By Steve Mullen – firstname.lastname@example.org
There is a lot of excitement these days around Cheney Stadium. With spring just around the corner and the off-season acquisitions of the parent club Seattle Mariners, the Rainiers are poised for a great season in 2019. The 60thseason of Pacific Coast League baseball in Tacoma will feature Justus Sheffield, the hallmark of Mariner General Manager Jerry DiPoto’s off-season trade activities. A stocky lefthander with a lethal four-pitch arsenal, Sheffield brings a high 90s fastball to go with a hard slider to go with a developing changeup and a curveball.
The Mariners organization will be his third in three years after stints with the Cleveland Indians and the New York Yankees. “It’s been a whirlwind these last three years but I am very excited to be with the Mariners. I can’t wait to get that opportunity in Seattle,” said Sheffield. With a great spring training under his belt, that opportunity could be in the very near future.
“What I do in Tacoma will go a long way in determining how fast I get back to the majors,” he said.
The Tacoma starting staff will feature another Yankee farmhand who also brings a good high 90s fastball in Erik Swanson and veteran lefthander Tommy Milone, who keeps hitters off balance with a good sinker/slider mix. On the infield, the Rainiers will have Joey Curletta at first base. A strapping 6-foot, 4-inch, 245-pound first baseman, Curletta will be the main power source with 23 and 94 RBIs last season at AA Arkansas. At this point, second base will be in the hands of the capable Shed Long. Acquired last January from the Yankees, Long brings plenty of versatility to go with a good line-drive stroke that produced a 261 average with 12 home runs and 56 RBIs at AA Pensacola last year.
“I was brought up as a catcher but was moved to second base early in my career,” said Long. After a great spring training, DiPoto sat down with Long and talked about his future with the organization. “Your versatility and bat should carry you a long way in this game. Keep working hard and good things will happen for you with the Mariners.”
The Tacoma outfield will consist of centerfielder Braden Bishop, whose speed and ever-improving bat has him looking at a possible call up sometime during the 2019 season. The former Washington Husky standout is coming off of a solid .284 season with eight home runs and 33 RBI at AA Arkansas last season.
The other three spots are up for grabs between Ian Miller, Tito Polo and the recently acquired Eric Young, Jr., who was let go by the Anaheim Angels during spring training.
“I did not have a very good season last year but feel I have some good mileage left in the tank,” said Young, who is looking forward to a good start here in Tacoma with a possible call up by Seattle later in the year. “Jerry DiPoto told me that I just need to go out and play and everything could fall into place. I will give everything I got and hopefully I could be in Seattle sometime in the near future.”
Behind the plate, David Freitas has the edge going into game one. The veteran catcher, who spent some time in Seattle in 2018, gives the Rainiers a solid defender and a good handler of pitchers. With a good collection of veterans and good young talent up and down the roster, the Rainiers are poised for a good run for the postseason. Taking into consideration the call ups and send downs at different points of the season, summer time at Cheney Stadium could be the place to be in Tacoma in 2019.