Rookie Review: Carlos Triunfel, SS, Seattle Mariners
Although he's seen just one at-bat so far, one of the more interesting players promoted to the majors for the September stretch run is Carlos Triunfel of the Seattle Mariners. Well, "interesting" is one word you can use: "enigmatic" and "puzzling" are just as applicable. Triunfel has been a prospect name for half a decade now, but he's still just 22 years old. Does he have a future in Seattle, or anywhere else for that matter?
The Mariners made a large investment in Triunfel in 2006, signing him out of the Dominican Republic for $1,300,000. Intriguingly, Triunfel was offered more money by other organizations, but chose to sign with Seattle since he liked the front office. He was considered a Five Tool guy, projected to hit for average and power, with a cannon throwing arm and a chance to stick at shortstop.
He was given an aggressive assignment in 2007, opening the season in the full season Low-A Midwest League. He got off to a nice start, hitting .309/.342/.388 in 42 games for Wisconsin, although his BB/K ratio was quite poor at 5/23 in 152 at-bats. He broke his thumb in May, and when he came back in July the Mariners bumped him up to High-A High Desert, a very aggressive posting for a 17-year-old, especially a 17-year-old with bad plate discipline who was coming off an injury.
He wasn't terrible considering the circumstances, hitting .288/.333/.356 with 12 walks and 31 strikeouts in 208 at-bats in the Cal League. Lack of power was notable, but he was just a kid facing much older competition. I gave him a Grade B+, but noted that he could develop in any number of ways, not all of them good.
Returning to High Desert for 2008, he hit .287/.336/.406 with eight homers, 30 walks, 52 strikeouts, and 30 steals in 436 at-bats. On the positive side, he showed more power. Scouts also loved his throwing arm. On the negative side, the rest of his defense was erratic, his overall numbers weren't very good for the park/league environment, and he drew a 10-game suspension from the Mariners for poor behavior. Scouts from other organizations openly questioned his work ethic, obviously not a good sign, especially for a player who had a reputation for strong makeup when he signed.
But, well, he was just 18. Growing pains and all. I saw enough signs of skill progress to keep him at a Grade B+, but I was uneasy about it and noted that he was very much a high risk guy.
2009 was a lost season: he suffered a horrible leg injury, fracturing his left fibula and tearing up his ankle ligaments in a collision. He played just 11 games (four rehab games in rookie ball, seven games in Double-A). He came back to play in the Arizona Fall League, but he didn't look good at all, showing a slow, mechanical, awkward swing, as well as stiff actions in the field, which was understandable really. His weight went from 190 to 220 during the injury layoff, and he had to work himself back into shape. I gave him a Grade B- entering 2010.
There was some good news in 2010: he played 129 games for Double-A West Tennessee, showing no ill effects from the injury and losing most of the excess weight. He fanned just 54 times in 470 at-bats. But there was bad news too: he hit just .257/.286/.332 with seven homers, and drew a dismal total of 13 walks. Many scouts were convinced that he didn't have the range to stick at shortstop, but it didn't look like he would have the bat for third. His swing looked like a mess to me, and I gave him a Grade C entering 2011. That seemed a bit harsh given that he was just 20, but it wasn't just about the bad numbers; he didn't scout well.
Returning to Double-A for 2011, Triunfel hit .281/.340/.392 with six homers, 25 walks, and 71 strikeouts in 395 at-bats, followed by a .279/.302/.351 mark with two walks and 17 strikeouts in 111 at-bats for Triple-A Tacoma. His hitting remained problematic statistically, but his swing looked somewhat better, more like what the Mariners thought they were getting. He also made substantial progress with the glove, reducing his error rate but also showing more range, thanks to better flexibility and positioning. I gave him a Grade C+ entering '12.
Triunfel hit .260/.308/.391 with 31 doubles, 10 homers, 23 walks, and 89 strikeouts in 496 at-bats for Tacoma this year. Progress with the bat remains slow, but it exists: he's gradually showing more power without a big boost in his strikeout rate. He improved his error rate again, and while he doesn't have Gold Glove range, he's not hopeless as a defender, showing enough range to be a utility guy at least, especially combined with his cannon arm.
I'll probably give Triunfel a Grade C+ again. He's still only 22 years old, and while no one expects him to become a star at this point, he isn't a lost cause just yet. Expectations have been very high, and I don't think Seattle is a great place for him: Safeco is where young hitters go to die. Nevertheless, Triunfel might still be a useful asset for the right team, and he might be a good "buy low" candidate for a club that thinks they can do something with his bat.