In keeping with the mood of all things Seahawks, it isn’t hard to envision Seattle Mariners outfielder Stefen Romero channeling a little Russell Wilson as he prepares for the start of spring training.
Why not me?
The Mariners still have a pressing need for an impact right-handed bat, preferably one they can stash in their outfield. And, yes, they remain linked in the ever-grinding rumor mill to free agent Nelson Cruz, who spent the past eight seasons with Texas.
But if a Cruz deal, or something similar, fails to materialize, well, again … why not Romero?
“We’ve talked about Stefen all winter,” Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik agreed. “This guy could really be a player for us. He gives you power. He gives you the ability to hit. It’s up to him.”
Romero was among the handful of “future stars” the Mariners brought to Safeco Field in late January for their two-day FanFest. If nothing else, that suggests he is in line for a long spring look.
“We were awfully left-handed last year,” new Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said. “So we need some balance. We’ve talked about right-handed bats and where we get that from.”
It’s a pivotal year for Romero, who at 25 is at that age where evaluations tend to shift firmly from potential to production; i.e., from being a prospect to a player.
A year ago, Romero entered camp as a top prospect after a
breakout minor league season in which he batted .352 with 23 homers and 101 RBI while splitting 116 games between Class A High Desert (Calif.) and Class AA Jackson (Tenn.).
He then flexed some early spring muscle before suffering a strained left oblique injury. Shortly after he returned to active duty in mid-April, the Mariners shifted him from second base to left field at Class AAA Tacoma.
“A work in progress,” said Chris Gwynn, the club’s director of player development. “Some plays, he looks like he’s been out there a long time. Some plays, it doesn’t look like he’s been out there a long time.”
Romero’s position switch, in light of the Robinson Cano signing, now seems particularly fortuitous, but it also likely contributed to a disappointing 2013 at the plate: 11 homers, 76 RBI and a .277 average in 98 games.
“I’ve talked to experienced outfielders,” he said, “and they say left field is the toughest for them because of the trajectory and the reads, especially off right-handed hitters.
“You’ve got to play the ball with so much quickness. You need to make the right first steps in order to make plays. You just have to get your reps in and know you’re going to get better.”
True enough, but know this: The Mariners appear willing to live with Romero’s defensive learning curve … if he provides that much-needed, right-handed pop.
“He’s an average runner,” Zduriencik said. “I think his arm is average. He’s a hitter. I think the biggest thing is he has athletic ability. He’s played a lot of places. He’s not stellar defensively, but he’s a hitter.
“He’s a tough kid. If he can be a hitter for us, we’ll take that.”
Sounds like opportunity — doesn’t it? — after a year filled by injury, transition and reflection. The Mariners’ first full-squad workout is Feb. 18 at the renovated Peoria (Ariz.) Sports Complex.
“I had an awesome spring training (last year) until the oblique injury,” Romero said. “I went into the season looking at the injury from the outside, (and thinking) about what I had to do to stay on the field and be consistent.
“That’s what I want to take into ’14: Be consistent.”bob.dutton@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @TNT_Mariners