GOODYEAR, Ariz. – On perhaps the first day it truly felt like spring training weather with temperatures in the low 90s, the Mariners wrapped up their 2021 Cactus League schedule with a 5-5 tie against the Reds and now head home where temps are not in the low 90s or even low 60s.
Seattle didn’t finish with losing record or a winning record. It finished with a .500 record at 11-11-6. The six ties establish a club record.
But perhaps more importantly, the team never experienced a major COVID-19 outbreak or even dealt with a serious issue where a workout or a game was delayed or canceled.
The protocols in place seem to be working and with vaccine availability becoming more widespread, the hope is that a team-wide outbreak or an entire series being postponed can be avoided. Teams such as the Astros and Cardinals are having their players vaccinated in the next few days. The availability guidelines currently in place in King County won’t allow Mariners players to receive vaccines. And the organization has said often players won’t jump ahead of others at greater risk.
In looking back at the past 50 days and 28 games spent in Arizona, there are a few things that stand out as positives and others as concerns for the Mariners.
Here are some thoughts:
*** The public acrimony might have subsided with time and games, but Kevin Mather’s infamous Zoom meeting and his comments about so many aspects of the organization are still there lingering, ready to be reused when the Mariners make a questionable decision.
The Mariners can repeat it over and over that Mather’s comments didn’t represent the organization’s thoughts and philosophies. But few people will believe that and they have justification to think that way. And how the organization handles top prospect Jarred Kelenic will be watched and scrutinized to see if there are improprieties.
*** Taylor Trammell was the best story of the spring. The Mariners knew he had talent and potential, but because there wasn’t a minor league season last year, they didn’t have a gauge on his timeline to the majors. Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais both thought Trammell could debut in 2021, but probably later in the season. Instead, Trammell played his way into a starting spot on the opening-day roster. In 19 games and 51 plate appearances this spring, Trammell finished with a .311/.392/.644 slash line with six doubles, three homers, nine RBI, six walks, 17 strikeouts and two stolen bases. The Mariners also love Trammell’s maturity and outgoing personality. When he struggles with MLB pitching — and he will struggle because all rookies do — they believe he has the emotional wherewithal to handle failure.
*** Upon first glance, Evan White’s .222 batting average in 19 games this spring would seem to be an issue, particularly after last season when he hit an anemic .176. White did lead the team in runs batted in, showing a solid situational hitting approach with three sacrifice flies. But the more important numbers are the six walks and 10 strikeouts in 54 plate appearances. Sure the Mariners would love to see White take a few more walks, but they will happily take an 18.5 strikeout percentage after he struck out in 40% of his plate appearances last season. The feeling is that because White hits the ball so hard, simply putting more balls in play will lead to success. While batting average alone can be a misnomer stat, if White can get his average to .250ish and an on-base percentage of .320ish, the Mariners believe he’s a 25 double-25 homer sort of player.
*** Mitch Haniger is healthy and still really good. If there were going to be timing issues or rust from missing a season and a half, it didn’t show. His vicious and violent swing never looked to cause him issues. He ran the bases well and moved well in the outfield. He will be a solid presence at the top of the lineup for an offense that struggled to score runs in 2020. But will he be on the team all season if he plays well?
*** They say spring training results don’t predict regular-season success or failure, which is a good thing for expected starters J.P. Crawford and Tom Murphy. Crawford posted a .128/.346/.128 slash line in 52 plate appearances. While the 12 walks he worked are impressive, Crawford did not hit the ball with much authority. He had five singles and never seemed able to get the barrel on hittable pitches. Murphy, who missed all of last season, admitted he had some timing issues. He had a .190/.277/.357 slash line in 47 plate appearances. Of his five hits, four were singles and one was a homer. He also struck out 17 times.
*** Kyle Lewis’ possible absence from the opening-day lineup, and a potential stint on the injured list shows how thin the Mariners are beyond their starting lineup. Sure, most teams don’t have great depth, but if Lewis misses a week or two, Seattle will go with Trammell in center, who has never played in the big leagues, and Jake Fraley in left field, who has played in fewer than 25 MLB games. Jose Marmolejos, who is 27, made his MLB debut last season and will be a bench bat. Beyond that, Seattle has Braden Bishop, who has played minimally at this level, on the 40-man roster and Jarred Kelenic, who has never played above Class AA, still waiting. Both Marmolejos and utility player Sam Haggerty have fewer than 40 games of MLB experience. Shed Long Jr. was hurt most of the spring and won’t be immediately ready to contribute if needed. Utility infielder Donovan Walton also lacks in experience.
If something were to happen to J.P. Crawford, the Mariners would be in serious trouble defensively.
*** The pitching is a coin toss from game to game. James Paxton looks healthy and ready to help out Marco Gonzales in the starting rotation. Yusei Kikuchi is expected to be better this season. He has good stuff, but he likely won’t ever be as efficient as they hoped when they signed him. Chris Flexen struggled in MLB in his first go-round. He dropped 50 pounds, found success in Korea and made some pitch modifications, but does that mean he will be a competent big-league starter? Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn have never made more than 10 starts in a MLB season. Now they are being asked to make at least 16 more.
Bullpens featuring established relievers can still be erratic. The Mariners might have one or two established relievers in their bullpen. There are plenty of arms that throw with mid-90s fastballs, but it will still be short on game experience. Expect there to be consistent turnover in that group.