The Seattle Mariners will have some tough decisions to make when the roster needs to be trimmed to 25 players. There is the issue of the starting rotation, but perhaps more complicated is the outfield. Seattle has a fairly large slate of players who will be competing for the three outfield positions plus some bench spots.
On paper, the starting outfield could be Michael Morse, Franklin Gutierrez and Michael Saunders. Through March 8, those three players are hitting .300, .313 and .222 (respectively) through 14 games. Conceivably any of these players could lose their starting jobs, but they are arguably the incumbents for now.
Who are the contenders?
Raul Ibanez was added to this team for veteran leadership and depth, and he has been one of the hottest-hitting outfielders this spring, as he is hitting .500 with two home runs and five RBI.
Carlos Peguero is hitting .375 with three home runs and four RBI. The slugging prospect has a lot of power, but he has not proven that he can maintain a solid batting average. Peguero strikes out a lot, and he has already whiffed eight times in 24 plate appearances.
Casper Wells has been a bit streaky. He started slow, but then contributed nine RBI over a two-game stretch and now leads the team with 12. Granted, he only has a .259 average and is also the team leader in strikeouts with nine. If Wells is going to make this squad, he will need to find some consistency.
Eric Thames is arguably toward the end of the list, and the young outfielder is only hitting .227 this spring with no home runs. Thames has been provided with the opportunity to play quite a bit, but he has not delivered at the plate.
There is also 21-year-old Julio Morban, who is holding his own with a .278 average and two home runs this spring. It seems reasonable to assume that Morban will start the year in the minors, but he could make an appearance in Seattle if others fail to perform at the start of the regular season.
Jason Bay is perhaps the most intriguing of the group, simply because he has had success in the past. As noted by Greg Johns of MLB.com, Bay feels as if he has “regained his stroke.” This is always an interesting aspect of baseball because one has to wonder where Bay’s swing went in the first place. In addition, is it here to stay or will it get lost again in Seattle?
Will the real Jason Bay please stand up? Here are Bay’s stats over the last five seasons:
2012: .165/8/ 20
Obviously, it would be nice if Bay could party like it was 2009, but at 34, the slugger’s best days may be behind him.
The difficult part of spring training is that players can get very hot in the month of March and then significantly cool down once the regular season starts. Justin Smoak hit .378 last spring, only to hit .217 during the regular season.
If I were a betting man, I would project that the starting outfield will remain the same, though Saunders will need to pick it up a little bit over the next couple of weeks. On this team, no one in the outfield is truly safe. Saunders is hitting very well during the World Baseball Classic.
As tweeted by Greg Johns:
Michael Saunders named Player of Game for Canada in 10-3 win over Mexico (4-for-4, 2 2Bs, 3RBI). Saunders hitting .857 (6-for-7 in WBC).— Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) March 9, 2013
It is probably safe to assume that Ibanez will be on the roster. If Bay keeps hitting like this, he may also be on the team, though there is still a lot of time for evaluation. Peguero will probably ride his strikeouts back to Tacoma, and the status of Casper Wells will depend on his hitting and how many pitchers the Mariners carry.
Tough choices will be coming up very soon. We will see which outfielders are up to the challenge.