SEATTLE — Anticipation is already building within the Mariners’ organization regarding the looming spring battle between Brad Miller and Chris Taylor to determine a starting shortstop.
“There is no favorite right now,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “Let’s see what happens.”
Miller won a similar battle last spring over since-departed Nick Franklin but an underperforming bat — generally viewed as Miller’s top strength — provided Taylor with an opportunity over the closing two months.
Taylor responded by batting .287 with a .347 on-base percentage over 47 games while, generally, grading out better than Miller in the major defensive metrics. But Taylor had just eight extra-base hits in 151 plate appearances.
Coincidence or not, Miller also surged over the closing weeks by compiling a .268/.330/.464 slash (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) after the All-Star break.
“Miller is probably more gifted offensively,” manager Lloyd McClendon said, “and Taylor is a little more gifted defensively. It’s more of a natural position for Taylor, but…they’re both capable of making the routine play.
“I don’t know how it’s all going to play out. They could both be on the team. Who knows?”
McClendon discounted, at this point, the likelihood of Miller shifting to the outfield — a move broached earlier this winter by club officials before they acquired Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano in trades.
“Listen, we’ve got some pretty good outfielders,” McClendon said. “It really doesn’t make a lot of sense to take a shortstop and put him in the outfield when we have outfielders who can play outfield.”
Even so, McClendon suggested the decision at short could hinge on how other aspects of the club grade out in spring training; i.e., whether the greater overall need is for more offensive pop or tighter infield defense.
“You have to figure out what your strengths are,” McClendon said, “and what fits best as far as that shortstop position is concerned. That’s what spring training is for. We’ll figure it out.”
The first full-squad workout is Feb. 25 in Peoria, Ariz.
FANFEST ON TAP
Free-agent acquisition Nelson Cruz, who led the majors last season with 40 homers, headlines the Mariners’ 17th annual FanFest, which takes place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Safeco Field.
Admission is $10 for adults, but there is no charge for kids aged 14 and younger. Parking at the Safeco Field garage is $10 ($5 for those who purchased a spot in advance).
Activities include free autograph sessions and “dugout dialogues” with several players. Zduriencik and McClendon will also hold question-and-answer sessions.
Fans will be permitted to run the bases, tour the Mariners’ clubhouse and throw a pitch in the bullpen. There will also be carnival games in the Kids Fun Zone and other activities.
In addition to Cruz, players scheduled to attend include All-Star closer Fernando Rodney, catcher Mike Zunino, outfielder Austin Jackson and pitchers James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, Charlie Furbush, Tom Wilhelmsen and J.A. Happ.
The Mariners obtained Happ from Toronto in a December trade.
Several of the organization’s top prospects are also scheduled to attend, including catcher John Hicks, first baseman/third baseman D.J. Peterson, utilityman Patrick Kivlehan and outfielder Alex Jackson.
PULLING A SWITCH
The decision by first baseman/outfielder Ji-Man Choi to try switch-hitting this winter in the Venezuelan Winter League caught the Mariners by surprise.
“You just never know,” farm director Chris Gwynn said. “He’s this far into his career, and he’s going to decide (to switch-hit)? But if he can do it, so be it.”
Choi, 23, is looking to rebound from a disappointing year that included a 50-game drug suspension. He played primarily at Triple-A Tacoma, where he batted .283 in 70 games with five homers and 30 RBIs.
Gwynn said Choi, a natural left-handed hitter, was working earlier this week with minor-league hitting instructor Lee May Jr., and that May said Choi’s right-handed swing “looked pretty good.”
The Mariners appear willing to let Choi try to become a switch-hitter.
“At some point,” Gwynn said, “if it’s not going well, we’ll tell him to get back on the other side.”
GUTIERREZ STILL ON RADAR
Don’t close the door just yet on outfielder Franklin Gutierrez rejoining the Mariners’ organization after sitting out last season because of ongoing gastrointestinal issues.
“He wants to give it a shot,” assistant general manager Jeff Kingston said. “Full disclosure, there are some veteran non-roster players we’re still talking to, and we probably will add a few more here before the start of camp.
“He is somebody we’ve had some discussions with. So it is a possibility.”
Any deal with Gutierrez, 31, would be a minor-league contract. He spent five years with the Mariners from 2009-13 and won a Gold Glove for defensive excellence in 2010.