(Michael Saunders and Lucas Luetge speak at the luncheon. Seattle Times photo by Ken Lambert).
(Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com continues to rank minor-league players by position. The Mariners have been doing quite well, with Taijuan Walker coming in at No. 2 among right-handed pitchers, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton at 2 and 5 among left-handed pitchers, and Mike Zunino the No. 2 catcher. Today, Mayo ranks shortstops, and Nick Franklin is No. 6.)
I still have a few leftover tidbits from yesterday’s luncheon, so I thought I’d toss some of them out.
1) As you know, four Mariners players are on the provisional rosters for the World Baseball Classic (Felix Hernandez, Venezuela; Michael Saunders, Canada; Oliver Perez, Mexico; Alex Liddi, Italy).
Assistant GM Jeff Kingston shed some light on their spring-training timetable. He said that the Mariners expect to lose those players out of camp on March 2 or March 3. How long they will be gone depends on the success of their teams, but the finals are March 17-19 at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
“Potentially, there’s two, two and a half weeks those players might be be with us,” Kingston said.
If Team Korea makes it to the second round, the Mariners will host them for four days in Peoria.
Speaking of Saunders, here’s what he had to say about playing for Team Canada: “It’s a great honor for me anytime you can put on your country’s jersey. It’s a big sense of pride that gets involved. To play with the likes of (Justin) Morneau — unfortunately (Joey) Votto doesn’t sound like he’s going to play, but guys like (Ryan) Dempster, I’m looking forward trying to learn from that.
“First and foremost, I’m a Mariner first. I checked with the front office and the coaching staff was really supportive. As soon as they gave me the go ahead, it was a no-brainer. I’m really looking forward to representing my country. It’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s going to be the best players in the world representing their countries so the competition is going to be great. Really exciting to have that so early in camp. Hopefully it gets me ready that much sooner.”
Saunders said he altered his preparation to try to be game ready a little sooner.
“I hit indoors and typically hit off machines. The machines are a little more advanced. You can set them to throw any kind of pitch you want. The biggest thing for me was upping pitch pressure as soon as possible and as soon as I was ready to do that to get me ready to see live pitching as soon as possible.”
2, The above picture, also by Ken Lambert of the Seattle Times, shows the giant new video screen going up in center field. The newly reconfigured outfield fence is also going up right now, and should be finished by the middle of March, Kingston said.
The Mariners have two other construction projects going on. One is their new academy in the Dominican Republic, which is due to be completed by mid to late December of this year. Construction crews are currently leveling the field, and work on the main building and dormitory will begin next month.
One thing I found intersting is that the Mariners are making the facility big enough to host two teams, with the realization that their Venezuelan players might eventually have to move in if there is more political unrest in Venezuela. The Mariners are one of four teams with their own academy in Venezuela.
“If the political situation comes to a point we need to pull that team out, that’s why we’re building enough capacity in the new facility to host them, if possible,” Kingston said.
A major renovation is also about to take place at their spring training home in Peoria, beginning at this year’s camp.
“We’re calling it a renovation; it’s really going to be, for all intents and purposes, a brand-new facility,” Kingston said. “Once we leave spring training at the end of March, we have about five days to get our s tuff out, and then they’ll gut the whole facility.”
The first phase involves building new clubhouses (major and minor leagues), training facility and performance center, all of which will be about 40 percent bigger than what currently exists. The target date is to have it all ready by the start of spring training in 2014. Kingston said the team believes it can still host extended spring training, summer league and instructional league despite the upheaval, using some makeshift clubhouses and training facilities.
The second phase, a renovation of the stadium, “will be done a few years down the road,” Kingston said.
3, Chris Gwynn, the Mariners’ minor-league director, had some interesting comments. For starters, he had a frank assessment of the timetable of catcher Mike Zunino:
“He’s definitely well ahead of most college players who come out,” Gwynn said. “Receiving wise, I think he still has stuff to learn. Offensively, he’s pretty good now. But he’s only had 160 to 180 at-bats in the minors. That makes me nervous in the sense that, are we really preparing him for when he gets here? He still has stuff to learn both ways, but catching is such an important position, you need to make sure he’s well-seasoned before he shows up here.”
My interpretation: Don’t look for Zunino with the Mariners until June.
Gwynn said he talked to the players who were mentioned in media reports as being part of the vetoed Justin Upton trade, which incuded top prospects Taijuan Walker and Nick Franklin
“It’s part of the business,” Gwynn said. “I’ve talked to just about everyone’s name who came out and told them, that doesn’t necessarily mean it was true, one. Two, it’s a compliment that other teams kind of like the way you play and think you would be good in their organization. That’s something you look at as fuel to help you get better.
“Everybody was smiling. I think they understand they’re getting close. When you get close, these kinds of things happen. I’m happy for them, but they have work to do still.”
Gwynn on the possibility of keeping the “Big Three” pitchers (Hultzen, Walker and Paxton) plus Southern League Pitcher of the Year Brendan Maurer , together again on one team, most likely Tacoma (they all pitched the first half of 2012 for Jackson before Hultzen moved up to Tacoma): “It depends. They were together because they were all at the same development plateau. The teams we played in the league were not happy they were together, because it was a good player night in and night out. (Carter) Capps and (Stephen) Pryor werer on that team, too. When it’s time to go, when it’s time to be here, they’ll be here. Right now, I have no idea. A lot of them could end up in Tacoma. I think they all would be at some point. You never know — in spring training, guys could come in and take the bull by the horn and say, ‘I’m as good as these guys here, and it’s time for me to make my imprint.’ ”
Finally, Gwynn addressed the question of what position Stefen Romero, the Mariners’ minor-league player of the year in 2012, will play. Romero looks like he has the potential to be an impact offensive player; the 24-year-old out of Oregon State hit a combined .352 with 23 homers and 101 RBIs for High Desert and Jackson. But the question remains, where will he play? Gwynn noted that he played third base for Clinton two years ago, second base last year, and has some outfield experience in college.
“We’ll just make sure he can cover all those positions, just in case they (the major-league club) need somebody,” Gwynn said. “We think it’s best for him. We haven’t decided where he’ll play, but he’ll play a few positions, for sure. He’s a good enough athlete he can play the outfield, I have no doubt about that.”
4, Lefty reliever Lucas Luetge, who had a solid rookie season after coming over from Milwaukee in the Rule 5 draft, was asked if he had a different mindset this year now that’s he’s established himself in the bullpen.
“I wouldn’t say I’m established at all,” he countered. “I’m still coming with the same mindset of having to make the team. Almost everybody from last year (in the bullpen) is coming back and it’s going to be a fight for every spot. So I’m still looking at it the same way. The only difference is that I’ll know who everyone is.”
Luetge had a 1.61 ERA and .187 opponents average before the All-Star break, and 6.83/.311 afterwards. He believes he may have paid the price for peaking too early in an attempt to impress in spring training.
“I started off great but I kind of fell of toward the end,” he said. “I just have to make the adjustment to where I last the whole season. … I came here in midseason form. I knew I had one shot and had to be ready to go. This year I started throwing my bullpens a little later just to give my arm that extra little break that it didn’t have last year.”
5, Trainer Rick Griffin believes that Dustin Ackley’s struggles last year were at least partly attributable to the bone spur in his left ankle that was removed arthroscopically the day after the season.
“You can ask him better, but just an observation, he was unable to stay on his back leg and drive off his back leg because of the bone spur,” Griffin said. “I think it hindered him quite a bit. He’ll never say that. Some of the day games, he’d walk into the training room and you didn’t know for sure it was a 23-year-old or a 90-year-old. We anticipate that (the removal) should make a big difference.”
And in training staff news, assistant athletic trainer Takayoshi Mirimoto, who has specialized in acupuncture and massage therapy, has left the organization after nine years to pursue schooling in Arizona. His replacement is Masahiro Takahura.
“We’ve been very fortunate for the last 14 years to have a Japanese acupuncturist and massage therapist to help our ballplayers,” Griffin said. “It really makes a big difference to have a blend of Eastern and Western medicine, and it’s important to continue to be able to do that.”
6, Here’s a look at Rick Rizzs and his new radio partner, Aaron Goldsmith. Seattle Times photo by Ken Lambert. Goldsmith showed a lot of poise on the podium, and listening to his dulcet tones, it’s easy to understand how he shot to the top of the list out of 160 audition tapes. Can’t wait to hear him call a game.