Chone Figgins to lead off, Ichiro to hit third
By Shannon Drayer
I should be on a plane to Arizona right now but since it is delayed three hours I might as well tackle the news that just came down. Eric Wedge just announced that Chone Figgins will lead off and Ichiro will hit third. The Mariners’ batting order will look very different this year.
A bunch of you have expressed your displeasure at the fact that Figgins was not made to earn the leadoff spot. Yes, he has a solid history hitting first but obviously has done nothing in the last two years to assume that a position would be guaranteed anywhere in the order. The decision has been made, however, that he will play. The Mariners will try to get some sort of value from him and perhaps the thought is he will respond better if they show confidence in him rather than if they make him battle for a position. In coming up with the Angels all Figgins did was battle and seemed to thrive in that situation, but two years can make a big difference. Maybe this is the best way to get the most out of him. We shall see.
As for Ichiro hitting third, while I never bought into the thought that he could magically turn into a slugger who could hit 30 home runs a season if he was moved down in the order, I do like the move because it really shakes things up for him. Ichiro’s classic Ichiro style did not work for him last year. If he were to hit second I don’t think he would change much. Third is another story.
I was a little alarmed when I read the transcript of his first media session of the spring. When asked if he would change his hitting style if he were in a different spot in the lineup he answered, “I think it’s tough to change your hitting style just because you’re in a different spot. So it’s difficult to say if my hitting style would change because it’s not easy as a player to change your hitting style because all of a sudden you’re hitting somewhere else.”
He didn’t sound too open to change in that quote but I tried to take the comment with a grain of salt. Ichiro is not a guy who has ever revealed what he intended to change from year to year. Why set yourself up for the possibility of not being able to deliver, especially if it is a radical change? Ichiro puts enough pressure on himself already. While I didn’t like what he said I made a mental note not to say anything until I had the opportunity to see what he was doing. That would tell the tale.
Well, Larry Stone does that for us. A few minutes ago he tweeted this:
“There’s no question Ichiro has been hitting with a wider, more balanced stance so far this spring — perhaps in anticipation of hitting 3rd”
Ichiro is changing things. It looks like he will not try to be Ichiro the leadoff hitter hitting third. This is a big undertaking for him and it will be very interesting to see what he can do in a run-producing capacity. If he does indeed transform himself at this point of his career to a true middle of the order hitter that will be a remarkable story.
As for the rest of the order, Dustin Ackley is expected to hit second. Early this winter Eric Wedge was leaning toward hitting Franklin Gutierrez second and I would imagine he is still an option, but Ackley is well suited for the top of the order.
I can’t wait to see how this all plays out. Now if I could only get out of Seattle …
Full coverage from Peoria here on the blog starts tomorrow.