Fann: Mariners’ top spring training competition resides in bullpen
Spring baseball is rapidly approaching now that the Super Bowl is in the rear-view mirror. A portion of the Mariners’ roster has already arrived at the team’s complex in Peoria, Ariz., with the rest of the group set to report in the coming weeks.
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Although excitement for the 2023 season will ramp up in short order, this could be a relatively slow month and a half for the franchise given that the list of spring position battles is brief – and that’s a good thing. Established rosters with playoff (and World Series) aspirations should be largely set well prior to opening day.
That will make March more mundane than baseball fans in Seattle are accustomed to. That’s a good thing as well. March should never be the most exciting month of a team’s season.
When it comes to competition for roster spots, I anticipate Jarred Kelenic will almost assuredly be the team’s opening day left fielder and for Marco Gonzales to be the No. 5 starter barring a trade.
However, I’m most intrigued by Seattle’s crowded bullpen and who eventually gets left off the opening day roster.
For starters, we don’t know whether there will be seven or eight spots made available to relievers. That’s because Chris Flexen could be kept around as injury insurance as well as an option for long relief.
There’s quality depth among the rest of Seattle’s bullpen arms. Here’s a look at the names in the mix.
• RHP Paul Sewald
• RHP Diego Castillo
• RHP Andrés Muñoz
• RHP Matt Brash
• RHP Matt Festa
• RHP Penn Murfee
2022 minor leaguers
• LHP Brennan Bernandino
• RHP Isaiah Campbell
• RHP Prelander Berroa
• RHP Juan Then
• RHP Trevor Gott
• LHP Tayler Saucedo
• LHP Gabe Speier
• RHP Justin Topa
• RHP Easton McGee
• RHP Chris Clarke
• RHP Casey Sadler
• RHP Bryce Miller
Paul Sewald, Diego Castillo, Andrés Muñoz and Matt Brash are all roster locks. Trevor Gott should be as well given he was paid $1.2 million on a one-year deal. Matt Festa has a strong case given his reliable 4.17 ERA and 10.7 K/9 rate over 54 innings in 2022.
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That’s six names already, not counting Chris Flexen or Penn Murfee, the latter of whom posted a 2.99 ERA and a 9.9 K/9 rate over 69.1 innings last season. Those eight names would fill out the 13-man pitching staff behind the five starters.
It will be fascinating to see whether or not Casey Sadler can return to his 2021 form after recovering from shoulder surgery that cost him the entire 2022 season. Sadler was a revelation in 2021 with a minuscule 0.67 ERA and 0.72 WHIP over 40.1 innings. Seattle will give him a legitimate shot at making the roster if he can remain healthy throughout the spring.
Then you have Bryce Miller, the minor league flamethrower who Jerry Dipoto has been gushing about all offseason. Miller will almost assuredly figure into the bullpen at some point midseason, but a dominant spring could make the decision to keep him in the minors to begin the year a difficult one.
That’s 10 names prior to considering the possibility of the other newcomers or minor league names to break out over the next six weeks.
Ultimately this is a champagne problem for Seattle’s front office as depth throughout the pitching staff will be a requirement if the team is to return to the playoffs for a second consecutive season. Injuries happen and having capable arms in the minor leagues will help the Mariners weather the storm while guys are out.
But while there will likely be more than eight names mentioned above who end up pitching for the Mariners this season, I remain intrigued by those who will break camp with the big league club.
2023 Mariners spring training radio schedule on Seattle Sports