By Eli Thomas
Regardless of success, the approaching Mariners season will be memorable. Outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, one of the most famous Mariners and a hero to many, has returned. Following stints at the Marlins and Yankees, Ichiro has returned for what many surmise will be his last season. Ichiro’s production has stagnated over the past few years but he remains a valuable fill-in player, especially considering the injury-laden Mariners outfield.
The most notable acquisition this offseason was then-Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon; the Mariners have transitioned Gordon to center field, a surprising move considering Gordon’s gold glove performances at second. This spring has made the ease of that transition clear; Gordon has performed well in center and at the plate with a batting average of .309 in 55 at bats.
The most surprising performance to come out of this spring for the Mariners has been first baseman Daniel Vogelbach. Vogelbach boasted a rather dismal .175 average in his few MLB at bats; however, this spring training Vogelbach has clearly found his stride, hitting .400 with six homeruns in 50 at bats. Vogelbach’s 1.431 on base plus slugging percentage (OPS), if continued through the season would be a single-season record, besting that of Barry Bonds. While Vogelbach will never best Bonds without some sort of suspicious activity, his performance has been promising, especially considering the Mariners’ past difficulties at first base.
Robinson Cano has continued his success in spring training, hitting a devastating .406, a stat surprisingly bested by shortstop Jean Segura (.436). The offensive side of the Mariners has been clearly successful under the supervision of Mariner’s legend Edgar Martinez; eight players are hitting over .300 and three over .400.
Mike Zunino has performed particularly well this spring training, hitting .395 with a spring training including a three-homerun game. Since losing catching prospect Jesus Montero to an ice-cream-sandwich-throwing incident, there has been turmoil in the backup catching position. Mike Marjama has been impressive this season, hitting .289.
Perhaps the biggest concern among offensive success is the state of the Mariners’ bullpen and starting rotation. Mariners ace Felix Hernandez has been sidelined with a forearm injury for the entirety of spring training. Regardless, manager Scott Servais named Hernandez opening-day starter, making that his 10th appearance in a row. Some have expressed concern about this choice, considering Hernandez’s absence and less-than-inspiring performances in the past few seasons.
Mariners pitching prospect Rob Whalen was noticeable earlier in the season with solid starts against the Colorado Rockies and San Francisco Giants, but a tough performance against Cleveland sidelined his chances. Reliever Shawn Armstrong boasted a 0.96 ERA in nine innings. Perhaps the most impressive performance came from Marco Gonzalez with a 1.69 ERA in 21 innings.
The Mariners open their season against Cleveland, and perhaps it will be the start of the end of the playoff drought.