Mariners’ outfield picture becomes more clear
By Shannon Drayer
PEORIA, Ariz. – Heading into camp it appeared that the toughest battles for positions would happen in the outfield. But with Franklin Gutierrez deciding to sit out this year and no other player brought in from the outside, for now at least it would appear that it will be more about battles for playing time and positions than actual roster spots.
Corey Hart has a position on the team and if his knees hold up he will be the main right fielder. Logan Morrison most likely will not see much time in the outfield, so we will keep him out of this conversation. An interesting development regarding the outfield arose Friday morning when manager Lloyd McClendon said that Dustin Ackley was probably not a candidate for center field and that he believed Ackley was more suited for left.
“‘Cuz that’s where I want him,” McClendon responded.
That leaves Michael Saunders and Abraham Almonte in center with many believing that Saunders is better suited for the one of the corner spots. Others will get looks and have the opportunity to win positions, including Stefen Romero and Xavier Avery. Without surprises, however, it looks like the battles will be in left and center and more for playing time. That battle could be tougher for Ackley and Saunders, who are a both left-handed.
So what do we watch right now? Spring offense numbers are pretty useless – although Ackley may be an exception as they are considering him for leadoff and that most likely will be determined down here – so let’s not bother with that unless anyone goes hitless.
I think all of the players in the mix will get an opportunity to settle in with the bat once the season starts and real evaluations can be made. Evaluating defense in the spring, however, is another matter. Almonte is talented but raw and Ackley is still learning. They can still make strides in the spring and that could be a difference maker. If Almonte looks like he can be an average to average-plus center fielder, he could have an edge in more playing time (assuming he makes the team) because he’s a switch-hitter. If Ackley looks shaky in the field, he could lose time in left to Saunders. Offense is what will get them on the field in the regular season, but defense is what could make a bigger impression in the spring.
• Charlie Furbush, Danny Farquhar, Carson Smith, James Paxton, Scott Baker, Randy Wolf and Brandon Maurer are some of the pitchers who will throw batting practice to the hitters Friday.
• Camp casualty: hitting coach Howard Johnson suffered a broken toe when he was hit by a line drive in the batting cage.
• Felix Hernandez and Taijuan Walker, who are taking it a little slower than the rest of the pitchers, are scheduled to throw at least one more bullpen before throwing to hitters.