Here's the full transcript and a few videos of general manager Jerry Dipoto's press conference at the Mariners' pre-spring training luncheon on Thursday at Safeco Field.
Here’s the full transcript and a few videos of general manager Jerry Dipoto’s press conference at the Mariners’ pre-spring training luncheon on Thursday at Safeco Field.
We talked about a plan, what we’re going to do with this off-season, how we wanted to structure this roster, and some of the tenets that we most significantly believe in in moving forward as an organization and now we’re going to do. I feel very confident that our game plan has been executed. Now we’re going to find out as the season starts, how good the game plan was, but I think we did execute a game plan.
We came in late September, had the great benefit of having been given the opportunity to watch the major league play for the last seven days and getting to sit down and meet with a handful of players. Obviously, much has changed since then with the major league roster, with the major league staff, some of the support areas of the club. I know today you got a chance to meet some of our people that may not have been front-and-center with you in the past, and others around the organization who you may be more familiar with, but the message should be consistent.
The biggest thing to me, and I’ve said it to Jeff, to Tom, to Andy and Scott, some for many years, the biggest thing for me is the ability to communicate. If we’re effectively communicating up-and-down, and side-to-side, then the ball doesn’t drop, the players always know where they’re supposed to be. They’re always in a position to succeed and moves like these that we’ve made through the off-season are easy to understand because we’ve effectively communicated them both internally and externally.
I look back at this off-season and feel like we talked about the idea of being more athletic in the outfield, and I believe we are. We talked about better acclimating or building a ball club to Safeco Field, and I believe that we’ve done that. We talked about building depth on the pitching staff, and that may be numbers 1-2-and-3 in terms of what you want to do in any off-season, and I feel like we have addressed that to the best degree that we could.
Whether it’s the 12 guys that we’ll break camp with in April or the 20-some-odd pitchers that are likely to pitch for us in 2016, we feel very confident that going into the season, we’ve created as much depth as we could. Like the group, there’s been a lot of change. I believe we are suited to get on base at a higher clip than we have in the past because that’s what our players’ histories tell us, what will happen. I really like the way that our major league staff has come together with Scott, with Edgar being the lone returning member with Chris Prieto at this time. Bringing on Mel Stottlemyre Jr., bringing on guys like Casey Candaele, Mike Hampton, Manny Acta and Tim Bogar, it’s just a good baseball group with a lot of different personalities and I think we will jive very well with what is a very high character, hard working group of major league players who I believe are now coming into this with a degree of high expectation for themselves. I think that’s a positive thing.
I guess with that, that’s my general update of where I think our team is at this point in time. We’re probably done making significant moves in regard to what you’ve seen since the start of the general manager meetings back in November. We had a pretty good run of activity there but we’re quieting down. I guess one thing I could announce right now, and I will is that we have agreed to terms with Gaby Sanchez on a minor league deal. That is now in the books and Gaby will be with us in spring training, and we look forward to watching him compete with Jesus Montero and Stefen Romero and perhaps another body or two along the way for that partner job with Adam Lind at first base. Gaby, a 2011 All-Star in the National League, played last season in Japan, and will come in and compete for us on a minor league contract.
With that, I will open the floor to any questions, and really any question either about our organization or internal process or the major league club. Obviously, there’s a lot to cover with a baseball organization and I’m open to whatever you throw my way.
At the time you interviewed, you had at least a philosophy, if not a plan, in your mind at that time, and now here we are a month later. What, if any, significant discoveries and learnings did you have that caused you to make some changes, a little bit of swerves here and there?
I definitely had a game plan when we came in. Like I just went back and re-tracked, I learned something every day that I’ve worked in baseball. This will now be 27 seasons in professional baseball. I’ve learned something every day, not every season, but every day, and I don’t know yet what I’m going to learn today. Perhaps it’s going to come from this room but I will learn something. I learned a lot through this off-season, but we came in with a game plan on what we wanted to address and we went out and did that.
Oddly enough, as we sat, Tom Allison will be as judge of this as any, we sat in rooms for the better part of a month and we talked about our primary targets. We walked out with a list of primary targets that by and large we were able to access, and guys that we felt like we could go, we could attain.
The biggest difference between what we do every day and somebody with a Rotisserie or Fantasy league baseball team may do is you have to be realistic about what you can access and the players you can get to. I think we identified the right guys. We spent our scouting time effectively where possible, and we had a healthy conversation about who to tap into. We fell short on a couple of guys; I won’t say who they are, but we went for a few guys like Chris Iannetta, Leonys Martin, Wade Miley, Steve Cishek, these were all primary targets for us and we went out and brought them in. That’s a positive.
Adam Lind was another, and I’m very excited about seeing how this group comes together. I learned that it’s never easy to put together trades, as shocking as that may seem with how our off-season went, but it’s never easy to make trades. It takes two to tango. Learned that there is a great value in building relationships around the league because that’s how you get things done. Learned like in any other time that communication rules the roost. If everybody knows what’s going on and they’re familiar with the game plan, nothing ever takes anybody by surprise and that’s a good thing.
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Jerry, you said that consistent communication is the key to moving forward in the organization. You had the hitting summit. Is pitching much more difficult because some individuals who become consistent at it, when hitting is inconsistent throughout the organization?
I don’t think so. I think it’s as simple. The hitting summit that we did down in Peoria was a chance to bring together a new group of people, who were largely hearing an approach that I think it’s consistent with the beliefs that Edgar has, and has exhibited through his career. Edgar Martinez was perhaps one of the greatest right-handed hitters I’ve ever watched and did a better job of controlling the strike zone than about anyone that you could imagine in the last 30 years, and one of the best of all time.
Coming in and talking about the idea or the capacity for our own hitters to control the strike zone; very easy conversation at that point if you’ve got it. It was a very easy thing for him to teach, and obviously Scott having had history with me before and knew that it was an important element and it was something he believes in.
Tim Bogar has been exposed to this program for a number of years; he believes in it. Andy McKay is coming from a different organization; we’ve never met until we hired him here with the Mariners, and he believes in it. The consistency throughout our organization and what we teach our hitters was a no-brainer. It was very easy to transition but now we had to get it in front of the hitters and let them hear it for the first time so it doesn’t shock them.
We don’t want passive hitters. We’re not going to govern or judge what happens or the way we assess our success or failure based on their ability to draw a walk. It’s an advantage, but we want to … and matter of fact, I’ll share this. I had a conversation a week or two ago with D.J. Peterson, former first-rounder. D.J. did not have a great year last year but he has great talent. He’s got upside ability that he needs to tap back into and I talked to him about the way to control the zone or controlling the strike zone may differ between a guy like Boog Powell, who he met down at the summit in Peoria, and a guy like himself, D.J. Peterson. D.J., we want him to get into that 2-0, 2-1 and 3-1 count and then go do some damage. Boog Powell is getting into those counts so he can find a way on base. If both of them are controlling the zone in the way that they do, we will score runs.
There’s a difference between what Nori Aoki does and what Nelson Cruz does, and we want there to be a difference. That’s how you score runs, so it’s not one standard philosophy that everybody’s adhering to the same. It’s a creative functionality within the borders of a theory, if that makes sense.
The pitching side is similarly, there are control the zone elements to what we do, but they have been preached from the time most of these kids ever picked up a ball. It’s not as shocking to them when we come in and we talk to them about the value of strike 1. They’ve heard that before. The value of being ahead in counts; we want them to pitch 0-1, 1-2, 0-2, and be able to finish hitters. We want them to be efficient with their pitches. Like Jeff said when he was talking about some of our prospects, it’s important that we drill that into their psyche. We also have Rick Waits returning, who’s been here. Rick believes in these tenets. He’s a voice that they’ve heard. It wasn’t something new for him. Mel Stottlemyre, I’ve worked with for a number of years in Arizona as did Tom. He understands these philosophies. Mike Hampton, similarly, is something he believes in and he’s been exposed to.
The pitchers, what you can’t do with the pitchers which you can do with the hitters, is in a moment in Peoria, we can throw the hitter a bat, put him in a cage and get him hitting off the tee or pitching machine throwing 88 miles an hour, and we just the muscles loose and they’re ready to go. We can’t throw a pitcher on a mound and start asking him to fire. We have to build him up appropriately. As a result, what we’ll do with our minor league and the player development system is bring a group of players in satellite camp, you know, a minor league camp that’s going to start right about the same day that we open up with the major and minor league players in late February, and make sure that all of our top prospects and most of our starting pitching prospects in total are there in camp. They are getting drilled with the idea of controlling the strike zone in so many ways when they’re ready to pitch, and we’re not ramping them up too quickly because the worst thing you can do with a player is start and stop.
With a hitter, you can do it a little more subtly. With a pitcher, once they start throwing into their bullpen sessions, now they’re steadily gaining, we want them to do that and that’s when we’ll hit them.
On the offensive side, you said that you brought in a lot of players that already do that, control the zone. How much of a challenge remains or how much growth could be see on the offensive side?
I think a ton, really. One of the ways that we have measured controlling the strike zone is just simply looking at the long strikeout ratios, the goal being to keep them as close to even as possible, or in a perfect world, you turn into Edgar Martinez and you can flip the tables.
Most of the players that we have brought on board do these things very well. In a subtle way, we’ve changed the way the line of scrimmage works for us. Home plate in baseball is very similar to the line of scrimmage in football. We’re going to control that line as best we can. Guys like Chris Iannetta, Adam Lind, Boog Powell who has yet to play in the big leagues but he historically has done this very well. Nobody in the big leagues does it any better than Nori Aoki. He draws a fair amount of walks; he doesn’t strike out very much. He’s the hardest player to strike out in baseball, in fact. Over the course of time, that plays out. It’s a lead-off skill. He’s on base 34, 35% of the time, and history says he will do that.
I’m not counting on getting the best year that Nori Aoki’s ever had. We’re not counting on having the best year that Chris Iannetta will ever have nor Adam Lind or Robbie Cano or Nelson Cruz, but their skill set suggests that they can do these things consistently, and if they go out and perform to their skill set like just the way they do and they all do it in tandem, we should be able to string out a 9-man lineup that will always create traffic. If we have traffic with Kyle Seager and Robbie Cano and Nelson Cruz hitting in the middle of the lineup, we should score runs.
Jerry, you said that the mental side of the game was the next frontier. Could you expand on that and where Andy fits in with his message to the minor leaguers?
First and foremost, Andy’s our farm director and he happens to have a mental skill background which I think is a great advantage but not that we don’t define it as a farm director. Andy’s a good baseball man, has had a long career as a coach. The fact that he understands the need or maybe the deep art of unlocking the player’s mind.
I could go on and on about Yogi Berra-isms or that the game is a mental game. The baseball grind of playing 162 games in 180-some-odd days, it beats you on. It’s a confidence game. It’s why you see a closer, one closer shut off in the advanced stages of his career when he’s throwing 84 miles an hour, and go out and baffle the opponent. If we watched a 22 year-old break into the big leagues throwing 84 miles an hour and talked about him pitching the 9th inning, it would be laughable. We wouldn’t even consider it, but Trevor had developed so much mental toughness and the ability to go out there with a confident approach, an air of belief in himself. That’s important.
There’s so much data in the game today. We give our players so much to absorb that was not for the players of my generation. Similarly, the generation that came before me was even less so, and the game has changed a lot, what’s available. We have to be able and willing to unlock the player’s mind, to give him the capacity to absorb what we’re going to throw at him. It’s the belief, it’s putting players in a position to succeed. It’s that they know when their time comes in the game, they’re prepared. They’re prepared. There’s no shock and that they believe in themselves.
I think that’s the next great frontier, is in unlocking the mind. I’m watching it happen across the street in the NFL. It’s become more and more prevalent throughout sports. It’s positive thinking about putting yourself in a position to do positive things. It’s incumbent on us as a staff to create those positive opportunities, but again I do think while Andy’s history as a mental skills expert of a sort is a great advantage that will define who he is. He’s a farm director and baseball coach.
Jerry, what are your expectations for spring training? You have a large portion of your 25-man roster locked in. What are you expecting? What kind of position battles could we see?
I do think we’ll see first, to address the last part first, Ryan, we’re going to have a couple of spots in the bullpen, at least one, maybe two that are going to be a brawl with a handful of guys that really have a legitimate opportunity. Guys like Ryan Cook and Justin De Fratus, that can come in and compete with guys like Tony Zych. Vidal Nuno’s going to factor into our bullpen pitching staff in a positive way.
I think there’s going to be a great competition for the fifth spot in our starting rotation, and the fact that I think we have minimally six, and perhaps up to eight or nine legitimate candidates for the back of a major league rotation is excellent, and the fact that our fifth or sixth starter may be physically as gifted as most people’s two or three. I think that’s exciting to me.
There will also be a competition for the right-hand partner for Adam Lind. It starts with Jesus Montero, now includes Gaby Sanchez. We’ve talked about Stefen Romero as an internal candidate for a role on our club; that could include some first base to take the load off Adam, and it could also benefit from having a sixth outfielder who’s capable of a number of spots.
There’s also the possibility that between now and the start of spring training, that someone else might enter the fold. That is an open layer of competition as well. Like I said, most of the club, fingers crossed, that they’re healthy, that the way you would expect it to lay out is the way we hope it lays out.
What’s your hope or expectation with Mike Zunino coming to camp?
Mike is obviously coming off of a tough year, and we’ve been very open. Chris Iannetta is going to be the catcher if all is right and he is healthy, but Mike comes in and we’re not holding him back from accomplishing whatever he can accomplish. Our goal is that we have the opportunity to start him in Tacoma and watch his season develop. Mike went to the big leagues awfully quickly, and to get to the big leagues in under 1,000 plate appearances is a quick journey. To do it in under 500 is a very quick journey.
Again, like I had mentioned earlier, I did a radio spot and we were talking about Taijuan Walker. When you’re watching a player progress, you need to remember how old he is and you need to remember the levels he’s played and the innings he’s thrown. He’s 23, and getting ready to play your 23 year-old season … years ago, I’ll say a story from my past. We had an outfielder in Arizona named Justin Upton, who was 20 years old and at times he was the best player on the field, and at times he could frustrate. Many, many times through the year, they said, “Let’s remember that we’ve got guys on the field in A-ball who are three years older than Justin, who are excited about the potential, what they might do in the big leagues.”
Similarly, I’ll say with Mike Zunino and I’ll say this about Taijuan Walker as well, you’ll go through ups-and-downs with young players as they try to transition into the big leagues, but it is paramount that we understand that we’re here for that player. I know Tommy, Andy, Jeff, they’ve all heard me say this, this season is going to be about what’s best in the career development of Mike Zunino, and we’re going to make sure that that happens. If Mike needs two months, if he needs four months, if he needs a season of AAA to cultivate the offensive approach that we saw while he was at the University of Florida, we know it’s in there. We saw it through the first half of his minor league journey. We’ve seen it periodically in the big leagues. Now we need to tap into that full-time and this goes for all of our front office staff. It goes for our performance team. It goes for our major league staff, and as importantly, it goes for his teammates.
I know one of the first things Chris Iannetta said after we signed him was, “Hey, can I get Mike Zunino’s phone number? I’d like to reach out and just talk to him,” which to me is a remarkable show of care about the guy that’s next to you, who quite frankly is there to take your job. We hope Mike to be a very big part of what we’re doing not only in 2016 but going forward. This season is going to be about what’s best for him.
Do you think it’s more important for Mike for his mental side or the physical side of things right now?
Oh, both, both. If I were to have to pick a percentage, I don’t know what percentage that is until I’m on top of it every day, but like with most other things in baseball, the mental is probably significantly on the scale of value than the physical. Players don’t forget how to play. They don’t forget how to swing a bat. Most difficulties you’re going to have on the field are almost never about the mechanical flaw. We get ourselves and say, “I detect a flaw.” It’s great. It’s usually something that’s going on in your head.
Our job as a staff is to give him as much support, as much help in developing an approach as possible, and then there might be that mechanical tweak that you can make that allows the hitter to get his foot down just a little bit earlier and be on time just a little bit more frequently, but more importantly, be a lot more confident in the batter’s box and doing what you do.
Jerry, what are your expectations for the club this season?
High expectations. I have high expectations of any club I’m ever with. I like playing in the post-season. I’ve had the opportunity to do it a handful of times in my life and it’s a blast. I believe this club is as well suited as anybody to compete in the west. It’s a tough division. The Astros are coming back and it’s a very gifted young team with high upside. The Rangers are the defending champs, haven’t made any significant off-season changes but a full season of Cole Hamels isn’t going to hurt. I’m sure at some point Yu Darvish will return.
Obviously, I’ve got experience over the last handful of years with the Angels and I know what they’re capable of, particularly the guy that pulls the sled in centerfield, and never under-sell the Oakland A’s. I think they’ve got one of the smartest groups of people in the league from the dugout to the front office, and they wind up putting good products on the field more often than not.
Our goal is to go out there. We will start the season with the idea that we’re going to get into the mid-80 stats. We built the roster with the idea to get into the mid-80s and keep on getting that 85, 86 win zone, and then let the chips fall where they may. It’s amazing how frequently you’re going to wind up winning a lot more games than that. It’s all going to be about the culture that we develop. We will make strategic mistakes. We will have injuries; every team does. One thing we cannot do is we cannot honor our culture, and the players are going to know that we believe in them. We’re going to put them in situations to succeed. We’re going to be genuine. I think we have a lot of talent.
Like I said a moment ago, I think our starting pitching staff is as deep as anyone’s in the division. Our line-up, 1 through 9, is about as long as anyone’ sin the division. Honestly, the stars, the marquee players, we didn’t do anything that was terribly marquee value or the sexy off-season move, but when you’ve got Robbie Cano and Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager and Felix Hernandez, there’s some star value with that group.
We did a fair amount of lifting to create a group around them that we feel can support what they do, but I don’t think we’ll be defined by one player. I do think we’ll be the 25-man unit and when we look up in September, we want to be playing meaningful games with a chance to go play for a playoff spot. That’s the goal, and we’re going to make more progress.
Jerry, getting back to the rotation, do you think that there’s one spot open or two spots? I mean, you have the three veteran guys in Felix, Kuma, and Miley, and then you have all these younger kids. Do you have two spots or do you have one spot?
We’re going to take the best five pitchers we feel that can help us win games. Right now, going in, Taijuan Walker made great progress at the last half, even last 2/3 of last year. I think you started to see some of what he was capable of and we want to see him take one of those jobs. Similarly, James Paxton has shown that he’s capable of being a lead when he’s out on the mound. We need to make sure he’s out on the mound. That’s a positive.
Nate Karns is coming off a really good year, spent a full season in the big leagues and had a very nice season for the Rays last year. If you take pitchers who threw at least 147 innings, Nate Karns was one of the top 20 with an American League ERA and he was among the top half-dozen in strikeouts per 9. Those are feats, particularly when you pitch your games in the American League East. It’s a nice problem to have, to have six now-value major league starters with some stake on the jobs, and it’s going to be nice to watch the competition.
I’m not counting anything. I’d like to tell you it’s one spot. I’d like to tell you it’s two max. History tells me don’t count all your chickens with pitching. You’re never know who’s going to show up and who’s going to be healthy. If all five of them are healthy enough to pitch, it’s a good season.
With your back-up infielder, is there a premium on a guy that’s better at shortstop out of that group or what are you looking for for that?
Our extra infielder or one of our extra players has to be able to play shortstop. That is the most critical need. Whatever they deliver offensively, whether it’s Chris Taylor or it’s Luis Sardinas. We do have internal candidates that we really like for that extra spot. Shawn O’Malley, they all have shortstop ability and that is the most critical one. The versatility will be nice. What they can give us from the offensive side, but the most critical element that they will provide us is that if Marte is our everyday shortstop as we hope he is, we need a shortstop to be able to step in, because we’re not going to play him 162 games.
Jerry, you really overhauled the bullpen. How could the pieces that you have now, how do they fit together?
Why not, I guess is the question I would ask. The first thing I would say is that Steve Cishek, prior to last year, was one of the premier closers in the game for the previous two seasons. His 2014 season is on par with just about anybody we can talk about as a premium free agent. There is no reason to expect him to return to that level but there’s no reason to expect that 2015 is his new talent level. Steve’s still a young guy. He’s healthy, he’s got his physical ability, and most importantly he has a confidence level in who he is.
Frankly, after what was a really rough start last year, he was able to get the train back on the track and posted a season that was definitely viable. Joaquin Benoit has been one of the best set-up guys in the league for most of this decade. I think that is, actually all of this decade and some of the decade before. Benoit has been, at times, dominant, mostly as consistent as anybody in the league, and though he’s older, he hasn’t wavered. His fast ball velocity hasn’t changed. His swing-and-miss rates under the change-up are as good as they’ve ever been. He enjoys pitching the 8th inning. He’s also posted a very usable and functional quality closer season for an ALCS team a couple of years ago with the Tigers. Jack Benoit should be very good.
Charlie Furbush has gone through the off-season. He’s healthy. He’s not contingent on just facing left-handers. He’s good versus rights as well, and our belief that a healthy Charlie Furbush gives our three legitimate, experienced bullpen guys. Really like what we saw out of Tony Zych at the end of last season; it’s a power arm. I want to see what he can do over the course of a full spring to compete for one of these spots.
Very quietly, some of the things that we were able to do in building volume in the middle of the pen while we’re looking for bounce-back years from guys like Ryan Cook or Justin De Fratus, particularly I don’t think our season is contingent on those guys bouncing back. Obviously, it’s going to be a crowded house in some regard.
Evan Scribner is under the radar, pretty good. He’s better than you think he is. I had a little bit of a problem with the homer ball last year, but he’s about as good in terms of his ability to control the strike zone as any pitcher in baseball. I think last year he joined Dennis Eckersley as one of only two pitchers in major league history to have pitched in 60 games, 60 innings, and walk fewer than 5 hitters in the season while striking out at least 1 per inning. It’s a remarkable feat when you think about it.
We feel like somewhere in the middle there lies the De Fratus/Cook/Scribner group. Obviously, Scribner has been, he comes in healthy and is a strike-thrower and does the things that we like to see. If we have one uprising, one bounce-back season from a guy like Ryan Cook or Justin De Fratus to join that trio of back-end guys I talked about with what we hope is a breakout for Tony Zych, there’s no reason that shouldn’t work.
We did pack it with a little bit of volume so that in the event that one of the guys that we hope bounces back doesn’t, there are other options. I think it’s important to make sure that you’ve built enough depth to absorb the likely outcome, which is they’re all not going to bounce back and have good seasons, but I say that, I spent my entire major league career pitching 400 pitched games in the bullpen, and never did anything else. If you think you’ve got it figured out, you don’t. The bullpen is about as unpredictable as it gets.
From my experiences, we could go out and sign three All-Star back-end bullpen guys. One’s going to stink, one’s going to be pretty good, and one’s going to be where you thought they were. In this particular guard, if we have three bounce-back candidates which I think we do, one is going to be better than we think, one’s going to be about where we think, and one’s going to struggle. That’s the way the world works, in the world of balance. If they all struggle, I would be shocked.
You mentioned, from the bottom, obviously the bottom of the starting rotation, that anywhere from 4 to 5 to maybe 6 guys competing there, do you feel in general good enough so that you could have maybe more open ears when your peers come calling looking for starting pitching? Do you feel good about your overall depth to where you can be a little more open about that?
As I may have proven out already, I’m pretty open to picking up the phone and listening to somebody who wants to talk. I’m also not shy about initiating the conversation. We do feel like we have some pitching depth. We legitimately have six guys competing for the starting rotation. I even think you can start looking at the depth components on our 40-man roster. That too has improved, I think, substantially over the course of this off-season.
On average, we’re going to use about 10 starters, 10 1/2 starters per season to get through, and I feel like we can do that internally now whereas maybe going into the off-season, we didn’t feel as comfortable. That was part of the reason why picking up guys like Joe Wieland was important to us. I look at our starting rotation and I see opportunity. I see opportunity to create depth. There are 3: Walker, Paxton, and Karns who are competing for rotation spots, who have options left. That’s not the worst thing in the world. The worst thing in the world is not creating an opportunity for players to go in and compete, and having enough space organizationally to produce depth.
That remains a possibility, that 5 of them are going to start the big leagues, and 1 of them is going to start in Tacoma. That’s a possibility. It’s also possible as Bob suggested with the bullpen, that we feel good enough about where we are with starters 6 through 9, that one of those guys may join our bullpen and could impact us in that way. Can you imagine having that kind of farm, heading to middle innings or set-up innings of a bullpen, and you don’t know what might happen with a guy’s career? We look now at most dominant, back-end relievers in the game and many of them started their careers as starters. You never know what could happen. Pitching depth is always a good thing. There’s never a time where it’s, “Ahh, we’ve got too much depth.” You’ll never hear that come out of my mouth on the pitching.
Those 3 guys you just mentioned that have options, do you sit down with them for camp starts and say, “Look, there’s a decent chance one of you might start the season in Tacoma.”
I can sit down and tell them that; they know, they know. They know they have an option when they’re coming to camp. They know they’re fighting it out for a spot. They know Felix is going to start on opening day if he’s healthy. They know game 2 is probably going to be Hisashi Iwakuma if he’s healthy, and they have a pretty good idea that Wade Miley is going to take his turn somewhere.
There are some things that are unspoken. Those players will know their circumstance, but what we’re not going to do is we’re not going to build a negative. We’re not going to talk to them with, “Just so you know, someone might start in Tacoma.” We’re going to promote the idea of going out and being competitive to win the opportunity to pitch in Seattle because for me to tell one of those guys that they may start in Tacoma is a defeatist delivery before the season ever begins, because what may wind up happening is that the sixth man in that group may wind up going and affecting our bullpen in a positive way. I don’t want to pre-determine what could happen because if they are one of our 12 best or most impactful pitchers and we feel like that’s the way we should break camp, then that’s what we’ll do.
Jerry, has anything changed with Mike Montgomery’s role because you’ve added starting pitching in the last few weeks? Are you still going to start him as a starter there and then go from there, or is he going to go in as a reliever?
Mike’s coming to camp as a starter, so we’ve got the 6 that we’ve talked about regularly plus Mike plus Joe Wieland, and we feel like that gives us legitimately 7 people. We have some other experienced candidates coming in as well but those 7 guys will largely compete for the rotational spots. In Mike’s case, he’s out of options and we don’t have a lot of players that are optioning this year going into camp this year. The two most notable are Mike Montgomery and Jesus Montero.
Mike will either be on our club or he won’t. It’s like everybody else. He will come in as a starter. It’s a lot easier to prep a guy to start and then back off to allow him to leave if that’s what the case may be. We’re not going to be opposed to carrying him in the bullpen. We will carry a second left-hander, whether that be Mike Montgomery, Vidal Nuno or some other member. It could be Paul Fry. We will carry a second left-hander. Mike’s going to get the opportunity to compete for that spot as well.
As he comes in, the goal is that he win the fifth spot in the rotation. He comes in knowing it’s a little tougher road to climb because of the guys standing in front of him.
Do you expect Boog Powell to push for playing time with Leonys Martin in center?
At some point, but not likely this year or at least not likely in March/April of this year. We acquired Leonys Martin to play centerfield. Leonys too is out of options. We don’t really consider him an option issue because we plan on him playing centerfield. He went down and had a terrific month-long run in the Dominican Winter League with Del Licey. He’s showing all the reasons why we went out and got him, playing good defense, he can really throw and he swung the bat. He hit left, I think he hit .360 through the course, his foray through the Dominican Round-Robin. Licey just got knocked out but he had a terrific winter, very encouraged by where he is.
We like what Boog brings to our future, and the versatility that he provides. The great likelihood is that Boog either makes our team as an extra outfielder or starts the season in Tacoma. It’s a great opportunity for him to get his at-bats regularly. He started last season in AA and for him to have made the progress that he did, finished, played a half a season in AAA, comes in to a new organization that values what he does, and we’re going to give him a chance to do it. Leonys will play centerfield as a starter.
What do you expect from Danny Hultzen?
Honestly, if I had my druthers, Danny Hultzen comes in, blows us all away, and he winds up being the second lefty to join Charlie Furbush in the bullpen and the rest is history. Danny Hultzen is a terrific kid. He’s a terrific kid. He works his butt off. He’s found himself on the unfortunate side of injury on more than a couple of seasons. He is wildly talented. I believe we’re going to come in, we’re going to see the arm strength that he’s always shown when he’s healthy. We are going to see the pitch-ability and the acumen that he’s shown when he’s healthy.
He is one, I scouted Danny a lot over the course of the years. He’s one of the most talented amateur pitchers I ever watched. His ability to command the ball, his ability to create angles, and it wasn’t just making left-handers uncomfortable. He was one of the best starting pitcher prospects that has come out of college in the last 20 years. It’s unfortunate that situation has turned out to be what it has been, and I think it would be a crying shame if Danny Hultzen never pitches in the big leagues, and I’ve told him that. I root for him. I think everybody around the organization is rooting for him. He’s going to be given every opportunity to come in and perform.
As I understand it, he’s not going to be behind. He’s coming in ready to throw and we’re going to see how it goes, but we’re open-minded. He’s wildly talented and if he can affect the Mariners in a positive way, we want that to happen.