Drayer: Young bats impress in Mariners’ spring training opener

Feb 24, 2024, 4:15 PM

Seattle Mariners Jonatan Clase...

Jonatan Clase of the Seattle Mariners during the Futures Game on July 8, 2023. (Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

(Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

The question wasn’t asked, but the comment offered by Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais at the end of his meeting with the media Saturday morning turned out to be more a preview than an observation.

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“I think maybe one guy under the radar we are not valuing is the year that Jonatan Clase had,” he said. “They have been tracking minor league stats since 1961. There are a lot of minor league players since 1961. He’s the only player to hit 20 home runs and steal more than 70 bases in a season. The fact that he hit 21 and most came in Arkansas? That’s hard to do. So I’m curious.”

Curious no more, for one day at least. Clase, who did not stand out last spring despite the gawdy stolen base totals and known power, had a day against the White Sox at Camelback Ranch, as did a number of young teammates Servais said he was also curious to see.

Clase, who took over for Cade Marlowe in center, went 2-for-2 with a double, two-out RBI and stolen base. Perhaps most impressive, he scored from second on a bobble behind second base that the shortstop didn’t even look home, but rather fired to third as Clase scored.

The good by the young players did not stop there in the Mariners’ 8-7 loss. Samad Taylor showed off his speed with a stolen base of his own and after hitting a ball to the wall in left field in his first at-bat, he hit one out to left center in his second.

Tyler Locklear, who could be pressed into action this season should a need arise at first base, went 3-for-3 with a double and top prospect Cole Young got the Mariners, who were down 2-0 in the sixth, on the board with a sac fly to center.

“It’s going to be a fun spring,” Servais said after the game. “We know we have got to get our regular guys ready, but we have a lot of really exciting young position players and we are going to give them plenty of opportunities and see what they can do.”

While the focus the past few years has been on the young pitching in the minors and their development and ascension to the big leagues, quietly there have been young position players on the rise in the organization. Positions do not appear to be open on the big league roster, but these players could represent depth in the season to come and in that there is opportunity.

For those assured of jobs, it is more about getting ready for the season. For Ty France, that means taking changes he made in the offseason into games.

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It is not always a seamless transition. J.P. Crawford struggled last spring and had to make further adjustments. France saw immediate payoff in his first at-bat when he got out in front of a changeup but was able to keep it fair down the left field line for a double.

“There’s more room for error,” he said of the changes he made at Driveline. “My barrel stays to the zone a little bit longer, I mean, it showed today. It showed today. I was still able to stay on it long enough to keep it fair, so that was a good sign. I was very, very happy with that.”

France largely attributes work on his posture at the plate to the increased bat speed and his ability to keep the bat in the zone longer. Things do indeed look different at the plate for him and that causes him to wonder if perhaps the work at Driveline will go beyond getting him back to where he used to be.

“Almost my whole career I was mechanically hitting wrong, so to be able to clean all that stuff up this offseason and kind of just add to my swing, I feel like I honestly can’t tell you what I’m capable of. You know, if we get back to what I was, great, but I think there’s more in the tank,” he said.

France has noticed he’s been able to stay on the pitches in longer and get to them better, something that has been a challenge for him. It is early, but certainly something to keep an eye on.

More on the Seattle Mariners

• Mariners Notebook: What M’s first spring training lineup looked like
• Drayer: Mariners’ rotation got work done in very different ways this offseason
• Morosi breaks down three big Mariners concerns entering 2024
• Mariners’ Woo eager to take lessons learned as rookie into 2024
• Mariners’ Julio Rodríguez determined to be even better in 3rd year

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