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M's lose one, tie another in split squad bonanza

My last day in Peoria was a good one, even though the Mariners got knocked around in a split squad affair. Here are my observations from the park.

Christian Petersen

It's been a long weekend. I traveled to Peoria for some spring training action, and it didn't disappoint. It was my first time down at the Peoria facility, and it's really a world class operation if you've never been before. You're right on top of the players, and even the worst seats are really fantastic views. The food is great, the ballpark staff friendly, and the games relaxing. I even managed to win fan of the game in some drawing of sorts on Saturday, and my prize will be used for a contest sometime in the future.

It was a great time, though the cell phone service in Peoria is spotty at best, making my ability to tweet out observations fairly inconsistent. Yesterday I was able to attend the first game of the split squad series before heading off to the airport, though Colin managed to attend both the afternoon game and then make the 31 mile drive to Salt River Fields out in Scottsdale. If you guys aren't following Colin on Twitter yet, you should - he's been tweeting his impressions and will probably continue to for the rest of the week.

Onto the games, though I'll only be able to provide non-box score insight on the first, since I was hurtling through the sky in a metal tube during the second game, sitting next to an eight-year-old kid who only wanted to tell me how many cars he'd amassed in GTA5 for the entire three hour flight duration. To game one.

Mariners 2, Royals 8

No miracle comeback in this one, as it was ugly from the start and stayed that way.

  • James Shields had M's hitters looking exceptionally stupid on his change, striking out 5 batters in 4.2 innings though he generated a lot of swing and misses throughout. Abraham Almonte, attempting to be aggressive, was incredibly far out in front of several of them.
  • Speaking of aggressive, Almonte is busting his ass to make an impression. After getting on base by sprinting down the line as a throw went offline, Almonte went from 1st to 3rd on a single by Robinson Cano, and nearly got 40 feet to home as Mike Moustakas didn't cover third base. Almonte then continued to bounce around, attempting to goad Shields in doing something stupid. Non-stop energy. His defense may be in some question and so may his bat, but you can't help but love the way he plays the game. It's infectious.
  • John Buck had an absolutely horrific defensive showing, letting ball after ball pass by him. Several of those mistakes allowed runners to advance or score, there was a dropped third strike that resulted in a free runner on first, and he dropped an easy tag at home plate. It was the worst performance I saw the entire time I was in Peoria.
  • Poor Stephen Shackleford, who got absolutely lit up in the 3rd inning after Brandon Maurer fell apart himself. He couldn't throw strikes, looked nervous, and was woefully overmatched. Sometimes these split squad games really separate the men from the boys, and Shackleford (and some of the others wearing rotating jerseys without name plates) was a boy.
  • There was no velocity readings at the stadium (other than the one that clocked me at 61 on Saturday) but Ramon Ramirez seemed to be throwing fairly hard. Consistently a low 90s guy through his career, it seems like the pop is still around - you can tell when a guy is really bringing it in a stadium that small, the glove makes a different kind of sound. I heard the same pop from Fernando Rodney on Saturday. Ramirez looked polished, good.
  • Cano went 3/3, so dust off your old professional hitter column headers. He's incredibly fun to watch in person, completely in control, smooth, and unfazed by anything. Including his baserunning.
  • James Shields picked off Robinson Cano on third on a balk-ish type move, and Lloyd McClendon protested to no avail. It really didn't matter though - Cano was completely caught napping and didn't even attempt to get back to third after he was picked off. Shields got him out of nowhere late in the count and Cano froze with one of those "I ain't even mad" moves.
  • James Jones is very fast, but still raw. You can see it at the plate and in the field, and his athleticism is bounds ahead of his route running. He's wearing stirrups though, so A+ in that regard.
  • Justin Smoak is hitting the ball hard-ish, but still to the warning track. It works fantastic when he hits line drives, but the home run swing is still weak. Maybe Lloyd McClendon is onto something when he suggests Smoak could lead the league in doubles - warning track Smoak, as I've become accustomed to calling him, isn't muscling his fly balls hard enough to get out consistently anywhere but Arizona - if that. I'm still not impressed by his power.
  • Xavier Avery does not look like a player that belongs on a major league baseball roster. Fast, but that's about it.

Mariners 3, Diamondbacks 3

  • No extra innings in this one, much to the reverse-chagrin of Ryan Divish. Nobody scored any runs after the 5th inning, but before that...
  • Brad Miller continues to be every bit as awesome as he was last year, and even though Nick Franklin has been doing his part, it's still Miller's job to lose. He's still playing hard, looking solid at short, and yesterday he went 2/4 to raise his spring average to .303.
  • James Paxton hasn't been striking a bunch of guys out this spring, but he's been racking up the ground balls. His ERA sits at 1.00 after nine innings of play, and yesterday he generated nine ground balls in four innings. The command will always be a concern, but it's starting to look like a lock that Paxton will open the season in the rotation.
  • Michael Saunders continued his solid spring with a 1/3 performance, though from my observations on Saturday, it seems like he isn't running particularly great this spring, both on the field and on the basepaths. I'm not sure if he's just taking his easy because these games don't matter, but Saunders has seen his fielding ratings drop the past two years, and his baserunning value dropped from 4.7 to 1.6 in 2013. I've never thought Saunders was as fast as people gave him credit for, but he's looking a lot more like a romping long strider than a gazelle these days.