Today, pitchers and catchers report for the Mariners. Spring training games don’t start until February 22.
Every fan is excited about spring training and enters with optimism of their favorite team to make the playoffs and the World Series. Here in Seattle, we don’t really expect that to happen unless a miracle occurs instead we are looking forward to season 2 of the Mariners rebuild.
General manager Jerry Dipoto said they will be going with the youngsters. The question they want to answer is which ones will be on the next winning team. Mitch Haniger is expected to be out for at least a month at the beginning of the season, so we will see at least one outfielder getting more playing time.
Kyle Lewis made his debut with the Mariners in September after spending the season with the Arkansas Travelers. He got off to a hot start, hitting three home runs in his first three games with six total in the first ten games. Lewis settled back down to reality not hitting a home run in the final eight games he played in. He ended up hitting .268 with the six home runs.
During the off-season, Jerry Dipoto stated that Kyle Lewis would be their starting left fielder; however, now with Haniger on the shelf for at least a month, he could be competing to play in right field instead. Unless he has a poor spring training, Lewis will be starting in the outfield either in left or right.
Fraley and Bishop will both have to play well during the spring to make the ball club. Neither one has proven they can hit major league pitching yet, so they could start the season in Tacoma well as Seattle. Both players though are above average defensively so they will improve the Mariners outfield in that regard.
Recently the Mariners acquired Jose Siri, an outfielder from the Cincinnati Reds on waivers, and will see what he can do. He hasn’t played in the major leagues as of yet, so he probably starts the season in Tacoma. They also picked up Sam Haggerty off of waivers from the New York Mets. He is competing for the utility role, as well as the outfield. He could be in Tacoma to start the season.
Shed Long played left field when he was recalled in September; however, the Mariners are expecting him to be the regular second base. Unless he is traded at some point, Dee Gordon is expected to be the Mariners super-utility player backing up, Long and J.P. Crawford at shortstop. This may means Long could be playing left field when Gordon is at second base on occasion as well. One thing for sure the Mariners will have an exciting outfield regardless of who is there.
Mallex Smith is expected to be the Mariners starting center fielder. He did struggle defensively in centerfield especially early on in the season last year. If he continues to do so, either Jake Fraley or Braden Bishop can handle centerfield.
The two outfielders everyone wants to see are the Mariners number one and two prospects, Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez. Both are youngsters who may become superstars. Kelenic is probably a year ahead of Rodriguez. He could be in the Mariners outfield in 2021 unless he pulls a Ken Griffey junior act. With Haniger out right now that wouldn’t surprise me at all.
Last week, Marco Gonzales signed a four-year contract for the Mariners, so he is going into the season as the Mariners number one starter. The other four spots are questionable right now. Yusei Kikuchi is expected to be the number two starter. The Mariners are hoping he will be the pitcher they signed before last season this year.
Justus Sheffield, who was recalled from Arkansas in August, is expected to be the third starter while free agent Kendall Graveman is expected to be the 4th starter. Justin Dunn is hoping to be the 5th starter. The Mariners do have other starting candidates if he isn’t ready to go.
Logan Gilbert, the Mariners #3 prospect, is a pitcher many will look forward to seeing during spring training as well. He was the Mariners #1 draft pick in 2018. Last season was his first in professional ball and he played for three levels, ending the year at Double-A Arkansas. He probably won’t start the season unless he has an outstanding spring training. But Gilbert will likely be in Seattle before the season ends.
George Kirby is another pitcher who, like Gilbert, is on the fast track to the majors. He likely will start the season at high level-Modesto but end in double-A at the end of the season. So seeing him on the mound during camp will be delightful for fans, media, and the Mariners staff.
The Mariners bullpen will be where competitiveness comes in this spring training. There are five or six relievers locked up already with eight spots available. Carl Edwards Jr. and Yoshihisa Hirano are two relievers the Mariners signed as free agents, so likely they will be on the opening day roster; however, other pitchers like Matt Magill could be traded during spring training when other teams need help in their bullpen. Magill is coming in 2020 as the favorite to be the closer, but Hirano could be one of the guys to take his spot.
Magill and Hirano both being on the roster could be traded away by the trading deadline too. The bullpen had a lot of turnover last season with only Brandon Brennan on the team all season except when he was on the injured list. This could happen this year too, however, Dipoto could trade relievers doing well instead of releasing those doing terrible.
When it comes to the Mariners rebuild, the bullpen will not work the same way as the starting pitching or position players. Dipoto will likely trade or sign for quality relievers when the time comes. Also, some of their young pitchers not expected to be in the rotation will be in the bullpen or traded for an area of need.
It has been a while since Seattle has had quite a few young players to look at and see their progress. Enjoy spring training where wins and losses don’t matter at all. Go M’s.