of the Tacoma rotation.
The M's are recommitting to Max Povse as a starting pitcher after testing him in the bullpen last year. The gigantic right-hander should be taking the ball every fifth day for the Rainiers.
Strike thrower Casey Lawrence is back on a minor league deal. The one-man pace-of-play solution will battle for a big league rotation or bullpen spot, but we'll take him with open arms if he comes to Tacoma.
Chase De Jong maintained his spot on the 40-man roster despite a rocky 2017 season. The 24-year-old deserves another look in Triple-A this year.
Former reliever Sam Moll was picked up during the offseason. The lefty was a starter in college, and when the M's acquired him Dipoto said they may look at Moll as a starter this year - something he hasn't done since 2013. We'll keep an eye out and see if Moll is built up as a starter during spring training.
Minor league veteran Lindsey Caughel was a unicorn last year, spending the entire season in the starting rotation at Double-A Arkansas while the roster swirled around him. The 27-year-old put up strong numbers, too, posting a 3.71 ERA while issuing very few walks over 26 starts.
A few other names are in the mix. Rob Whalen - who suddenly left the Rainiers and went home after a mid-summer start in Reno last year - has been removed from the restricted list and is in camp, but it is difficult to determine where he currently stands in the eyes of the organization. Left-hander Andrew Misiewicz is back after a brief detour to the Tampa Bay Rays organization; he made a dozen solid starts at the Double-A level in 2017 and could pitch his way to Tacoma.
Finally, there is Hisashi Iwakuma , trying to come back from shoulder surgery. He's on a minor league deal and Tacoma could be in his future once he is healthy.
Outside of the starting rotation, we have a new player in the mix. The Mariners signed veteran outfielder Junior Lake to a minor league contract, and he's in camp now.
A former major leaguer with the Cubs and Orioles, Lake played in the Mexican League last year. I was surprised to see he is only 27 years old; his solid rookie campaign with the Cubs was back in 2013.
With the glut of Triple-A outfielders in camp (scroll down a couple posts for the outfield preview), it feels like Lake would have to show some ability to help in the majors this year in order to get an assignment to Tacoma at the end of spring camp.
The team also signed left-handed pitcher Tyler Matzek , and he'll report to minor league camp. Matzek is a sort of "let's take a look" signing: he's a former Colorado Rockies first round pick who had great stuff but big control problems. Matzek harnessed his control and had a solid rookie season in 2014, then got detoured by injuries and a return of the wildness. He did not pitch in 2017, but he's left-handed and lefties have nine lives, so the M's are going to monitor him this spring.
You have probably heard that new Mariners first baseman Ryon Healy had minor wrist surgery and is out for 4-to-6 weeks. A couple quick thoughts:
If the recovery schedule holds, Healy should be ready to come back right when the season starts. If he's on the longer end of the recovery period, Healy could have a few rehabilitation games with the Rainiers at the start of the season.
The injury paves an opening for Daniel Vogelbach or Rule 5 Draft pick Mike Ford to possibly make the opening day roster. Both players should get lots of at-bats in the Cactus League.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.