PEORIA, Ariz. — There might be no bigger gamble by the Mariners in putting together their roster over the winter than in projecting and relying on a healthy season from first baseman Logan Morrison.
Barring a career renaissance by Jesus Montero — which, OK, no longer requires the same level of suspending disbelief — the Mariners don’t appear to have a viable full-time alternative.
Veteran utilityman Willie Bloomquist, if healthy, projects as Morrison’s primary backup. Manager Lloyd McClendon talks of finding a few spring reps for Rickie Weeks, although Weeks doesn’t own a first-baseman’s glove.
Left fielder Dustin Ackley was a first baseman in college, but he’s played the position only 18 times in five professional seasons. He hasn’t started at first base since doing so for five games in 2012.
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Third baseman D.J. Peterson, the organization’s No. 2 prospect, is in line for additional minor-league time at first base this season and projects as a likely candidate for big-league duty at some point in the future. But not now.
That leaves, pretty much, only Morrison who, because of injuries, hasn’t played as many as 100 games in any of the last three seasons.
“It’s always a concern,” McClendon admitted. “We still have to watch him to make sure we can keep him healthy throughout the year. He got to do it at some point. Why not this year?”
Morrison understands those concerns — and the opportunity that awaits — better than anyone. That’s why he hired a new private trainer in the off-season.
“I think I’m a little more educated about my body,” he said. “He’s given me a program to do — whether it’s a warm-up every day or a three-day-a-week workout program. Hopefully, that will keep me healthy.”
And staying healthy, Morrison believes, is the only concern.
“Just put me in the lineup every day,” he vowed, “and I’ll produce. It’s up to me to stay in the lineup, but if I’m in the lineup every day, I know I’m going to hit, and I know I’m going to hit well and be a force in the lineup.”
That wasn’t always a universal view, but Morrison swayed club officials by batting .321 last season over his final 51 games with a .372 on-base percentage and a .502 slugging percentage.
(Point of reference: Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager led the Mariners last with a .454 slugging percentage, while home run champion Nelson Cruz slugged .525 while playing for Baltimore.)
McClendon said Morrison’s closing kick proved “he can be an everyday first baseman.” And McClendon believes Morrison, at 27, is only starting to reach his potential.
“LoMo is relatively young as far as active years under his belt,” McClendon said. “He’s still maturing from that standpoint. He’s still learning. I think his ceiling is very high.
“I think, all in all, he’s got a chance to be a guy who can hit 25 home runs for us and drive in 100. He’s a good hitter. He hits left-handers and right-handers. He takes his walks.
Maybe those goals aren’t such a big reach. Morrison hit 23 homers in 2011 for the Marlins. That was his last healthy season; he played 123 games and also drove in a career-high 72 runs.
“Every now and then,” McClendon said, “he goes outside the zone. We’re trying to get him to shore up — when he’s in his hitting counts, to look for his pitch. And not expand. It takes time, but he’s getting better at it.”
Further, McClendon shows little concern at Morrison’s pull-everything approach. All 11 of Morrison’s homers last season went to the right side of dead-center field.
“I think he’s very capable of using the other half of the field,” McClendon said. “But having said that, I want him to pull every ball that he can pull with authority.”
Morrison contends his pull-emphasis plays to his strength.
“I consider myself a guy who can go to all fields,” he said, “but I know I have power to the pull side. When I’m going good, I know it doesn’t matter where it’s pitched, I’m going to take it that way and get hits.
“It’s freedom. Let me do my thing and see what happens.”
That starts with staying healthy.