Baron making a big impression on Mariners
Wakamatsu pleased with strength of 19-year-old catcher
PEORIA, Ariz. -- The end of his first big league camp is closing in on the youngest player in the Mariners' clubhouse, but the observations made by 19-year-old catcher Steven Baron the past month will come in handy down the road.
"It has been a great experience just being around the big league guys, getting to know them and seeing how they go about their business," Baron said on Sunday. "I have learned a lot."
Baron will put some of that knowledge to the test on Monday, when he makes his Cactus League debut against the White Sox in Glendale. His mom and dad will be there to watch.
His debut has been delayed a bit by soreness in his right shoulder.
"It started bothering me the first week, and they shut me down for almost a month," he said. "I have been taking MRIs and X-rays, and there is nothing wrong with my shoulder. There has been some soreness, but it's fine now. I threw to bases on Friday and was cleared [on Saturday]. I'm good to go."
"I'm sure there will be nerves, and I'm curious to see how he does," manager Don Wakamatsu said. "He will have trouble breathing, but he'll be fine."
It is difficult for Wakamatsu to even fathom what it must be like for a 19-year-old to be in a Major League environment.
Even Baron has to occasionally pinch himself.
"A year ago I was just starting the season in my senior year of high school," he said. "This is a pretty big jump, and something you would never dream of. It would never have crossed my mind that I would be in a big league clubhouse this soon. It's crazy. It's really pretty crazy."
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The next step in his career could come as early as Wednesday, when the first cuts of camp are expected. Baron most likely will pack his gear and head to the Minor League side of the complex.
The Mariners' Minor League pitchers and catchers begin workouts on Monday and will be joined by the position players on Friday. Minor League exhibition games start on March 18.
Baron was the supplementary selection (33rd overall) in last June's First-Year Player Draft, the second part of the compensation picks received for the loss of left fielder Raul Ibanez to the Phillies through free agency.
Baron had been destined to attend Duke, but he decided to forgo college and become a professional, and he spent the remainder of the summer playing for Class A Pulaski, where he batted .179 with two home runs and 13 RBIs.
His contract included an invitation to Major League camp, and he arrived in early February for the pre-camp mini-camp. He was ready to go when camp started on Feb. 18 and made an strong impression right off the bat.
"The kid can catch," Wakamatsu said. "To think that he's a year out of high school, it's amazing. You watch the guy catch, and you see a belief system. Sometimes it gets broken as they go along, but he's a pretty confident kid.
"He's a strong kid, much stronger than I envisioned, especially right out of high school. He's got great leg strength. But he's got real soft hands and a presence about him. He's not intimidated by any means."
Baron asked if could catch ace right-hander Felix Hernandez during a bullpen session. The request was granted, and the experience ranks near the top of his camp highlights.
Being around Ken Griffey Jr. and Ichiro Suzuki has been special, but he hasn't yet worked up the courage to ask for their autographs.
Another high point, he said, was walking into Peoria Stadium on March 3 for the Cactus League opener against the Giants.
"I have never been in a stadium with that many people," he said. "I came from a big high school [Ferguson High in Miami], but 30 to 40 people were at the games. I never played in a big stadium, so walking into that field with that sort of atmosphere was pretty neat."
He was an interested spectator in the third-base dugout as he watched Giants right-hander Tim Lincecum, a two-time National League Cy Young Award winner, pitch to Ichiro and Griffey.
"I took it all in," he smiled.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.