Bump & Stacy: 2 exciting, concerning things about the Mariners ahead of spring training
Spring training is nearly here. Mariners pitchers and catcher report on the 16th with the rest of the squad arriving on the 21st, with earlier reporting dates for players participating in the World Baseball Classic.
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There’s plenty to be excited about for a team coming off its first playoff appearance in two decades, but also questions left unanswered. Michael Bumpus and Stacy Rost detailed the two things they’re excited to see and the two things that still make them nervous ahead of spring training.
Bumpus: A bounceback for Robbie Ray
Ray finished his 2022 season with a 3.71 ERA and 1.19 WHIP, which was technically a regression from his Cy Young season but was the fourth- and third-best marker of his career, respectively.
“The last image we have of this dude is not very good,” Bumpus said, a nod toward Ray’s ill-fated appearance in 2022’s ALDS against Yordan Álvarez. “So I want to see how he bounces back.”
“Can he have a fast start? Last year there wasn’t a fast start. You come out in Chicago, it’s raining and whatnot, and then you have a tough patch, you start to figure things out. I just want to see (his start) because I feel like he can be the guy to come out hot and keep things going. I want to see what pitches he relies on, what adjustments he makes physically… I just want him to remind people. Because you don’t get to the playoffs without Robbie Ray. Because a lot of the people I talk to are singling him out and I always go, ‘Man, look at June, July, August, September, and tell me what you think about that.’ So I’m looking for Robbie to bounce back.”
Stacy: Julio Rodríguez with a full year under his belt
Let’s start with Rodríguez. It’s the most predictable answer for a reason: This guy is a phenom. He finished his true rookie season with 28 home runs and 25 stolen bases.
But last year’s AL Rookie of the Year got off to a tough start in April, hitting .205 with 30 strikeouts and no home runs. Sure, there were some horrible calls in there, which is important context, but he also worked through his own learning curve. What does Rodríguez look like when he can hit the ground running with a year of experience under his belt?
Rodríguez was one of baseball’s top prospects and has already faced – and met – high expectations. But as noted by Bumpus, that’s only going to intensify in 2023. So too will Rodríguez’s role as a leader.
“He’s going to Peoria and he’s not sneaking past anyone,” Bumpus said. “He’s not just jogging onto the diamond without people wanting pictures and autographs now, he’s not wondering if he’s going to be on the opening day roster. He’s the guy now. He’s the face of the organization. He’s a leader – obviously you need several leaders on any team but he’s the face. I’m interested to see just how he handles that. I think he’s young enough, the world hasn’t jaded him enough for him just to be stuck-up, arrogant and not really enjoy living in that moment. I think he’s going to thrive, but it’s just a different situation for him now. He’s going to be asked to do more interviews. Going off of what I’ve seen and know about Julio Rodríguez, I think it’s going to be fine. But it’s definitely going to be an adjustment from last year.”
Bumpus: A lack of imminent bats in the farm system
Seattle’s once strong farm system – which earned Baseball America’s top ranking for its 2022 group – has shifted over the last few seasons.
Their 2021 group that featured Rodríguez, Jarred Kelenic, Logan Gilbert, George Kirby, Taylor Trammell, and Cal Raleigh has since debuted. Noelvi Marte and Brandon Williamson, both of whom were also in Seattle’s top 10 in 2021, have since been traded to Cincinnati in deals for Luis Castillo and Jesse Winker/Eugenio Suárez.
The result is a potentially stellar young nucleus at the big-league level with a gap in batters in the minors.
“A lot of guys have graduated,” Bumpus said. “But when you have a strong farm system it means you’ve got some trade bait. We saw that with Luis Castillo. It means you’re developing guys. And that’s another thing I want to see with this system: the development of bats. We’ve seen the development of arms, but not really the bats. It’s highlighted by guys like Harry Ford and Cole Young, they’re going to be the highlight. But last year you had about six or seven guys you could use in trade moves, you could develop. So, I just want to see what the farm system looks like.”
Stacy: Can Jarred Kelenic finally figure it out?
The Mariners offense was highlighted by stellar seasons from Eugenio Suárez (31 home runs), Julio Rodríguez (28 home runs) and Cal Raleigh (27 home runs), but offensive inconsistency as a whole was a lowlight.
That’s not to say there weren’t notable improvements over 2021: the team finished ninth in home runs and 13th in OPS, up from 13th and 27th, respectively, in 2021. Unfortunately for the Mariners, they share a division with a Houston team that ranked top-three in both categories and is coming off a World Series win. Want to beat the Astros? You’ll need more offense to make it happen.
They also need an answer in left field, and if Jarred Kelenic can be a more consistent and reliable bat, you can solve both problems
Kelenic has one more option remaining, but this season still feels like a final shot at making it work in Seattle. Once one of the team’s top prospects, Kelenic hasn’t met expectations, slashing .141/.313/.221 in 181 plate appearances last season. But at just 23 years old he still boasts plenty of talent and potential. At this point, he doesn’t need to find the success Rodríguez did last season.
He just needs to be a reliable outfielder and average hitter.
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