Seattle Mariners Roster Battles: 4 Most Intriguing Spring Position Battles
Forget NCAA March Madness, Brackets and Sweet 16s.
For many Mariners players, this is their own March Madness. They're fighting in spring training for the right to open the season in a coveted roster spot that has several other suitors.
The thing is, there's only about a week left—less than 200 hours left between now and Opening Day, and the Mariners are running out of time to make a verdict on what their depth chart will look like.
This, my friends, is Mariners March Madness. There's elation, demotions, broken dreams, unlucky injuries and most importantly of all, the best 25-man roster the Mariners can muster to begin the season.
Pitching Rotation: No. 4 and No. 5 Spots
The No. 1 and No. 2 spots in the starting rotation are essentially clinched by Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas. I'd also be surprised if Hisashi Iwakuma doesn't break camp as the No. 3 starter, although he hasn't looked stellar in spring training.
And now, you have two starting spots left in the rotation—with four candidates vying neck-and-neck for those positions. You've got young arms in Hector Noesi, Erasmo Ramirez, and Blake Beavan, but you've also got experienced veteran Kevin Millwood.
I've tried juggling the task of awarding rotation spots in my head, and it just doesn't work out. Noesi and Ramirez both have sub-2.00 ERAs in spring training, while Beavan comes close with a 2.35 ERA in over 15 innings of work. Millwood lags behind with a 4.00 ERA, but it's not as simple as numbers would dictate.
Millwood is a veteran presence in the clubhouse that the Mariners would love to have around, so he's got the intangibles. On the other end of the spectrum is Ramirez, who I don't believe is ready for the leap to the Majors quite yet.
My best guess is that Noesi and Millwood open up the season as the No. 4 and 5 starters, respectively. Ramirez and Beavan would either be demoted to Triple-A Tacoma or to the bullpen.
It's not a guess based on tangible evidence, though. For now, it's a difficult decision for Manager Eric Wedge to make, and I'm not envious of him.
The catcher position is one of intrigue to the M's right now. We wanted to see star prospect Jesus Montero step in as the starter, but it probably won't work out.
Montero's defense behind the plate hasn't improved a whole lot in spring training, and so it looks increasingly like he will take the DH'ing duties.
Olivo will probably open the season as the starting catcher, but the Mariners will likely be wary of his bat—the veteran hit for just a .208 average in nine games this spring. They'll also look to preserve him by platooning him with Montero and John Jaso.
Then again, it's not as simple as it seems. How much time Montero does spend behind the plate is largely dependent on whether the M's decide to carry a third catcher in Jaso, and how much time they decide to play other hitters like Mike Carp at DH as well.
Outfield: Left Field and Center Field
Poor Guti. Just when we thought he was going to storm back into Seattle and become that offensive force we needed in center field, a serious pectoral injury derailed our hopes.
Now, the Mariners look to a bunch of upside players to fill in the gap in center field, and by extension left field as well.
Again, depending on how things at catcher shake out, the M's should be looking at a platoon left fielder as Mike Carp might be spending significant time as a DH.
With promising prospect Trayvon Robinson sent down to the minors, it's essentially a three-horse race for CF and LF platoon with third baseman Chone Figgins also being mentioned.
Carlos Peguero has looked alright in spring training, but M's fans shouldn't forget his abysmal 2011 batting average and mediocre defense in the outfield. If the M's decide to keep an extra catcher, I could see Peguero being sent back down to the minors.
Casper Wells really hasn't been hitting the ball well so far in spring training, but before the impairing nerve injury, the guy was showing monstrous power capabilities. I'd tentatively pencil in Wells for the backup LF job with some chance at CF.
Center field likely will go to Michael Saunders. Yes, that Michael Saunders who hasn't gotten his act together in three seasons with the Mariners. He seems to have found a new hitting approach which has served him well in spring training, and the .400 batting average will carry him all the way to a starting spot.
Please prove me wrong, Michael, but after the numerous chances you've been given, you haven't made anything out of it yet.
The Mariners get to enjoy something few teams can boast of: loaded prospects at third base.
Behind the underperforming Chone Figgins, we've got a chance to see prospect Kyle Seager make some noise in the majors.
Right next to him are the hot bats of Vinnie Catricala and Alex Liddi, both of whom make strong cases for a roster spot. Add Francisco Martinez to the mix, and you've got a logjam of talented prospects who also carry a decent amount of trade value.
Although having Figgins be open to playing center field leaves a bit more versatility to his position, the Mariners probably won't carry more than two third basemen. So who gets the other spot?
Alex Liddi has torn up the Cactus League this spring, hitting over .400 with a home run and a few nice walks. Vinnie Catricala also was a spring training sensation, with an above .400 average before he (and the rest of the team) fell into a slump.
Both are promising young prospects, but I don't see them coming up to MLB right away. It's likely that the M's will turn to Seager, who has hit a steady .281 in spring, to fill the backup spot.