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Mariners spring training 2019: Five storylines to watch for when players report to Peoria, Ariz.

Edwin Encarnacion. (Tony Dejak / The Associated Press)

With pitchers and catchers reporting Monday, listed here are 5 intriguing issues to observe this spring.

Even when the Mariners are within the midst of a “step-back” season, the present circumstances outdoors make it somewhat simpler to consider heat Arizona days within the solar for spring coaching.

With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report on Monday to Peoria, Ariz., listed here are 5 issues to observe this spring.

What’s Edwin Encarnacion’s Mariners future?

As of those phrases being typed, Edwin Encarnacion continues to be a member of the Mariners. That would change earlier than place gamers report on Feb. 15 or maybe a while throughout spring coaching.

The expectation for individuals round baseball and for Encarnacion was that the Mariners would commerce him after buying him within the offseason. Sources indicated the Mariners even made their intention of flipping Encarnacion recognized to him. It appeared like an honest plan. With the Twins, Rays and Astros all displaying curiosity in signing former Mariners designated hitter Nelson Cruz, the Mariners figured they might commerce Encarnacion to one of many two groups that have been unable to signal Cruz. They knew they’d should eat a large portion of the $25 million owed to Encarnacion in 2019, nevertheless it appeared value it for an honest prospect or perhaps a compensatory draft decide.

Edwin Encarnacion. (Tony Dejak / The Associated Press)

Edwin Encarnacion. (Tony Dejak / The Related Press)

So when Cruz signed a one-year cope with the Twins, the most effective matches for Encarnacion have been the Astros and Rays. However MLB sources stated the Rays didn’t worth Encarnacion as a hitter as a lot as Cruz and weren’t curious about a commerce, even when the Mariners picked up half of the contract. Seattle shopped Encarnacion to the Astros, however they appear content material with utilizing a rotation of gamers together with Tyler White and Yuli Gurriel at designated hitter.

The place does that depart Encarnacion and the Mariners? Nicely, it’s difficult. The marketplace for him isn’t precisely booming. Most groups view him as a main designated hitter and a typically first baseman. It limits him to American League groups — most of whom aren’t looking for a delegated hitter on an enormous contract or actually even making an attempt to win.

Maybe if a contending group have been to endure an damage at first base or DH throughout spring and be in want of a right-handed bat, the demand for Encarnacion would go up.

However till then, he shall be a part of an odd mixture of first base/DH varieties for the Mariners on a roster that additionally consists of Daniel Vogelbach, Ryon Healy, Jay Bruce and Domingo Santana.

“Edwin Encarnacion is confirmed productiveness,” basic supervisor Jerry Dipoto stated. “He’s gonna play regularly and hopefully be a staple in that lineup that we will develop round.”

And the remaining?

“And with Vogey and Ryan Healy, each of them are nonetheless younger gamers with an opportunity to develop and transfer ahead,” Dipoto stated. “Will probably be problem to see how we will stability the at-bats. However there’ll be a rotation that we use. As we get into the season, we’ll work out what that’s.

“One factor that I’ve discovered over three many years in baseball, is that when you assume you could have depth in a sure space, in typically doesn’t work out that means. We’ll let spring coaching and as we transfer in the direction of common season, inform us a narrative about one of the simplest ways to make use of our participant.”

The perfect state of affairs for the Mariners, if they’re pressured to hold Encarnacion into the season, is that he has a robust begin to the season they usually can flip him on the deadline.


Who will pitch out of the bullpen?

Of the Mariners’ relievers who made greater than 45 aid appearances in 2018, solely right-hander Chasen Bradford stays on the roster. Seattle parted methods with 5 of its most-relied-upon relievers from final season.

  • Edwin Diaz, 73 appearances, 73 1/three innings pitched,
  • Nick Vincent, 62 appearances, 56 1/three innings pitched
  • James Pazos, 60 appearances, 50 innings pitched
  • Alex Colome, 47 appearances, 46 1/three innings pitched
  • Juan Nicasio, 46 appearances, 42 innings pitched

That’s a complete of 288 appearances, 268 innings pitched and a mixed three.29 ERA from that quintet. Clearly the departure of Diaz, who was despatched to the Mets together with Robinson Cano, is probably the most noticeable absence. He set a plethora of data in his second full season because the Mariners nearer, together with a whopping 57 saves. However the remaining appearances and innings from the the 4 different relievers should be coated together with anticipated elevated utilization from the bullpen in 2019.

Hunter Strickland. (John Hefti / The Associated Press)Hunter Strickland. (John Hefti / The Associated Press)

Hunter Strickland. (John Hefti / The Related Press)

The Mariners have greater than a dozen relievers coming to MLB spring coaching, and that quantity might develop within the subsequent week with some late minor league indicators. Of that group, there are a handful of locks to be within the bullpen based mostly on their contracts and roster standing.

“There’s no query that the bullpen is our largest guess,” Dipoto stated. “The bullpen is, proper now, a piece in progress. We’re gonna use this as a proving floor.”

Seattle signed free agent relievers Cory Gearrin, Hunter Strickland and Zac Rosscup to MLB offers, so they’re penciled into the group. Lefty Roenis Elias is out of minor league choices and matches the position of lengthy reliever. Proper-hander Anthony Swarzak can also be anticipated to be part of the bullpen however is coping with some shoulder points. Of the gamers who pitched for Seattle final season, Bradford and right-hander Shawn Armstrong, who can also be out of choices, are candidates to make the roster together with right-handers Matt Festa, Dan Altavilla and Rule 5 draft decide Brandon Brennan.

Of the projected relievers, Strickland has probably the most closing expertise. He served because the Giants’ nearer for prolonged durations and tallied 14 saves final season earlier than punching a door and injuring his hand. However supervisor Scott Servais stated the make-up of the bullpen might decide late-game utilization.

“There is probably not a set nearer on a specific night time,” he stated. “We’d have our hottest reliever come within the recreation within the eighth inning. … It is going to frustrate some individuals, however there’s a way to the insanity. Some nights it’ll work, some nights it might not, however that’ll be the strategy getting in.”


New Mariners players, from left, infielder J.P. Crawford, outfielder Mallex Smith and pitcher Justus Sheffield. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)New Mariners players, from left, infielder J.P. Crawford, outfielder Mallex Smith and pitcher Justus Sheffield. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

New Mariners gamers, from left, infielder J.P. Crawford, outfielder Mallex Smith and pitcher Justus Sheffield. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Occasions)

Maintaining a tally of the youngsters

A lot of this offseason and the aim of the step-back plan was about accumulating younger, club-controlled expertise that can be probably contributing on the large league roster halfway by means of the 2020 season, however extra possible for the 2021 season.

That path of progress begins now for a lot of of them. The Mariners invited a big portion of their upper-level prospects to massive league spring coaching this season.

Of the Mariners’ Prime 30 prospects, per MLB Pipeline, these gamers can be in camp:

  • Justus Sheffield, LHP (No. 1)
  • Justin Dunn, RHP (No. three)
  • Kyle Lewis, OF (No. four)
  • Evan White, 1B (No. 5)
  • Shed Lengthy, 2B (No. Eight)
  • Braden Bishop, OF (No. 9)
  • Erik Swanson, RHP (No. 11)
  • Matt Festa, RHP (No. 12)
  • Dom Thompson-Williams, OF (No. 16)
  • Cal Raleigh, C (No. 18)
  • Eric Filia, OF (No. 22)
  • Jake Fraley, OF (No. 27)
  • Gerson Bautista, RHP (No. 28)

“We’ll go into spring coaching getting an opportunity to take a look at so many younger guys,” Dipoto stated. “We’re inviting numerous gamers who haven’t performed above the Double A degree. Largely as a result of we need to see what they do. We need to see what the gamers appear to be.”

It is going to permit them a chance to work out, compete with and play towards gamers on the degree they’re anticipated to succeed in within the subsequent two seasons. It’ll additionally permit the large league employees to work with them initially earlier than they head off to start out their season at one of many minor league associates. 

“We’ve got to go away to play in Tokyo,” Dipoto stated. “We’ll be gone for every week. We nonetheless need to play A video games in Arizona. We’re going to have a gaggle of younger gamers that we’re capable of depart behind which are going to get actual expertise versus another person’s A group, so to talk.”

There are a handful of gamers who’re anticipated to seek out everlasting spots on the large league roster by the top of the season. Sheffield and Swanson — each acquired from the Yankees within the commerce for James Paxton — are anticipated to make begins for Seattle in the course of the season. They’re principally sitting simply outdoors of the projected beginning rotation and an damage, a commerce or poor efficiency might push them into it.

Infielder J.P. Crawford was acquired from the Phillies to be the Mariners’ future on a regular basis shortstop. However they don’t plan to pressure him into that position instantly after he struggled with accidents and inconsistency in prolonged call-ups in Philly final season. Crawford is predicted to start out in Class AAA Tacoma, however spring coaching might supply a preliminary timetable to when he’s able to take over the large league job.

Servais is wanting ahead to the power younger gamers present each day.

“Younger gamers are very hungry. There’s one thing to be stated for that. They need to show themselves,” he stated. “That is their alternative. … How good can we be? We’re going to seek out out. We’re going to seek out out about a whole lot of these guys as a result of we’re going to provide them an opportunity.”


Which veterans will bounce again?

The Mariners don’t lack for gamers trying to rebound from forgettable performances final season. And apart from their very own private profit, it will even be useful for the Mariners on this step-back plan. A robust begin to the 2019 season would increase the participant’s worth, permitting Dipoto to commerce them on the deadline and decide up further prospects.

Second baseman Dee Gordon, third baseman Kyle Seager and outfielder Jay Bruce are three attainable candidates.

Dee Gordon. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)Dee Gordon. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

Dee Gordon. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Occasions)

Each Gordon and Seager handled toe points that hampered them on the plate in 2018. Gordon hit .268 with a .288 on-base proportion and simply 30 stolen bases, whereas Seager posted a career-worst .221 batting common and .273 on-base proportion.

The Mariners consider that ending Gordon’s conversion to the outfield and shifting him again to second base will permit him to seek out consolation emotionally and mentally.

“Getting again to residence for him is second base, after which stepping into the lineup, feeling good about the place he’s at,” Servais stated. “It’s about getting on base. … He didn’t stroll final yr. We knew once we acquired Dee, Dee doesn’t stroll, nevertheless it was a document low final yr. It’s one thing that we’ve talked about this offseason.”

Seager spent the offseason engaged on flexibility and agility whereas additionally addressing elements of his power coaching that have been missing. Greater than something, the damaged toe didn’t permit him to tug the ball as nicely. Seager’s $57 million owed on his contract and a “poison capsule” clause that kicks in a $15 million participant choice if he’s traded makes him harder to maneuver.

“You speak about Kyle, Dee, they need to get again to enjoying like they know they’re able to,” Servais stated. “They’re very proud, and the one factor each of these guys have carried out is that they’ve adjusted their offseason packages somewhat bit.”

Bruce, 31, is owed $28 million over the subsequent two seasons. A hip damage restricted him to 94 video games for the Mets final season the place he hit .223 with a .680 OPS, 18 doubles, one triple, 9 homers and 37 RBI. In 2017, he posted an .832 OPS with 36 homers and 101 RBI. He’s a confirmed energy bat when wholesome and might be engaging to groups in want of a left-handed hitter on the deadline.


Mariners starter Felix Hernandez. (Brandon Wade / The Associated Press)Mariners starter Felix Hernandez. (Brandon Wade / The Associated Press)

Mariners starter Felix Hernandez. (Brandon Wade / The Related Press)

Felix Hernandez’s mindset in his contract’s remaining yr

After spending his whole skilled profession within the group, this would be the ultimate yr that Hernandez wears a Mariners uniform. The seven-year, $175 million extension he signed earlier than the 2013 season is now in its ultimate yr. He’ll make $27.5 million in 2019 — greater than any participant on the roster.

By all indications, Hernandez plans on enjoying after this season, which suggests he’ll turn into a free agent for the primary time. Nevertheless, his steadily declining manufacturing over the previous few seasons gained’t make him coveted on the open market.

Hernandez slogged via his worst season in 2018, posting an Eight-14 document with a 5.55 ERA. It earned him a quick demotion to the bullpen. Over the previous three seasons, Hernandez has tallied a 25-27 report with a four.62 ERA.

A return to some semblance of his previous self can be best for all concerned. He’s solely King Felix in identify. The aura and dominance that earned him that title have since dissipated underneath a barrage of allowed runs, wayward pitches and forgettable performances. To bounce again, he might want to harness and refine mechanics that he’s been unable to repeat, re-find a command together with his pitches that has been misplaced and in addition change his mindset into how he assaults hitters. There are many individuals round baseball and within the group who’ve their doubts.

Given the Mariners’ intentions this season, Hernandez continues to be slotted into the opening day rotation, and he’ll stay there till he forces the Mariners to make a transfer with him. Dipoto confirmed there are not any plans to maneuver him to the bullpen regardless of outcry from some followers.

Hernandez was lower than enthused about how he was dealt with by Servais and Dipoto in 2018 and has been quiet this offseason. However he vowed to return prepared for spring coaching in 2019 — a promise he’s made up to now.

“Not likely had any offseason conversations (with Hernandez), which is the norm,” Dipoto stated. “Felix went residence and he’s getting ready to be a beginning pitcher for us, which is what he’ll be. I’ve talked about it publicly, there’s actually no consideration to Felix pitching in our bullpen as a daily occasion. … His power has been to include all of his stuff and pitch over the lengthy innings.”