The Seattle Mariners promoted infielder Carlos Triunfel to the major league roster this weekend, replacing Robert Andino. Triunfel has been a prospect since the Martin Van Buren administration, but he's still just 23 years old. Let's take a look at Triunfel's past, present, and potential future as the Minor League Ball Prospect of the Day.
Carlos Triunfel was signed by the Seattle Mariners as a free agent from the Dominican Republic in 2006. He was a high-profile signee, expected to hit for both power and average and with a chance to stick at shortstop. He earned a $1,300,000 bonus and was supposed to be very advanced for his age.
The Mariners gave him an aggressive assignment in 2007, sending him to the full season Low-A Midwest League at age 17. He held his own, hitting .309/.342/.399 in 43 games, although with a poor 5/23 BB/K ratio in 152 at-bats. This was still enough to get promoted to the High-A California League, where he hit .288/.333/.356 in 209 at-bats, raw numbers that were not very good for the context, but keep in mind he was very young and inexperienced for the competition.
Returned to High Desert for 2008, Triunfel hit .287/.336/.406 with eight homers, 30 steals, 30 walks, and 52 strikeouts in 436 at-bats. Again, this was unimpressive production considering the park/league context, but he was only 18 years old. Given his age, the numbers weren't a problem. On the other hand, he drew a brief suspension for violating team rules and there were rumors of immature behavior and lack of work ethic.
2009 was a disaster: he played just 11 games due to a horrifying leg injury that included a broken fibula and torn ankle ligaments. Virtually immobilized for a couple of months, he gained weight and scouts worried that he'd never be the same, especially since his speed was already declining before the injury.
The good news in 2010 was that he worked hard and got himself back into playing condition, seeing action in 129 games for Double-A West Tennessee. The bad news was that he hit just .257/.286/.332 with a mere 13 walks in 470 at-bats. The power that scouts saw in his bat when he was signed was missing, and his over-aggressive approach didn't work against pitches who could change speeds adequately.
He returned to Double-A to open 2011 but improved only slightly, hitting .281/.340/.392 in 105 games, then finishing with a .279/.302/.351 mark in 27 games for Triple-A Tacoma. Sent back to Tacoma for 2012, he hit .260/.308/.391 in 131 games. He also got into 10 games with the Mariners, hitting .227/.261/.318 in 22 at-bats.
Triunfel entered 2013 as something of a forgotten man, easy to overlook due to other Mariners infield prospects like Nick Franklin and Brad Miller. However, he got off to a good start this spring at Tacoma, hitting .300/.351/.476 through 170 at-bats, and the Mariners are giving him a window of opportunity as a utility infielder.
What can he do with it?
Triunfel is a right-handed hitter listed at 5-10, 205, born February 27, 1990. Interestingly, despite the stocky height/weight listing, when I've seen him in person he's actually shown more quickness around the infield than he did three or four years ago. It looks to me like he's put in a lot of work on defense. His reactions are better, his footwork is cleaner, and while he's not going to win any gold gloves at shortstop, you could play him there on a short-term basis without killing yourself.
He's always had a very strong throwing arm, and his throws are more accurate than they used to be. He's performed well in brief action at second base and third base, so he does fit the utility profile positionally.
Offensively, he's never lived up to the expectations scouts had when he signed, mainly due to poor plate discipline and an over-aggressive approach. His power has gradually increased with maturity, and his pre-promotion numbers this spring at Tacoma were the best of his career, although the vagaries of sample size are an issue. His plate discipline remains weak and it possible he's just had good BABIP luck thus far in '13.
Nevertheless, I do think Triunfel has made some progress over the last few seasons, particularly on defense. He's not going to be a star and likely not a regular, so in that sense he's a disappointment considering how much he was hyped back in '06 and '07. Still, being a plausible utility option isn't a terrible fate, especially considering that his grisly '09 injury could have ended the career of some players. He's also still quite young at age 23, and it is possible he could have a surprisingly good year or two down the line.