The Seattle Mariners Spring Battle At First Base

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 18: Ryon Healy
OAKLAND, CA - JULY 18: Ryon Healy /

In recent years the Mariners line up has had more questions than answers heading into Spring Training. This year that couldn’t be further from the truth. With the roster as it stands, it’s safe to say we already have a good idea of what the Opening Night lineup will look like:

  1. Dee Gordon, CF
  2. Jean Segura, SS
  3. Robinson Cano, 2B
  4. Nelson Cruz, DH
  5. Kyle Seager, 3B
  6. Ryon Healy, 1B
  7. Mitch Haniger, RF
  8. Mike Zunino, C
  9. Ben Gamel, LF

We could see a different variation of Haniger, Zunino, and Gamel down at the bottom, but for the sake of the discussion I’ll stick with what I’ve got. Where things do get a little less certain however, is at the end of the depth chart.

Now, I want to be clear up front. If Manager Scott Servais decides to enter the year with a 13-man pitching staff – as has been rumored – he will likely eliminate his back up first baseman role which in essence would deem this conversation null and void. So, for conversation’s sake we are going to assume he’ll be going with a typical 12-man staff.

Going with a 12-man pitching staff would leave four roster spots up for grabs – presumably a backup catcher, two utility players and a backup first baseman.

Mike Marjama and David Freitas will be competing for the back up catcher spot. This will be a fun competition to watch as we get deeper into Spring, so we’ll save that conversation for another day.

My colleague, Colton Swanson, pointed out in his Who Wins the Seattle Mariners Utility Job article on Tuesday that Guillermo Heredia, Taylor Motter along with newcomers Andrew Romine and Zach Vincej will likely be the main competitors for the two open bench roles.

However, we will look at who might earn that fourth and final roster spot as the backup first baseman behind Ryon Healy.

Ironically, both Motter and Romine have spent time at first base in the past, so it’s conceivable Servais could throw us a curveball and ask one of those two to add backup first base duties to their utility role. In fact, with a 13-man staff I would consider that a realistic possibility. With a 12-man staff however, I find it highly unlikely.

Instead, I foresee that final roster spot going to either Mariners Top 10 prospect, Daniel Vogelbach or Rule 5 Draftee, Mike Ford.

After his 2017 campaign, 25-year-old Vogelbach was no doubt going to be involved in the first  base competition. His .290 AVG / .388 OBP / .455 SLG / .844 OPS slash line last year in Tacoma was good for first or second among his qualified teammates in all four categories. His 17 home runs lead the team (would’ve been second had Tyler O’Neill not been traded to the St Louis Cardinals) and his 83 RBI ranked him twelfth among all hitters in the Pacific Coast League.

More from Mariners News

The Major League numbers however – well, those are a different story. In his 40 at bats as a Mariner, Vogelbach is slashing .175 AVG /.250 OBP / .200 SLG / .450 OPS with 15 strike outs and just four walks. Those numbers work themselves out to a -0.8 WAR.

Obviously things haven’t gone to plan. And because of that, it was no surprise when the Mariners front office decided they needed to add some competition.

Welcome, Mike Ford.

Also 25 years old, Ford was selected by the Mariners in December’s Rule 5 Draft from the New York Yankees.

In 126 games last year split between New York Yankees minor league affiliates, Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Ford slashed .270 AVG / .404 OBP / .471 SLG / .875 OPS. He also combined to hit 24 home runs and knock in 86 RBI.  A large majority of his time was spent in Double-A Trenton (101 games), but none-the-less the numbers match up well with Vogelbach’s.

Dig a little deeper and you see where Ford gains a slight edge – strike out and walk rates.

2017 Minor League Comparison:

Vogelbach: 541 PA – 98 K, 76 BB

Ford: 532 PA – 72 K, 92 BB

Both Vogelbach and Ford swing it from the left side and have the ability to hit for power. Both have proven they can get on base. There are no real advantages for either defensively as both carry similar defensive statistics. Both guys are right at a .990 fielding percentage for their minor league careers.

Honestly, either player could wind up walking down the red carpet on Opening Day. But to me, there are two factors that can’t be overlooked and will likely give the edge to Ford.

First, the strike outs and walks. Vogelbach is going have to show he can be patient at the plate and improve his contact rate at the MLB level. Ford has a proven track record – albeit at the minor league level – and unfortunately for Vogelbach, the trends don’t show me he is there just yet.

And second, the Rule 5 factor. This could be the biggest factor of them all. Assuming this winds up being as close of a competition as I imagine it will be, the Mariners can easily send Vogelbach down to Tacoma while they don’t have that flexibility with Ford.

There would be several hoops for the Mariners to jump through if they wanted to assign Ford to a minor league affiliate instead of handing him a 25-man roster spot coming out of Spring Training. And if the competition is close, it wouldn’t surprise me if they decided to go with Ford to avoid the risk of losing him.

Next: Who Wins the Mariners Utility Job?

We’ll see what happens, either player can go out and earn their spot. But with so much of the roster already set in stone, I’m anticipating this to be one of the more exciting battles we see in Peoria.