WYMAN AND BOB

Takeaways: Scott Servais the tuba player, plus why Mariners’ rebuild is really ‘going for it’

Mar 7, 2019, 2:28 PM | Updated: 4:55 pm
Mariners manager and former tuba player Scott Servais joined Danny, Dave and Moore. (AP)...
Mariners manager and former tuba player Scott Servais joined Danny, Dave and Moore. (AP)
(AP)

Scott Servais is known for a lot of things, but usually only things that pertain to baseball.

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He’s Seattle Mariners manager, entering his fourth season at the helm. He also has a background in player development, having served as the Texas Rangers’ director in that department as well as assistant general manager to current Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto while they were both with the Angels. And you can’t forget his playing career, as Servais spent 11 MLB seasons catching for the Astros, Cubs, Giants and Rockies.

We learned something new about Servais on Wednesday afternoon, however, when he sat down with 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny, Dave and Moore for an interview at Mariners spring training – and it has nothing to do with baseball.

Scott Servais played the tuba in high school band.

“Jeepers, I can’t believe I’m going there,” Servais said after answering Jim Moore’s question about the weirdest thing about himself, which came out of Servais’ story that M’s prospect Shed Long doesn’t like to drink water.

So was Servais any good?

“In baseball scouting terminology, I was maybe a 40 – (with) 50 being Major League average. I was below average,” he said.

Then why did he play at all?

“My wife was also in the band, so I was chasing my girlfriend at the time.”

Ah, there it is.

Now that that’s out of the way, here are a few more baseball-centric takeaways from Servais’ conversation with Danny, Dave and Moore, which you can download in podcast form at this link.

Why the Mariners’ rebuild is really the Mariners ‘going for it’

When you listen to Servais talk about the younger players the Mariners have added and are building around, you can hear the enthusiasm in his voice. But why is he so positive when the Mariners admittedly took a step back for 2019 and aren’t expected to contend for the playoffs?

Well, because he sees the Mariners’ rebuild really as the franchise buying in on a much brighter future.

“I know people have said, ‘You know, we’re not really going for it,’” he said. “I look at it the opposite way. We made the decision organizationally, we are going to go for it. Instead of just trying to hang on and maybe we can sneak into a second playoff spot, or everything clicks and six guys have career years, we decided let’s truly go for it (and build a perennial contender).

“It’s tough when you trade really good players away, household names, names that our fans could really connect with. … I think you guys see it when you’re down in this camp, there’s other names, too. There’s other players that have personality and have upside, and I’m really looking forward for this thing to come together. The way I look at it is we made an organizational decision to go for it. It’s about eventually winning the American League West, winning a World Series. And to take a step back maybe to do that, that’s what we’re doing.”

Not the same Jake Fraley

Servais was familiar with Jake Fraley before the Mariners acquired the 23-year-old outfield prospect from the Tampa Bay Rays along with Mallex Smith for Mike Zunino, Guillermo Heredia and Michael Plassmeyer in the first major trade this offseason. But it’s not really the same Fraley that Servais watched play while scouting him in college.

“I actually saw Jake play at LSU back before I got this job and was involved in seeing a lot of top players throughout the country, and he has really changed his game,” Servais said.

Back at LSU, Fraley was a contact hitter who would slap the ball around the field. Well, there’s been a lot more power from Fraley this spring, where he’s been a standout with a .438/.526/.474 slash line and two home runs in nine Cactus League games. (Mariners insider Shannon Drayer has much more on that in her excellent feature on Fraley from Thursday.)

“I really didn’t know what to expect (from Fraley),” Servais said. “The last couple years he’s been kinda bogged down with some injuries, that’s one of the reasons we were able to acquire him, but he’s got a lot more power than I ever thought he had. He can play center field, he can play all the outfield positions, he runs really well, he controls the strike zone really well. He’s got a really nice skill-set that’s going to play at the big league level.”

While Fraley hasn’t played above High-A in the minors, Servais isn’t ruling out a speedy trip through the rest of the levels on his way to the MLB.

“Is he ready to break with us (on the Opening Day roster)? Maybe, maybe not. I would say he probably needs a little bit more seasoning at the minor league level, but it won’t be long if he continues to show like he has so far.”

Expect to see Mitch Haniger in center field at first

The aforementioned Mallex Smith was shut down for a period early in spring training due to a sore throwing arm, and as a result the Mariners are unlikely to have him available for the opening series in Japan. Asked about what Seattle’s Plan B is in center field, Servais pointed to his one returning 2018 All-Star.

“Certainly we can put Mitch Haniger in center field,” Servais said of his regular right fielder. “The ballparks in Japan, certainly the Tokyo Dome, have a much smaller outfield than what you have at (T-Mobile Park), and Mitch is more than capable of handling center field. Probably wouldn’t want to put Mitch out there every day, but to start the season if it’s only a couple of games over in Japan, Mitch will be fine in center.”

As for the update on Smith, he’s still slowly working his way into every-day activity.

“We’ll see how Mallex progresses,” Servais said. “He’s just starting getting his throwing going, he’s been in the cage, he’s started swinging now, but he really did nothing for about 2 ½ weeks. So it’s going to take a little while to get ramped up.”

Yusei Kikuchi is going to give hitters fits at first

Servais has been effusive in his praise for Kikuchi, the Mariners’ new left-hander making the jump from Japan. While talking to Danny, Dave and Moore, the skipper got a little more in-depth on what exactly about Kikuchi will make him tough to figure out for Major League hitters.

“His breaking stuff is really, really good,” he said. “It’s a different type of curveball that I think the first couple times through the league it’s going to catch a few people off-guard a little bit. His breaking ball is straight 12-6 down, and he’s got a really good slider on top of that.”

The other thing Servais really likes about Kikuchi is how much of a student he is.

“The thing that’s really stood out with me with Yusei is he’s a learner. He wants to learn, and that’s a great mindset to have,” Servais said. “He wants to learn the Major League game, the US game as quick as he can. (And) he’s very talented on top of that.”

Checking in on Ichiro

The Mariners know they will have 45-year-old team legend and future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki on the roster for their trip to Japan, but there’s no certainty about what his role will be after that. He is 2 for 16 at the plate with two runs scored, two RBIs and a stolen base this spring, and it’s no surprise that Ichiro is putting his all into what is likely to be his last go-round in the big leagues.

“Ichiro is taking this spring training very seriously,” Servais said. “He wants to go over there and he wants to show well and help us win games. He’s geared towards figuring out a way to to be on our roster going forward, but I don’t want to get too far down the road. We’ll go play a couple games in Japan, we play a couple exhibition games when we get back home, and then get ready to set the 25-man roster before we open against the Red Sox.”

Should Ichiro play in Japan, it will be his first regular season action since May 2, 2018.

The best singer in camp

As part of a daily emphasis on learning about the culture in Japan ahead of the two games against the Oakland A’s on March 20-21 in Tokyo, the team brought in a karaoke machine to their clubhouse in Peoria, Ariz., because karaoke originated in Japan, where it’s still a big deal.

Now, it took the Mariners some time to break the ice with singing in front of their teammates, and no, Servais himself has not sung (or played tuba – “Never should have went there. This is never gonna leave me,” he said). But there is one player that has been the clear best singer in camp.

“Jay Bruce was outstanding,” Servais said. “It got brought to my attention that Jay Bruce had gotten on stage with Garth Brooks at the Grand Ole Opry and had sung with him. ‘Friends In Low Places’ is what he did in Nashville and that’s what he did in our clubhouse. It was awesome.”

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Takeaways: Scott Servais the tuba player, plus why Mariners’ rebuild is really ‘going for it’