Seattle Mariners Spring Training Outlook
The return of a Seattle icon has Mariners fans’ flocking to get their hands on season tickets before the MLB’s second-worst team from last season has even arrived in the Emerald City for the regular season. Ken Griffey Jr. hopes to be the revival of what was one of the most exciting baseball cities of the early millennium. He also hopes to bring back some of the magic that he helped create during his tenure with the M's in the '90s.
All of that will have to be put on hold, as the Mariners start a rebuilding process at their Spring Training complex in Peoria, Ariz. This new saga starts with first year manager Don Wakamatsu, who hopes to use his baseball knowledge to create a positive environment for this team comprised of many new faces. He was installed as manager by new general manager Jack Zduriencik.
Offensively, the Mariners were one of the worst teams in the major leagues in 2008. With the additions of Griffey, Russell Branyan, and Franklin Gutierrez (acquired as part of the trade that sent J.J. Putz to the Mariners), the Mariners hope to bring a spark of energy to the lineup. Branyan figures to get some playing time at first base and designated hitter. Based on home runs per at-bat last year, Branyan is a guy with 30+ home run power. Other players that will be battling for playing time at first base include Bryan LaHair, and non-roster invitees Mike Sweeney, and Chris Shelton. Sweeney would be looked to as a veteran leader in the clubhouse.
The outfield looks very good defensively. Ichiro, hands down the most effective leadoff hitter in the majors will be back in right field allowing Gutierrez to play center field. Gutierrez has exceptional range and has been compared to the likes of former Mariner Mike Cameron (who ironically was part of the trade that sent Ken Griffey Jr. to the Reds back in Feb. of '00). Last year Junior hit .249 with 18 home runs and 71 runs batted in. The home run total was the lowest since his injury stricken campaign back in 2004. If he can come into Seattle healthy, a .265/25HR/80 RBI season is not out of the question.
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The infield is youthful up the middle with Jose Lopez and Yuniesky Betancourt. Lopez has blossomed into one of the game's best offensive second baseman, but sometimes lacks range in the field. Betancourt is a wizard on difficult plays defensively, but sometimes has mental lapses that cause blunders on routine plays. The Mariners traded Aaron Heilman to the Cubs for Ronny Cedeno, who will come in and push Betancourt to compete for the starting job. Adrian Beltre enters a contract year at third base. The M's are hoping for big things out of his bat and his gold glove.
Pitching is clearly the strength for Seattle going into spring. With Felix Hernandez as the ace and former CY Young candidate Erik Bedard healthy, the Mariners pack a potentially brutal one-two punch. The remaining three spots will be competed for by lefties Jarrod Washburn, and Ryan Rowland-Smith, and righties Brandon Morrow and Carlos Silva. Morrow, who was selected before last year's NL CY Young Award winner Tim Lincecum in the '06 draft, hopes to prove he is worthy of that selection. The closer's role remains undetermined. Miguel Batista, Mark Lowe, and Roy Corcoran appear to be the three front runners.
The team wants to forget last year, and goes into '09 knowing that everyone starts the season with the same record, and by using veteran players to mentor the youth movement, that they can contend in the potentially weak AL West.
By Dieter Veitenhans
Seattle Mariners Correspondent
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