Drayer: A Mariners guide to ‘Spring Training 2’ and MLB’s 60-game season
Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto spoke to members of local media Wednesday to provide a look at how the M’s will operate leading into the 60-game MLB season, which is roughly a month away.
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Here’s a guide of the who, what, when and why regarding the Mariners and baseball’s unique upcoming season.
Where and when
All Mariners “Spring Training 2” activities will take place at T-Mobile Park. Players are on their way to Seattle with Dipoto saying that he has heard from 25-30 players and anticipates that everyone will report by July 1. He is not expecting any player to opt out of the 60-game season.
All players expected in camp are currently in the country. The first group is expected to arrive this weekend. All players will have to undergo testing and be given a clean bill of health before they are allowed to take part in activities. After the initial testing, players will be tested at a minimum every two days following the protocol set for all MLB teams. The first workout at T-Mobile Park will be held July 1.
Teams will be allowed a 60-man player pool to draw from throughout the season with the final player pools and 40-man rosters due to be submitted to the league by noon Sunday. The opening day roster will consist of 30 players and reduce to 28 after two weeks then to 26 another 14 days later. The remainder of the team will form a taxi squad of players who will continue to train at Cheney Stadium, home of the Tacoma Rainiers, once the season begins. The taxi squad will be made up of players who can be injury substitutions and top prospects (more on the taxi squad later in this post).
Holding a spring training for 60 players at T-Mobile Park will be challenging. In Arizona there are multiple fields to work out on, cages to hit in and more than enough pitching mounds for everyone. In Seattle, the Mariners will be limited to one field and just the main and bullpen pitching mounds. This and social distancing – the team will workout in groups of 8-12 to begin – will lead to longer days to get all of the necessary work in.
The Mariners will spread out throughout the entire building, using the home, visitor and auxillary clubhouses, home and visiting weight rooms and facilities, large meeting rooms such as the Ellis Pavillion and even the stands and concourses.
While teams are allowed to have three exhibition games against other teams before the season begins, with no nearby rival the team expects it will be limited to intrasquad games, of which they plan to have many.
The taxi squad will consist of players on the 40-man roster not on the big league roster as well as top prospects. These players will train with the Mariners at T-Mobile Park and then relocate to Cheney Stadium once the season begins, where they will continue to work out and play intrasquad games. Dipoto sees this as an opportunity to get as many prospects work as possible.
“For us where we are in our evolution, we want to be as competitive as we can be in these 60 games,” he said, “but we remain fixated on the idea that this roster rebuild is at a really sensitive stage. We need to make sure that those young players are getting their reps.”
Players on the taxi squad will not accumulate MLB service time. Much like spring training, 40-man roster players will be on options, and the rest are invitees. While a large number of notable prospects will be on the taxi squad, don’t expect to see many of them at the big league level.
“Our expectation was right about now we would be talking about the likelihood of Logan Gilbert and Jarred Kelenic showing up in the big leagues,” Dipoto pointed out. “They didn’t get the development time that would have been on the front end of this season. I don’t want to assume that that’s impossible, that somehow magically through 20 days of training and the month of August they were able to make up the ground that we lost from mid-March to today, but I don’t think that’s likely either.
“The idea of taking players who haven’t had those experiences or built up appropriately and just throwing them in the deep end of the pool at a time when the threat of injury if not handled appropriately is higher. We have to manage that properly and we will. We will do the right thing. It might slow us down a little bit but we don’t think it’s going to inhibit our long term growth.”
With the amount of utility-type players on the Mariners roster – Tim Lopes, Dylan Moore, Patrick Wisdom, Sam Haggerty, Jose Marmalejos and even Dee Gordon – Dipoto should be able to create enough room on the taxi squad for a good number of young prospects.
Mitch Haniger has been recovering and rehabbing from both core and back surgeries. While he has been in constant contact with the Mariners, they simply won’t know where he is in his recovery until they get him in front of them.
“We’re still not entirely sure,” said Dipoto. “We are going to be slow and careful in how we handle Mitch.”
The news is a little better on reliever Austin Adams, who is fully recovered from ACL surgery. During the shutdown he was seen by the Rays team doctor, who signed off on his recovery.
“Oddly enough he is in the same place as the rest of the guys, throwing max bullpens and facing live hitters,” said Dipoto.
Dipoto reports that the rest of the Mariners are coming out of the shutdown baseball healthy.
Like other clubs around baseball the Mariners have had players test positive for COVID-19. Citing privacy laws, Dipoto did not give names or answer the question of how many players tested positive.
“More than one player in our organization tested positive,” he said. “We are not yet sure if that’s with testing coming this weekend how much of that will affect our 40-man roster. With the cases popping up, especially in some of the hot spots around the country, we have had a few players test positive. Right now they are asymptomatic, they feel great but we are aware they are positive and they will not be in the environment when we open up until we determine that they are healthy enough to be a part of that.”
All big league starters have been able to throw bullpens but Dipoto noted that Taijuan Walker has had fewer reps.
“Everyone has been throwing on a regular basis,” he said. “(Justin) Dunn and (Yusei) Kikuchi have been working out at the facility and have been throwing full tilt versus hitters building up to 40-60 pitches.”
The Mariners will run with a six-man rotation and allow for “piggyback” starts (one starter following another in a game) early on.
The MLB transaction freeze will be lifted Friday. The Mariners spring training roster is currently at 43 and the 60-man player pool needs to be set by noon Sunday but I wouldn’t expect to see Dipoto go full Trader Jerry on that day.
“I would actually expect that it will be fairly quiet,” Dipoto said in regards to Friday.
Dipoto will focus on players currently in the Mariners system. Of those players still on the spring roster, decisions will eventually have to be made on two of them as veterans Wei-Yin Chen and Carlos González will have the ability to opt out if they are not added to the 26-man roster.
“I wouldn’t expect you are going to see a flurry of trades or a wild bonanza of free agent signings,” Dipoto said. “Most are already in camp.”