BRENT STECKER

Mariners 3 Things: Dee Gordon’s CF transition exceeding expectations

Mar 14, 2018, 11:44 AM | Updated: 11:52 am
The Mariners' Dee Gordon has looked like a seasoned center fielder this spring. (AP)...
The Mariners' Dee Gordon has looked like a seasoned center fielder this spring. (AP)
(AP)

The Mariners are over halfway through Cactus League play and opening day at Safeco Field is just over two weeks away. While injuries all over the roster have dominated the news for Seattle this spring, it hasn’t all been bad in Arizona for the M’s. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the three players who have stood out in spring training so far.

1. The value of Dee Gordon in center field is now very apparent.

When Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto traded for Dee Gordon and said the Gold Glove-winning second baseman was going to be Seattle’s center fielder, it was a real head-scratcher. Gordon had never played the outfield as a pro, and he seemed shocked that anybody would be looking at him as anything other than a middle infielder.

Drayer: Gordon ‘coming into his own’ in CF, says Mariners OF coach

Flash forward three months later and we now all understand what Dipoto and the Mariners’ brass saw in Gordon.

In the last week, Gordon has thrown out runners at third base and home plate, showing off a cannon of an arm that would be a surprise coming from his 5-foot-11, 170-pound frame if it wasn’t for his pedigree (his dad is former All-Star closer Tom Gordon). The impressive part is that his one concern heading into spring training about learning the outfield, the crow hop, has apparently been mastered if this throw is any indication.

As it stands, Gordon has no errors this spring and has by all accounts been not just comfortable but in fact a revelation in center field. Add that to his speed and hitting ability and you have to feel good about the Mariners’ biggest offseason acquisition. And who knows – maybe he’ll win a Gold Glove at his new position, like manager Scott Servais speculated after watching this play.

2. The emergence of Daniel Vogelbach.

There’s always at least one player who comes into camp with little to no fanfare that turns heads in spring training, and for the Mariners this year it is first baseman Daniel Vogelbach.

Acquired during the 2016 season from the Cubs in a trade that sent pitcher Mike Montgomery to Chicago, the 25-year-old Vogelbach has seen a few short stints in the majors with Seattle but entered the spring third on the depth chart at first base behind Ryon Healy and Mike Ford. Healy went down just as spring training started for hand surgery, though, and Vogelbach has made quite the compelling case for a roster spot in Healy’s absence.

Watch: Mariners release their 2018 commercials

In 12 games entering Wednesday, Vogelbach leads the team with seven extra base hits, maintaining a .433 average with two home runs, five doubles, eight walks, a .564 on-base percentage and .800 slugging percentage. He’s always had patience and power at the plate but has yet to look comfortable in MLB games. In 44 plate appearances, he has just one extra-base hit in regular season games for the Mariners, and as a sub-par fielder there hasn’t been any incentive for the Mariners to give him a real shot in the bigs.

Healy could be ready for opening day and Ford is a Rule 5 pick, meaning the Mariners have to keep him on the 25-man roster or potentially lose him back to the Yankees. But should either end up out of action for a prolonged period of time, Vogelbach may finally be ready for his shot.

3. Is Marco Gonzales for real?

Yes, Gonzales was one of the most recent victims of the Mariners’ bad luck, having to leave his start early Monday after being hit in the hand by a comebacker. The good news is the injury was suffered on the southpaw’s non-pitching hand, and tests showed Tuesday that it is just a bruise and the team is hopeful he won’t have to miss a start. With that out of the way, let’s look at what Gonzales has done with his other arm.

In nine scoreless innings over his first three starts, Gonzales allowed just five hits and three walks while striking out nine. He did encounter some trouble Monday before taking the shot off his hand, allowing a leadoff homer and two runs total in 1 2/3 innings, but even so, having Gonzales in the No. 5 spot of the rotation doesn’t sound as worrisome as it might have a month ago.

Just as promising is the news that both Felix Hernandez (himself another victim of a comebacker) and Erasmo Ramirez (lat strain) are getting close to returning from their injuries and should be ready in April, meaning Gonzales won’t have to be the Mariners’ No. 3 or No. 4 starter for long if at all.

Another of Dipoto’s trade acquisitions, Gonzales had an up-and-down debut with Seattle in 2017. But now that he’s had a full year back from Tommy John surgery – and has the benefit of a cutter back in his repertoire – he’s looking more like the player who was the Cardinals’ top prospect before he suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in 2016.

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