It has been nearly two months since the Mariners stepped on the field in Peoria. But despite playing just a dozen games in the Cactus League, there were some key takeaways early that could be worth remembering if we start up again next month.
Spring Training takeaways are a tradition at the start of every new season. They are filled with optimism and are taken as gospel by most, even when they prove to be malarkey 90% of the time. But without being around the game for 2 months, we can forget some of the positive things we did see. So today, let’s remind ourselves of some of the good and bad we saw out of the Mariners in Peoria in 2020.
1. Yusei Kikuchi‘s fastball velocity
Last season was a disappointment for big free-agent acquisition Yusei Kikuchi. We wrote about many of the off the field factors that contributed to these struggles, as well as his poor command. This was an important season for Kikuchi, but early returns in the Cactus League were promising.
Kikuchi was throwing notably harder, sitting 93-95 and he even touched 97 once. The velocity came with simplified delivery and the off-speed stuff was still good. We didn’t get to see much improvement with his command, but it will be interesting to see what his velocity will be when he gets back into camp.
2. The Young Guns
The Mariners are counting on a young trio of pitchers to be good sooner rather than later, and the group consisting of Logan Gilbert, Justin Dunn, and Justus Sheffield, were off to a fantastic start this spring. The trio combined to pitch 18.2 innings, giving up 4 runs, 26 strikeouts, and just 4 walks.
Perhaps the most promising number came from Justus Sheffield, who struck out 12 in 8 innings without issuing a walk. But the trio will likely all be in the rotation at some point, even in a shortened 2020 season. Mariners’ fans can get a glimpse of their 2021 Opening Day rotation for the last month of the regular season.
3. Tim Lopes was incredible
The best player on the Mariners for the brief Cactus League season was Tim Lopes. It sounds weird to say, but Lopes was one of the best bats in the entire league, at least statistically. In 11 games, he hit .440/.440/.640 with 5 doubles and 2 stolen bases.
He also made some dynamic plays and showed his characteristic versatility by playing multiple positions. Lopes was well on his way to clinching the #1 utility man role and possibly a more permanent spot in the Mariners lineup, spot starting for multiple players in a week on the way to racking up 3-4 games started per week.
We don’t know if Lopes’s hot start was a sign of a potential breakout for the 26-year-old, but based on what we saw in limited action in 2019 and again this spring, Seattle may have found a long-term piece in Tim Lopes.
The Mariners had some serious bright spots in Spring Training and if the MLBPA and MLB can come to an agreement over the next few weeks, we will likely see an abbreviated spring training before an opening weekend sometime in July. We don’t know what to expect if/when this happens, but it isn’t a bad idea to remember some of the things we were tracking before the shutdown.