Seattle Mariners Spring Training – A Spitfire Look-In

Spoiler alert: I’m not at the Seattle Mariners’ Spring Training to report all of this to you. Kind of wish I was, but it really isn’t in the budget this year.  However, things are creeping closer to the beginning of the season whether I am there or not.  So as the Mariner train creeps along towards opening day, we must evaluate how our new additions are meshing, what roster spots have competition and which players are on the hot seat to even make the roster. That’s a lot but we still must try.

I will admit, when I have written about the Mariners I have truly been a blind optimist.  You name it, I’ve probably said it regarding this band of misfits. I’m a dreamer what can I say and I just wanted to be able to tell everyone ‘I told you so’, someday.  So let me, for the record, get this right.  As much as I want them to be the second coming of the Sodo Mojo of the early 2000’s and late 90’s, this team will not be that. 

Not even close.  Overall I would rank them maybe the tenth best team in the entire American League, but not even close to the playoffs.

I’m not upset about making that not-so-bold prediction even as a blind optimist now that spring training has started. But this is no time for reflection!

Robinson Cano is the combined centerpiece with Felix Hernandez as the faces of the franchise (both of which look great next to each other in Mariner blue).  He has drawn more attention to this team than anything we have seen since the sensation of a little guy named Ichiro stepped off the plane from Japan.  Robbie Cano is a gem, but what should our expectations be for just one man out of nine that will be on the field at any given moment? 

We should embrace him for what he is, not for what his paycheck is.  Let’s be realistic, he can’t do it alone and we don’t need him to be a do-it-yourself type of guy.  The Mariners just need him to be good enough, not out of the park great.  If he contributes a solid 100 runs batted in, maybe 35 home runs and he plays 158 games, I would be more than pleased with his pricey services.  What I also want is him to be a leader, he needs to buy into – completely buy into – the rebuilding effort.  His mastery of patience with this team will also be something I will watch closely.  If will need to be an unconditional leader and if he snaps, the whole thing comes crashing down around him. A lot has also run through the media regarding his effort on the field and I need to put that to bed.  Let me just say that players of his caliber can make it look like they aren’t really trying when in fact they is making the perfect play or the 400 foot run home run. Derek Jeter is much the same way and got scrutinized a lot early in his career in the same way.  You could also say the same for Miguel Cabrera.  So that should not even enter your mind as a fan, his effort is low on the totem pole of things to watch for. 

To go along with that unbelievable addition we have add-ons like Logan Morrison and Corey Hart.  I have followed Corey Hart for a long time when he was a Milwaukee Brewer.  He is a smaller market kind of guy and will thrive in a positive locker room.  He did an unreal job helping Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun stay protected when the Brewers made their run in 2011 for the National League Pennant.  He will take on a folk-hero type personality for the fans if he comes out and performs. That is just who he is. He has the potential to have 100 runs batted in as well but after having a rough year in 2013 with a knee injury that sidelined him for the entire season; it would be realistic for some rust in his game but I believe he can shake it. 

The point here is that we got the foundation in Cano for the line-up.  Now skipper Lloyd McClendon just has to fill in the spots around him.  Easier said than done but it’s a lot easier to work with that prize than some of the things we gave Eric Wedge to deal with, am I right? So to sign off on Hart, I believe he is more primed to compliment Cano and Kyle Seager in the lineup than Logan Morrison. 

So this Morrison guy. He is a freak of nature.  Measuring in at 6 foot 4 inches and 245 pounds. He also has some injury issues like Hart but he is unproven and streaky.  He came in flashes while in Miami with the Marlins but maybe getting a chance to be a bigger piece in the puzzle will allow him to thrive. Nevertheless, I will reserve judgment until he starts playing consistently and stays on the field for a couple weeks at a time.

Then there is Fernando Rodney to shore up the bullpen.  Shore it up a little, let’s be frank, that is the one piece the Jack Zduriencik office needed to address thoroughly this offseason and didn’t. The bullpen conceded about 25 games to the Mariners opponents just last year alone and the closer position was almost by committee by the end of the season.  Not good, but also not surprising.  That all changes with Rodney in place as our new bonafide closer.  As a proven guy who has played in the biggest games imaginable, he can be a rock for the bullpen to lean on, learn from and rally around.

I like the Rodney move a lot, but is it enough to solve the bullpen blues? No way, but that is what kind of year this 2014 Mariner team will be; it will have its moments but otherwise a rather incomplete campaign.

Now for the youngsters.  My favorite. Nick Franklin is immediately on the hot seat with the Cano signing that moved him out of second base and into the marauding infielder position.  Now, that creates a lovely competition at shortstop with Brad Miller.  Both young and promising we may not be able to keep both.  That could possibly leave Nick Franklin the odd man out.  He blossomed last year early but the grind of the season took its toll as he got a little injury bug and slowed down in the month of August dropping his batting average almost fifty points and not playing day-to-day.  That is a bad sign.  Keep an eye out as the spring progresses for these two to play their hearts out for that roster spot.

Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero are not only on my hot seat as well but they are currently boiling in the pot of undesirables. They were the future and now they are a big old question mark that is sagging into irrelevance this spring training.

None of them have trade value.  Smoak has worn my patience thin as just a guy who goes through the motions on the field and at the plate.  Dustin Ackley needs to get his mind in the right place or I have no confidence his swing will ever come back.  Montero is overweight and has literally no excuses other than the food in Venezuela is his guilty pleasure.

All bad news.

Out of those three, I would hedge my bets Ackley has the best chance at being a day-to-day guy or even making the starting day roster.  He is versatile and can play outfield which is one of the biggest holes on the roster.  Plus, we spent a first round pick on him so giving him reps at the plate is the least we can do to see if he turns it around. Smoak is a lumberjack who now has to compete with Logan Morrison and Hart for first base as well as designated hitter, so his days have to be numbered seeing as he is now truly expendable. The exact same goes for Montero now that catcher sensation Mike Zunino is healthy again, they Mariners also signed John Buck to back Zunino up and everything is bottlenecking at DH.  I want to hope it breeds competition for those two and it brings out some potential but I don’t know how long we can keep waiting for Smoak to be the next Rafael Palmeiro or John Olerud and Montero to be what they said he would be. 

Those are my biggest concerns with returning guys.  People I didn’t mention aren’t in grave danger, but nor should they be ignored. Really it’s just that they aren’t as pressing as some of the other hazardous zones the Mariners have in their organization.  Probably the most positive and exciting thing we can take away from spring training would be to see how the starting pitching shapes up.  How much will James Paxton and Taijuan Walker turn out?  I really do hope they both make the starting rotation.  Taijuan Walker – the Fresh Prince – is sensational.  He is dealing with arm soreness already which worries me but if he can overcome it I like how he could round out the rotation. I think him and Paxton are both waiting to take off as superstar pitchers.

So overall, I know that was a lot to take in, I’m sure I missed a thing or two.  If you read it all you probably have your own two cents to add as well about this team’s potential.  Which is good because it needs to all be addressed and ranted about in its own right.  Heck, it’s amazing that we would even address potential because of how long Mariner fans have been stuck in the Dark Ages.  Nevertheless, before this region fell in love with the Seahawks, baseball reigned supreme.  You would hope that the players noticed what the Seahawks did and try and ride that wave. Winning is contagious and with how much this region has rallied around sports recently there is no telling what can happen.  Even if they may be graded an F or a D as a group – much like the Seahawks draft class two years ago was – they can use the intangibles of chemistry, attitude and a little bit of luck to overcome what they may lack in talent.    

Brian Hight

About Brian Hight

Brian Hight is a freelance writer, amateur Sabermetrician, and longtime player of fantasy baseball and football. He’s excited as heck to have an opportunity to write for Oregon Sports News. No seriously. He is. He teaches Film and Media Studies online, but since moving to Seattle in early 2013 with his wife Kelly, he’s been looking for new opportunities in the exciting new world of social media. He has two personal blogs: Hight of Insanity where he writes about sports and entertainment, and Technology Accessibility where he writes about the user experience of the visually impaired.