Mariners relievers looking sharp in winter ball
Ackley, Baldwin, Chavez also delivering strong performances
SEATTLE -- Three of the Mariners' up-and-coming relievers are off to solid starts in winter league play.
Entering Friday, Oct. 22, right-hander Dan Cortes, who made a strong late-season impression with a 98-mph fastball, had not allowed a hit after four scoreless outings covering four innings for Lara in the Venezuela Winter League.
"We're having some difficulty getting regular reports, but what we've heard so far is that [Cortes] throwing the ball well and closing out games," said Pedro Grifol, the Mariners' director of Minor League operations. "That's really what we wanted for him.
"He's pitching in tough games in front of big crowds in a tough league, and we're excited about him being over there."
Cortes, a potential closer, converted his first three save chances for Lara. He is expected to spend the first half of the Venezuela Winter League season with the Cardenales before returning to rest up and prepare for Spring Training.
Cortes figures to open camp in Peoria with a good shot of landing a spot in the Seattle bullpen.
Right-handers Josh Fields and Josh Lueke, acquired from the Rangers in the Cliff Lee trade, are pitching for the Arizona Fall League Peoria Javelinas.
Through Wednesday, Oct. 20, Fields had made two scoreless relief appearances, but he has been slowed a little by what Grifol called "general body soreness."
"It's nothing serious. It just took him a couple of days to get free and easy," Grifol said. "We're building him up and taking it slow. He threw the ball really well the first time, not as hard the second time. But he says he feels good, and we'll continue to build him up as the AFL season goes along."
Lueke could be the closest of the three to being ready for the Majors. He has quality fastball and split-finger pitches and reaches the mid-90s.
"We need all three them to continue to develop," Grifol said. "They all have plus stuff, and it's all about commanding their pitches consistently, where they can spot the baseball.
"All three of them are very talented and at times, you'll see Lueke have the command I'm talking about. He is pretty close, I would think."
Among other Mariners playing Winter Baseball:
Dustin Ackley (Peoria, AFL): The second baseman and No. 2 overall Draft selection two years ago, hit a home run in his first AFL at-bat, but later in the game injured a finger, which put him on the sidelines for several days.
But he returned to action on Oct. 20 to collect two more hits and was 5-for-11 through three AFL games. He also scored six runs.
Ackley made a position switch last year after the AFL, moving from the outfield to second base, and still needs some work at the new position before he's ready to make the jump from Triple-A to the Major Leagues.
"What [Ackley] needs is to continue to play baseball," Grifol said. "You can practice all you want on the back fields, but he has to learn the position in game situations."
Grifol said the slightly built Ackley looks stronger than when he last saw him, in August at Triple-A Tacoma.
Andrew Baldwin (Venezuela): The right-hander, acquired in the 2006 trade that sent Jamie Moyer to the Phillies, won his first two starts for the Javelinas, allowing one run in 11 innings.
Grifol said the 27 year-old is one of the most versatile pitchers in the organization.
"[Baldwin] can start, he can relieve and he loves to pitch," Grifol said. "He does whatever you want him to and is effective. He doesn't throw real hard, but is a great competitor. Andy is doing what he needs to do to become a Major League pitcher. The guy has a rubber arm."
Johermyn Chavez (Venezuela): A 21-year-old outfielder, acquired from the Blue Jays in the Brandon Morrow trade last year, is on the fast track in the Minors.
Chavez hit .387 with one home run and four RBIs in his first eight Winter League games.
"This kid is about 6-3, 210 pounds and has the best outfield arm [in the Minor League system]," Grifol said. "He's a good-looking kid, very powerful. He had a phenomenal season at [Class A] High Desert."
Chavez batted .315 with 32 home runs and 96 RBIs for the Mavericks.
"I paint a picture of a future All-Star," Grifol said. 'He's got a ways to go, but we like where he's at right now. He's a powerful, powerful kid."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.