JOE FANN

Fann: 6 most important Mariners highlights from spring training so far

Mar 1, 2023, 1:11 AM

Mariners Jarred Kelenic...

Mariners LF Jarred Kelenic watches White Sox RHP Reynaldo Lopez with hitting coach Tony Arnerich on Feb. 27. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Spring training has only just begun and yet there have been a handful of noteworthy Mariners highlights through the first week of games.

Who’s the Mariners’ most important player after Julio Rodríguez?

The moments mentioned below were all delivered by key figures within Seattle’s organization while providing the spring’s prominent storylines thus far. Allow me to catch you up on everything you need to know.

1. Jarred Kelenic’s two-homer game

I, like many Mariners fans, oscillate from trying to ignore Kelenic all together and convincing myself he’s bound to be a 2023 All-Star. It’s difficult to toe the line between not overreacting to highlights in exhibition games while also understanding that a dreadful spring from Kelenic would be ominous going into opening day.

On Sunday, Kelenic delivered two seismic home runs against the Royals that reminded the baseball world of his prodigious power. That, of course, has never been in question. But Kelenic has a couple other loud outs that suggest maybe his bat-to-ball ability will take a major step forward this season.

2. Teoscar Hernández and Ty France go back-to-back

Hernández checked in with his first homer of the spring on Tuesday, and it was no cheapie. He sent a towering moonshot over the batter’s eye in center field in an illustration of his legit middle-of-the-order power that Seattle is expecting to reap the rewards of all season. At worst, Hernández should be a viable replacement for Mitch Haniger in right field. At best, he’ll be a marked upgrade while hopefully remaining healthy all season.

France then followed with a blast to center of his own. Mariners’ fans have seen what peak France looks like. His first-half production earned him an All-Star nod in 2022, but it’s injuries that have plagued his career. France says the wrist that ailed him down the stretch of last season is back to 100%, and he’ll look to enjoy his first fully healthy season since arriving in Seattle in 2020.

3. Evan White’s solo shot to left

First and foremost, it’s just good to see White’s name on a lineup card again. The former first-round pick has been ailed by injuries over the last several seasons, most recently a strained hip flexor and a sports hernia that derailed his entire 2022 campaign.

White launched a home run to left against the White Sox on Monday that left all Mariners’ fans saying “good for him” to themselves. But while there’s a near-zero percent chance that White breaks camp with the big league club, he’ll be on Seattle’s shortlist of Triple-A call-ups as an injury replacement.

He’d be an auto call-up if France went down, and he’s now battling with Cade Marlowe, Taylor Trammell (eventually) and others for his place on the outfield depth chart in Tacoma. The Mariners will force feed White at-bats in the minors in order to catch up for lost time.

Much like Kelenic, White’s biggest question mark is whether he’ll ever be able to consistently hit big league pitching. However, for now it’s nice to at least acknowledge that the book is far from closed on the 26-year-old’s baseball career.

4. Cal Raleigh and J.P. Crawford are healthy

Crawford and Raleigh each battled through injuries admirably during Seattle’s playoff run in 2022. Crawford never made an IL stint despite laboring through “back, pectoral, leg and knee ailments,” per MLB.com’s Daniel Kramer. For Raleigh, it was a torn ligament in his left thumb. Each player certainly deserved a tip of the cap in that regard.

Now each are healthy this spring. Crawford has a pair of hits thus far, including a two-RBI knock on Tuesday against the Guardians. Raleigh made his spring debut on Tuesday and also has a couple practice highlights, including a home run off Paul Sewald and a line drive off Diego Castillo.

5. Bryce Miller twirls two scoreless innings

Miller’s hype train picked up steam on Tuesday after he threw a pair of scoreless frames against the Guardians while picking up two punchouts in the process. He has a dazzling right arm that should end up in Seattle’s bullpen by midseason as long as he continues to excel in the minors.

There is, of course, the small chance Miller dominates in March to the point where he forces himself onto the opening day roster a la Julio Rodríguez in 2022, but that would take a string of flawless performances and even then I’m sure Seattle would prefer to give him a few more innings in Double- or Triple-A

6. Julio Rodríguez being fine after crashing into the center field wall

Rodríguez gave Mariners’ fans a scare on Monday after crashing into the wall in center field while trying to track down a long fly ball. He hunched over for a few moments afterward with his hands on his knees before ultimately being A-OK.

Even so, it was a reminder that the priority this spring, especially given Seattle’s aspirations in 2023, is for the team’s stars make it to opening day healthy.

It will be a joy to watch Rodríguez playing for the Dominican Republic in the upcoming World Baseball Classic, but there will likely be a dull anxiety felt by everyone in Seattle while watching the tournament unfold. Rodríguez dealt with back issues at the end of his rookie season and made two trips to the IL. It wasn’t ideal for a then-21 year old.

Everything should be fine for the remainder of the spring, but there’s no denying that any injury to Julio would be crippling to Seattle’s lineup. Thank goodness Monday’s encounter with the center field wall ended up being much ado about nothing.

Servais: How the Mariners are helping Julio handle superstar spotlight

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