Mariners camp report: Likes and dislikes
What Jon Heyman likes and dislikes coming out of Seattle Mariners spring camp.
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Things I like, and dislike, about the Seattle Mariners:
What I like:
• Perhaps no one has a better quartet of pitching prospects than Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Brandon Maurer. Maurer, the former 23rd-round pick has taken a leap into the top group, and no less than Felix Hernandez said he's the most polished of the four. Walker, beloved by scouts throughout the game, nearly went to Arizona in the proposed Justin Upton deal, but he should become a star. The organization is deep with young pitchers, especially hard throwers, as recent drafts have been excellent.
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• Their offense will be better, as Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales in particular should fortify a lineup that's been the lamest in baseball over the last three years. Raul Ibanez, Jason Bay and Kelly Shoppach could help, as well. The Mariners are killing teams in spring, with 24 home runs and 10 straight wins (but let's not forget, it is only spring).
• The clubhouse vibe is much improved, thanks to the new veterans plus the removal of prima donnas, the last one being Ichiro, who was sent at his behest to the Yankees last summer. Felix Hernandez, the remaining superstar, is a beloved figure and team man.
• Mike Zunino is the best catching prospect in baseball, and he's impressed Mariners people with his confidence and leadership skills this spring. He will hit, which is what the Mariners still need most.
• The left-field fence has been lowered and the dimensions have been reduced to all fields, perhaps finally making Safeco safe for hitters.
What I dislike:
• All the new hitters are off to a big start in spring, but it would have been a big plus if they had been able to add either Josh Hamilton or Justin Upton, who'd fit better into their long-range plans. Their much-improved total of 619 runs last year (yes, that was way better than the presvious two years) was still lowest in the American League, but they have hopes to rise significantly, especially after their huge beginning. One drawback: the four new hitters are all only contracted for one more year apiece, which doesn't really fit the long-range hope for offensive improvement.
• Despite the influx of hitting talent, they are going to need much more production from young holdovers such as Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero and Michael Saunders. They are all talented but have to prove they can do it.
• They're going to need one of the kid pitchers to step forward soon, as the veteran choices seem like long shots.
• Sure, shortstop Brandan Ryan can pick it with anyone. But even with better offense throughout the lineup, can they carry that .194 batting average?
• The division is the devil. The Angels, Rangers and surprise champion A's all have playoff aspirations. Of course, at least they'll have the new-entry Astros to kick around.
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