Ready for some early impressions from Mariners camp?
The time seems right.
The Mariners are heading into their first spring open date after playing 11 Cactus League games. They’re roughly three weeks into spring drills, and the April 3 season opener at Houston is still almost a month away.
It’s still too early for conclusions or any serious numbers crunching. For now, let’s go old school and stick to the eye test. Unscientific? No argument. But no analytics yet. No stats. Not yet.
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It’s not that spring numbers are meaningless, although they can be deceptive — particularly early numbers consisting of an inning or two for pitchers or a handful of at-bats for hitters.
Even beyond the small sample sizes are other factors — pitchers trying out a new pitch or hitters feasting on an early diet consisting mainly of fastballs along with some non-biting breaking balls in the dry air.
Anyway…statistical analysis will come later.
For now, let’s stick to that eye test; here are eight things worth noting. This list could easily be longer than eighth items but, at this point, eight’s enough:
***The King is serious: The Mariners saw last year what can happen when a future Hall of Fame player hears doubts for the first time. Second baseman Robinson Cano, healthy again, responded with a monster year.
Felix Hernandez often eased his way through spring training in previous years. Not this spring. He’s been all business. Part of that, no doubt, was the need to be ready for the World Baseball Classic. But this seems more than that.
Will it make any difference? We’ll see. But his approach and spring demeanor are vastly different.
***Segura looks hitterish: The general expectation is that new shortstop Jean Segura will regress somewhat offensively after a breakout season at Arizona. And that might happen. His 2016 totals will be tough to match.
But…Segura combines a short swing with quick wrists and, early on, was lining the ball to all fields with authority before tapering off in his final few games before departing for the WBC.
This much is evident: Segura is in a personal comfort zone alongside Cano, his offseason workout partner. Maybe last year was just the start of big things.
***Vogelbach can play first: Club officials make it clear that Dan Vogelbach’s roster chances hinge, to a large degree, on his ability to avoid being a defensive liability at first base. They believe he’ll hit, but the glove has to play.
So what happens? Cano made a (rare) off-line throw after handling a grounder in the spring opener. Vogelbach easily shifted his feet and made the catch. It was just one play…but, well, it was also more than just one play.
***Povse is a redwood: The Mariners got right-hander Max Povse from Atlanta in an offseason trade. He’s 6 feet 8 and looks far taller. The comparisons to ex-Mariners righties Chris Young and Doug Fister have more than a little merit.
Like those two, Povse generates an imposing down angle in his delivery and often appears to on top of the plate when he releases the ball. He’s headed to the minors but if all the moving parts click, he could be be a handful before long.
***O’Neill is unflappable: Outfielder Tyler O’Neill has always been a confident player and is coming off a season in which he nearly won the triple crown in the Double-A Southern League.
He’s in big-league camp for the first time, and he’s been put on the spot in team activities. He had to prove his skill on the organ and, as a Canadian, they made him use a hockey stick against catching coach Dan Wilson in a block-balls drill.
Nothing fazed him. He’ll start the year at Triple-A Tacoma after returning from WBC duty with Canada. O’Neill is worth a trip to Cheney Stadium to form your own impressions. Make it an early-season visit.
***Simmons can bring it: The Mariners acquired Shae Simmons in an effort to add to right-handed power to their bullpen. They were confident, after watching him late last season, that he was fully recovered from Tommy John surgery.
There’s been nothing this spring, to date, to suggest otherwise. If the final right-handed spot in the bullpen comes down to either Simmons or Dan Altavilla, it’s hard to see how the Mariners can go wrong.
***Vieira is furnace-fan hot: Righty reliever Thyago (chee-AH-go) Vieira is the must-see kid in camp after wowing scouts in the Arizona Fall League to such as extent that the Mariners had to put him on their 40-man roster to avoid losing him.
He’s always had power stuff but now tops 100 mph on a regular basis and — this is the key — is showing significantly better command. Vieira wobbled a bit Sunday against Oakland, but club officials saw it as part of a learning curve.
He is likely to start the season at Double-A Arkansas, but he’ll be watched closely. The Mariners showed last year with Edwin Diaz and Altavilla that they’re willing to promote relievers directly from Double-A.
***Dyson can still zoom: Outfielder Jarrod Dyson is 32 and, since he’s still relatively affordable, it was reasonable to wonder why the Kansas City Royals, in a one-more-time year, were willing to trade him. Had he lost some RPMs?
Any eye test says no. Watching Dyson score easily from first base on a double Monday while chugging in a low gear even amazed Leonys Martin, who told manager Scott Servais: "Skip, he wasn’t even running!"
That’s an eye-test evaluation.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners