Just a God damn black hole of sports nothingness going on. REALLY need the NBA to come back to Seattle …
The fun part about Spring Training is seeing the guys whose numbers really explode from out of nowhere. Going into the season, you know who the stars are going to be, and you know those guys mostly use the month of March to work on their timing and rounding into everyday playing shape. But, for the younger, fringe guys, sometimes their careers depend upon what they’re able to show in this limited period of time. It’s the difference between starting the season in Tacoma vs. Seattle, or the difference between staying in the Mariners’ organization vs. becoming eventual trade or DFA fodder down the road. Have you done everything the coaches have asked of you? Have those changes improved things? Do you have what it takes to contribute to the Big League club?
For the 2017 Mariners, there are fewer open spots than ever before. This team is mostly set at most of its positions. There are some backup outfield and bullpen spots up for grabs, but that’s about it.
Of course, the worst part about Spring Training is seeing those guys whose numbers really explode from out of nowhere, and then seeing them turn back into pumpkins once the games start meaning something. So, it’s important to remember that with Spring Training, it’s not just a small sample size, but an inflated sample at that. Balls are easier to hit in that warm Arizona air. Minor league pitchers show up with more regularity, and often are the ones throwing to those minor league hitters whose numbers are popping.
Yes, it’s important to show up in Spring Training, but it’s VASTLY more important to show up in the regular season. So, let’s take a look at some of the guys who are kicking ass now, and hope beyond hope that they continue kicking ass in the future.
I think the names that are generating the most excitement thus far are Mitch Haniger and Guillermo Heredia. Both are hitting well over .400, both have 6 extra-base hits, and both are coming up huge in the clutch to bat runners in. Haniger has a little more upside in the power department, but Heredia has more upside in the speed department, so both have a lot of value. They’re also getting a ton of playing time, considering they’re trying to win jobs in that crowded outfield. We know Leonys Martin and Jarrod Dyson are locks, but that right field spot – when Nelson Cruz and Danny Valencia aren’t there – is up for grabs, and it might come down to the last day of Spring Training before that job is won. It’s probably unrealistic to expect both of these guys to carry their numbers over into April – indeed, it’s WAY more likely that neither of them are worth a damn in the regular season – but if just one of them can do it, I’d be a very happy camper.
Behind those guys, we’ve got the following utility players: Boog Powell, Taylor Motter, Ben Gamel, Shawn O’Malley, and Mike Freeman. Powell is another guy looking to make an impression in the outfield, but he’s at a significant disadvantage considering he’s technically still suspended for using steroids or some damn thing. Fortunately for him, he’s hitting .500 as of this writing, and earning lots of commendations from the coaching staff. I’d look for him to be an everyday player out of Tacoma when he comes off suspension, but he’s definitely a guy who could work his way to Seattle if he keeps at it. Ben Gamel has really had a nondescript spring thus far, which doesn’t bode well considering how Heredia and Haniger have played. What he’s got going for him is that he bats lefty, while Heredia and Haniger are both righties, but I don’t know if that’s going to be enough to keep him in Seattle on Opening Day. He’ll need a big surge in production these next couple weeks.
Shawn O’Malley probably has the inside track for the utility infielder position, given that he’s probably the best defensive short stop of the bunch. He’s certainly underwhelming from an offensive standpoint, with a complete and utter lack of power, but the fact that you can put him almost anywhere on the field is his biggest selling point. I know less about Taylor Motter, but his Spring Training hitting numbers are certainly more promising. While defense is important in a utility bench guy, if one of our infield starters has a significant injury that causes them to miss a lot of games, it wouldn’t shock me to see Motter usurp O’Malley as the guy who plays everyday. And, then there’s Mike Freeman, who has already been outrighted to Tacoma. Barring a trade, he’ll probably start there until Seattle has an injury need, in which case you could do a lot worse than Mike Freeman.
The final fringe guy I’ll talk about is Dan Vogelbach. He’s obviously slated to be the left-handed platoon partner at first base, and thus far he’s done pretty well for himself while garnering the most at-bats of anyone. It’s pretty obvious the Mariners want to give him as much work as possible, to ensure his defense is up to snuff, as well as to see if he can hit Major League pitching. It’s a little concerning he only has 2 doubles and no homers to date, but from what I’m hearing he’s hitting to all fields, working counts, and getting on base with regularity. It’s better than nothing (i.e. Logan Morrison).
I’ll close by talking about Leonys Martin a little bit. He’s hitting a whopping .179 with no walks and 3 doubles to his name, which is somewhat concerning. When you figure he’s slotted to be our everyday centerfielder, we’re going to need more than that at the plate. Apparently, he’s been working on his swing, to cut down on strikeouts, and at least that looks like it’s working (only 3 K’s in 28 at-bats). The saving grace for Martin is that while it’s true that you shouldn’t get too excited about really great Spring Training numbers, you also shouldn’t get too depressed about really poor Spring Training numbers. As I said before, a lot of the veterans are just getting their work in, and don’t really flip the switch until April. While Martin certainly falls in that veteran category, he’s still a guy who shouldn’t totally dismiss working on his offense, considering that’s the part of his game that needs the most work.
Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at the pitching.