SHANNON DRAYER

Quick hits from Mariners’ pre-spring training press conference

Jan 26, 2017, 4:06 PM | Updated: 4:52 pm
Scott Servais told the media Thursday that Felix Hernandez will once again start opening day. (AP)...
Scott Servais told the media Thursday that Felix Hernandez will once again start opening day. (AP)
(AP)

The Mariners held their annual pre-spring training press conference at Safeco Field on Thursday, where a number of members of the organization spoke. There is plenty to take in as the organization gets ready for its second season under Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais. Here are some quick hits and highlights.

Rebecca Hale, director of public infortmation

• Rebecca gave the rundown on FanFest, more information can be found at Mariners.com.

• 710 ESPN Seattle will broadcast 33 games in spring training, while ROOT Sports will telecast 16 of them.

• Upgrades to the spring training stadium at the Peoria Sports Complex include a new kids play area and a new video scoreboard. The video board will be the largest HD video board in any spring training stadium.

Rob Nodine, assistant trainer

• Relief pitcher Steve Cishek, who underwent hip labrum surgery last fall, has started a light throwing program. The expectation is that he should be available mid to late April.

• We had been told earlier in the offseason that reliever Tony Zych should be ready to go in spring training, but we heard something different Thursday. Zych underwent shoulder biceps tendon debridement surgery in October to clean up some scar tissue. He is beginning a throwing program in Arizona and will be re-evaluated when pitchers and catchers report next month. According to Nodine, Zych’s progress has been normal after such surgery and he “should be close to being ready towards the end of spring training.”

• Felix Hernandez is fully recovered from his right calf injury and has no restrictions going forward. His workouts this offseason have been focusing on building better core and leg strength.

• Nelson Cruz is fully recovered from his left forearm injury and has no restrictions going forward.

Andy McKay, director of player development

I will have a separate post on McKay as he spoke for over 20 minutes but some highlights, included:

• You may recall that the Mariners decided to scrap their instructional league last fall and instead hold a number of short camps throughout the offseason for their younger players. Culture camp, base running camp, and pitching and hitting summits – with mental skills being stressed throughout – all were held for smaller groups of players.

• McKay’s 4 keys for the Mariners cultural program: We are a process driven organization; We do the right thing; We are going to have fun doing it; Being selfless.

• The Mariners placed all seven minor league teams in the postseason last year, and while the winning has huge value, McKay stressed it is not the primary goal for the system. “The winning in the minor leagues is important. The goal of the minor leagues is not to win minor league championships. The goal of the minor leagues is to provide Scott and Jerry as much depth and flexibility possible.”

• McKay says outfield prospect Kyle Lewis, the Mariners’ top draft pick in 2016, is progressing nicely after his knee surgery to repair a torn ACL and torn medial and lateral meniscus. While Lewis probably sees himself as well ahead of schedule, they will be careful with him. A realistic expectation would be for him to make a post All-Star break return.

• A fourth coach has been added to every minor league affiliate to “improve the student/teacher ratio.”

• Three mental skills specialists have been added in the system. One will be Seattle based and cover the 40-man roster in Seattle and Tacoma, while the other two will cover the minors. One is bilingual and all three have baseball backgrounds.

Justin Hollander, director of baseball operations, and Jeff Kingston, assistant general manager

• Hollander is new to the organization, hired in September. He spent the past nine seasons working in the Angels organization.

• Kingston gave a rundown of the new hires and promotions in baseball operations, which we covered earlier this week.

• Kingston and Hollander listed non-roster invitees to spring training of interest.

• Right-handed pitcher Andrew Moore: “Not a necessarily going to wow you with his stuff but he kind of has that ‘it’ factor behind the scenes. The makeup, character, preparation, an acronym we like to use ‘KHTP,’ knows how to pitch. As good as anybody in that department. Has a unique ability to slow the game down. Take a little bit off, make pitches and get hitters out. There is a good chance we see him this year.”

• Right-handed pitcher Max Povse: Physically, there is some resemble to Chris Young with his frame. Is very deceptive, has a nice curveball and extreme strikeout percentage.

• Outfielder Tyler O’Neill: “Arguably the most impressive season of any of our minor league players last year.” Message here was that he made an impressive jump from high-A to Double A, a jump they consider to be tough. Despite his offensive profile before, really bought into C the Z and it paid off.

• Catcher Marcus Littlewood: Good C the Z hitter to start with and took it to another level in 2016. Defense continues to improve.

• Catcher Tyler Marlette: Did good work throughout the year, a swing adjustment helped. Held his own in the Arizona Fall League.

• Right-handed pitcher Ryan Weber: Waiver claim, strike thrower with good ground ball rates. Analytics guys excited about him. They feel his changeup has growth potential. Could start, swing or come in to get one out.

• Left-handed pitcher Dean Kiekhefer: A situational lefty that Hollander said they feel is among the best in the minors at getting lefties out. Interesting comment followed. “We are always looking for ways to match up to fit individual series or a group of series and Dean can provide Scott and Jerry another option depending on opponent.”

• Catcher Sebastian Valle: A catcher that can help out in the high minors.

• Outfielder Kyle Waldrop: Big year in 2014 then struggled. They will give him the opportunity to reset.

Jerry Dipoto, general manager

• Excited about balance they now have and the upgraded athleticism in the outfield.

• On 2016: “We experienced a 10-game improvement. Obviously a second place finish with 86 wins means you are the first loser. We are not particularly excited about a repeat performance. We would like to get better.”

• Believes that he has added a lot of talent and done it without stripping the minor leagues of talent.

• Not hugely important but I loved this scouting report on Zac Curtis. “A little guy with long hair who punches them out.”

• He believes in what Felix did last year when he was able to pitch and would take that performance this year. “I think the demise of Felix Hernandez has been grossly over-exaggerated.”

• He pointed out that there is nothing wrong with Felix’s arm. He still has dynamic secondary stuff and the ability to generate soft contact, all things that should bode well for him.

• On the two-year reworking of the roster, just nine players remain from what he inherited in 2015. The roster then had nine players who were out of minor league options, two players (Logan Morrison and Mark Trumbo) who were heading into their final year of arbitration and 15 players with negative WAR value. Where they are now? He believes they have built a team “that can better support a winning core.”

Scott Servais, manager

• On Felix: “We have to keep in mind how high the bar is for Felix Hernandez. Felix Hernandez is still really good. He is the anchor of that rotation, he will start opening day. He’s going to be our guy.” Servais has been in contact with Felix this offseason, has talked to his personal trainer and says that “Felix is in a really good place.”

• Servais and others do not seem to be concerned about rookie first baseman Daniel Vogelbach’s hitting. The test, according to Servais, will be to see if he can he be a Major League-caliber defender at first base.

• They will take a good look in spring training at outfielder Jarrod Dyson in the leadoff position, with shortstop Jean Segura hitting second against right-handed starters.

• With the competitiveness of the division and a tough August ahead, Servais is hoping to get off to a better start in 2017. The Mariners went 9-9 to start last season before reeling off a 12-4 run.

• Buy-in from the pitchers last year on infield shifts was difficult. Things got contentious to the point where Servais considered backing off shifts somewhat. Third base coach Manny Acta talked him out of that. Mariners led all of baseball in runs saved by the shift.

James Paxton, left-handed pitcher

• Before Paxton could talk, it was announced that Dipoto had escaped the press conference and made a move. The M’s claimed catcher Tuffy Gosewich off waivers from the Braves and DFA’d Jonathon Aro. That wasn’t even the only move of the day made, as Seattle later pulled off a trade with Oakland for lefty pitcher Dillon Overton.

• Paxton decided against pitching in the World Baseball Classic even though he would have been Canada’s No. 1 arm. “I wanted to take a significant jump in innings this year and I wanted to save those innings for the Mariners season.”

• Last year was one of big adjustments for him, from a rough spring training to the arm angle adjustments he made in Triple-A to all of a sudden having such better stuff with his delivery and trying to find consistency. He also changed how he prepared. He found that he was over-preparing and focusing too much on small details, which limited him once he hit the field. He focused on areas of pitching using his tilt, throwing more up and in than he did before. With the adjustments he has made, he believes it is his season to take off.

• Paxton feels good about what he hears about Felix. “I think he was very frustrated. The injury, it was really hard for him. He’s a guy who has always been healthy. I am excited to see how he shows up in spring training. You get a guy like that working hard and motivated, it’s going to be scary to see what he can do.”

• His fingernail is completely healed and he believes it should not be an issue.

• Just missing the playoffs last year is motivation for this year. “What we all realized is just how close we are. Just one game away. There’s a lot of games last year where we do one little thing different and we could have been there. Now we know how important each game is and all those small things we do on a day-to-day basis can make the difference at the end of the year. I think as a team it should give us a lot of confidence knowing we are that close and the possibility is there for us.”

Mitch Haniger, outfielder

• Plans on getting to Arizona early to get to work.

• Wasn’t happy with his performance in his first month in the big leagues but is happy to have the experience and the opportunity to make adjustments. One thing he had to get used to was the different batters eyes. Not the center field walls themselves, but what was behind them. In the minors there is usually nothing out there. In the majors, there are often seating areas and scoreboards. He thinks there was a little adjustment period with his eyes to that.

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Quick hits from Mariners’ pre-spring training press conference