OAKLAND – The Seattle Mariners reopen their 2012 season tonight with a roster built with an eye to the future – young players, rookies and second-year veterans everywhere.
“I like the team, I like our direction,” pitcher Felix Hernandez said. “There are a lot of young guys on this team who are good and going to get better.”
One of them is Dustin Ackley, something of a Young Face of the Franchise in Seattle.
Ninety games into his big league career, Ackley is 24, an athletic player, converted into a second baseman, and a hitter with power, speed and grit.
“I’m going to have a better year this year than last, and I think a lot of us feel that way,” Ackley said. “That will make us a better team – and now you add Jesus Montero to the middle of the lineup?
“I just played my first opening day in the big leagues in Japan, so I still haven’t played one in America. All of us are doing things for the first time.”
Seattle’s roster includes seven rookies and five players in their second season. It’s a team that reminds bench coach Robby Thompson of his days in San Francisco.
“We’re a young team, and I know what that’s like – I played on one in San Francisco,” Thompson said. “I came up, Will Clark came up at the same time, Juan Uribe was in his second year, Matt Williams came up midseason.
“We were a young team that gelled, and I see that happening here, too. These guys have one another’s backs, they believe in themselves. We’re going to get better, and we have more on their way here.”
Ackley saw the same thing early in camp when he watched young pitchers Erasmo Ramirez and Forrest Snow bookend the trio of Dan Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton.
“You look at Ramirez, Paxton, Hultzen and Walker and think in a few years they could be starting alongside Felix Hernandez,” Ackley said. “What kind of rotation would that be?”
Asked about that, Felix grinned.
“They’re good, all of them,” he said. “But Taijuan, he reminds me of me at 19 – big fastball, big curve, go right at ’em. They’re coming, and they’ll probably get here quickly.”
Some, of course, are already here. Sitting at his spring locker in a busy clubhouse, Ackley did a quick survey and produced a handful of scouting reports.
On Montero: “He’s a great hitter; we’ve seen it all spring and late last season. Jesus would be a middle-of-the-order hitter in any lineup,” Ackley said.
On Mike Carp: “I came up with him in Triple-A, and you could see it was only a matter of time. What you saw from him here last year, that was him all the time in Triple-A. He can hit for average, and he can hit the ball a long way.”
On Justin Smoak: “I faced him in college, and you just don’t find big, strong power-hitting switch-hitters often. We have one, and he’s coming on.”
On Blake Beavan: “He doesn’t throw 99 mph, but he’s the kind of pitcher you love to play behind. He throws strikes. Last year he came up and it seemed like half his games were against the Angels or Rangers – and he held his own.”
On Felix: “It’s kind of scary to think he’s only two years older than I am, and it seems he’s been in baseball for 10 years. He’s an amazing pitcher.”.
Told of that comment, Hernandez laughed out loud.
“Sometimes it feels like 10 years,” he said. “There are so many good, young players here now. We’re going to surprise people this year.”
The last scouting report came from Thompson.
“Dustin Ackley’s a guy who has solidified himself at the top of the order,” Thompson said. “He may be in more of an RBI spot later, but right now, he’s doing a good job batting second.
“He’s got pop. He can steal bases. He gives us options. I think he’s probably most comfortable playing first base because he played it longer, but he played the outfield and he’s worked his butt off playing second base.
“He’s still learning out there because he wants to keep learning. And he can hit.”
Seattle (Jason Vargas: 0-0, 1.42 ERA) at Oakland (Brandon McCarthy: 0-0, 1.29), 7:05 p.m., Root Sports, 710-AM