7 Things Spring Training Has Taught Us about the Seattle Mariners
Spring training has been a huge confidence boost for the Seattle Mariners and a welcome show of improvement for fans.
The Mariners currently sit atop the Cactus League standings with a 9-3 record (prior to Wednesday night's game). Those following the games have been treated to a glimpse at pretty much every exciting player on the team, from Japanese infielder Munenori Kawasaki to first-round draft pick Danny Hultzen.
As a result of the uncertainty regarding the starting rotation, we've seen a plethora of pitchers, all of whom have looked pretty solid, though, some who showed promise have been demoted to minor league camp already.
Perhaps a more encouraging sight, however, has been the delightful number of launched balls coming off the bats of lots of the young hitters on the team.
There's a lot to be excited about, but there's also a lot to be gleaned from the first month of the Mariners' 2012 season. Here are seven things spring training has taught us about the M's.
We Have a Committed Bunch of Players
After a bit of a disappointing end in 2011, the players knew they had some work to do for 2012. Spring training has made it evident that many of them put in plenty of hours during the offseason dedicated to getting into top physical shape so they'd be ready come February 11.
For some players, like Felix Hernandez, that meant dropping 20 pounds—which you can clearly see in this picture. A healthier Felix can only mean better things for the Cy Young winner.
For other players, like Franklin Gutierrez, that meant putting weight on. Gutierrez, who was significantly hindered by a stomach virus last year, was looking great this spring until he tore his pectoral.
These two are representative of the team in their offseason dedication to their teammates, coaches and the fans.
They Addressed the Power Problem
They may be leading us on by taking advantage of the less formal nature of spring training, but like I said before, the frequency of home runs thus far has been awesome.
When I say "they" have addressed the power problem and "they" may be leading us on, I mean both the hitters and the team as a whole. In other words, general manager Jack Zduriencik has made some useful moves to bolster the offense, but it's also clear that individual players have improved their swings, making themselves more dangerous power assets.
Carlos Peguero, who currently leads the team with three homers, has looked a lot more comfortable at the plate, exercising more patience and a more precise swing. Kyle Seager and Vinnie Catricala have also found their swings, with two home runs each.
Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton Aren't Ready Yet
Last week, this spectacular trio of hurlers was reassigned to minor league camp along with 12 other players.
I don't have any doubts about the bright futures of these pitchers, but Jack Z and Eric Wedge seem to think that they aren't ready to occupy the major league rotation just yet, which was anticipated by many.
Paxton and Walker were expected to return to the minors for the start of 2012, but I had a faint idea (or hope) that Hultzen would make the starting rotation right off the bat. It's apparent now that we won't see that, but the other pitchers who've taken starts have looked great and certainly are worthy of spots on the 25-man roster.
Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton Are Still Awesome
That's not to say, however, that these three won't be the core of the future Mariners rotation.
On March 9th, Hultzen, Walker, Paxton and Erasmo Ramirez combined for eight innings, allowing just one run on four hits. They each looked stellar individually in what was an All-Star type game—four fantastic starters each pitched for just a couple of innings.
And fans weren't the only ones excited, either. Pitching coach Carl Willis remarked that "[It] was hard to not sit there with a big smile on your face."
We hope to see stellar performances out of these three in their minor league tenures, and we may even get to see one of them surface to the majors before the year is out.
Hector Noesi Could Be the Offseason's Shiniest Gem
Hector Noesi, the 25-year-old Dominican righty who came over with Jesus Montero in the Michael Pineda trade, is making a brilliant case for a starting job in Seattle.
In addition to some quality pitching and mound presence, Noesi has a nasty pick-off move that we've already seen in action. He said it's something he worked on while he was in the Dominican Republic during the offseason.
When the deal was first announced back in January, Montero was the clear prize, so Noesi was initially overlooked. Now it's coming to light that he was a great addition to the deal and is potential replacement for the now-absent Pineda.
Noesi will compete with teammates Kevin Millwood, Hisashi Iwakuma, Charlie Furbush, Erasmo Ramirez and Blake Beavan for three spots in the rotation behind Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas as spring training comes to a close in a couple of weeks.
We'll See Plenty of Midseason Call-Ups
I predict Eric Wedge and Jack Zduriencik will feel pretty comfortable with their 40-man roster going into Opening Day on March 28th, but regardless of who makes the cut, the organization will still have a deep, talented reserve in the minors.
Pictured here is Darren Ford, acquired from the Giants this winter. He specializes in running. He's really, really fast, and that blazing speed could come in handy later this season for the M's.
Ford is just one of many players who could make worthy contributions to the team but who will start the season off in the farm system.
A lot of the starters who do make the major league squad will be, for the most part, unproven and prone to volatility. The true starters will settle in, but the players who aren't quite ready will drop back into the ranks to be replaced by eager talent waiting in the wings.
This season may not be a playoff season for the M's, but it should be fun to watch and very important in the development of the team.
Vinnie Catricala Is the Real Deal
One of the most exciting stories of spring training in Peoria has been Vinnie Catricala.
The third baseman went into camp with some stiff competition ahead of him on the depth chart, but he has held his own as well as anyone could've hoped for.
Alex Liddi, Kyle Seager and even Chone Figgins have looked decent this spring, but Catricala's bat has really stolen the show. He's hitting .316 with two home runs.
While it's unlikely that he'll make the final cut this year, he definitely has a shot at reaching the majors in the near future.
Catricala is exactly the type of player that's thriving in Seattle these days, so expect him to stick around and make an impact.
Just 13 more days until the Mariners kick off the 2012 MLB season. I'll be running a live blog before, during and after the game on March 28th against the Oakland A's, so log on for real-time analysis and reaction.