Seattle Mariners: Fringe Players Who Need a Big Spring Training to Make the Team
Is it time to break up the Seattle Mariners?
So far this spring, after only five games, the M's are 4-1 while averaging nearly seven runs per game with power coming from several surprising sources with players such as Casper Wells and Jason Bay having already hit home runs. Meanwhile, pitchers Hector Noesi and Jeremy Bonderman have both struggled in brief stints on the mound.
Granted it's still early and the ball does have a tendency to jump a bit in the Arizona heat, but can one entirely afford to dismiss or downplay what happens in the early stages of spring training?
I suppose that's up to M's skipper Eric Wedge and the rest of the team's coaching staff.
Right now the Mariners' current active roster (according to Mariners.com) is a long list of players both young and old, established and obscure, but at the end of the day, all of them have the same goal of making the final roster before Opening Day.
Last week when piecing together the Mariners season preview, I focused on the more established players who should get the majority of playing time this season, but today I thought it might be worthwhile to focus on the players who have something to prove in their quest to make the final roster.
In other words, hot prospects like Mike Zunino and Taijuan Walker may have an outside shot at making the final roster, but realistically speaking we're looking at the competition between established veterans like Bay and Bonderman seeking one last shot going up against players like Wells and Noesi who simply want another chance.
So who are these fringe players?
Let's take a few minutes to take a look...
Jason Bay: Outfield
This winter when the Mariners signed Bay, it proved challenging to take this move seriously given his recent struggles in New York.
To help put Bay's situation in context, just think of him as the Mets version of Chone Figgins.
Sorry to bring back bad memories, but after homering in his first at bat this spring, Bay explained to The Associated Press his own desire to move on from the past:
''I tried a million things to get my swing back and to save face,'' said Bay, who signed a one-year $1 million contract this offseason. ''Nothing was working, and I got so far away from where I was before that I forgot how to do it. The goal heading into this spring is to get back to doing what I've always done.''
''When you get instant feedback like that first-inning home run, that speaks volumes that you're on the right track,'' he said.
If Bay is on the right track he would certainly be a welcome addition for the low low price of $1 million this season. Still, I prefer to take a wait-and-see attitude.
Besides, is it in the team's best interest long-term for Bay to come back to life?
In other words, are there younger options available who perhaps deserve a shot?
Carlos Peguero: Outfield
Could Carlos Peguero fight for a spot in the M's outfield?
At 6'5" and 260 pounds, it's hard to ignore Peguero, and when he makes contact, he simply punishes the baseball. The problem so far for him is that he hasn't proven he can do it often enough to play at the major league level.
Can he cut back on the strikeouts and consistently make contact?
Unless he turns things around similar to what Michael Saunders did last spring, I can't picture him making it with the big club at the end of spring training.
Eric Thames: Outfield
Perhaps Eric Thames has a better shot?
But following an exciting start to his career with the Mariners in which he homered in his first game after coming to Seattle from Toronto last year, he seemingly struggled to distinguish himself from that point on.
So far this spring in only a handful of at-bats, Thames has done little to change that perception.
Much like Peguero, Thames has power, but will also need a strong showing to stick with the M's out of camp.
Casper Wells: Outfield
Finally, what can be said about Wells that hasn't already been said?
One minute he looks like a potentially solid every day player, the next he looks like he should be back at Triple-A Tacoma.
At age 28, you have to figure this is it, well at least in a Mariner uniform.
Last Friday, he homered against the Padres in the M's 9-3 loss, but hasn't shown much since.
If we assume that Saunders, Michael Morse and Franklin Gutierrez are the team's starting outfielders and that Raul Ibanez is making the roster in some capacity based on his contract, then is there room either Wells or any of the aforementioned options for the fourth outfield spot?
Michael Barr at Fangraphs put forth a few scenarios in which Wells could be useful:
If Wedge decides he doesn’t like what he sees in Saunders versus left handed pitchers, it’s possible Casper Wells falls into a platoon in right field. If Gutierrez winds up on the shelf again, it’s likely that Saunders shifts to center and Wells could become a regular. Wells definitely has some power and if he managed to find regular playing time, he’s another Mariner outfielder that could generate 20 home runs with an underwhelming batting average. But a lot would have to go right for Wells to get more than 250 at-bats, and it’s entirely possible that he’s shipped to another team this Spring since he’s out of options.
That sounds like a lot of ifs to wager on, but given Gutierrez inability to stay healthy in recent years and Saunders having only one year of success under his belt I wouldn't rule out the possibilities outlined.
For now stay tuned.
Alex Liddi: Utility
As we move on towards the infield, does anyone know if and when Alex Liddi will ever arrive for good in Seattle?
While it's certainly nice to see him along with fellow Mariners Saunders and Oliver Perez representing their own countries in the WBC, it will be interesting to see if playing in the tournament will actually help or hurt his chances of earning a spot on the Opening Day roster.
Could the opportunity to play with Italy in a clutch role give Liddi the boost to earn him a roster spot behind Kyle Seager at third base?
Months ago, I considered Liddi a potential breakout candidate for 2013 and believe the WBC could be as good as any launch pad to help him.
Carlos Triunfel: Infield
Speaking of backup roles, will Carlos Triunfel earn the nod at shortstop behind Brendan Ryan?
On some levels it's hard to figure what the future holds, but I'd be lying if I felt Triunfel has time on his side given the potential competition of Nick Franklin, Brad Miller and Stefen Romero waiting in the wings.
All three are currently at spring training as non-roster invitees and you have to figure that everyone in the organization will be keeping close tabs on their performance for future reference.
While I don't believe Triunfel needs to play lights out to make the final roster, he does need to make sure he at least keeps pace with the competition.
Of course three strikeouts today against Milwaukee can't help.
Mike Jacobs: First Base
I will confess that I almost forgot to include Mike Jacobs, but let's remember that he did homer on Saturday along with Bay and Justin Smoak.
The well traveled Jacobs (now with his fifth organization) seems an unlikely choice to make the final roster, but stranger things have happened.
Still, anything short of a monster spring will probably result in him being cut before long.
Chance Ruffin: Relief Pitcher
Seems like ages ago that Chance Ruffin came to the Mariners as the player to be named later in the Doug Fister deal back at the trade deadline in 2011.
Ruffin was seen by some at the time as a key piece in that deal and a potential future closer. After appearing in 15 games with the M's during the 2011 season, Ruffin showed up at spring training last year with a reasonable shot at making the roster as part of the bullpen.
Unfortunately Chance failed to impress and spent the entire season at Triple-A Tacoma where he continued to struggle.
Can Ruffin rebound and make the team this year?
Right now the bullpen looks fairly solid, but I suppose there's always a chance...
Hector Noesi: Pitcher
It goes without saying that just about everyone on this list is facing an uphill climb, but in the case of Noesi it looks to be more like a battle.
When Noesi was torched for six runs in the first inning of the Mariners first exhibition game of the spring on Friday against the Padres, it was hard not to write off the young right-hander when you factor in his 2012 results.
In short, Noesi struggled, and even months ago I couldn't see him making the starting rotation this season.
Can he rebound?
Sure, it was simply one outing, but from here on out he will need to prove that his performance against San Diego was merely a blip on the radar.
If not, there are several other pitchers waiting to grab a starting spot at the end of the rotation.
Jeremy Bonderman: Pitcher
Speaking of someone who is seeking out a spot in the back half of the M's starting rotation, enter veteran and Pasco, Washington native Bonderman who at age 30 should currently be in the prime of his career.
Instead he's now hoping for one last chance as a non-roster invitee.
Prior to the Mariners' game against the Angels on Monday, Dave Cameron at USS Mariner summed up the situation quite well in stating:
Jeremy Bonderman has had Tommy John surgery. He’s had Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, and he wasn’t even a Texas Ranger. That malady not only caused a blood clot in his shoulder that required surgery, it eventually led him to have a rib removed. Beyond the arguments, beyond the frustrated promise, Jeremy Bonderman is just trying to pitch again, if only to retire without a bunch of questions and regrets. There are reclamation projects in every club’s camp right now, and the list of players who think rest, recovery or even a titanium necklace has cured them of career-threatening injuries encompasses essentially every living pitcher who missed the MLB season in 2012. The M’s have two of them, after all. But it’s tough to root against Bonderman.
It is tough to root against Bonderman, but if his outing against the Angels in which he gave up three runs in the first inning is indicative of what he has left in the tank, his chances of making the final cut are going to be slim.
Yet as Bonderman himself explained to The Seattle Times Geoff Baker following his first outing, he's not about to let his performance on Monday deter him:
"When I decided to come back, it wasn't just 'Oh, I'm going to give it a shot,' " Bonderman said. "I worked hard and I put my time in every day. I'm down here for the long haul. I came down here to see what I can do. If at the end of camp, they tell me, 'We don't need you,' then I'll go home."
Here's hoping that he turns things around, but if he's unable to claim a roster spot, perhaps the second reclamation project will?
Jon Garland: Pitcher
Much like Bonderman, veteran Jon Garland is also looking to make the long journey back after a year of rehab and training following rotator cuff surgery.
Can he make the rotation if Noesi and Bonderman falter?
After seeing Garland throw for the first time to live hitters in nearly two years, The Seattle Times Jerry Brewer explains:
There's no guarantee. The Mariners are blessed with so much young pitching talent, and ultimately, if any of those youngsters prove themselves ready, Garland will be nudged out of the mix. But if Garland is anything close to the dependable pitcher he has always been, it'll be hard for the Mariners to ignore his knack for pitching deep into games and giving his team a chance to win every time.
All Garland cares about is the opportunity. After 20 months away from baseball, he embraces competition. And when thinking about his injury, he considers the perspective gained more important than the time lost.
"I'm only thinking about this year," Garland said. "I think I've always done that. I think it goes back to being content. If you say, 'I want this,' and start looking too far ahead, you start taking it for granted. And if you start taking it for granted, the game's going to take it away from you. Because it doesn't owe you anything. It doesn't owe anybody anything. The way I look at it, I owe the game for what it's done for me."
There is no guarantee, but if the youngsters don't step up in addition to Noesi and Bonderman, who will?
Blake Beavan: Pitcher
He may not be flashy, but Blake Beavan could be the Mariners' No. 4 or No. 5 starter depending how things shake out over the next few weeks.
According to The Seattle Times Geoff Baker, Beavan worked on his delivery with University of Texas pitching coach Skip Johnson with the hopes of helping get him to the "next level" over the winter:
Johnson had Beavan separate his throwing hand from his glove more quickly as he stretched back into his delivery. With the arm cocked and ready to deliver the ball sooner, he has more time to generate the downward plane needed and gets less rotation on the ball that can "flatten out" a pitch.
A downward plane makes the ball tougher to square up on, and causes hitters to pound it into the ground.
A big key, Johnson added, was getting Beavan to consistently repeat his mechanics from one pitch to the next — regardless of whether it was a fastball or breaking pitch. Keeping his delivery the same would enable him to better deceive hitters by not tipping off what pitch is coming.
So far so good as Beavan won his first start last Saturday with two scoreless innings against San Diego.
If he can keep it up, he should have a solid shot of making the rotation provided the final pitcher in the mix doesn't knock him out of contention...
Erasmo Ramirez: Pitcher
Last September, when reviewing the Mariners late season callups, I considered Erasmo Ramirez more than a simple stop-gap solution between 2012 and the potential arrival of the "Big Three" in Seattle.
This spring, Ramirez seems poised to take his chances while knowing what he needs to do to not only make the team, but perhaps the starting rotation as Ryan Divish at The Tacoma News Tribune explains:
There is an ease to Ramirez that was missing last spring. Sure, his ever-present smile was there in 2012, but it was a nervous smile.
It was his first big league spring training and he was a little unsure of himself, his surroundings and what he needed to do. Now Ramirez’s constant grin is one of experience and confidence.
“I’m more prepared,” he said. “I tell myself, ‘Don’t be in a hurry, just relax. Don’t try to do more than you can do.’ That was killing me last year. Now, it’s know your body, know what you got, don’t try to be the star in the game and everything will be good after that.”
Similar to Beavan, Ramirez won his first outing against San Diego, but the question remains can he do it again?
Can Ramirez and all of the other hopefuls here do what it takes to impress the coaching staff?
Unlike years past, the players here have some serious competition not just amongst themselves, but from a solid group of prospects that will be playing alongside them over the next few weeks.
Ultimately a handful of the players here will likely win out, yet at the risk of getting too far ahead of ourselves, you have to wonder how long these players will keep their roster spots?
Time will tell, but it's in some ways comforting to know that if the players on the fringe listed here come up short, there are quite a few potential long-term solutions waiting in the wings.
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