Sports Out West

Seattle Mariners: 5 Spring Training story lines to watch

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With 15 games completed, Spring Training is fully underway for the Seattle Mariners. Storylines are beginning to develop and position battles are taking shape, all to be resolved by the team’s March 31 opener against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

There’s been no shortage of news from the Mariners over the past two weeks, and not all of it has been positive. Here are five things for Mariners fans to keep an eye on for the rest of Spring Training.

Taijuan Walker’s health

Spring Training started with about the worst news possible after Walker was shut down on February 28 with shoulder inflammation. Since then, all eyes have been on the 21-year old phenom in hopes that the inflammation is just a minor blip and not something more serious.

The recent news on Walker has been positive. He resumed throwing last Thursday and had another catch session Sunday with no reported discomfort. Still, you’d have to believe the Mariners are going to be extraordinarily careful with Walker after seeing what happened to Danny Hultzen last year.  Walker is expected to be a meaningful contributor to the Mariners’ rotation in 2014, but it looks he’ll be on the disabled list to start April.

Hisashi Iwakuma’s return

If the 21-year old Walker is a key part of the rotation, then a 2013 Cy Young contender in Iwakuma is obviously a player the Mariners cannot afford to lose for an extended period of time. Iwakuma was ruled out for 4-6 weeks back on February 12 with a finger injury, and the target date for him to even pick up a ball is sometime in late March.

That means that Iwakuma will miss some of the regular season, but the Mariners will hope that he can recover a little faster than expected before the end of camp. A further setback could make for a tough April with a thin rotation.

Abraham Almonte’s skillset

Over the past few days, it’s became clear that Almonte is going to be the Mariners’ Opening Day starter in center field. Manager Lloyd McClendon said that Dustin Ackley will play left field, leaving Michael Saunders the only other player on the current roster who could possibly play center, and he hasn’t received a single start in Spring Training at the position.

In Almonte, the Mariners will be starting a player with plenty of raw talent but who is a bit of an unknown. Almonte has shown tremendous athletic ability, and looks to be great defensively and on the basepaths. It will be interesting to see what Almonte shows at the plate over the next three weeks.

Who bats leadoff?

We have a pretty good idea of what the middle of the Mariners’ lineup will look like, but the leadoff spot isn’t settled yet. Ackley seems like the likely choice and has shown some life at the plate this spring, but he could be challenged by a pair of contenders.

Brad Miller appeared in the leadoff position most often in 2013, and could bat first again if Ackley goes into a slump. If Almonte can show something at the plate, he also has the tools you want in a leadoff hitter. The Mariners will look for one of the three to step up in 2014 to get runners on ahead of Kyle Seager and Robinson Cano.

More additions

With or without injuries, the Mariners’ roster still has holes and there are players available who could help. Ervin Santana and Kendrys Morales are still looking for places to sign, and Seattle is reportedly linked to Dayan Viciedo of the Chicago White Sox.

Couple that with the fact that Nick Franklin is a major trade candidate, and its plausible to think that the Mariners aren’t done making additions yet.  

Photo Credit: Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press

 

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Nathaniel Reeves

Nathaniel Reeves is a journalism student at the University of Washington, currently covering sports for The UW Daily in addition to Sports Out West. He has been closely following Seattle sports his entire life.