Can you believe that Opening Day is less than two weeks away?
While it's always hard to decipher what to make of spring training, it's good to know that following the Seattle Mariners' hot start early on that the team has remained competitive day after day.
Of course, every team over the span of a 162-game season is going to experience both highs and lows, but I like to believe this year's squad will show a certain level of consistency based on what we've seen so far.
Now, though, as we approach the final stretch of spring training some tough decisions need to be made as the roster will need to be reduced before the start of the season, and while most spots at this point are relatively secure, a few are still up for grabs.
So which players have managed to surprise us in their bid for a roster spot?
Which players seem to be on the outs with a disappointing spring?
And perhaps most importantly, who is hurt as we approach the regular season?
These questions and more I hope to address with this week's status report on the M's...
Last week I was surprised that Brandon Maurer managed to avoid getting shipped out along with several other big-name prospects.
This week, I'm surprised that he continues to put up a solid fight for a spot in the starting rotation even while battling butterflies early on Tuesday night (Associated Press via ESPN):
Maurer said he felt butterflies before taking the mound, but striking out leadoff hitter Andres Torres calmed him down."I got a little nervous at first like anyone would," said Maurer, who was 9-2 with a 3.20 ERA with the Jackson Generals last season. "But I got that first inning under my belt and I was like, `Alright, let's roll."
Roll indeed, as Maurer didn't disappoint, going five solid innings only giving up one run on three hits while striking out four with no walks against the San Francisco Giants.
I'm still skeptical that he makes the final cut, but I do believe he will leave us guessing until the very end.
While Brandon Maurer continues to surprise us just as he did last week, Franklin Gutierrez is listed here again for all the wrong reasons sadly.
For several weeks now I've feared that Guti's start was too good to be true while holding out hope that perhaps he had finally turned a corner.
Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be as marc w at USS Mariner explained late last week:
Franklin Gutierrez hasn’t been in the line-up the past few days due to, well, you know. Thankfully, the injury is said to be quite minor, and he’s been participating in drills, just not in games. That’s great to hear, but it does follow the pattern we’ve seen pretty much every time – rest, followed by ‘it’s nothing’ statements indicating that he’ll be back in no time, followed by ‘setbacks.’ It’s just ‘tightness in his legs’ so it doesn’t seem to have any connection to the pectoral injury last year or to the IBS problems the year before so, uh, yay?
I never quite know what to say about Guti, but I do know that I would never want to go skydiving, bungee jumping, stand next to him during a thunderstorm or get on a trans-oceanic flight with him.
But seriously it was nice to see him in the lineup Tuesday night against the Giants, yet how can anyone feel confident about him being able to stay healthy?
What complicates Guti's situation is the on-going battle for the final outfield spot between Casper Wells and Jason Bay.
Given Guti's track record, can the M's afford to let either Bay or Wells go?
Speaking of veterans who can't stay healthy, enter Brendan Ryan into the conversation.
"I just slept funny and woke up and it was a little stiff," he said. "I threw a baseball and felt it kind of pinch and thought, 'If I try to man up here, I'm just going to end up out a week or something like that.'
"So I just did the right thing, got off the field and they gave me a little stuff to stop the spasm. But it was nothing crazy. Nothing even close to what it was a couple years ago."
Ryan said he took part in all the base running and hitting work on Tuesday, but Brad Miller got the start in the evening game against the Giants. Robert Andino played shortstop the two previous games.
Ryan is off to a nice start this spring, batting .375 (9-for-24) in nine Cactus League games.
It's funny to think that Ryan has been a pleasant surprise at the plate given his struggles last year, but at the very least the M's need him healthy this season for his stellar defense.
Let's hope this is just a minor "thing" that goes away as quickly as it came on.
Unless, of course, you want to see Robert Andino get some serious playing time instead?
Of all the moves general manager Jack Zduriencik made this winter, the trade for Robert Andino still leaves me puzzled.
I understand that reserve outfielder Trayvon Robinson wasn't going to get much of a shot this spring and that Andino can serve as a utility man at multiple positions, but beyond the hypothetical need, I'm lost.
This spring, Andino hasn't done a whole lot to change that impression while posting some pretty uninspiring numbers.
Of course, the sample size is small, but how else do you explain shortstop prospect Brad Miller sticking around at this point?
As for players who have been given their marching orders...
It's not that Eric Thames had a terrible spring, so much as he failed to distinguish himself in an already-crowded outfield.
Earlier this week Thames was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma and will join Alex Liddi, Vinnie Catricala and Carlos Triunfel back down on the farm.
At some point this season, I believe we will see each of these players in Seattle, but some extra time in Tacoma makes the most sense for now as each can use the everyday playing time rather than riding the bench.
Anyone else curious as to why Carson Smith, a guy who has never pitched above Class-A ball, is still in camp?
Eric Wedge explained this surprise to Greg Johns at MLB.com:
There's a purpose behind having a youngster like Smith still on the roster and getting pressure situations.
"That was a great opportunity for him to pitch that ninth inning," Wedge said. "That's something we've been doing with a lot of different guys this spring, to give them that type of experience and that type of exposure in that type of setting. He's been very consistent all camp. He's been very impressive and he was again there.
"You're going to run through multiple pitchers, whether it be in the bullpen and probably even the starting rotation. You hope that's not the case, but that's just the reality of it. The depth we need to have and the ability to watch these guys pitch in these types of games in Spring Training is very important. It's great experience for them and it allows us to see them. Then when they do get the call, they should be that much more comfortable."
OK, so Smith probably won't be pitching in Seattle any time soon, but it's encouraging to see yet another young pitcher making some serious strides this spring.
Perhaps it's disappointing to some that the "Big Three" of Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker didn't have a bigger impact this spring, but let's keep in mind that three pitchers do not make an entire pitching staff.
Relievers like Smith, Carter Capps and Stephen Pryor hopefully some day will help close out wins for the aforementioned "Big Three"—Brandon Maurer, Erasmo Ramirez, etc.
Everyone will need to contribute, and the bullpen in addition to the starting staff might have some serious talent in another year or so.
It might sound like wishful thinking today, but for the moment it's nice to ponder the possibilities.