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What to look for as the Mariners get going in Peoria

Felix Hernandez has looked more focused and fit this spring after an injury-plagued 2016 season. (AP)

With pitchers and catchers set to report, baseball begins this week.

The MLB winter has come to an end and the seven-and-a-half month journey begins, with more baseball at the end being the ultimate prize. For the Mariners, that prize is a reasonable expectation. Money has been spent, players acquired, experience gathered, systems are in place and it his been far too long since the last time there has been meaningful October baseball in Seattle.

The on-field preparation gets underway on Wednesday.

Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report on Tuesday. Players will arrive at the spring training facility in Peoria, Ariz. to undergo physicals and then will have their first workouts the following day. Position players will start to arrive at camp throughout the week, with many taking swings in the cages or on the field after the catchers in camp get their work. The first full-squad workout will take place Sunday, which will be my first day in Peoria.

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There will be plenty to watch. This will be the 16th Mariners spring training I’ve covered. The first impression always comes from the feel I get in the clubhouse on the first morning. There will be many new faces but also familiar faces, faces with far less questions about their team than a year ago with the manager and full coaching staff returning.

Scott Servais and his coaches can pick up where they left off last year in Peoria with all of the first-year firsts out of the way. The plan is to continue with the early morning get-to-knows and meetings that were deemed a success a year ago. On the field, drills could change a bit and there will be the added pressure of getting the World Baseball Classic players ready to leave camp for an extended time.

Felix Hernandez will be watched closely by all. Does he look different after changing his offseason conditioning routine? Does he carry himself any different? Is there evidence of a sense of urgency now that he’s a year older and coming off a disappointing season? Do his bullpen sessions look any different? Is there a change with his routine?

As for his teammates, it will be interesting to observe the relationship between Robinson Cano and new Mariners shortstop Jean Segura, who worked out together this winter.

While I don’t expect to see anything different from Kyle Seager, in my opinion all that has separated him from a truly special season last year was a terrible April. How does he attack getting off to a better start?

How does Daniel Vogelbach look in fielding drills and at first base in games? Does he get tons of extra work after practice like Dae-Ho Lee did last year? Will Servais and general manager Jerry Diptoto have enough confidence in what they are seeing to put him on the opening day roster or does Danny Valencia look like he is getting ready to take the bulk of the work there?

While there won’t be a lot of position battles, there is a bench spot up for grabs. Can the utility players in camp play a passable left field? In the bullpen, do the young pitchers who were acquired in the offseason appear ready to take roles? What does the depth look like in person?

As I said, there’s plenty to watch and I am looking forward to it. As always, if there is something you have questions about or an area of particular interest in spring training you would like to hear more about, let me know in the comment section.

Winter is over. Let’s get this thing going.

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