Takeaways: Mariners manager Scott Servais at pre-spring press conference
The Mariners held their annual pre-spring training press conference on Thursday morning, where the team had players and members of the front office available to answer questions, unveiled a new spring training uniform, and detailed some promotions for the upcoming 2019 season (hello, Lou Piniella Hawaiian Shirt Day).
Of course that means manager Scott Servais took his turn at the podium – as well as joined 710 ESPN Seattle’s John Clayton for an interview from T-Mobile Park – to discuss the upcoming 2019 season in which he’ll be leading a vastly different-looking Mariners squad.
Here are a few takeaways from what Servais had to say.
The batting order will be an adventure
Servais has been able to rely on some certainties with his lineup since joining the Mariners in 2016. Robinson Canó hits third, Nelson Cruz is the cleanup man, Kyle Seager slots in at No. 5, and the rest fills in around them.
That won’t be the case in 2019, with Canó now with the New York Mets and Cruz preparing to DH for the Minnesota Twins.
“I think our batting lineup will be much more fluid than it was in the past,” Servais said. “What this group does is we will be more flexible with it. It could change day to day. … What you’re trying to do is just trying to get your best hitters at the top of the lineup – more at-bats for the guys who get on base and are more productive.”
In particular, the Mariners could see several players taking turns in the leadoff spot. All-Star Mitch Haniger settled in at No. 1 late last season, but with Canó gone he probably makes the most sense as Seattle’s No. 3 hitter going forward. The speedy Mallex Smith is a prime candidate to hit there, but speed is also the biggest part of veteran second baseman Dee Gordon’s game and he does have a track record of success hitting leadoff – just not last season, his first with Seattle.
Servais mentioned each of those players as likely leadoff men in 2019.
“Mitch did a great job in a number of spots that we hit him in (last season). He did take off when we put him in the leadoff spot last year, which was great,” Servais said. “It was exactly what our club needed at the time, and Mitch was fired up about it, as well. But the makeup of our team is different. You could see Mallex Smith at the top one day, you could see Haniger there one day, you might see Gordon back there at some point. So we’ll be fluid and flexible how we set that up.”
Gordon and Seager are motivated after down 2018 seasons
Speaking of the 30-year-old Gordon, Servais said on 710 ESPN Seattle that he made a point to let the Mariners know he is ready to bounce back from his first year with a sub-.300 on-base percentage since his age-24 season in 2012. What should help is that Gordon won’t have to worry about playing an unfamiliar position like he did last year when Seattle traded for him with the idea of teaching him how to play center field.
“At second base, you’ll see Dee Gordon there every day. He is very anxious to give us a real Dee Gordon year, as he’s termed it,” Servais said.
Third baseman Kyle Seager, who turned 31 in November, is in a similar boat, as he finished 2018 with a career-low .673 OPS. Servais indicated that the second-longest-tenured Mariner (behind Félix Hernández) is doing his best to take matters into his own hands with his training.
“Kyle’s taken a little bit different approach to his offseason. He’s really focused on doing some different things with his body and getting it moving a little bit differently. I’m really anxious to see it – I’ve talked to him on the phone – and he’s anxious to get back and put up a real solid Kyle Seager year, which we haven’t seen in a couple of years.”
The Mariners are being pro-active with their new players
There’s a lot more to re-building an MLB franchise than just trading for younger players, and from the sound of it Servais and the Mariners are putting their money where their mouth is.
Servais shared a pair of stories about taking time out of his offseason to meet with some of his new players that show how the M’s have a plan in place for their acquisitions and aren’t waiting until Spring Training to start them.
Omar Narváez, Seattle’s starting catcher picked up from the White Sox in a trade for reliever Alex Colomé, has a strong offensive skillset, having hit .275 with a .366 on-base percentage in 2018. He has a long ways to go before being anywhere close to the defensive backstop former Mariners catcher Mike Zunino is, however. Servais, a former MLB catcher himself, has already personally taken it upon himself to help Narváez out.
“Excited about what Omar does – he does control the zone at the plate. He’s second in the league as far as catchers go in on-base percentage behind Buster Posey. He’s got some things to do behind the plate, defensively we’ve got to tighten him up. I just spent two days down in Arizona with him last week … to get out ahead of some things we wanted him to work on before we actually got to camp. He’s all-in. He does know he’s gotta get better behind the plate.”
Servais has also made the rounds just to get to know his new players. Mallex Smith was one such player, who Servais visited in his native Florida.
“Having a chance to spend some time with Mallex here a couple of weeks ago down in Florida with him, get a feel for what he’s like, he’s very opinionated, he throws it out there, he likes to have a lot of fun and kinda wear his emotions on his sleeve once in a while. And that’s a good thing. I think the fans like it, they can connect with that, and hopefully it resonates throughout our clubhouse and helps bring some energy.”