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SHANNON DRAYER

Breakdown: What Mariners bring north this year is very different

Mar 25, 2024, 12:17 AM | Updated: 4:46 pm

Seattle Mariners Dominic Canzone...

Dominic Canzone of the Seattle Mariners bats in a spring game against Arizona on March 22, 2024. (Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

(Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

Update 4:46 p.m. Monday: Seattle Mariners pitcher Bryan Woo will start the season on the injured list. For more, read the story at this link.

The Seattle Mariners’ pitchers and catchers reported 40 days ago to Peoria, Ariz., for the start of spring training. In actuality, the vast majority of the group – position players, too – had come in on their own prior to the report dates to get an early start.

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This was the first hint that spring training would be anything but “guys just going about the business of getting ready for the season.”

“I think the tone was kind of set about a week before games got started,” catcher Cal Raleigh said. “Everybody was already here. It wasn’t just coming in, feeling it out, taking your flips, joking around. It was step on the gas from Day 1, especially from the hitting side of things.

“There was a different feel, different vibe going on in the locker room, in the cages, on the field, in the meetings. It was eye-opening. Seeing guys want to get out there, get at-bats, try new things from Day 1, it was real impressive.”

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While you never know what will happen when the lights come on, the fans come out, the stage gets bigger and the results all count, this group looks different. The feel is different. As they leave Arizona, leading up to opening day on Thursday, we will dive into what makes this group different from past teams in a series of pieces – what was seen, heard and learned in Arizona. And as always, we start with a look at what they are bringing north.

Breaking down Seattle Mariners’ lineup

As the Mariners shift from Arizona to San Diego for two last exhibition games Monday and Tuesday, the roster is all but set with just two bullpen spots left to fill. It is safe to say the Mariners will be returning 14 who played for the team last season, just nine of whom were on the opening day roster. To that group, president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto and general manager Justin Hollander made painful cuts in a turbulent offseason to make needed acquisitions, with designated hitter Mitch Garver, outfielder Mitch Haniger and second baseman Jorge Polanco headlining the group of new.

While the names weren’t eye-popping to most fans, the players saw their acquisition differently.

“They are really hard-working people, they are really disciplined, they are going to add so much more to our team than people think,” center fielder Julio Rodríguez said in late February. “I think people focus on all the big names, the big things, big that, but I feel like you need guys that can play that are going to add value in so many ways, not just on the playing field but to stay disciplined. I think a lot of people underestimate how much a big, impactful guy not just on the field but off the field too in the clubhouse can really bring to the table.”

These appear to be the right additions at the right time. The Mariners were not without good leadership, with shortstop J.P. Crawford stepping up very willingly and ably, and Raleigh taking fast but big steps in that direction as well. But the more, the better, especially if they are willing and have different experience.

There have been stories of how the trio of Garver, Haniger and Polanco have helped in team meetings, in the cages and in games, and they have backed it all up with their production.

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They are veterans with track records, guys who have been through things, and in Garver’s case someone with a World Series ring. As for what they could potentially add to the lineup, a look back might provide some clarity.

First, the Seattle Mariners’ lineup from Game 161 against Texas on Sept. 30, 2023, when the postseason was on the line:

J.P. Crawford, SS
Julio Rodríguez, CF
Eugenio Suárez, 3B
Cal Raleigh, C
Teoscar Hernández, RF
Dylan Moore/Jarred Kelenic, LF
Ty France, 1B
Josh Rojas, 2B
Sam Haggerty, DH

And now the projected 2024 lineup:

Crawford, SS
Rodríguez, CF
Jorge Polanco, 2B
Mitch Garver, DH
Cal Raleigh, C
Mitch Haniger, RF
Dominic Canzone, LF
Ty France, 1B
Luis Urías, 3B

Need more clarity? The bench against Texas was Canzone, Kelenic, José Caballero, Mike Ford and Luis Torrens.

The projected opening day bench features Moore, Rojas, oufielder/first baseman Luke Raley and catcher Seby Zavala, with Moore to play against lefties and Raley someone who could challenge for more playing time.

For fun, the bench at the start of last year: Moore, AJ Pollock, Tommy La Stella and Cooper Hummel.

Yes, there are questions. Is Ty France fixed after offseason Driveline work? Can the Mitches and Polanco stay healthy? Will Canzone and Urías carry over spring training performances and work that have various Mariners officials and manager believing in their offense?

Time will tell, but for now, the offense by names alone is different. And it goes beyond that with a new coaching voice, a new buy-in this spring, and perhaps even a new hitting philosophy. We will get into all of this in a piece later this week.

State of M’s pitching

On the pitching side, the Mariners return two young starters who took their lumps and got their feet wet last year in Bryce Miller and Bryan Woo. If there are less lumps, a rotation that has been ranked by some to be the best in the league (including MLB.com) gets even better. Luis Castillo throwing 97 mph in his first spring outing was an unexpected but very welcome sight that told you where his head is. He also has been more active as a leader in the rotation with Miller and Logan Gilbert both noting that he has helped them.

If you are looking for a concern, look no further than the bullpen. It is highly unlikely we will see 2023 MLB appearances leader Matt Brash before May, and offseason trade addition Gregory Santos has yet to resume throwing, though he is expected to move quicker toward a return once he does.

The one bit of good news for the ‘pen is that Andrés Muñoz is healthy for the first time in a long time and has looked fantastic in spring training. When asked who has impressed him the most on the pitching side this spring, Raleigh was quick to name Muñoz.

“Last year he dealt with some injuries, he had tough breaks unfortunately. He came into camp this year and looked like a whole different guy,” Raleigh said. “I know a lot of guys haven’t talked about him but he’s in great shape, he’s throwing the ball really well, the slider is coming out of a great tunnel. He’s on top of his stuff. I think he’s going to have a big year for us.”

Lefty reliever Gabe Speier, who throws in the same group as Muñoz, has also noticed the stuff but points to something extra.

“He’s told me that he’s had a little shift in mentality of kind of just attacking hitters and really just bearing down and saying here it is, hit it,” Speier said. “He has some of the best stuff in baseball, he should be like that. He’s been fun to watch. I think he’s going to have a big year.”

He won’t have to do it alone as veteran Ryne Stanek was signed after Brash and Santos went down. Along with the big velo fastball and a nasty splitter, Stanek brings the veteran leadership in the ‘pen that was missing and for me a bit of a concern. As fierce as he looked on the mound for the rival Houston Astros the past three seasons, Stanek couldn’t be more approachable off of it and has been in the middle of everything going on with the relievers. It took little time to figure out he was another good fit for this team.

The fit and the feel is important with this group – a priority in fact, with the daily morning meetings in spring training all about getting to know those around you. That work is done, the other work continues throughout the season. And from the looks and sounds of things, the commitment is at an all-time high.

The core of this group experienced a very painful and unexpected ending to last season, something that will be part of their drive this year. They all have talked about it. Some have talked about the clock ticking, believing it is their time now and that window will not always be open. This is a very different group coming north.

More on the Seattle Mariners

M’s prospect’s hilarious booth visit ‘all-time’ spring moment for announcer
Around MLB: Top prospects make rosters, plus signings and injury updates
Drayer’s Seattle Mariners Notebook: Expectations for demoted players
GM Hollander details which Mariners have stood out this spring
Drayer: How Servais’ Seattle Mariners view start of season differently

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