The Seattle Mariners are making cuts, and it is time to see which players are worthy of a coveted spot on the 25-man roster.
There are certain players that are most likely locks. While this doesn't mean that they can coast, it does mean that no one will be debating whether guys like Felix Hernandez, Jesus Montero, Kyle Seager and Kendrys Morales are going to make the club.
Some prospects have already been sent to the minors, and more roster reductions are coming soon. For a few veterans, this may be their last chance to make a major league club. The pressure is on, and every at-bat or pitching appearance counts.
For the fans, spring training is a laid-back and relaxed atmosphere where people are able to wander around, sit on the grass in the outfield, enjoy some beverages and soak up some rays. In contrast, the players are going through an extended and pressure-filled job interview.
With that in mind, here are the players that are under the most pressure the rest of spring training.
Many teams around the league have a player or two that are trying to make a comeback or just hang onto a job. Some sign major league deals. Others sign minor league contracts and end up being non-roster invitees.
Jason Bay has had success in the past but has experienced a sharp decline over the last couple of seasons. A power guy is always intriguing to a team, but there comes a point where that once-potent prowess turns into a stack of strikeouts.
So far this spring Bay has hit well enough to stay in camp; the experienced outfielder was hitting .321 with two home runs and four RBI in 28 at-bats as of March 17. The challenge for Bay is that the Seattle outfield is fairly crowded, which means that a cheaper and younger athlete with "upside" may be preferable to an older player that is close to the end.
At 34, this may be Bay's last shot, given that he hit .165 last season. Pressure time.
Speaking of a crowded outfield, Casper Wells is another guy who may struggle to find a job on a roster that has its share of outfielders. Wells is not necessarily penciled in as a default starter, which means that he is competing with players like Jason Bay, Raul Ibanez and Carlos Peguero.
The challenge with Wells is that he can tend to be a streaky hitter. He leads the team with 12 RBI in the spring, but he got nine of those in two hot games. His average for spring training is .233, which is not exactly stellar.
A lot of players will hit over .300 against some of the minor league-caliber pitching that gets sent out to the mound in the Cactus League.
Even if Wells raises his average over the next couple of weeks, he may not make the roster simply because there are too many guys for a limited number of spots. The Mariners cannot afford to carry six or seven outfielders.
Someone has to go. The pressure is on to win a spot on the bench.
In sports, stories are arguably a big part of why fans pay attention. Certainly the action is compelling, but the story of the player behind the athletic feat is what gives the game a human quality.
Jeremy Bonderman has the potential to be a nice story. The veteran starter has not pitched in the league since 2010, and fans love a comeback story.
Obviously, the Mariners would like to get the guy who once went 14-8 with a 4.08 ERA. Granted, that was his best regular-season ERA and it occurred in...wait for it...2006. Through March 17, Bonderman is 2-0 with a 7.20 ERA in 10 innings of spring training work.
Like Jason Bay, this may be the last chance for someone like Bonderman. He is only 30, but a guy with a career record of 67-77 and cumulative ERA of 4.89 might as well be 50.
The pressure is on Bonderman to show that he can reclaim some of his former effectiveness. We will see if this nice story continues.
Another pitcher fighting for a spot in the rotation is the bearded Blake Beavan. Prior to camp, Beavan was penciled into the rotation as the third or fourth starter. However, the addition of Joe Saunders and competition from Jon Garland, Jeremy Bonderman and Erasmo Ramirez have put Beavan's spot in jeopardy.
What can you say about Blake Beavan's career? His numbers in 2012 were adequate, but certainly not stellar. Beavan finished 11-11 with a 4.43 ERA. That kind of ERA will get you a job on some teams, but he is not exactly in the upper-echelon of starting pitchers.
Beavan is only 24, but this is about the age where teams start to expect a starting pitcher to reach some of his potential. If Beavan can't make this rotation and gets sent back to Triple-A, it may be hard for him to return.
So far, Beavan seems to have been up for the challenge, but there is still time for him to lose a spot in the rotation. The Mariners have a number of high-profile pitching prospects. If Beavan falters, there will be other pitchers to take his place.
For better or for worse, teams like veteran pitchers, which is why guys like Jon Garland continue to get auditions. Granted, it helps to have a long and productive career in the league, and Garland is a proven commodity.
That said, Garland is another guy that is attempting a comeback. He last pitched briefly with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2011, and this could be one of his last opportunities to win a job.
During spring training, Garland has looked good, posting a 1.50 ERA in three starts that have included six innings of work. This is obviously a small sample of data, but he is still in camp and may end up in the rotation.
Still, the Mariners will need to see what happens when he pitches a little longer and starts to face lineups that are closer to what he will see during the regular season. The pressure will stay for guys like Garland over the next couple of weeks. He may be a veteran, but he is certainly not guaranteed a job.
Granted, as Thomas Holmes notes, there may be just as much pressure on the Mariners to make a decision soon on Garland for a variety of reasons.
Is Justin Smoak going to finally live up to his "potential"? Will he hit for consistent power throughout the year, keep the strikeouts down and maintain a respectable average?
This will be an important few weeks for Justin Smoak. He has to get into a groove and start the season on the right note if he is going to show the Mariners that he is a viable long-term solution at first base.
Smoak hit very well in spring training last year and then went out and had a very subpar performance during the season. He is hitting in spring training again this year with a .368 average to go along with three home runs and eight RBI.
However, spring training is not an automatic indicator of how life will be during the regular season. If Smoak does not do well, it could create a domino effect for the Mariners. Kendrys Morales takes over at first base. Jesus Montero becomes the designated hitter. Mike Zunino takes over at catcher.
Justin Smoak is out of a job.
Pressure. Two weeks left. Time to perform.