A playoff-caliber team with a hole at shortstop is in trouble. That makes the spring battle between Brad Miller and Chris Taylor, who volleyed the job back and forth last year, of paramount importance.

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PEORIA, Ariz. – The Mariners always seem to have a promising shortstop of the future waiting in the wings. But they haven’t been so fortunate lately with their shortstop of the present.

This year, they need to get it right. A playoff-caliber team with a hole at that vital position is in trouble. That makes the spring battle between Brad Miller and Chris Taylor, who volleyed the job back and forth last year, of paramount importance.

Both players came out of the ACC, rocketed through the minor leagues with great success, and cracked the major leagues in their second full professional season.

Mariners shortstops by the numbers

154 Games Brad Miller and Chris Taylor played at shortstop last year for the Mariners.

.267 Miller’s batting average over his final 80 games last year, with 7 homers and 25 RBI.

.912 OPS for Taylor over his first 18 games last year.

At that point, not surprisingly, the smooth road got a lot rockier, leaving the ballclub with a somewhat complicated, and impossible-to-forecast, choice. Switch-hitting Ketel Martel, a fast-rising shortstop prospect, is also in camp, but at 21 isn’t yet ready to push for the job. Instead, add him to the potential “shortstop of the future” stable.

Manager Lloyd McClendon framed the shortstop dynamic this way: “I think Chris is probably a little ahead of the game defensively, and Brad’s a little ahead of the game offensively. It’s a nice combination. We’ll see what happens.”

Adding even more spice to the competition is McClendon’s recent acknowledgment that there likely won’t be room on the roster for the loser. He added that he can’t even say yet whether the team will prioritize offense or defense.

“That’s part of the dynamic of what fits best for your club at that particular time,’’ he said. “I can’t answer that question right now. We have to see in a month’s time how it shakes out.”

The common wisdom is that you prioritize defense at shortstop, but McClendon countered, “Some people would say just the opposite – ‘give me all the offense you can give me.’ If you hit two three-run homers, you’ll be a hell of a shortstop. It plays both ways.”

For now, Miller and Taylor are both intent on demonstrating why they should be the starter. For Miller, it’s a familiar position, having won last year’s spring battle with the since-departed Nick Franklin for the job.

“It’s really the same thing as the last two big-league camps I’ve been a part of: I’m coming in to earn a job,” Miller said. “To be part of this and be on the team from day one.”

For being the offensive-minded side of the equation, Miller struggled mightily at the plate for much of last season. For one particularly gruesome 29-game stretch in April and May, he hit .120, and didn’t get his average over .200 to stay until June 21.

But over his final 32 games, Miller posted a .930 OPS, eighth-best mark in the American League over that span. Going back even further, he hit .267 with 10 doubles, four triples, seven homers and 25 runs batted in over his final 80 games. That’s on top of his solid .736 OPS in 76 games as a rookie.

M’s shortstops by the numbers

154 Games Brad Miller and Chris Taylor played at shortstop last season for the Mariners.

.267 Miller’s batting average over his final 80 games last year, with 7 homers and 25 RBI.

.912 OPS for Taylor over his first 18 games last year.

“I think more than anything, through the failure and through the ups and downs, I kind of learned what makes me tick,” he said.

Miller takes pride in the fact he persevered and finished strong, winning back the starting job down the stretch.

“Like Mac told me, ‘You’re battle-tested.’ I got off to a bad start and endured some extended period of failure. But I stayed up there the whole year and battled through it. We were right in the thick of things, and I was contributing to a pretty good team. You take your lumps, and obviously, everyone experiences it. Everyone goes through an adjustment period.”

That was certainly the case for Taylor, who replaced a struggling Miller in late July and put up a .912 OPS over his first 18 games, and still had his average over .300 after 32 games. But Taylor had just a .555 OPS over his final 29 games with just three extra-base hits, all doubles, in his final 84 at-bats.

Taylor, too, believes he learned how to maximize the peaks and minimize the valleys.

“One of biggest adjustments I’ll have to make, when things aren’t going your way and you’re starting to struggle, is keep that confidence and stay relaxed and don’t press,” he said.

“I think last year, toward the end of the season, when the ball wasn’t falling and things weren’t going my way, I started pressing a little bit and I might have lost a little bit of my aggressiveness. The biggest challenge is to keep my same approach, stay aggressive, and continue with what’s worked for me in past.”

Whether Miller and Taylor have truly learned to sustain their consistency is something that will be revealed over the course of a harsh, grueling season. But the Mariners have to make a choice by their opener against the Angels on April 6.

So McClendon and general manager Jack Zduriencik will be watching intently over the next six weeks. Zduriencik upped the stakes by sticking with his youngsters rather than obtaining a proven shortstop during the offseason, despite rumors that linked them to several teams.

“We’re in a unique position because we know the guys,’’ McClendon said. “They have somewhat of a track record. You like to see maturity, some progression, where they’ve shored up some weaknesses. It’s not all about results. All those things you sort of mix into the bowl and see what you come up with in the end.”

The Mariners hope they come up with a present-day shortstop befitting a pennant contender.