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MLB Veteran John Russell Headlines New Tacoma Coaching Staff

The Seattle Mariners announced the coaching staff that will be leading the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers this season, and its makeup is quite a bit different than what we have seen in recent years.

Veteran major league player, manager and bench coach John Russell was hired to pilot the Rainiers this season, and he brings a long resume with him.

Russell managed in the major leagues for three years, for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 2008 through 2010. Then he spent eight years as Buck Showalter’s bench coach in Baltimore, with the Orioles reaching the playoffs three times while he was there.

Prior to reaching the majors as a manager and a coach, Russell managed in the minors. That includes the 2001 and 2002 seasons in the Pacific Coast League, leading the Edmonton Trappers when they were a Minnesota Twins affiliate. He won a PCL championship in 2002 with a lineup full of sluggers (Michael Cuddyer, Mike Ryan, Todd Sears, Matt LeCroy, Javier Valentin, Casey Blake, Michael Restovich, et al) and top pitching prospect Johan Santana.

Russell also had a long playing career, including two years in the PCL with the Portland Beavers. He played in all or parts of ten major league seasons, with the Phillies, Braves, and Rangers. A catcher and outfielder, Russell was behind the plate for the Texas Rangers on June 11, 1990 when Nolan Ryan pitched his sixth career no-hitter.

In terms of experience, the hiring of Russell is a 180-degree change of direction compared to the last two managers deployed to Tacoma by the Mariners. Both Kristopher Negron (2021) and Tim Federowicz (2022) had no professional managerial experience when they were hired. Negron was a year removed from the end of his playing career, having spent the 2020 season as a Player Development Assistant and running the alternate site during the Covid season. Federowicz went directly from the field to the manager’s chair after retiring as a player following the 2021 season.

The Rainiers new pitching coach for 2023 will be Jairo Cuevas, who is new to the Mariners organization but not new to the Pacific Coast League. Cuevas served as the Salt Lake Bees pitching coach for the last two seasons, and prior to this year his entire coaching career had been in the Angels farm system.

Cuevas oversaw one of the most impressive pitching staffs in recent PCL history last year, when his Salt Lake hurlers led the league in earned run average. Salt Lake’s home ballpark is a hitter’s haven and somehow the Cuevas got his pitchers to tame it. Since joining the PCL in 1994, Salt Lake had never led the league in earned run average prior to last season.

The lone returning coach is hitting guru Brad Marcelino, who comes back for his second season with Tacoma, and his second season in the Seattle Mariners organization. In his first season guiding the Rainiers hitters, Tacoma set a franchise record by hitting 216 home runs. Marcelino will also be serving as the hitting coach for Great Britain in the World Baseball Classic this March.

Joining the Rainiers coaching staff for his first time will be former infielder Eric Farris. Farris is the veteran of the Rainiers coaching staff in the eyes of the organization: this will be his sixth season on the Mariners player development staff, and he spent the last two seasons managing the Class-A Everett Aqua Sox.

For the support staff, Mikey Sadler returns for his second season as strength and conditioning coach, while new trainer Aric Quinney moves up from Class-A Everett.

The Detroit Tigers hired the Rainiers 2022 manager Tim Federowicz to be their major league catching instructor. He joins 2022 Rainiers pitching coach Alon Leichman in the big leagues – Alon will be on the Cincinnati Reds coaching staff.

The Reds also added Collin Cowgill to their major league coaching staff. Cowgill was the Mariners Double-A Arkansas manager the last two seasons, and was probably anticipating a promotion to Tacoma this year prior to getting the major league opportunity with the Reds.

These moves are part of the reason why the Mariners had to reach outside the organization to fill the Tacoma coaching staff. It is encouraging that other organizations value the Mariners player development people, and try to hire them away by giving them promotions.

Baseball America released its annual list of the Seattle Mariners Top 10 Prospects. The full article with scouting reports and lots of details on the players is for subscribers, and we respect their business of course, but they don’t mind if I list the names. If you enjoy following the prospects, or amateur baseball and the draft, a Baseball America subscription is worth it. Here’s how they lined up the Mariners prospects:

  1. Harry Ford, catcher
  2. Cole Young, infielder
  3. Bryce Miller, starting pitcher
  4. Gabriel Gonzalez, outfielder
  5. Emerson Hancock, starting pitcher
  6. Taylor Dollard, starting pitcher
  7. Bryan Woo, starting pitcher
  8. Michael Arroyo, shortstop
  9. Tyler Locklear, third base
  10. Prelander Berroa, starting pitcher

In the write-ups, Baseball America projects that Miller, Hancock, and Dollard will all pitch for Tacoma this season. Here’s a direct link to the Mariners Top Ten for subscribers.

We’ve got some big news in the PCL coming out of Salt Lake City, where the team has announced a plan to build and move into a new ballpark for the 2025 season. The new stadium will be located miles from downtown Salt Lake City, in the South Jordan area.

This is the second recent case of the team moving from the greater downtown area to the upper middle class suburbs, and into a new development. The Las Vegas Aviators did this in 2019, to great success. In both cases the team’s previous home was on the fringe outskirts of downtown, and not in the greatest neighborhood.

The Bees current home, which has been in use since 1994, has one of the greatest views of any ballpark you’ll ever see with the outfield backdrop of the snowcapped Wasatch Mountains. Hopefully they can create a similar scenic experience at the new ballpark.

The robot umpires are going to continue to work Triple-A games in 2023, and this year it will be across the entire level. Last year, only the ten Pacific Coast League teams, plus one International League city (Charlotte) used the system.

According to reports, half of the cities will use the Automated Ball-Strike System to call all pitches, while the other half of the cities will use the Automated Ball-Strike Challenge System. We used the latter for a small handful of games late in the 2022 season, to mixed reviews. I’m not sure yet which system we will be using at Cheney Stadium this year, but will let you know when I find out.

Links:

  • Mike Ford is back for his third go-around with the Mariners, signing a minor league contract. His hometown newspaper tracked his wild 2022 season.
  • The Mariners added a major league infielder Tommy La Stellawho will battle for a bench job on the big league team during spring training.
  • The team also picked up a reliever JB Bukauskas, who was with the Diamondbacks last year (Tacoma faced him in Reno a couple of times). Bukauskas has had a lot of injuries in recent seasons, but he has very good stuff when healthy.
  • Seattle reloaded its farm system when the international signing period began on Sunday, adding seven teenagers to the organization. Dominican shortstop Felnin Celesten is considered the top new talent.
  • The Times previewed the Mariners shortstop situation, and the article includes a minor league depth chart.
  • If you have a Baseball America subscription, don’t miss this article on former top prospects who have not yet established themselves in the majors. It includes four players who appeared for Tacoma last year.
  • The Mariners announced their promotional schedule.
  • Here’s the story from Salt Lake City on the Bees building a new ballpark.
  • Some other PCL coaching staff have been named. Blake Lalli is back as Reno’s manager, after spending a year as a Diamondbacks instructor. Pedro Lopez is the new skipper of the Albuquerque Isotopes, and longtime minor league manager Phillip Wellman takes over the El Paso Chihuahuas.

That’s it for today. Our next post will appear late next week, after the Mariners have their annual preseason media event which I’ll be attending. Things are starting to rev up!

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