Observations from my Mariners Weekend in the Desert

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - FEBRUARY 27: Jake Fraley #8 of the Seattle Mariners bats against the Chicago White Sox on February 27, 2020 at Camelback Ranch in Glendale Arizona. (Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, ARIZONA - FEBRUARY 27: Jake Fraley #8 of the Seattle Mariners bats against the Chicago White Sox on February 27, 2020 at Camelback Ranch in Glendale Arizona. (Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images) /

I spent this past weekend in the desert of sunny Arizona watching the Mariners and getting to partake in a once in a lifetime experience in which I got to meet a Mariners and baseball, legend. I wanted to share my observations from the trip to provide some insight from a small sampling of Mariners baseball.

On Friday night I attended the Mariners game against the Dodgers at Camelback Ranch. I was pretty excited going into this game because the Mariners lineup featured wonder kid Jarred Kelenic starting in center field and had him flanked in the outfield by Jake Fraley and Kyle Lewis. I also really wanted to see Evan White in person and I got to check all of that off on Friday.

The team didn’t disappoint, coming away with a 9-3 win that was fueled mostly by the players listed above. The first player that really stood out to me was White. I’ve been a fan of his, but until Friday, was really worried about him being ready to handle the first base job at the outset of the season.

I fully believed that he needed time in Tacoma before coming up, but what I saw Friday now at least makes me think he won’t be totally overwhelmed (all rookies will be overwhelmed to an extent right?) by starting the season in the big leagues. His first at-bat against Ross Stripling resulted in a sharp single up the middle. In his second at-bat, he drove a ball to the wall in left field on a line, but it was caught at the last second, and then in his third at-bat, he fought off some tough pitches before hitting a sacrifice fly to right to score a run.

In all three of his at-bats, White battled. I was impressed with his balance at the plate and the ability to wait for the pitch he wanted and then to do something with it that was productive.

White has always been known for his defensive prowess, but seeing his approach at the plate, even in this small sample size, was encouraging.

Lewis was another player I wanted to see. His opposite-field grand slam was a thing of beauty and his power is definitely real, but the big observation for me was he needs to find a way to do more than just hit for power.

The power is real. I feel like there’s a chance for 25-30 home runs this year. He just missed a pitch in his second at-bat that resulted in a flyout, but in his first at-bat (a pop up) it looked like he dropped his hands too low on the swing which caused the pop-up. It almost looked like he was selling out for power rather than trying to make contact.

Power will be Lewis’ calling card, and that’s fine, but I worry about a consistent ability to make contact, or adjustments with two strikes like White did on his sacrifice fly. Again, a small sample size for sure, but in order to elevate his game to the next level, he will have to find a way to make more consistent contact without sacrificing power. So many players are selling out for home runs, I just hope Lewis doesn’t end up the same way.

I was impressed with Fraley as well. After a rough ending to last season left many wondering what kind of player Fraley was going to be, he looked good in the game against the Diamondbacks. His home run felt like it was never going to come down and his approach at the plate was solid. Fraley could be a pleasant surprise this year.

I wanted to see Kelenic the most, but the top prospect had a rough game on Friday, striking out three times (twice looking) and showing visible frustration after the last strikeout.

Even though the results weren’t great, Kelenic’s understanding of the strike zone stood out to me, which is where his frustration came from. He wasn’t happy with the called third strike on the last at-bat, or I think with the umpire’s strike zone in general. What stood out though is he stayed true to himself in the box. He didn’t chase a pitch or expand his zone with the frustration, which to me showed maturity beyond his years.

The last thing from Friday’s game that I noted was the chance for some of these young, bullpen arms, to really stand out in Seattle. Joey Gerber, Aaron Fletcher, and Erik Swanson all looked really strong in their work Friday.

While not all of these prospects will pan out, it is pretty exciting thinking about the chance that a bunch of these guys comes together to form the backbone of the next playoff team in Seattle.

Saturday I headed over to Peoria for only a few innings as my event with a baseball legend was Saturday night. If you’ve never been to Peoria before I would highly recommend going. Great stadium and environment.

At the game, I was excited to see Cal Raleigh for a couple of innings and he didn’t wait to impress me as he laced an RBI double off of Oakland A’s pitcher Jesus Luzardo. Raleigh has a chance to be an important building block of the future, and he didn’t seem overmatched at all and I’m excited to see what he does this season.

Finally, there was Julio Rodriguez. I was beyond excited to see Rodriguez play and unfortunately left both games before he entered them, but I still came away impressed with the top prospect.

First of all, Rodriguez is big. I mean really big. He’s going to be massive once he stops growing and it’ll be fun to see what kind of power comes with it, but what stands out to me the most about what I saw from him was his preparation.

Rodriguez wasn’t in the starting lineup for either game, but before the game when players (usually the starters) are playing catch, running, stretching, etc, there he was doing the same things to prepare for a game that he wasn’t going to play in until late in the game if at all. While other players in his same position were sitting in the dugout watching, there was Rodriguez front and center talking with coaches and teammates and getting ready for the game.

To see that type of preparation in a 19-year old was impressive and made me even more confident in him than I already was.

Then I got to observe him interact with fans and it reminded me of a past Mariners’ legend. There were this contagious smile and joy that Rodriguez brought to the field on both days, one that seemed very similar to baseball icon Ken Griffey Jr.

Speaking of Junior, that event I mentioned earlier, the reason why I made the trip to Arizona (and the reason I had to leave the game early), was to attend the Topps Transcendent VIP Party where none other than Junior was the special guest.

Now, I was five years old when Junior was a rookie for the Mariners and I’ve lived in the Puget Sound region of the state practically my entire life, so Junior has been my idol since I can remember. This experience was one I could not pass up and was a dream come true.

I had never been able to meet an idol before, but I worried if it would meet my expectations. We weren’t going to get a lot of one on one time with Junior, but we got a picture with him and a few autographed cards and he did a group Q and A, so I was happy with that, but I wasn’t sure what to expect.

There were always stories about Junior not being the best with fans or being distant and while I never wanted those to be true, that worry was in my mind, but boy is that rumor wrong. Junior was AMAZING at the event.

There was no aspect of meeting Junior that met expectations because meeting him exceeded everything I thought it was going to be. He told stories that made us laugh and gave us insight into one of the best players to ever play the game.

There was no phony persona or attitude that sometimes comes with being someone in the public eye. It was just Junior, with that same smile and joy that he blessed baseball with for so long, but this time it was for the few of us (about 60 people there) in attendance rather than for the world to see.

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Overall the weekend in the desert was one I will always remember.