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M's Spring Roundup - March 3

With spring training games and the inaugural World Baseball Classic starting up this week, baseball has returned with fervor! Only two games into the exhibition season there is little noteworthy to talk about, but a few interesting Mariner notes have popped up nonetheless:

  • Felix Hernandez struck out the side on only 13 pitches to kick off the Mariners 2006 season! The hitters were Dave Roberts, Mike Cameron, and Brian Giles, most likely the first three hitters the Padres will field to start the season. It’s ludicrous to decide how good of a season a pitcher will have based on only 13 pitches, but it was still a great omen to see King Felix already in mid-season form. He isn’t just the Mariners best pitcher in the future, he’s their best pitcher right now.

  • It will be interesting to keep tabs on Seattle’s team hitting statistics for the spring. There is a weak correlation between spring statistics and regular season statistics for individual players, but team statistics seem to be a little different story. The last few springs Seattle generated very little power and that has correlated to little production in the regular season. They didn’t have a home run in their first game this spring, but Ibanez did crack an opposite field solo home run today against the Cubs.

  • Another team offensive stat to watch will be the K/BB ratio. Very few good offenses strike out a lot more than they walk. Against the Padres, Seattle struck out 12 times and only walked once. Against the Cubs they were much better, striking out five times while walking six.

  • There are many pitchers worth watching in Mariners camp this year and a couple have already appeared in games. Perhaps the most intriguing is Matt Thornton, a southpaw that can rush it up to the plate in the upper 90s but doesn’t know where it’s going. New Mariners pitching coach Rafael Chaves has had Thornton make many changes, most noticeably moving to the other side of the pitching rubber, in hopes of improving his command. Results so far are promising, as Thornton didn’t walk a batter in his first appearance against the Padres.

Here’s some players to look out for Saturday's game against San Diego:

  • Jesse Foppert: Foppert will start tomorrow and probably only work a few innings, but he’s in a very interesting position. Acquired in the Randy Winn deadline deal last year, Foppert was one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball before blowing out his arm a couple years ago. He has completely recovered and his stuff is coming back, most notably a big-time fastball that he consistently throws in the mid-90s. The Mariners starting five looks set, but if Foppert really impresses this spring, he may be able to bump Gil Meche and make the opening day roster.

  • Clint Nageotte: Like Thornton a pitcher with control problems, Nageotte really started to find the strike zone by the end of last year, especially in the Arizona fall league where he was lights out. If he can build on his spectacular fall league showing, he will make the bullpen and open a ton of eyes in the process. The M’s bullpen looks very strong, and it will be one of the best in baseball if guys like Nageotte and Matt Thornton learn how to harness their stuff.

  • Emiliano Fruto: Just 21 years old, Fruto has a fastball clocked around 97 MPH and a change-up and curve that have both been rated among the best in the organization. He played in AA last year and put up good, though not great, numbers because he doesn’t have great command of his pitches yet. Once he learns how to consistently throw at least two of his pitches for strikes, he will be able to dominate on any level, including the major leagues.

  • There is an open battle for second base right now between Jose Lopez, Willie Bloomquist, and non-roster invitee Fernando Vina. Due to a minor injury, Vina has not played in a spring training game yet but he should be back soon. The job may be Vina’s to take because AAA ball probably would be best for Lopez right now and Mike Hargrove seems to love the idea of Willie Bloomquist being a super sub.

  • Greg Dobbs has gotten off to a hot start and if he keeps it up, he may force himself on to the opening day roster. It’s what he did last year but he faces longer odds this spring as a non-roster invitee. Still, he should get plenty of playing time since Adrian Beltre is participating in the World Baseball Classic.