Hey friends, welcome back to the Mariners mailbag — spring training edition. I’m getting ready to head back to Arizona for the final few weeks of camp, where we could see some interesting decisions in terms of what the opening-day roster will look like.
Thanks again for the questions this week. Sorry I couldn’t get to all of them. As always, there are some really good ones.
A lot of questions about Jarred Kelenic and his hot start this spring and what that might mean moving forward.
Let’s get to it.
How sustainable is this hot start of Jarred Kelenic’s? Does he seem any different in his approach/swing that makes you believe this could be his chance to break out this year? Thank Corey! — Chris W.
I think there’s reason to believe he’ll be a better player at the big-league level than we’ve seen. There have been some changes in his set-up and swing and he now appears in a pretty good place. The power has been nice to see, though not surprising. We knew he had that tool. What will be a separator for him will be his bat-to-ball skills — making consistent, hard contact and, above all else, cutting down on his 30 percent strikeout rate. What we have seen so far this spring is encouraging but the proof will come when the bell rings on Opening Day.
What can we reasonably expect from Kelenic this year? Or, to put it another way, what level of production would convince you that Kelenic will be a productive big leaguer moving forward? — Matt M.
I can’t say for sure, Matt. No one can. And I don’t want to read too much into spring results, but what I think you can dream on is the improved process and changes he made to put him in position to be more successful as a hitter. For me, that’s the most encouraging sign of his continued development. I’ve said this so many times I’m blue in the face: Development isn’t linear, he’s 23, and he has several loud tools. Increase the contact rate in the big leagues and you could have something.
How is new bullpen and quality control coach Stephen Vogt settling into his first spring training as a coach instead of a player? — Braden C.
From what I’ve heard from others and observed, it appears he’s settling in really well. That said, I think the learning curve is pretty steep being on the other side of the game with everything that entails, from the longer days to understanding the systems the Mariners have in place. But this is a smart guy and I have no doubt he’ll be an asset for the club. I think a recently retired player can have an impact and deliver a message that maybe others cannot. Maybe it’s more relatable, you know?
Given his stellar defense at first, what would the M’s do if Evan White starts to hit? Would he be a utility player rotating through designated hitter, first base and the outfield corners? — Jeffry W.
At this point, and after missing so much time over the past two seasons due to injuries, White needs to play — period. He’ll start the season in Triple A and, presumably, play every day at first base, DH and maybe some outfield. The team will closely monitor his health, but he needs to play and, without a doubt, needs to hit to get back on the Mariners’ radar and put himself in line to return to the big leagues. It’s a do-good league and he needs to be healthy and hit to help the club.
Who do you think the primary DH will be vs. RHP? With Tommy La Stella out to start the spring it seems like a more open competition than anticipated. — Cody S.
I still think the Mariners view the DH spot as a way to cycle regulars through to get them off their feet defensively for a day. They’ll also play the best matchups to get the potential maximum returns. Maybe this is a good way to get Tom Murphy more time behind the plate and let Cal Raleigh DH (and hit from his best side). Here’s a shot in the dark: How about Cooper Hummel, a switch-hitter who is better from the left side (his home run Sunday was right-handed)? Now, this is in the event that Hummel makes the team. There’s still lots of time to decide that.
Once and for all, Corey, are you predicting a Chris Flexen trade before Opening Day? If so, what might it look like? — Nate S.
Nate, you know I got out of the business of predicting Flexen’s future … or did I? I’m conflicted on this and still confused why he wasn’t traded this winter. But I see value in keeping him. First of all, he’s good. Second, he’s durable. Third, stuff happens. Guys get hurt and I can easily see a scenario where Flexen is starting games in 2023 for this team. Maybe the view on dealing him shifted during the winter. I think that’s part of the reason he’s here. He’s an expiring asset (a free agent after the season) so you’d have to pair him with someone (a prospect) to get back anything substantial, i.e., a player who could help you in 2023 and beyond. I say they don’t trade Flexen, which means he’s likely packing his bags in the clubhouse right now.
Thanks for doing another mailbag, Corey! Last year, I asked why Julio Rodríguez stopped running (why almost all of his steals for the year came before August) and the answer you got when you asked manager Scott Servais was a platitude about picking the moments, etc. How do the new rules and incentives for stealing impact Julio in particular, and the rest of the team more broadly? — Zac C.
Hey Zac, I think you could see Julio — and others — running more in 2023 because of the new rules in place. As someone who watched a lot of baseball back in the late 1980s, I can still remember a time when guys ran wild and how exciting the stolen base was. I think Julio will pick his spots and be smart about running, but I bet he’ll have the green light in 2023. I can envision a scenario where he singles, steals second and scores on a Ty France or Teoscar Hernández base hit. Like a nervous dad, I guess I get a little worried about his hands/wrist on steals, but you can’t put up a stop light because of that. So run, Julio. Run!
Rodríguez after the stolen base that made him a 25/25 man last season. (Lindsey Wasson / USA Today)
Does Cal Raleigh end up at DH on most days that he’s not starting at catcher, at least against right-handed starters? The team is short on good hitters, especially those who can hit left-handed, and other players can rotate through the DH spot on the days that Raleigh starts at C. — Kevin C.
I sort of answered this above, and the answer, on some occasions, will be a resounding ‘yes.’ But the grind of catching a lot takes a toll, and if they can give Raleigh a full day off — no catching, no DH — on occasion, I think you’ll see a fresher player in the second half. You never want to run anyone into the ground, and I think we can all agree that this is the most physically demanding position on the field. That said, I hate to have Raleigh’s bat, especially against right-handed pitching, out of the lineup. So there’s a fine line there, but in the interest of keeping the player healthy for the full season, I think the Mariners will carefully plot his playing time in 2023.
The Mariners seem to have crazy depth and quality in the bullpen, and more MLB-ready pitchers than jobs. Can you see any of these guys being dealt to teams that are not as deep? (Possibly as part of a Flexen package? I still think of him as a starter.) Or is there an MLB-wide talent surplus when it comes to relievers, as well as a preference around the league to go first with farm-grown talent? — James T.
There is not a talent surplus in terms of effective major-league relievers. Teams will break camp later this month with bullpens they’re not entirely excited about, but are more or less stuck with what they have. The Mariners are an outlier here. They have a lot of strong bullpen arms and, for example, a guy like Bryce Miller who will be a starter moving forward but might have a chance to appear in the big leagues initially as a reliever. They’ve already dealt Erik Swanson to Toronto and I don’t think they’re keen on moving another impact arm from the bullpen at this point. But again, if they can get a position player to help impact this roster (and beyond 2023), I think you have to look at that.
Do you believe Bryce Miller will be a starting pitcher this year? — Sam R.
I do, Sam. But as I mentioned above, there might be a way for him to make the big-league team as a reliever. I think his future is that of a starter, and so does the team. You have to exhaust that possibility before you decide to move him to the bullpen. If he’s one of your eight best relief arms at the end of the month, do you take him north and add him to the Opening Day roster? Or do you send him back to Double-A Arkansas, where he made 10 starts last summer? Either way, I think his future is really bright. Excited to see what his 2023 looks like.
What is the likelihood the Mariners go out and augment the roster again at the deadline, assuming they are in contention? Any whispers about teams/players they were setting the groundwork for over the winter meetings and during spring training? — Nick V.
I would say, based on what we saw last summer and how Jerry Dipoto operates, that they would certainly make some deals if the situation called for it. They might not have the prospect capital they did a year ago at this time, but they have some interesting guys they could potentially package. Way, way too early to even speculate. Any moves will be based on addressing an area of weakness and if you can add a controllable player (someone who can help beyond 2023) then that’s great as well. Still stunned they were able to add Luis Castillo last year at the deadline. They gave up a lot but look where he helped them get.
If you could put a “Good Vibes” super team together, who are the top-five tone setters in the clubhouse? — Jeremy T.
This is a fun one! If we’re starting a Good Vibes team, we have to have a captain, right? Eugenio Suárez is the only answer here. Beyond that? Let’s go Julio Rodríguez, Andrés Muñoz, Luis Castillo and Paul Sewald. Don’t ask me to quantify any of these other than I’ll say if I’m having a Good Vibes party, I’m probably inviting these five. Also, they would probably offer to pick up the tab.
Not to jump ahead or anything, but ticket strips went on sale recently so the All-Star Game is top of mind. What type of atmosphere should we expect that week? Is it a lock Julio makes a return to the derby? — Mike J.
Mike, it’s going to be a big party at T-Mobile Park. The eyes of the baseball world will be on Seattle for a few days and I know the Mariners are going to put on a great show (preparations have been ongoing for months). As for Julio, I can’t see a situation where he doesn’t come back to the Home Run Derby. That was such a show a year ago at Dodger Stadium. Can’t wait for July!
When you’re back home in Purdy and going out for breakfast are you a Float or a Hy-Iu-Hee-Hee kind of guy? — Robert K.
I’m a Float guy, Robert. My buddy Jon goes there a lot and knows the owner and I like the feel. We had a Peninsula High reunion there a few years back (I won’t say which reunion!) and had a good time. I just like the feel and the food. Love me some Purdy. Spent a lot of time there (Purdy Elementary then Peninsula). It’s about the only part of Gig Harbor that looks relatively the same as it did when I was a kid.
(Top photo of Kelenic: Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)