When Carlos Triunfel reported to major-league camp this week for the first time, he was not the young player fans here were clamoring to see. But Triunfel has not yielded his own dreams of big-league success.
PEORIA, Ariz. — Once, his name rolled lovingly off the lips of avid Mariners fans, the shining minor-league beacon of hope every team thrives upon.
Carlos Triunfel was going to be the Next Big Thing, a five-tool shortstop with both charisma and clout. He signed at age 16 out of the Dominican Republic in 2006 for a $1.3 million bonus, and was quickly deemed a star of the future. The next Miguel Tejada.
But Triunfel is a cautionary tale of the giant step that lies between hype and realized potential. Five seasons have gone by, and Triunfel now is largely an afterthought when the Mariners’ future is discussed.
No longer does he grace prospects lists. And this week, when he reported to major-league camp for the first time, Triunfel was not the young player fans here were clamoring to see, up close and personal. It is Jesus Montero, or Taijuan Walker, or Dustin Ackley who has been deemed the latest Next Big Thing.
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Triunfel, meanwhile, toils in anonymity on the back fields with other players who have no realistic chance of breaking camp in the major leagues. But Triunfel has not yielded his own dreams of big-league success.
“God-willing, that is what I’m looking for,” he said Sunday through interpreter Fernando Alcala.
And the Mariners have not given up on him. They believe the talent that engendered all the excitement in the first place is still there, despite a pro career that has had more than its share of pitfalls.
“There’s ability there,” said general manager Jack Zduriencik. “The guy’s got juice in his bat, and he has a really good throwing arm. It’s going to be fun to watch him. I think all of us are anxious to watch him.”
Mostly, they point out that Triunfel, easy as it is to think he’s been around forever, doesn’t even turn 22 until next week. Montero, signed in the same class of Latin 16-year-olds in 2006, is three months older, and only now is getting his first shot at regular playing time.
“The tools he has are unbelievable,” said Cory Snyder, the former outfielder who was Triunfel’s hitting coach last year at Class AA Jackson. “Maybe people thought he was going to come along quicker than he did, but he’s 21 years old. He has plenty of time. I like where he’s at, baseball-wise. He just has to mature on how to play the whole game.”
No longer, however, is Triunfel viewed by many as a future star. More commonly, he is regarded as a possible utility man, though he steadfastly has clung to the shortstop position despite long-ago predictions that he would eventually have to move to third.
This year, he is most likely slated to be Tacoma’s shortstop, after making it to the Class AAA Rainiers for 27 games in 2011. He hit .279, but had just two walks in 111 at-bats. It is a career trend Triunfel will have to correct in order to succeed — just 88 walks in 1,825 at-bats. And the Mariners are still waiting to see him unleash the power that scouts believed was in him; he has a mere 21 career homers.
“He hits the ball hard,” Zduriencik said. “He doesn’t have that loft right now. He may eventually. But he can drive the baseball. The ball comes off his bat well. We’ll see.”
Triunfel had to deal with the culture shock of being thrust into a new country at an age most kids are starting their junior year in high school.
“At first, it wasn’t easy, leaving home, leaving my family, coming to a new place, with different types of food,” he said. “But after a while, you have to adapt. I feel more comfortable now that I have adapted.”
Perhaps Triunfel’s biggest obstacle, however, was the ugly baserunning injury he suffered just two games into the 2009 season, resulting in a fractured tibia and torn ankle ligaments in his left leg.
In addition to robbing him of a crucial year of development, the injury appears to have robbed him, at least for now, of one of his five tools. After stealing 30 bases in 39 attempts in 2008, Triunfel has eight steals in 23 attempts over the past two years.
Triunfel admits that the injury “at first” took away speed, “but now I feel back to normal, if not better.”
Tacoma manager Daren Brown says he was pleasantly surprised by Triunfel’s performance last year, and doesn’t think we’ve heard the last of him.
“You’re talking about a young kid that missed basically a whole year,” Brown said. “He’s getting back on that track. Now, it’s just about getting him at-bats, playing. With young kids, that seems to work some things out.”
Said Snyder: “I think he’s going to be something special in the next couple of years.”
With Carlos Triunfel, it’s still possible to dream.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @StoneLarry.