Hello, it is I, your fearless LLeader, writing you this dispatch from Peoria, AZ. Today was my first day at Spring Training and a lot happened!, so I thought I’d share some early observations and experiences from Day One. If there’s interest, I’ll try to keep this updated over the course of my trip, although today was sort of a banner day, with two different games and workouts to watch.
- Today’s backfield game featured the Mariners taking on the Korean Baseball Organization’s KT Wiz. Félix Hernández started the game for the Mariners, and he looked...not great, giving up quite a bit of hard contact to the KBO hitters. Granted, there is a fairly exciting player on the Wiz’s roster in ROY Kang Baek-Ho, who doubled off of Félix, but backup catcher Lee Hae-Chang also tagged him for a no-doubt two-run homer.
- The offense—mostly made up of prospects with limited major-league time, with the exception of Ryon Healy and Jose Lobaton—generally struggled against the KBO pitchers, but Eric Filia’s contact-heavy approach played well. He roped a no-doubt homer and a triple. Kyle Lewis was fooled badly by a couple of tough breaking pitches but hung in well in most of his at-bats. The latest FanGraphs assessment of the Mariners’ prospects raises questions about Lewis’s strikeout rate, but I’m not overly concerned. The biggest challenge for Lewis moving forward will be balancing his pitch selection against the urge to prove he’s fully back and healthy by trying to do damage every pitch; so far this spring, so good.
- Shed Long manned third for most of this game. I saw him airmail an easy throw on a grounder, but am going to assume that was his lone defensive miscue. Also, if you haven’t read Amanda’s excellent 40 in 40 on Shed, you must.
- In addition to the B game, I wandered along the backfields some watching the lower-level minor leaguers practice. Catcher and 2018 draftee Jake Anchia stood out for his ability to receive instruction on the go and immediately make adjustments, drawing praise from catching coordinator Tony Arnerich.
- I knew the Mariners had a ton of sidearm/ 3⁄4 slot relievers, but seeing a bunch lined up in a row throwing bullpens really drove that point home. One I had forgotten: 2018 21st round pick Grant Anderson, whose stuff looked especially tricky to pick up.
- I chatted with Logan Gilbert, fresh from throwing his bullpen, who says he feels great and can’t wait to get out there. He also confirmed my suspicion that Cal Raleigh is the “house dad,” the one who everyone goes to when they need help. #CatcherLife, baby.
- Over at the main event, well, John recapped it, so you don’t really need to read my thoughts, except that a) Fraley was safe, according to my eyes and the heavily Mariners-dominant crowd; b) the Bruce catch looked better in person than it did on TV, enough so that Dee Gordon took off his cap and tipped it to Bruce. Or maybe that was just Dee being Dee.
- I spent the last few innings of the game watching with Julio Rodriguez, who was there for the last half of the game along with (briefly) fellow prospect Jarred Kelenic. Things I talked about with Julio: his opinion of his FanGraphs writeup (“they don’t know me,” he says dismissively, although he liked being described as an “old soul”); his gratitude at spending a full year in the DSL, even as other top Dominican prospects (Eloy, Acuña, Soto, Vladito) were sent directly stateside (the Mariners’ DR Academy, he says, doesn’t just have the best facilities on the island, but the best classes and culture); his excitement to go play in front of the fans in West Virginia, about whom he’s heard a lot (including the Toast Man!), even if it turns his hair into icicles; and the difference between baseball games in the Dominican Republic and the US, and how he wants to continue to inject personality into the game like his favorite players. Fernando Tatis is one; Javy Baez, another.
That’s all for now! I’ll try to snag some images next time. It’s wild that this is already essentially the last week of Spring Training for the Mariners and their fans. Usually it feels like ST drags, but not this year. It’s too bad, too, because this is an especially good year to be here and see all the Mariners’ young prospects in action before they are scattered across the country. But for those of you bummed that you’re missing out, it’s never too early to start planning for next year!