SHANNON DRAYER

Drayer: A look around the diamond as Mariners near opening day

Mar 22, 2024, 4:52 PM

Seattle Mariners Cal Raleigh Julio Rodríguez...

The Seattle Mariners' Cal Raleigh and Julio Rodríguez celebrate a home run on Aug. 9, 2023. (Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

(Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

Let’s take a trip around the diamond with quick thoughts and observations on each position as the Seattle Mariners are now less than a week from the start of the season.

Catcher

This year, we will see less of a split at the position and if Cal Raleigh is hitting, a good thing gets better.

In the past, Raleigh has been a part of a 60-40 or near 50-50 split in playing time behind the plate. This year, he is expected to catch around five out of every six games with Seby Zavala catching most of the rest.

Zavala has done everything you would expect to see from your once(ish) a week catcher. While there is not much offense, Zavala fits right in with clubhouse, has shown good defense catching a tough staff and has thrown out a number of would-be base stealers.

First Base

Ty France is further along than J.P. Crawford was this time of spring last year getting comfortable and making adjustments with the offseason changes he made at Driveline Baseball. France does, however, admit it is not yet automatic.

Years of muscle memory does still tend to take over at times and he has to work to combat falling back on bad habits. It has been noticeable that the offseason work has allowed him to be more athletic at the plate. It will be interesting to see if he can get to pitches opponents have been able to get him out with in recent years. The athleticism could pay off in the field, and perhaps on the bases. Not stealing, mind you, but in being better able to go first to third, stay out of the double play, etc.

France feels good physically, which is great to see.

Second Base

Jorge Polanco has been “Steady Eddie” since his arrival in camp. Polanco from the left side may very well have been the first Mariner to get his timing and lock in at the plate in spring training.

Polanco has been a part of a number of “pass the baton” innings and shown some pop, too, a far cry from what the Mariners have seen at second base since the departure of Robinson Cano. And Polanco does it as a switch-hitter, which will allow manager Scott Servais to lock in the 1-2-3 of his lineup with Crawford, Julio Rodríguez and Polanco.

Defensively, Perry Hill went to work before Day 1 working to clean up a couple of fundamentals and Polanco has looked very smooth in drills and wall practice. We shall see how this translates into games.

Shortstop

In an informal Sports Pit poll this winter, J.P. Crawford was the overwhelming favorite regression candidate, and only because he made such a leap last year finishing 14th in qualified hitters in wRC+ with a 134.

That leap did not come out of nowhere, however. Crawford had a solid foundation at the plate to begin with and work at Driveline helped elevate his game. What’s to say at 29 he doesn’t add to his production from 2023? If he stays the same, that would be just great.

Not a ton has stood out with Crawford this spring other than he has actually hit in Cactus League play.

Third Base

I wouldn’t expect a straight platoon to start the season at third as the Mariners have seen good signs at the plate from a now-healthy Luis Urías.

Can he return to his 2021-’22 numbers he put up in Milwaukee? He has hit the ball hard this spring and likely will be given the opportunity to earn more playing time.

Defensively, the Mariners are taking a step back at the position, but with Perry Hill on staff, Urías has the opportunity to get better.

Right Field

What can be said about Mitch Haniger that hasn’t been said?

Haniger has been at his “if healthy” best this spring. At the plate, we have seen him go the other way more often than ever. Defensively, he still has a very strong arm and he can catch what he can get to, which included a Shohei Ohtani missile last week at the wall.

The “getting to” will look a little different than a year ago. Haniger doesn’t cover a ton of ground, but with Julio Rodríguez in center, he doesn’t have to.

In the clubhouse, he has been every bit the leader he has in the past and more. If the plan was actually as stated, to play Haniger as much as he is able rather than words that would sit better with Haniger who wants to play as much as possible – and to be clear, he was never a part of a straight platoon – by what we have seen this spring, that plan could hold true.

Center Field

What has struck me the most with Julio Rodríguez is he no longer looks like a kid. Not in his physical appearance, not in how he carries himself, not in how he deals with the media and other obligations, the latter of which he appears to have found a better balance. Julio is focused and looks no worse the wear for the late start due to inflammation in his left hand.

At the plate, he has worked to cut down on the movement in his lower half, which in turn has helped keep his head steady. That should help him with pitch recognition. He has looked more under control at the plate.

When the lights come on and the stands are full, that might be a little bit more of a challenge for Julio, but thanks to the work it is something he should recognize. He appears to be in a good place heading into the regular season.

Left Field

This is where the platoon is much more likely. Although like third base, I’m not expecting a straight platoon.

This will be tough to balance as the season starts. Dominic Canzone did what was asked in the offseason and has made adjustments at the plate that have led a good spring. It is too soon to pigeonhole him as a platoon-only guy.

GM Hollander details which Seattle Mariners have stood out this spring

Luke Raley has had a rough spring at the plate, and not just by the numbers. He’s struggled to get his timing right.

Servais will want to keep Canzone hot and get Raley going as the season starts. For Canzone, that will probably be in left, where his is most comfortable. Raley can play all three outfield positions and interestingly enough, the position he had the most starts at this spring is first.

Remember the Mariner of old, the “you can live with the strikeouts if he hits the home run,” guy? They don’t want five of those hitters, but they can afford one or two and Raley is that guy.

Coming to a new club and not performing might be weighing on him a bit. They don’t want him to be anything he is not, and perhaps a dinger or two at T-Mobile Park in April will help him realize that.

Designated Hitter

Mitch Garver has been great both on and off the field. Often, catchers want to have the gear ripped off of them, and there is some of that in Garver as well, but he knows that catcher injuries have taken him out of the game more times than he would like. If the Mariners are interested in seeing what he looks like in 500 plate appearances, he is even more so.

As it turns out, he can do so without leaving the catching gear behind. Ideally, he is an emergency catcher only, but if the need were to arise, he could catch more. Meanwhile, the boredom and challenge of finding a routine when your whole day of work consists of nothing more than four at-bats can be mitigated by continuing much of the catcher routine, which is what Garver has done in Arizona. This is a benefit for both the player and the club as he is a willing and vocal leader that brings valuable experience and insight to the pitching side. This will be interesting to watch.

More on the Seattle Mariners

• Drayer: Where Mariners stand as they enter final days of spring
• Seattle Mariners Notebook: What’s behind offense’s big numbers?
• AL West Preview: How do Seattle Mariners stack up vs Rangers, Astros?
Seattle Mariners Notebook: Opening day starter set, plus a pitch clock wrinkle

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