Last year, Marte was a prospect watching the shortstop battle between Chris Taylor and Brad Miller. Now he comes to camp as the expected starting shortstop. There is no competition.
PEORIA, Ariz. — Ketel Marte sauntered quietly into the Mariners’ clubhouse. He did not stop to soak in his surroundings. The look of wonder and awe from a year ago had been replaced with a business-like expression. Marte knew exactly where to go and what to do, heading to the same locker he occupied last spring, saying a few hellos along the way.
A year ago, he had arrived at his first big-league camp after being added to the 40-man roster in the offseason. Brash, with a mop of hair hanging from his hat and filled with youthful vigor, he was a prospect waiting his turn while watching Chris Taylor and Brad Miller battle to be the opening-day shortstop.
Now at age 22 — though he still looks like teenager — Marte arrived to camp as the everyday shortstop.
Barring injury, he will be in the opening-day lineup against the Rangers on April 4 at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas.
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In his mind, he no longer is that wide-eyed kid. He’s a big-league shortstop.
“It’s different,” he said Tuesday. “I’ve played in the big leagues now. Last year I was just looking for my chance.”
Not since the days of Yuniesky Betancourt (the opening-day shortstop from 2006-09) have the Mariners handed the job to a player so young before spring training started. The past two seasons, Miller had to beat out Nick Franklin and then Taylor to earn the spot.
But new general manager Jerry Dipoto saw enough from Marte in the final two months of last season to hand Marte the job.
In 57 games, Marte hit .283 (62 for 219) with a .351 on-base percentage, 25 runs scored, 13 doubles, three triples, two home runs, 17 RBI and eight stolen bases in 12 attempts. He brought energy and athleticism to lineup that was lacking both. It was a learning experience, with something new arising in seemingly every game.
What did he learn?
“Control the game,” he said. “Just control the game. I learned to control my emotions, and that helped a lot.”
For every mistake that Marte made, and there were more than a few, he flashed at least three or four examples of his rising potential and talent. Can he carry that success from last season to 2016 and build on it?
“I just need to be the same,” he said. “Keep working and see what’s going to happen.”
Marte already is speaking the company line — control the strike zone — when discussing his offseason preparation.
“Just trying to control the zone a little bit more,” he said. “I’ve been working on my legs to be a little faster. I think I’m good. I’m ready to go.”
Most of the offseason workouts came near his home in Nizao in the Dominican Republic, and he made three extended appearances at the Mariners’ facility in Boca Chica. He met new manager Scott Servais there.
“When I was playing in the Dominican, he was there,” Marte said. “He came to the complex. I talked to him there. He’s a good person.”
The rookie manager wants to see a few things from Marte this spring and during his first full big-league season.
“Any time young players come to the big leagues and have success right away, you are like, ‘OK, is the league going to figure them out and what’s going to happen differently the second go around?’ ” Servais said. “The biggest thing is for Ketel to come in here and handle everything defensively. We all know offense can go up and down, and it’s a long year for a young player.
“Obviously he’s tracking the right way when he got to the big leagues. He controlled the zone better than he did in the minor leagues, which is kind of unheard of. It’s a great sign. So what we want to focus on him defensively and make sure he’s comfortable and making the routine plays and being consistent.”
Servais is a big proponent of letting players “be who they are.” Even with someone as young as Marte, he will still follow that mantra.
“We aren’t going to change a whole lot in his game,” Servais said. “He’s young, and he’s getting stronger and getting more mature. He’s understanding the game better. You just have to let him evolve.”
— After missing Monday’s workout and his scheduled bullpen session because of a tightness in his hamstring and lower back, reliever Joaquin Benoit was back for full workouts.
“He’s doing good,” Servais said. “He’s back to full go today. He’ll play catch. He’s moving around. He had a little something they were able to work out in the training room. Just a little tightness.”
Benoit, 38, acknowledged that this is stuff a player must deal with as you get older.
“It’s just one of those things that happens,” he said. “The last few springs, I had little things like this.”
— Veteran left-hander Brad Mills, who was brought into camp on a minor league contract to provide starting depth in Class AAA Tacoma, is battling tendinitis in his throwing shoulder.
“We are going to slow play Brad,” Servais said.
— Lefty reliever Paul Fry threw a bullpen session on Tuesday after being limited in the first few days of workouts.
“I don’t know if he’s 100 percent yet,” Servais said. “We’ll watch his conditioning and make sure he takes it easy.”
*** Former Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders may or may not be traded to Angels as part of a three-team deal.
*** Mariners starter Wade Miley was on with KJR’s Mitch Levy on Monday.
*** Angels starter C.J. Wilson has tendinitis in his shoulder.
*** Here’s video of Scott Servais talking at the Cactus League media day.