Mariners Insider Blog

Four early surprises to note as Mariners’ camp nears midpoint

Outfielder Guillermo Heredia is making a strong early push to win a roster spot with the Mariners.
Outfielder Guillermo Heredia is making a strong early push to win a roster spot with the Mariners. AP

It’s a spring cliche, but still true, that virtually every big-league camp produces somebody who emerges from off the radar to make a strong impression that, often, culminates in grabbing a roster spot.

There are at least four early surprises in Mariners camp as spring training nears halftime: Outfielders Guillermo Heredia and Boog Powell along with relievers Casey Fien and James Pazos.

Not all four will make the roster. Perhaps none will. Powell is, in fact, ineligible to break with the club and remains buried on the organizational depth chart. But all three have generated an unmistakeable buzz among club officials.

Let’s take them in ascending order of their roster chances.

***Powell, 24, is trying to rebuild his career after getting hit last June with an 80-game suspension at Triple-A Tacoma when he tested positive for a banned substance for the second time in his career.

Since five games still remain on that suspension, Powell can’t possibly be with the Mariners when they open the season April 3 in Houston — no matter what happens over the next three-plus weeks.

When camp started, it was no sure thing that Powell still had a place in the organization. While just a year ago, the Mariners saw him as a future leadoff hitter, subsequent acquisitions, and that suspension, caused a reevaluation.

Club officials rarely mentioned Powell throughout the offseason in running through their current or future roster options. While suspended, he doesn’t count against the 40-man roster, which effectively delayed a decision on his future.

Now? Powell is 9-for-15 and showing he might yet be the player the Mariners envisioned when they acquired in him from Tampa Bay in a Nov. 5, 2015 trade.

"I like what I see offensively," manager Scott Servais said. "He’s really good in the batter’s box. He can put the bat on the ball. There’s power there. He’s driving the ball more."

But…

"He’s a little bit behind the eight-ball on this one," Servais acknowledged. "He’s still got a few days to serve on his suspension. We’ve got other guys who have similar skill sets, but he’s stood out. The at-bats have been very good."

***Pazos, 25, came to the Mariners from the New York Yankees in a Nov. 18 trade for minor-league starter Zack Littell, an 11th-round pick in 2013 who spent last season in A-ball.

The Yankees needed a space on their 40-man roster and, after brief looks at Pazos over the last two years, decided he was expendable. The Mariners saw a hard-throwing lefty and, at that point, had not yet signed veteran Marc Rzepczynski.

Pazos entered this spring as a long shot to break with the club in part because he, like Rzepczynski, is essentially a match-up lefty. But Pazos had a string of three impressive spring outings was forcing his way into roster consideration.

Then came Wednesday when he imploded in a five-run inning against Cleveland.

"He’s learning," Servais said in softening the blow. "His stuff was really good. He just didn’t locate it very well."

The likeliest scenario remains Ariel Miranda shifting to the bullpen to serve as the unit’s second lefty — and he’s having an impressive spring. Note, too, that general manager Jerry Dipoto insists the club will break with its best 12 pitchers.

But choosing Pazos would allow the Mariners to stash Miranda as a starter at Tacoma. Keeping Miranda stretched out this spring points to his status as the first-in-line alternative if something derails one of the five projected big-league starters.

Wednesday put a dent in Pazos’ chances but didn’t end them. To paraphrase Servais’ hero Vince Lombardi: You’ll have bad outings, but not many if you want to make the roster on opening day.

***Fien, 33, has seven years of big-league experience but is coming off a tough year, which left him open, as a free agent, to accepting a split-contract that permits the Mariners to send him to the minors.

Initially the numbers seemed to work against Fien — and they remain an obstacle — but Steve Cishek’s slow recovery from hip surgery provides an unexpected opportunity.

Credit Fien for making the most of it so far. He has four scoreless one-inning outings to date with no walks and seven strikeouts. He doesn’t quite offer the right-handed power of Shae Simmons or Dan Altavilla, but Fien can still hit 94 mph.

"He knows how to pitch," Servais said. "He knows who he is, and he works his stuff. This guy has had success. He has major-league time. There’s no doubt he can help us in different roles.

"His fastball is 92-94, and the cutter is his pitch. He can locate it to both sides of the plate. Pretty effective."

***Heredia, 26, has always been in the mix for a roster spot, primarily in competition with Ben Gamel for duty as the backup outfielder. The two were slotted to serve as a left-field platoon before the Mariners acquired Jarrod Dyson.

It helps Heredia that Dyson is a left-handed hitter — but not as much as it might seem on the surface. The Mariners can shift right fielder Mitch Haniger to left and put designated hitter Nelson Cruz in right of they want to add a right-handed bat.

The bigger boost for Heredia is that he’s been the best player in camp.

"A totally different guy," Servais said. "You think about where he came from, just signing (on March 1, 2016) and showing up in this camp from Cuba, having never spent a day in the United States, to where he’s come in a year.

"He’s made some adjustments with his swing. To his credit, he went right to the Fall League after the season. He spent some time with Brant Brown, our minor-league hitting coordinator, and shortened up his swing."

PRODUCTIVE TEAM PLATE APPEARANCES

Powell and Heredia rank one-two in the Mariners’ productive team plate appearance (PTPA) metric in games through Wednesday.

Powell ranked at 73.3 percent at 11-for-15, while Heredia was 15-for-22 and 68.2 percent. D.J. Peterson was third at 60.0 (6-for-10), followed by Steven Baron at 57.1 (4-for-7). Kyle Seager and Shawn O’Malley are both 54.5 (12-for-22).

The Mariners define a PTPA as getting a hit, a walk, getting hit by a pitch, advancing a runner with an out or an error, recording a sacrifice fly or sacrifice bunt or having an eight-pitch plate appearance.

The bottom three: Danny Valencia at 30.4 (7-for-23), Tyler Smith at 30.0 (6-for-20) and Leonys Martin at 27.8 (5-for-18).

Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners

  Comments