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2016 Seattle Mariners Spring Preview: The Infield

Thursday, February 04, 2016

 

We’re just over two weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting, live footage from the complex down in sunny Arizona beginning to pepper ESPN and fill the MLB Network, and our first looks at the Seattle Mariners’ mostly turned-over roster. Last week I discussed the Mariners’ starting pitchers, looking at some of the strengths, weaknesses and who of the group could end up in Tacoma. 

In this, the second piece in the series, I want to take a thorough look at the Mariners’ infield group. The group consists of a first basemen, second basemen, third basemen and a shortstop. If you’re wondering about the catchers, fear not. We’ll get there in the coming weeks. 

Let’s get the facts out of the way. Here are the seven infielders on the Seattle Mariners’ 40-man roster. 

First Basemen
Adam Lind
Jesus Montero

Second Basemen
Robinson Cano 
Luis Sardinas

Third Basemen
Kyle Seager 

Shortstops
Ketel Marte
Chris Taylor 

The starting infield is relatively set, barring any sort of huge setback or early injuries. Adam Lind, Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager and Ketel Marte are all going into spring training, for the most part, with no risk of losing their jobs to anyone else on the roster. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. There’s still a lot of time and work between now and opening day, and there are still some intriguing things to watch. I fully expect all but one of these players to make the 25-man roster and play regularly.

As long as Jesus Montero shows up in shape and holds his own this spring, he will make the team as either a backup or platoon partner with Adam Lind at first base. Adam Lind can hit right handed pitching. Not only does he hit righties, he crushes them. If all pitchers were right-handed, Adam Lind would be a perennial MVP candidate. So just keep that in mind. Last year he hit .291/.380/.503, in 398 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers. Unfortunately for Adam Lind, left-handed pitchers are a real thing and he has real trouble with them. Last year against lefties he hit .221/.277/.298. That’s where Jesus Montero comes into the picture. Jesus has historically hit very well against lefties, and made a case in AAA last year that he’s ready to become the player every scout in the country once believed he could be. He was called up late in the season by the Mariners and struggled a bit in a small sample. 

Jesus Montero could be the difference. I say that with authority because I believe it. He has that much raw talent buried under a couple years of frustration and immaturity. But in the last year and half, everyone in the organization said the change in his attitude and work ethic was real and the production in Tacoma was a testament to that. He’s still in his mid 20’s and if he has a good year, even as a platoon partner, the team should benefit from a giant gain in production at first base. He and Lind, combined, could make for one very dangerous first baseman. 

The downside I see to having those two players both on the team is that neither of them can really play a second position. If you’re keeping a bench player who can only play one position, you’re thin somewhere else. 

Who Makes the Cut 

As I said earlier, there’s a need on this team for all but one of the infielders currently on the 40-man roster. And that competition will come down to Luis Sardinas and Chris Taylor. Without checking to see who has more options left, (I believe they both have minor league options left) my guess is that this battle will be won by whichever of the two get on base more often, and don’t make stupid mistakes defensively. I have to admit I’m sort of pulling for Taylor, as I like the way he plays short and his aggressiveness at the plate. I think he’s got some interesting tools that I’d like coming off the bench. 

Again, much can change between now and then. We could see a giant spring training regression from Ketel Marte, which pushes him into the Tacoma conversation. I doubt that though. Whether you’re looking at stats or just trusting your eyes, Marte looked like the real deal in the second half of last season. He had good range at shortstop, made some awe-inspiring highlight plays and looked good on the base paths. He also showed good patience, contact ratings and gap-power in limited plate appearances. The double play duo of Marte and Cano could be downright lethal and is a big part of being strong up the middle defensively.

The Positives

I’ve only got a couple of things to say about Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. 

Firstly, Robinson Cano had offseason surgery to repair a sports hernia injury. He says he’s feeling better than he has in the last two years. Who knows what that actually means, but my baseball intuition, (which is totally a real thing!) is telling me that Cano is about to shut the mouths of some of his critics this year. 

Kyle Seager has said that he wants to work on raising his on-base percentage this season. He’ll be looking at improving pitch selection and cut down on his bad swings. Again, doesn’t everyone want to strike out less and get on base more? If Kyle does put his focus on OBP, it’ll also likely mean his home runs dip a little in favor of more doubles and runs scored. To me this is a sign and shows that Seager is buying into to the Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais’ playing philosophy. 

Kyle Seager just watched his little brother play in the playoffs. His little brother is the number one prospect in the country. Kyle now has a chip on his shoulder and wants to play in October very badly. All Kyle has ever done is get better, every single year. I’m going to just go ahead and say it now. Kyle Seager makes the All-Star team and wins a silver slugger award this season and once again, gets even better.

Areas of Concern

I’m feeling sort of uncomfortable with all of this Mariners optimism. The idea that I’m not worried even a little about this group producing is sort of terrifying. Am I just setting myself up for disappointment?  Possibly. History certainly isn’t on our side, Mariners’ fans. But I can’t help but to get increasingly excited the more deeply I look at this team that Jerry Dipoto has put together. I honestly don’t see a lot of holes in this group. 

My friend Neal always says, “If you can’t get excited about the possibilities of spring training, you should stop following baseball.” I tend to agree with that. There’s reason for hope with this group, and if I’m wrong there will be plenty of time to talk about that later. 

That’s two position groups down and three more to go. In the coming weeks, we’ll take a look at the catchers, the outfielders and the bullpen. And I’m happy to say, there’s more positivity to come. 

GoLocalPDX partner Oregon Sports News: Since 2011, Oregon Sports News has provided entertaining, hard-hitting local sports news & commentary every weekday. To read more from this author, check out Oregon Sports News by clicking here.

 

Related Slideshow: 12 of the Greatest Sports Movies of All Time

Hank Stern ranks his top twelve favorite sports films. 

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#12 Rollerball

Some of the non-athletic scenes in this dystopian classic show their age, but Rollerball is a strangely prescient film that anticipated both the corporatization of sport and fans’ limitless taste for violence. Bonus points for the ominous intro music.

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#11 A League of Their Own

A comedy that looks back to the antithesis of corporate sport – a women’s baseball league during World War II with many memorable lines to choose from (e.g.,”There’s no crying in baseball.”)

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#10 Remember The Titans

Yes, filmmakers took liberties with some of the facts dealing with the integration of a high school football team in Virginia. But there’s a reason football teams often screen this film on the eve of big games. It’s a damn inspirational tale.

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#9 The Natural

This film has grown on me over time. Originally, it seemed slow and schmaltzy. Now, it seems well-paced and charming. Then and now, the re-created scenes of pre-World War II ballparks arrive like perfectly preserved postcards from the past.  

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#8 The Longest Yard

Not the remake with Adam Sandler and Chris Rock. But the hilarious original with Burt Reynolds and Eddie Albert as a wonderfully villainous warden who pits the guards against the inmates in a grudge football game that includes former Green Bay linebacker Ray Nitschke and other ex-football players like Sonny Sixkiller and Joe Kapp, both stalwart Pac-8 quarterbacks long, long ago.  

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#7 Slap Shot

The Hanson brothers. Enough said.

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#6 Rocky

Often imitated, but never replicated. The definitive underdog boxing story featuring Sylvester Stallone before he became a self-caricature in multiple sequels. Impossible to hear the theme song without being motivated to get off the couch.

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#5 Seabiscuit

A fantastic book as well as a great movie. Like “The Natural,” Seabiscuit captures its Depression-era setting for modern-day viewers taken back to an era when horse racing actually meant something in America. 

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#4 Requiem for a Heavywei

A too often-forgotten film these days but a wonderful boxing drama that shows the sport’s underside with memorable  performances by Mickey Rooney, Jackie Gleason and Anthony Quinn.

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#3 Hoosiers

Want to know something about small-town America in the 1950s and about Indiana basketball? This hoops movie does all of that with a healthy dose of redemption throughout. 

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#2 Bull Durham

There’s a pretty good case to be made this movie played a huge part in the rebirth and re-marketing of minor league baseball. As written by former minor leaguer Ron Shelton, there are many great scenes to choose from but this one is a favorite. 

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#1 Raging Bull

A rags-to-riches-to-rags story of boxer Jake LaMotta meets the actor born to play him, Robert De Niro. Not a false moment in this black-and-white powerhouse.

 
 

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