Takeaways: Mariners’ Scott Servais says Justus Sheffield ‘is ready,’ talks Kyle Seager’s improvements

Feb 28, 2019, 1:53 PM | Updated: 5:16 pm
Scott Servais is teaching both new Mariners players and coaching this spring. (AP)...
Scott Servais is teaching both new Mariners players and coaching this spring. (AP)

Brock and Salk’s trip to Mariners spring training wouldn’t be complete without a sit-down interview with manager Scott Servais, so Thursday’s show was built around exactly that.

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Of course the conversation covered Servais throwing batting practice to the 710 ESPN Seattle hosts on Wednesday, but there was a lot of business to get to as well.

You can listen to Servais’ conversation with Brock and Salk embedded in this post or download a podcast of it at this link. Here are some takeaways from the segment.

Justus Sheffield is ready to take the next step

Before the Mariners’ blockbuster trade with the Mets, the biggest move of their offseason was trading ace James Paxton to the Yankees for a return of prospects that was headlined by left-handed starter Justus Sheffield. And while the 22-year-old Sheffield only has 2 2/3 innings of Major League experience and wasn’t really believed to be a candidate to make Seattle’s Opening Day roster, what he’s doing this spring is hard to ignore.

“Very confident,” Servais said of his impression of Sheffield. “He’s ready to take the next step in his career, and the next step’s really the big league level. When does that happen? Does he break with us Opening Day? Is it somewhere during the season? He’s ready. You can see it when he takes the mound, he knows this is his time and he’s ready to go and grab it.”

Sheffield made his first appearance in Cactus League play on Monday, throwing two hitless innings with one walk and four strikeouts.

Kyle Seager’s in better position to beat the shift

At this point just about everybody knows about the veteran Mariners third baseman’s weight loss and increased flexibility, but Servais broke down how that’s all working in Seager’s favor on the field. Perhaps most notable about Servais’ comments are his indication that the pull-heavy Seager may finally have found a way to beat the infield shift that he has struggled with in recent seasons.

“Kyle looks great. … He’s changed the look of his body and it’s playing out on the field,” Servais said. “A lot more flexible, you certainly see it in the batter’s box. His posture’s different in the batter’s box, his movements are different in the box and where he’s trying to get to, and it’s starting to play out on the field. We’re seeing him drive the ball really well to the left side, which is great. Everybody knows that he’s probably affected by the shift as much as anybody in the game, and (hitting to the left side better) is not really by design, (but) he’s just putting his body in better positions. It’s easier for him to do that because he’s more flexible. … He looks good at third base, so really excited to see how that plays out here the next couple weeks.”

He really likes Yusei Kikuchi

The Mariners’ other new left-handed starter, Japanese star Yusei Kikuchi, has Servais raving. Not just because he can do things like this, either.

Servais is just as impressed with the more cerebral side of Kikuchi’s game and his enthusiasm and willingness to adapt to the Major League style.

“Love the demeanor of the player. He’s a learner, and that means a lot for where we’re at in our development (as a team),” Servais said. “He wants to learn the American game as quick as possible, he’s asking a lot of questions, he’s paying very close attention to the other veterans that have been around here. He’s grasping it very quickly.”

Not just teaching the new players

The Mariners’ roster is full of new names and faces, but then again so is Servais’ coaching staff. And not all of the coaches have extensive experience in their new roles.

Servais, meanwhile, has a background in player development, and while that is why general manager Jerry Dipoto said Servais is “in his element” this spring, coaching his coaches is another part of the equation the former MLB catcher is enjoying.

“It’s an opportunity to give back a little bit more,” Servais said. “All the experiences that I picked up along the way, going back to amateur days to when I first got started as a young minor league player to kind of going through the growing pains at the big league level, it’s an opportunity for me to give back. And not just to a group of young players but also a group of really new, inexperienced coaches. So spending a lot of time coaching the coaches – ‘This is what we’re going to be about, this is why we need to be about this.’ As coaches, they just want to have the opportunity to impart that on young players that are coachable and willing and they want to learn, so I do enjoy where we’re at right now.”

Mitch Haniger and Marco Gonzales becoming leaders

The two players the Mariners identified that they wanted to base their rebuild around are also taking on bigger leadership roles. But maybe not in the traditional sense.

“They’re taking a step forward. We hoped that they would, they both had really good years last year,” Servais said. “But it’s really important for them that they don’t put extra pressure on themselves, like now you have to get up in the middle of the room and lead and give these rah-rah, fire-up speeches. …  I don’t want to see that. I just want these guys to prepare, go about their business. That’s why they had good years last year and we want them to take the next step with that, and the leadership side of things is coming along very nicely. You do see them taking a more active role in the team discussions, the chalk talks, things like that. Hopefully you create the platform for those players, they take it and run with it, and those guys have done that.”

Shed Long doesn’t drink water

You read that correctly. Let’s just let Servais tell the story.

“You know, you learn a lot from these guys. Interviewing (Long), when he got up the first day he said, ‘I don’t like drinking water.’

“I said, ‘This could be a concern. Why don’t we drink water?’

“‘Cause I don’t like the way it tastes.’

“I said, ‘Well, sometimes water tastes different in different parts of the country.’

“Haniger threw him a bottle of Aquafina, said ‘Try this one. It’s not too bad.’”

So there you go. Any other thoughts on Long, one of the bright spots of the early days of spring training?

“He’s got some swag, he likes to plays, he wants to prove his worth, he wants to play every day at all the different positions we’re throwing at him. So far he’s handling it really well.”

Quick hits

Here are a few more thoughts from Servais on individual players.

1B Daniel Vogelbach: “Daniel Vogelbach is in better shape. He went on a different program this offseason. Vogey can hit, we we all know that, it’s just a matter if we get an opportunity to take it and run with it and see what 400 at-bats might look like. … We’ve got some veteran guys that we’ll play over at first base as well, so he’s in a competition there, but he looks good.”

LF Domingo Santana: “Really cool dude. I had a chance to talk with him a lot the last few days. He went through a lot in Milwaukee, he’s really excited about a fresh start and just pretty much, ‘Skip, just play me everyday. I’ll show you what I can do.’ I like that.”

C Omar Narváez: “Working his tail off. He knows his deficiencies (on defense) and one of those he’s got to get better at is controlling that pitch at the bottom of the strike zone and getting better at stealing a few strikes there. That’s what he’s really focused on.”

SS J.P. Crawford: “Another guy carrying himself very confidently, which is great to see. Didn’t really know, sometimes you get traded for the first time like J.P.’s case – high (draft) pick by the Phillies and now he’s over here. But he’s ready, he’s really put in the time at shortstop. Defensively he’s farther along than maybe I thought he’d be at this point.”

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Takeaways: Mariners’ Scott Servais says Justus Sheffield ‘is ready,’ talks Kyle Seager’s improvements