Spring Training Is Awesome

Jose Lopez - AT THIRD BASE!
I love spring training, I really do. I wish it was maybe a week shorter, but not much shorter. If the season started out with no preparation, I may have a seizure from all the excitement, kind of like those crazy shows with all the super fast flashing lights. Thanks to spring training, I have pitchers and catchers reporting, then a week later everyone else reporting, and then the first spring training game, and a couple rounds of cuts...it's much healthier to spread the excitement enough to not hurt myself.

Plus, spring training by itself is really fun, especially with this new Mariners regime. Jack Hannahan and Ryan Garko both reported with the catchers. They've been catching bullpen sessions, meaning the M's will probably break camp with four players capable of going behind the plate and not making a fool of themselves. I especially love that Hannahan is doing bullpen sessions while there is still a plan to work him in at shortstop a bunch more.

There are the random moments that only happen in the spring too, like when 19-year-old first-rounder Steven Baron caught Felix Hernandez's bullpen session last week. He went from high school to King Felix. That wouldn't quite make my career, but those ten minutes would have made the whole trip to Peoria worth it for me.

On the first full day of workouts, the M's took the field with Jose Lopez at third base, and Chone Figgins at second. It caused a bit of a stir, considering all conventional logic would put Lopez at second and Figgins at third. There has been so much written already analyzing the switch (the post linked to has more links too),  so I won't go over it at all, other than to say it makes spring training even more awesome.

If you are keeping track at home, that's a starting second baseman practicing at third, a starting third baseman practicing at second, the backup third baseman catching bullpen sessions with plans to practice at shortstop, a regular first baseman getting back behind the plate for the first time since the minors, and a guy who just graduated from high school catching the Cy Young runner-up.

This is why I love spring training. You'll see things you won't see during the season. Usually that means different prospects taking the field for a few innings, and one of them doing something that speaks to their potential. I still remember a few years back, when I went down to San Francisco to watch a Mariners-Giants exhibition game. A 20-year-old Michael Saunders got an at-bat, and roped a pitch just foul down the right field line, that, after a bounce, splashed down in McCovey Cove. I'm still looking for another foul ball that makes me drool quite like that one.

There is also room to experiment in spring training with more established players though, and I wish more teams did it. This is the only time players will get to play in real, live games that don't matter. There is ample room for things to fail spectacularly without repercussions. Pitchers should try new pitches, hitters new stances, fielders new positions. Statistically speaking, the sample sizes are too small to get any meaningful data anyway. It's practice and experience with no real pressure to perform, and the naked eye is the only way to possibly glean meaningful insights.

I remember when Randy Johnson worked on a different fastball in spring training during his time with the Diamondbacks. His spring numbers were horrific, and some people wondered if it would carry into the season. It did, but not in the way people implied. Johnson took a beating in the spring, but in the process learned a new pitch. He went out and got a Cy Young with his new weapon.

Most players (and teams) don't take a very experimental approach in spring training. Mixing up the batting order is about as far as many go. Not the Mariners though, and it's not surprising coming from this organization. What other team would take their top prospect and move him from center field to second base just to do it?

Spring training's meaningless games will eventually get to me, and I'll want the regular season to get here. I'm not even close to that point yet though. Spring training has a charm special to itself, and following the Mariners, it's going to be even more charming. They are treating it almost like little league, and I love it.

You know, while the M's are at it, they should let Ichiro pitch! They should take that old-school Griffey cloning ad and make it more of a reality too! Why not let King Felix work on his stroke a little more as well? We know he has some pop. For all we know, he could provide some right-handed thunder off the bench!

Okay, if there was any doubt that Don Wakamatsu runs a better spring training than I would, it should be gone now. There are experiments more likely to yield results than others, and thankfully he has an eye for those. I love the approach though. What's the harm in trying something different? It can only help the team, and it definitely makes spring training that much more lovable.