Casper Wells battles for big league life

Casper Wells’ defense stacks up with any of the other 7 players vying for the Mariners’ outfield, but same can’t be said of his bat

ryan.divish@thenewstribune.comMarch 7, 2013 

PEORIA, Ariz. — Casper Wells doesn’t need to look at what the media have been writing, or spend hours studying the roster to understand he’s in the midst of a battle for a spot on the Seattle Mariners’ roster.

A look at his immediate surroundings, some quick math, and he understands the competition he faces.

To his right, Michael Morse’s massive frame is fiddling with the clubhouse music while Franklin Gutierrez bobs his head to the beat. A glance to his left usually finds Michael Saunders messing with one of the swing gadgets he uses for batting practice.

And just across from Wells’ locker, veterans Jason Bay and Raul Ibañez are usually coming and going at all times. Heck, even Carlos Peguero and Eric Thames loom in the same 20-foot radius.

That’s eight players for likely five spots. It could have been nine had Mike Carp not been traded to Boston.

“You have a lot of good players on this team, and I think the Mariners are the ones in probably a good position for themselves,” Wells said. “That’s always better than not having enough.”

Wells has been around long enough to know he can’t get caught up in his own day-to-day performances or what’s going on with his competition.

“They’re the ones that have to make decisions,” he said of Mariners management. “I just go out there and play.”

Wells has gotten the opportunity to do that this spring. It has produced mixed results. He started slowly, hitting .111 (2-for-18) in his first six games.

“I’ve been hitting some balls hard this spring at people,” he said. “I feel like I’m having a good approach at the plate.”

But on Monday, the hard-hit balls

found open space. Wells went 3-for-4 with an RBI single, a double and a three-run triple against the Rockies. But, he isn’t foolish enough to think one good game will secure his spot on the team.

“It’s good,” he said. “It’s kind of reassuring. I’ve tried to stick to a diligent plan of staying disciplined in my routines. It was nice to see some results.”

Looking at Wells’ swing this year, it’s a little shorter and more compact than a year ago. He didn’t undergo a massive overhaul like Michael Saunders did last season. But he made some subtle changes.

“He’s worked hard to shorten up his swing, and it’s been showing so far this spring,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “I think it will allow him to see the ball better and hit more consistently.”

So how did it come about?

“I was just swinging a lot in the offseason,” he said. “Last year, I probably didn’t swing as much as I should have. But I was at the facility this offseason doing a lot of stuff off the tee with video just so I could visually see how it looks and how it felt that day.”

But bigger than any swing tweaks was a change in his attitude. Wells thinks he has found something that works with his swing and he isn’t going to give up on it.

“Last year, if something wasn’t working I’d be quick to fix it or do something else,” he said. “I’m trying to be consistent with my swing and my approach. If you are always trying to change something, you are not going to be consistent.”

And consistency at the plate is the only thing keeping Wells from being a lock to make the team. Defensively, he’s outstanding. He can play all three outfield positions at an above-average level, he has good speed to track down flies in the gap and has one of the best throwing arms on the team.

“It’s obvious what kind of athlete he is,” Wedge said.

But the hitting has been up and down with the ups being shorter than the downs.

Wedge gave Wells a chance last season. From June 28 to Aug. 4, Wells started 32 consecutive games. During that time he hit .203 (26-for-128) with five homers and 15 RBI. He had a .266 on-base percentage and a .375 slugging percentage. He struck out 36 times and walked eight times during that span.

But the new, shorter swing should help Wells be a little more consistent and avoid some of the long slumps.

“I think it will, and I think it will allow him to see the ball better,” Wedge said. “It puts him in a better position to hit more consistently, and that’s what we’re trying to get these guys to do.”

Wells’ defense might still be good enough to keep him in the big leagues even if the offense is sporadic. Morse, Ibañez and Bay are all less than average defensive outfielders. Having Wells as a fourth outfielder and a late-inning defensive replacement would be extremely valuable.

With Gutierrez, Saunders, Morse and Ibañez all seeming to be locks to make the team, Wells likely is battling it out with Bay – and to a lesser degree Peguero and Thames – for that last spot.

A few more games like he had Monday, and continuing to have high quality at-bats, will help his chances. If it doesn’t happen, and Bay plays well, Wells could be out of the organization. He’s out of Triple-A options. He would have to be designated for assignment if he doesn’t make the team out of spring training. Wells would seem likely to be claimed off waivers because of his defensive excellence.

“My goal is to be in the big leagues,” he said. “I love the Mariners organization and I’d love to be with the Mariners my whole career. I love it here. So whatever happens, happens. It is business. I understand that. I’ve been traded before, so I understand. I’m not new to it. I’ll just go out and take care of my business and let the chips fall where they may.”

SPRING TRAINING RECAP

BREWERS 7, MARINERS 6 (at Peoria Stadium)

The facts: The wild run of wins finally came to an end for the Mariners. Their 10-game winning streak was snapped by the Brewers, who capitalized on a few poor pitching performances from the Mariners, who also failed to get hits with runners in scoring position. There were a few streaks maintained in the loss. With home runs from Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales, the Mariners have homered in every Cactus League game this season, giving them a total of 26 this spring – the most in baseball. Seattle has also had multiple homers in each of its past nine games.

Play of the game: It came in a losing cause, but on sheer distance and power, Morse’s fourth-inning solo home run off Mike Fiers was the most impressive part of the game. Morse demolished a fastball from Fiers, hitting it just to the left of the batter’s eye in center field. The ball went over at the 410-foot mark and landed on top of the berm. More telling was that neither Brewers left fielder Norichika Aoki nor center fielder Logan Schafer moved to make a play on the ball.

Who was hot : Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez continued to make his push for a spot in the starting rotation with another solid outing. Ramirez threw three scoreless innings, allowing just one hit, while striking out three batters and walking one. He has yet to give up a run in three outings this spring.

Who was not: Reliever Josh Kinney, who is fighting to make the bullpen, had a forgettable outing. The veteran right-hander never made it out of his scheduled one inning, giving up three runs on three hits and a walk. Kinney came in with a 6-3 lead in the seventh inning. He left with two outs and the game tied. Charlie Furbush relieved Kinney and ended the inning, getting a flyout from Schafer.

Extra innings: Ken Griffey Jr. and Jay Buhner drew huge crowds to the minor league fields at the Peoria complex. Both former Mariners are in camp to instruct minor leaguers. Neither was in uniform, but both talked to several players and watched batting practice. … Former Mariners owner George Argyros was at Wednesday’s game.

On tap: The Mariners will play a pair of split-squad games today. In Surprise, Ariz., Felix Hernandez will make his Cactus League debut against the Kansas City Royals. Also scheduled to pitch are Hisashi Iwakuma, Tom Wilhelmsen, Carter Capps and Stephen Pryor. At Phoenix Municipal, Brandon Mauer will start against the Oakland A’s. Also scheduled to pitch against the A’s are James Paxton, D.J. Mitchell and Brian Moran. Both games start at 1:05 p.m.

Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 ryan.divish@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish ryan.divish@thenewstribune.com

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