Drayer: What’s new in Mariners camp, from a slim Kyle Seager to live BP

Feb 18, 2019, 4:27 PM

Third baseman Kyle Seager has trimmed down for the 2019 Seattle Mariners season. (AP)...

Third baseman Kyle Seager has trimmed down for the 2019 Seattle Mariners season. (AP)


PEORIA, Ariz. – My first impression walking into the Mariners spring training clubhouse Monday morning was yep, this is not business as usual.

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There are always new faces and names to learn (both young and older) in a spring clubhouse, but this was far different. The familiar faces were few and far between, and even those who had been here for a week were still struggling to put faces to names.

There has even been some locker assignment shakeup as Félix Hernández moved his locker into what was previous the Robinson Canó corner of the clubhouse, and Dee Gordon took over Nelson Cruz’s spot close by. Kyle Seager, meanwhile, is now in the dual locker column by the door that Félix had inhabited since the renovation of the Peoria Sports Complex.

Familiar faces in unfamiliar spots – just another thing to add to all of the newness.

Of course with all of the new players in the clubhouse, the first Mariners player I encountered had a familiar face (thankfully with less beard): Dustin Ackley, who was also experiencing the unfamiliar in a familiar place. He had a good excuse, however, being absent from the clubhouse for the last four years.

What was familiar, however, was the chatter and buzz of a spring clubhouse with the coming and going of players to and from early work, then the constant stream of players to assorted complex rooms for picture day photo shoots. The Tony Zych pool table is still in the middle of the room and the clubhouse and staff tournament underway. There remains the quadrangle of sofas nearby fully occupied by relievers, some offering commentary on the various shots not being made on the pool table, including one rather egregious scratch.

New names and new faces are no matter for the players, it would seem. Everyone else will catch up.

Of course there is a challenge at hand with just 25 days until 28 of the players in that clubhouse will board a plane for Japan and the start of the season. It’s a trip that manager Scott Servais believes can help accelerate with bonding off the field for his group, but for now it is a matter of taking care of the on-field things. And to that end, the Mariners held what Servais called their most challenging day in scheduling and executing team drills, making sure they get everything in before the first spring game on Thursday. Things are moving quickly.

New approach for BP

With less time to get ready, Servais is looking for his hitters to take advantage of the live batting practice sessions, where Seattle’s pitchers throw rather than coaches.

Traditionally hitters have not been too interested in hitting in these sessions, rather they like to track the ball and ease into taking swings off live pitching. Servais wants his hitters to approach live BP this year as a regular at-bat and get something out of the opportunity of seeing better pitching. To encourage this he has upped the ante, turning it into a three-day competition.

“We wanted to increase the intensity a little bit,” Servais said. “I do know players, they are pretty competitive, they want to win. Teams are divided up, there should be a little more excitement than typically let’s just get this pitchers practice out of the way and go hit. It should be fun.”

A coach sat behind the screen on each live BP field and scored batters for swing decisions and situational hitting. Ichiro gave an assist on one pitch, a Marco Gonzales changeup that was outside, yelling “Good take!” as he held up.

No word on what the prize will be for the winning group, but you can bet there has been some friendly wagering on the outcome.

One player did not have much fun in the live BP. Jake Fraley, an outfield prospect acquired from Tampa Bay in the Mike Zunino-Mallex Smith trade, was hit on the leg by a pitch thrown by free agent signing Ruben Alaniz. Fraley was down for a few seconds but stayed on the field for the remainder of practice and appeared to be okay.

Smith injury opens door in OF

Speaking of Smith, no word yet when the new center fielder currently sidelined with a forearm strain will be able to swing a bat or throw again, but he is set to get out on the field in the next few days to participate in defensive drills with no throwing.

“He’s anxious, he feels bad,” Servais said. “You come to a new club, you want to get off to a good start be a part of it right away ,but he will be a part of it soon.”

The Mariners will be very careful with Smith as there is absolutely no reason to rush him. This opens the door to other young outfielders in camp, namely Braden Bishop, Shed Long and perhaps even Kyle Lewis.

Bishop, in his second big league camp, has an edge with this group at least when it comes to experience.

“He’s got an opportunity to get on the map for us,” Servais said. “If he doesn’t break with us (on the Major League roster for Opening Day), a good chance he goes to Triple-A and hopefully there is at some point a chance we see him at the big league level. Important camp for him.”

Still a draw

If you were wondering, Ichi-mania is alive and well. Following his hitting session on the lower fields, a scramble ensued when Ichiro walked toward the fence. The whoosh of the crowd that raced to the fence was audible from the field.

Seager’s new look

Kyle Seager is indeed much more trim. We will hear more from him later in the week about what he did this offseason, but the physical change is significant for the one-time All-Star third baseman.

While the true test will be what happens at the plate, so far so good, according to Servais.

“He looks good. I’m really happy, excited for him. Hopefully it plays out,” Servais said. “He feels great. He’s anxious to see how he moves around, how this helps him in the batters box as well. You give him a lot of credit, sometimes it’s really hard to do when you have been doing it a certain way for years, but Kyle is sharp enough to understand he wasn’t getting the results he was looking for the last couple of years so switch it up. Hopefully the results get better too.”

Weather report

Final note, if you are heading to Arizona for spring training, pack fleece as it is chilly. The current forecast does not have temperatures breaking 60 degrees this week.

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