Minor-leaguers Johermyn Chavez, Carlos Peguero and Rich Poythress give the power-starved Mariners hope for the future. Chavez, a 22-year-old outfielder, hit a home run Monday in the ninth inning of the Mariners' 6-6 tie with the San Diego Padres.
PEORIA, Ariz. — There might be some hope after all for the power outage that’s left the Mariners floundering offensively going on several years.
The team with the worst-scoring offense in the major leagues in four decades last season has several big bats slowly working their way up the minor-league ranks. And they’re starting to unload at spring training after Class AA prospect Carlos Peguero hit a ninth-inning homer for the Mariners on Sunday, followed by Class A slugger Johermyn Chavez going deep late on Monday in a 6-6 tie with the San Diego Padres at Peoria Stadium.
At 6-feet-5, 247 pounds, corner outfielder Peguero, 24, from the Dominican Republic, is probably the closest of Seattle’s young longball threats to making the major leagues. But he knows that for him, outfielder Chavez, 22, or others like Class A first baseman Rich Poythress, 23, to wear a Mariners uniform full-time, they will have to round out their games to make them less one-dimensional.
“I have to work hard on defense and try to get better at everything,” said Peguero, a left-handed slugger signed at age 17 by the Mariners in 2005. “At defense, at my running. But defense is important to me. Because if you get better at defense, you can really help the team at all parts of the game.”
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Peguero hit 54 home runs in Class AA and A the past two seasons and then, this spring, in his first big-league camp, he belted a now legendary long ball during live batting practice last week that might have been the longest in Mariners spring-training history. His home run on Sunday, with two out in the ninth to tie the game, was a no-doubter ripped over the right-field wall.
Then, on Monday, it was the 6-foot-3, 220-pound, right-handed-hitting Chavez, a native of Venezuela, cranking a go-ahead shot over the wall in left-center to give Seattle a short-lived ninth-inning lead. For a Mariners squad lacking extra-base hits of any kind last season, seeing their young guys tee off like that brings a smile.
“You love to see a young man go up there ready to hit,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said of Chavez, acquired from Toronto 14 months ago in the Brandon Morrow trade. “And obviously, he really got all over that ball. It wasn’t a dead pull. It was in the middle of the field and he drove it. In the late innings as well. You look at Peguero (Sunday) and Chavez (Monday) and you like to see that.”
Chavez has combined for 53 homers at two levels of Class A ball the past two seasons, including a franchise-best 32 last year to narrowly edge the 31 by Poythress, who is in minor-league camp this spring.
Both Chavez and Peguero still have plenty of room for offensive improvement. Peguero struck out 350 times the past two seasons combined, while Chavez whiffed on 268 occasions.
And then there’s their defense, with both players trying to avoid getting saddled with the all-bat, no-glove, designated-hitter label.
Peguero on Sunday charged a base hit to left field and threw out the would-be go-ahead run at the plate in the 10th inning. It was just last year that one of Seattle’s minor-league instructors, Andy Bottin, gave Peguero what he considers to be the most important advice he has ever received about defending.
Bottin told Peguero he had to anticipate the ball being hit toward him even before it is pitched.
“The runner was on second, so I was thinking, ‘OK, I have to be ready because the ball might come to me,’ ” he said. “And so, every time I got ready before the next pitch, I kept telling myself, ‘Get ready, the ball is coming to you. The ball is coming to you.’
“When I saw the hitter hit the ball I just tried to get into the best position to catch the ball and throw hard to home plate.”
That positioning is something Mariners outfield coach Mike Brumley has been working on with his young outfielders, who are so big they can often be somewhat out of control when charging in at full speed.
“Most outfielders have that bull-in-a-china-closet mentality,” Brumley said. “Even though with (Franklin) Gutierrez and Ichiro, it’s a little different, but most of the big, brawny guys are that way. So, they really have worked on attacking early, then breaking down and trying to get in a good spot to throw.”
Brumley said the most important thing is to get Peguero and others into a “process of development” where they find a defensive rhythm.
What most impressed Brumley on Sunday wasn’t Peguero’s tying home run or throw to nab the runner. It was that Peguero had hustled to back up third base earlier with a runner tagging from second on a fly ball to right field.
Peguero wasn’t always a home-run hitter.
He averaged just nine per season his first four years of professional baseball before clubbing 31 in 2009 for Class A High Desert. Just before that season, he’d worked with minor-league hitting instructors Jose Castro and Tommy Cruz on his batting stance, posture and pitch recognition.
Everything clicked and Peguero was able to leverage his muscular frame into the best position to send balls soaring into the stands. He followed up with 23 more long balls at Class AA Jackson last season and made it to the All-Star Futures Game, where he went 2 for 4.
“The most important thing was to be patient at home plate,” Peguero said. “Be patient, look for the ball and hit it somewhere — hard.”
He’s figured out the latter part. Now, the team hopes he, Chavez and others can work out the rest of their games so future Mariners power displays won’t be limited to spring training.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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E — Durango (1). DP — San Diego 1. LOB — Seattle 3, San Diego 6. 2B — B.Ryan (1), Gross (1), L.Martinez (1), O.Hudson (1), Guzman (1). HR — J.Chavez (1), Halman (1). SB — Durango (3), L.Forsythe (1), E.Cabrera (1). CS — Venable (1).
HBP — by Seddon (Rizzo). A — 2,119.