Despite losing the opening charity game, the Seattle Mariners are playing well, sporting an 11-4 record. Still, the best news to report from Mariners camp at Spring Training in Peoria, Arizona, was that Jay Buhner, Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez and Dan Wilson were all present—signing autographs, and possibly sharing their expertise and advice with the current players.
Justin Smoak is batting .429, and hitting the ball hard. Before Spring Break began, Mariners writer Greg Johns reported that due to our acquisitions, Smoak was happy to have support in the line-up—meaning that he could have a bit more freedom. Perhaps his hitting hotness is due to supporting hitters who have already built names for themselves; to be a hitter is hard work, and those who have proven themselves have every right to be confident, and deserve much respect. I’m sure this “prowess” has rubbed off on Smoak, and is enabling him to grow. I think this year will be about his growth as a person and as a player. I think that most players on the current roster would like to share in that.
The hitters that I think will definitely support Smoak and the Mariners winning record are: Jason Bay, Michael Morse, Kendrys Morales and Raul Ibanez; Casper Wells is also gaining on them. Like Smoak, he will turn into something great this year—I sure hope he makes the roster! Jesus Montero, despite his recent Floridian, age-clinic allegations, will most likely contribute as well. Both Jesus and Casper have already hit triples, which is distinct for Montero—especially as he isn’t, known for “speed.” According to Mariners beat writer Ryan Divish, he “evokes comparisons of tortoises and snails because of his time-consuming gait.” Of Wells, Skipper Eric Wedge, says: “He’s made some legitimate adjustments to his game, in particular his swing, and it’s just paying off for him.” I expect to see his arm in the field as well.
As far as defense goes, there’s no denying we have a lot of talent. Last year, we had the 2nd highest fielding percentage in all of baseball. There are a lot of contenders for the outfield positions—Franklin Gutierrez should play left, Michael Saunders and Jason Bay should share time in center (2/3 to 1/3, respectfully), and Casper Wells and Raul Ibanez should share the right field honors—that would be my “big green.” As for the infield—I’d like to see newly acquired Michael Morse at 3rd base. Kyle Seager played well there last year; yet—I think he is more of a 2nd baseman and should share time with Dustin Ackley. Morse came up in the Mariners franchise as a shortstop, and is fully capable (like A-Rod), to play the hot corner. (On Rick Rizzs show—comparisons to Edgar Martinez have been made of Morse.) Our shortstop is last year’s Fielding Bible Award winner, Brendan Ryan. Offensively, he is also making strides and has hit a rare home run. This is especially good, as last year Ryan had post-season surgery on his right elbow, to remove a bone spur. Smoak and Morales should rotate in at 1st base, as both are equally terrifying to opposing teams, and powerful switch-hitters. Smoak might be the better defensively, and Morse is also a 1st base option.
I think that Italian Stallion Alex Liddi, is a great infield utility player. Liddi is currently playing for Italy in the World Baseball Classic; he will be a strong asset to the team. So far, he has made good contributions internationally—last year, he was just the 2nd Italian-born MLB player, to ever hit a grand slam—he did so against the Texas Rangers on May 23rd. Michael Saunders, is also “shining” for Canada, in the WBC. In his most recent outing versus fellow Mariner reliever Oliver Perez’s, Mexico—Saunders, won “Player of the Game,” honors—going 4-4, with 2 doubles, and 3 RBIs.
King Felix is making $175 million dollars after signing a 7-year contract—this is the highest dollar amount a pitcher has ever been paid. He pitched well in his debut, giving up 1 run in 2 innings. He says, “I felt strong from the windup.” This is good news for us to hear. To be honest, I was a little disappointed that he withdrew from playing with Venezuela in the WBC; though, I am happy to see him with his teammates. I will most definitely continue to, “Root (TV)” him on; I’m sure good things are ahead. He says, “C’mon…I’m just getting stronger and stronger. I feel better.”
Hisashi Iwakuma—another pitcher in the Mariners starting rotation—is feeling well, and threw 3 scoreless innings of 1-hit ball. "I felt great," he said. "I thought I pitched in a good rhythm, I got in a good groove and was able to keep balls down in the strike zone.” Pitching coach Carl Willis acknowledged that Iwakuma is looking much “better this spring than last.” Another pitcher I have high hopes for is our new veteran lefty, Joe Saunders; the Mariners recently acquired him from the Baltimore Orioles.
Games are live on 710 ESPN Seattle radio.
Ashley Crane is on Twitter. Follow her at @WildAshC