PEORIA, Ariz. – It’s now been 22 days since pitchers and catchers reported to the Mariners’ complex for 2021 spring training, and 17 days since the team’s first full-squad workout. With a lackluster 10-0 defeat against Cleveland on Monday in Goodyear, Seattle has played eight Cactus League games — most of them not nine innings — posting a 1-3-4 record.
Yes, four ties.
To be fair, the record and early results aren’t necessarily indicative of how the Mariners might perform when the regular season opens April 1 at T-Mobile Park. The regulars play sparingly and pitchers, well, they are also working on something.
But it’s never too soon to start analyzing and predicting who will be on that opening-day roster that takes on the Giants.
And even this early into spring training, it’s clear that some questions about roster spots already have been answered due to injury or performance. There are 21 days remaining with 20 games left to be played before the team exits Arizona. Injuries will happen, struggling players will find success while sizzling players will cool and other considerations will come into play.
But here’s the latest roster projection. The last one came Feb. 9, five days before pitchers and catchers reported.
Starting Rotation (6)
- Marco Gonzales, LHP
- James Paxton, LHP
- Yusei Kikuchi, LHP
- Chris Flexen, RHP
- Justus Sheffield, LHP
- Justin Dunn, RHP
Notes: Since the last roster projection, the Mariners went out and added another established starter to the rotation with the signing of Paxton, who returns to the organization that drafted, developed and helped him have his first MLB success. Paxton took less money to return to Seattle on a one-year contract. After trying to come back too soon from back surgery and then suffering a forearm strain as a result, he’s now fully healthy and hoping to throw at least 150 innings this season.
Kikuchi, Sheffield and Flexen have spots locked up in the rotation based on contracts, performance and the decree of general manager Jerry Dipoto.
That leaves Dunn and Nick Margevicius competing for the final spot. At this point, Dunn’s offseason work that included dropping 10 pounds and regaining his lost pitch velocity and life have made him the front-runner over Margevicius.
Seattle manager Scott Servais said the odd-man out could wind up as a long reliever, but they still need another starter stretched out for emergency purposes. That means Margevicius could be relegated to the alternate training site in Tacoma for a month of intrasquad games.
- Rafael Montero, RHP (closer)
- Keynan Middleton, RHP
- Kendall Graveman, RHP
- Casey Sadler, RHP
- Erik Swanson, RHP
- Yohan Ramirez, RHP
- Anthony Misiewicz, LHP
- Roenis Elias, LHP
Notes: Yes, it’s only eight games and pitching in Arizona is not ideal in terms of results or confidence. But the pile of relievers brought into camp this spring have been highly unimpressive. Even Servais has tired of this group’s inability to consistently throw strikes, get ahead in counts or execute pitches.
Elias returns to the organization for a third stint after signing a minor-league contract this offseason. He has made two scoreless appearances and hasn’t allowed a hit or issued a walk while striking out four. His fastball has sat at around 95 mph, and his changeup has been solid. But the improvement to his curveball, and his ability to throw multiple innings and bounce back quickly, could make him a lock for the bullpen. That versatility is needed.
“He has no problem giving you five, six, seven outs in an outing if you need it,” Servais said. “He’s kind of a jack-of-all-trades down there,”
Right-hander Domingo Tapia and his 95-mph sinking fastball seemed like a good candidate to make the roster, but he suffered a strained oblique and will be shut down for two weeks at least. He won’t be ready.
Ramirez recently returned to camp after missing seven days due to COVID-19 protocols. He has yet to throw in a Cactus League game and still needs some build up. But he does have minor-league options, so he doesn’t have to be rushed back.
Sadler is out of minor-league options so he needs to make the opening-day roster or be designated for assignment.
Rule 5 draft choice Will Vest has all the tools to make the bullpen — a mid-90s fastball and wipeout changeup. But he’s struggled in his past two outings, giving up five runs on six hits with two homers.
- Kyle Lewis, CF
- Mitch Haniger, RF
- Taylor Trammell, LF
- Jose Marmolejos, LF/1B
Notes: Until Jarred Kelenic returns to on-field workouts and game action, the starting left field spot will go to a different left-handed hitting prospect in Trammell.
Trammell has pushed his way past Jake Fraley, Braden Bishop and Marmolejos for the everyday job.
Acquired as Seattle’s centerpiece in the seven-player trade with the Padres at the deadline last season, Trammell still is considered a top-100 prospect by several baseball outlets. This spring he’s shown that the changes to his swing and approach are starting to pay off. Of his four hits in 11 at-bats, all of them were for extra bases with three doubles and a homer. He’s shown he can play left field capably and slide over to center field if needed. Servais has raved about Trammell’s maturity and attitude in recent days as well.
Because he’s 23, the Mariners don’t have to worry about his service time in the same way they do the 20-year-old Kelenic.
Kelenic said he believes he will be ready to come back in about five more days while the Mariners want to be cautious and not make the minor injury a major issue.
If he can indeed return in the next five days, can he do enough to take the job from Trammell? Do the Mariners want that? Will it offer an excuse to keep Kelenic in Peoria for the first month of the season, assuring the Mariners another year of club control?
The last spot goes to Marmolejos over Fraley, who is 0 for 11 with six strikeouts, two walks and two base-running mistakes this spring.
Marmolejos is left-handed as is Trammell, but he also can play some first base. Bishop is the best defensive outfielder and still has an outside shot at a bench spot.
- Kyle Seager, 3B
- J.P. Crawford, SS
- Dylan Moore, 2B
- Evan White, 1B
- Ty France, IF
- Sam Haggerty, utility
Notes: The second base competition, if there really was one, never materialized this spring with Shed Long Jr. bothered by some discomfort and inflammation in his surgically repaired right shin. The daily work of spring training and hours spent on the field aggravated the issue to the point where Long is being shut down for a week to let the shin recover and heal. That means Moore will be the starting second baseman and seemed like the preferred choice of the Mariners going into spring training.
Because he’s a switch hitter, an outstanding base runner with elite speed and able to play the outfield at adequate basis, Haggerty wins the utility job over Donovan Walton.
- Tom Murphy
- Luis Torrens
Notes: Not much has changed with this position projection. Though Torrens did give the Mariners a scare when he smashed the tip of his middle finger on his throwing hand in the weight room.
Murphy has just one hit in 11 at-bats this spring, but his presence as a leader and his communication skills with the pitchers are so important to Servais and the coaching staff.