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Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

Topic: Mike Zunino

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February 19, 2013 at 8:01 AM

Watching the dynamic between Mariners catchers

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Filming this little bit of a catchers drill at Mariners camp, I was struck not so much by the actual catching and throwing part, but by some of the interplay and exchanges between the catchers, coach Jeff Datz and manager Eric Wedge.

Watch a bit of it and you can see who feels comfortable taking charge out there, who needs a little work on that and just how the three guys doing the drill relate to one another. The three catchers featured are Mike Zunino, Jesus Montero and Kelly Shoppach, in that order. Just by watching, you can see the stature that Shoppach carries and how the others listen to what he has to say. This is the kind of stuff you don’t get to see looking at boxscores or even watching on TV during the season. Frankly, this is the thing I enjoy most about covering spring training. Getting to show you all the kind of stuff up close that is difficult to understand unless you can watch it up close. Just from being here — without having to be told anything officially — you can see how Shoppach is going to make the team regardless of what his spring stats look like.

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“He’s done a nice job,” Wedge said of Shoppach. “I’ve known him from early on in Cleveland when he was younger. Had him the first couple years when he broke in. It’s been nice to see how far along he’s come. He’s had a leadership personality for us, in particular with the pitchers and the catchers. He does have some presence. He’s a good ballplayer. He’s a winning ballplayer.”

On paper, you’d never imagine that a first round draft pick (No. 3 overall) like Zunino, or a highly-rated young MLB prospect like Montero would give a hoot what a backup like Shoppach has to say. Or even a manager like Wedge who barely played catcher in the majors. But the reality of big league ball is that they do. The reason is that Shoppach has lasted in the majors while Zunino has yet to play a game and Montero is still learning how to play his position at this level. That’s not a knock on the young guys, just reality.  They may have talent, but honing it and using it to the best of their abilities is what this is all about and the margin between success and failure is razor thin. In the end, it’s Wedge’s job — regardless of his own prior on-field success as a catcher — to get the most out of his players any way he can and to make them into what they are supposed to be.

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Comments | More in spring training | Topics: eric wedge, Jesus Montero, kelly shoppach

February 14, 2013 at 11:16 AM

Watch Mike Zunino, Jesus Montero and other Mariners catchers in a pitch-blocking drill

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Most of the Mariners are now coming off the field after a second day of workouts here in Peoria. I had a chance to watch the catchers put through some blocking drills under the tutelage of catching co-ordinator Jeff Datz this morning. Blocking pitches became a big issue last season when Miguel Olivo, Jesus Montero and John Jaso allowed a ton of passed balls and wild pitches to get by them.

Mariners catcher Mike Zunino blocks a pitch in the dirt during a morning drill.

Clearly, this is an important area for the Mariners to be focusing on.

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Comments | Topics: catchers, drills, Jesus Montero

February 13, 2013 at 10:39 AM

Mariners spring training is officially underway

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We’ve spent part of the morning watching the Mariners go through pitchers’ fielding practice and throw some bullpen sessions. Yes, that means spring training is officially underway.

Don’t forget, we’ll have the Felix Hernandez press conference at 2 p.m. PT today from Safeco Field. The Hernandez extension is obviously viewed as a coup by the Mariners organization and is good news for teammates who’ve come to rely on him over the years.

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“To us, he is the best pitcher in baseball,” Mariners starter Blake Beavan said. “He’s the kind of guy you can go to for advice, he’s easy to talk to. He’s always been good to younger guys. That’s all you hear from guys on other teams who have gotten to know him, too. Having him on our team is whatwe’ve been built around. So, I think it’s good for Seattle to keep a guy like that for a long time to build around a franchise. He is the face of our team.”

Mariners pitchers take fielding practice this morning in Peoria, AZ.

It’s interesting to hear a guy like Beavan, who is 24, talk about Hernandez, 26, as if he’s so much older and wiser.

“I think I look at him as an older guy because I’m still inexperienced,” Beavan said. “Especially compared to him. He came up when he was19, he’s 26 now and about to be 27. He’s got six years in and he is a veteran whether he’s 24, or 25 or 26. I think everybody looks up to him as a veteran regardless of age.”

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Comments | More in spring training | Topics: Blake Beavan, felix hernandez, Mike Zunino

January 7, 2013 at 4:06 PM

A primer for any Mariners trade discussion that happens in coming weeks

Mariners infield prospect Nick Franklin has been the subject of trade rumors all winter long after strong Arizona Fall League showing. Photo Credit: AP

We’re now almost a week into the New Year and still have not seen resolution to the Mariners’ ongoing quest to add a bat. It was a week ago today on New Year’s Eve that word first broke the Mariners might be in on a trade for Andre Ethier of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Since then, nary a word. The rumor-du-jour of the past few days is that the Mariners are trying to deal for outfielder Justin Upton of the Arizona Diamondbacks. That’s still generating buzz as of today. I can tell you that in conversations with a source last week, I was told that the Mariners continue to shop for a corner outfield/power bat on the trade front and that this is taking priority over any free agent quest for now.

Makes sense. Until the Mariners determine what they can actually get via trade — and whether or not a pitcher will also come with that bat — it’s tough to make a call on who to spend the free agent money on.

The trick here will to not be fooled into waiting too long for the market to play out. We saw a bit of that last year when the Mariners hung in on Prince Fielder — waiting to see whether his market would drop to much lower levels — then ran out of time to sign anybody else.

Anyhow, if the Mariners do make a deal, it could very well involve one of their top prospects. Some of you might know something about those, while others may not. One of the better primers I’ve seen out there on the team’s top-5 prospects was just put out right here by local writer Rick Randall.

His list has:

1. Taijuan Walker

2. Mike Zunino

3. Danny Hultzen

4. Nick Franklin

5. James Paxton

I have no problem with the list. In fact, I get a little bemused when I see lists that have already bumped Big 3 member James Paxton out of the top-5 despite the fact he did little last season to merit such a drop. If we were to go off command issues as a docking point, Danny Hultzen could be ousted as well. Paxton could very well be the most major league ready of any of the Big 3 depending on what he does this spring. Bottom line: a few starts in the Arizona Fall League won’t make or break his career. Nor do they erase what he did in the second half of last season in AA. We’ll learn more this spring, but he’s still in my top-5 list and Randall’s as well.

Now, we can quibble with the order of some of the prospects — I wonder about Taijuan Walker at No. 1 since he’s yet to pitch an inning of Class AAA ball — but most lists have him in the top-2 and he’s definitely being hyped about as high as the hype machine can possiblly go. His youth (age 19 last season) has everything to do with it, since Paxton and others had better AA numbers. The higher the perceived upside, the better the rankings usually go.

And when you’re playing the prospects game, it’s as much about hype and hope as it is about facts.

Some of what I liked about the list is that it’s more up-to-date on recent developments than other top-10 or top-5 compilations involving the Mariners. Many of those were done by national publications that miss a lot of the local intricacies. On Randall’s list, you see mentioned up-top the ongoing debate about whether Nick Franklin really has a future as a major league shortstop. Based on what I’ve heard, I’d be very suprised if he did — especially here in Seattle.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as Randall points out. But it limits Franklin’s possibilities with the Mariners and if we’re discussing trade bait, that element certainly must come into play here.

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Comments | More in trades | Topics: Jack Zduriencik, Mike Zunino, nick franklin

November 19, 2012 at 10:30 AM

Why the Mariners won’t allow the presence of Jesus Montero or John Jaso to prevent them trading for Billy Butler

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There was always an element of skepticism to be had when word came out last week via Mariners president Chuck Armstrong about the team weighing Josh Hamilton options. As we wrote a couple of weeks back, the Mariners have made a cottage industry out of telling people the past decade that they’re looking at one free agent or another.
But it’s one thing to talk about it. Another thing to get it done.

And for me, any Hamilton pursuit — which I am in favor of — was always going to be dubious when it came to the Mariners. Back in late September, when Hamilton skipped a series in Seattle with balance/depth percetion issues, it raised a red flag for members of the team’s hierarchy.

The last thing a team that got burned by Franklin Gutierrez and his mysterious stomach issues wants is an even larger-scale boondoggle with Hamilton. But for me, that type of concern should apply to both a short and a long-term deal in Hamilton’s case. After all, if you’re worried that Hamilton has some type of issue that plagued him late in the season, logic dictates the immediate future would be as big — or bigger — a worry with him than would seasons 2014-2017.

In other words, I’ve just never bought into the Mariners as serious players on Hamilton. Just can’t see them doing it. And that’s why, when some of you write in asking me about it, I tell you that I would take the chance on Hamilton but just can’t see the Mariners taking on the risk.

For me, you can find a reason to balk at any high-priced free agent. There’s always some type of potential huge risk involved. With Prince Fielder, it was his weight. With other guys, it’s the whispers about steroids or HGH use perhaps inflating performance. With Hamilton, it will be durability concerns and some of the unknowns about what really caused his season’s downward slide this past year.

But when Hamilton is out there, he’s still one of the most dangerous hitters in the game today. And if he’s out there only 130 games per year, that’s still 130 games of production better than just about anything the Mariners can put on the field.

Let’s move on, for now, though. Since the Mariners were never apparently that serious in Hamilton, no matter what some people read into Armstrong’s comments.

One avenue I have gone more strongly on in writing about when it comes to the Mariners this off-season has been the possibility of a trade with the Kansas City Royals. There are two bats that look like they would clearly upgrade the Mariners at present. No, young third baseman Mike Moustakas is not one of them.

Moustakas would give the Mariners another body to add to their ever-growing “All Hope Team” but in terms of results, he’s been a below average hitter in the majors so far. And besides, a team like the Royals isn’t going to trade their version of Dustin Ackley or Justin Smoak just yet. That’s still a franchise that plays the smaller-market Moneyball game and so a young bat with upside who doesn’t cost a lot is going to be held on to while the older ones that are more expensive will be moved.

That leads us to where the Royals and Mariners have a fit: Billy Butler and Alex Gordon.

The Mariners need to upgrade with something a bit more proven than Moustakas and would have that in either of those two players. Gordon would give the team the corner outfield bat it needs — in this case, in left field — while Butler would be a DH upgrade over Jesus Montero and also provide a backup first baseman.

In both cases, these two players are close to reaching their full MLB potential, where a guy like Moustakas is still in the development stage. This isn’t a shot at Moustakas, but the Mariners are well past the time to move beyond always planning for three years down the road and start to show signs of actually doing something in the present.
Gordon or Butler would help that happen.

And the best part is, neither of the two is so expensive that he would prevent the Mariners from upgrading further in acquiring a guy like Nick Swisher via free agency to play right field. In fact, I’ll submit that if Butler is the serious Mariners trade target — as post-GM meetings tweets are now suggesting — then a further Swisher acquisition makes perfect sense.
Photo Credit: AP

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Comments | Topics: Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero, Mike Zunino

October 31, 2012 at 5:45 PM

Mariners prospects Mike Zunino, James Paxton, Nick Franklin make it to Arizona Fall League all-star game

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They have something called the “Rising Stars Game” each year in the Arizona Fall League, which is meant to be an all-star contest featuring the top performing prospects on the circuit thus far.
This year, the Mariners have three of their prospects in the game: catcher Mike Zunino, left-handed pitcher James Paxton (photo) and shortstop Nick Franklin. A year ago, Franklin was the game’s MVP.
The game takes place Saturday at 5 p.m. PT at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, in Scottsdale, Ariz.
PHOTO CREDIT: Aaron Lavinsky

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Comments | Topics: Mike Zunino

October 30, 2012 at 10:53 AM

Mariners need a greater margin for error across the board

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Yesterday, we discussed how the San Francisco Giants had spent around the potentially problematic contract of pitcher Barry Zito with a top-10 payroll, rather than waiting seven years for the deal to run out. Lookout Landing honcho Jeff Sullivan used a different terminology, pointing out that bigger payrolls simply buy teams like the Giants a better margin of error.
In the Giants’ case, Zito would be the great, big error. And yes, he played a key role in the Giants winning it all this year with a strong post-season. But no, it doesn’t erase the fact it’s been a terrible contract from the Giants’ perspective.
Today, I want to talk about a different way to increase a team’s margin for error that goes beyond payroll.
I actually wrote about this roughly 14 months ago in a blog post that attempted to explain why teams have traditional notions of certain positions being geared towards power hitters versus others — more up the middle — that tend to employ lighter-hitting types. It all comes down to supply and demand. A power-hitting catcher is tough to find, so if you can get your hands on one of those, you buy yourself a margin for error at other positions.
It can allow you to take a chance on a third baseman who might be undervalued because he lacks traditional power, but can get on-base.
To use the Giants as an example, they found an MVP-type of hitter in catcher Buster Posey (photo above) via the draft and have used his presence to take some chances at other positions they normally could not afford to risk having not work out. Posey was a key member of the 2010 World Series champion Giants and was helping to lead a first-place team last season before he got hurt. But he was back again this year and the Giants used his presence to go out and get some more cost-effective, undervalued players at other positions.
In other words, if those players failed, the Giants still had Posey supplying first baseman’s hitting numbers at the catcher’s spot. Follow so far?
Is this a route the Mariners could take? Of couse they could, as I mentioned in the referenced blog post from the 2011 season. But there’s an obvious problem with that type of thinking.
Photo Credit: AP

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Comments | Topics: Chone Figgins, Dustin Ackley, Mike Zunino

October 25, 2012 at 2:30 PM

Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan runs away with first Fielding Bible Award


How soon will Mike Zunino be the Mariners’ everyday catcher?

Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan didn’t just win his first Fielding Bible Award today, he destroyed all comers. Ryan is one of nine winners at each position throughout MLB for the relatively new awards, which, in my opinion, have the most legitimacy for any defensive prize you’ll find.
They are chosen by a panel of 10 experts from the media and stats business, people who are informed about some of the more advanced metrics out there. These metrics are far from perfect, but they are still better than anything previously used. And unlike the Gold Glove Awards, chosen by coaches who rarely see players they are voting for more than a few times per season, I think the methodology behind the Fielding Bible Awards is superior.
John Dewan, the founder of Baseball Info Solutions and author of The Fielding Bible (and creator of the Defensive Runs Saved stat) helps organize the awards each year.
Here is what he had to say about Ryan:
“Brendan Ryan is the best defender in baseball. Period. Make that double period. His has saved 67 runs for his teams defensively over the last three years, the highest total among all players. The next highest runs saved total is not even close (Michael Bourn, 51).

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Comments | Topics: Brendan Ryan, Mike Zunino

October 24, 2012 at 3:10 PM

Mariners part ways with Miguel Olivo, Munenori Kawasaki

These moves will surprise no one, but were finally made official today when the Mariners declined the 2013 option on Miguel Olivo and also released Munenori Kawasaki from his contract with the team. Olivo was never going to be an option for a Mariners team that will now likely look to add another catcher this winter. Though Olivo started a team-high 68 games behind the plate for Seattle in 2012, he wanted to play more and will likely find an expanded role with a non-rebuilding squad going forward.
While Olivo’s OBP suffered through some awful slumps, enough teams value what he does as a catcher that he should have little trouble finding work.
Where the Mariners go from here at the position could depend largely on what first round draft pick Mike Zunino shows at the Arizona Fall League the next few weeks. He’s had some mixed results so far behind the plate.
If Zunino looks like he’ll be ready for the big leagues out of spring training or within a couple of months after, the Mariners could go with a combo of John Jaso and Jesus Montero at catcher to start the year.

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Comments | Topics: Jesus Montero, Mike Zunino

September 27, 2012 at 3:01 PM

Mariners try to salvage a game in series the Angels desperately need to sweep

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UPDATE 2:34 p.m.: Franklin Gutierrez has left the game in the bottom of the sixth inning, replaced by Michael Saunders in center and with Trayvon Robinson entering to play left. Gutierrez slammed hard into the wall in the fifth while making a run-saving catch.
Seattle just broke it open in the seventh inning, scoring four times off Garrett Richards to take a 7-2 lead. A pair of singles, a sacrifice bunt and then an intentional walk loaded the bases for Trayvon Robinson.
With the count 1-1, Richards didn’t get the call on a tight pitch, then couldn’t come close to the strike zone and wound up walking in a run. Kyle Seager came up next, the bases still loaded, and singled to right for another run.
Richards was hearing it from the crowd by then. Jesus Montero then hit a sacrifice fly to center to bring home the third run of the inning. John Jaso then doubled off the glove of first baseman Kendrys Morales and down the right field line to bring the fourth marker home.
Richards was finally pulled at that point, but likely too late to save the Angels today.
We said coming into the series that the Angels had very little margin for error. They’ve won five in a row but haven’t been able to pick up much wild-card ground. Now, they are about to blow a golden opportunity to move within a game of the A’s.
The way things are shaping up, today’s loss means the Angels might have to win out over the final six games to have a shot at the playoffs. Unless they can do something real dramatic the final three innings.
2:24 p.m.: Hisashi Iwakuma is helping keep the Mariners in a spoiler role of sorts to this point, with a big assist from Franklin Gutierrez. A catch by Gutierrez in right-center in the bottom of the fifth helped keep the Mariners in a 3-2 lead.
Chris Iannetta was on first base when Mike Trout drilled a line drive to deep right-center. Gutierrez made the racing catch, then hit the wall hard and went down in a heap. He still had the presence of mind to flip the ball to Casper Wells, who nearly doubled-off Iannetta, who had already rounded second and was scrambling madly to get back to first.
Without the catch, Iannetta scores easily.
Gutierrez nearly scored in the top of the fifth on a double by Kyle Seager. He was waved around from first base, but the Angels made a perfect relay back in and nabbed Guti on a bang-bang play at home. The Mariners had been fortunate to take the lead that inning when shortstop Erick Aybar dropped the ball at second base taking a throw on the front end of what looked like an inning-ending double-play grounder. Wells also looked like he never touched second on the play, though the Angels missed that.
Instead of the inning being done, the Mariners were left with runners at the corners and one out and wound up scoring on an ensuing groundout.
1:55 p.m.: We’re deadlocked at 2-2 after four innings of play. The Mariners took the lead in the top of the fourth inning when John Jaso connected for a two-run homer to right field off Dan Haren for his 10th long ball of the season in about half the PAs normally given a full-time player.
But the Angels tied it up off Hisashi Iwakuma and the defense in the bottom of the inning. A Kendrys Morales flyball was allowed to hit the base of the wall by right fielder Casper Wells — who either misjudged it or lost it in the sun — for a double.
Alberto Callaspo then hit a flare into right field for a single that tied it up.

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Comments | Topics: Brendan Ryan, Dustin Ackley, Hisashi Iwakuma

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