SEATTLE -- When new Mariners manager Eric Wedge gathers the troops at Spring Training in the coming days in Peoria, Ariz., he'll have no trouble convincing his audience it's the perfect time for a fresh start.
He'll be looking into the faces, after all, of a large number of youngsters eager to make their mark in Major League Baseball, a handful of newly acquired veterans seeking to restart their careers and a returning nucleus of Mariners anxious to put a disappointing 2010 in the past.
Wedge, himself, is returning to the dugout after taking a year off following his seven-season run with the Indians. He'll bring intensity and energy to a franchise that is building on an infusion of youth led by power-hitting first baseman Justin Smoak, highly regarded second baseman Dustin Ackley, powerful starting pitcher Michael Pineda, multi-tool outfielder Michael Saunders and hard-throwing relievers Dan Cortes and Josh Lueke.
With 2010 American League Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez and Gold Glove outfielders Ichiro Suzuki and Franklin Gutierrez already in place, general manager Jack Zduriencik brought in veterans like designated hitter Jack Cust, catcher Miguel Olivo, infielders Brendan Ryan and Adam Kennedy, starting pitcher Nate Robertson and reliever Chris Ray to help bolster the youth movement.
Zduriencik also expects returners Chone Figgins, Jack Wilson, Milton Bradley and Gutierrez to bounce back offensively this year after the entire '10 Mariners team struggled collectively at the plate.
Wedge is preaching patience, but that's not really his nature and there seems little doubt more change is in store as the 43-year-old former catcher instills his brand of tough, hard-nosed baseball.
"We've got a lot of work to do," he said. "We spent a ton of time this offseason preparing for this spring. When we get there and we're in front of each other and they look into my eyes and each other's eyes, they'll understand this is real. It's go time and time to start getting this heading in the right direction."
Pitchers and catchers report
Sunday, Feb. 13.
Full squad reports
Friday, Feb. 18.
First Spring Training game
Home vs. San Diego, Feb. 27, 12:05 p.m. PT.
Away vs. Oakland, April 1, 7:05 p.m.
Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1. Who are the fourth and fifth starters?
The Mariners are fairly set with three returners in their rotation -- Hernandez, Jason Vargas and Doug Fister. But after that it gets interesting. Erik Bedard is potentially one of the league's better lefties when healthy, but he missed all of last season and large parts of '08 and '09 with shoulder problems. Top rookie prospect Pineda is promising and powerful at 6-foot-5 and 247 pounds, but the 22-year-old has just 12 Triple-A starts to his name. Returners David Pauley and Luke French are also in the mix, along with Robertson, the longtime Tiger who has a history of success in Safeco Field.
Seattle had the lowest-scoring team -- and fewest home runs -- in baseball last season, so discovering a little offense is critical. The addition of Cust and Olivo should help, but the Mariners need young Smoak to provide some middle-of-the-order punch as well behind Ichiro and Figgins. Wedge isn't crazy about throwing a youngster with less than one full year in the big leagues into a No. 3 or 4 spot in the lineup but will watch closely this spring to see how the 24-year-old handles things. It would help if some of the veterans like Figgins, Gutierrez, Bradley and Wilson bounced back from sub-par seasons with the bat as well. 3. What's the story in the middle infield?
Top prospect Ackley figures as the future at second base, but the question is how soon that future arrives for the No. 2 overall pick in the '09 Draft. The smooth-hitting lefty likely will open the season in Triple-A unless he forces the issue with a big spring. The club signed the veteran Kennedy and obtained Ryan from St. Louis by trade, so those two could battle for time at second until Ackley's arrival. Ryan is primarily a shortstop, however, and could challenge Wilson at that position as well. Figgins played second last year, but is moving to third to replace the traded Jose Lopez.
61-101, fourth in the AL West
Projected batting order
1. RF Ichiro Suzuki:
.315 BA, .359 OBP, .394 SLG, 6 HR, 43 RBI in 2010
2. 3B Chone Figgins:
.259 BA, .340 OBP, .306 SLG, 1 HR, 35 RBI in 2010
3. DH Jack Cust:
.272 BA, .395 OBP, .438 SLG, 13 HR, 52 RBI in 2010
4. 1B Justin Smoak:
.218 BA, .307 OBP, .371 SLG, 13 HR, 48 RBI in 2010
5. CF Franklin Gutierrez:
.245 BA, .303 OBP, .363 SLG, 12 HR, 64 RBI in 2010
6. C Miguel Olivo:
.269 BA, .315 OBP, .449 SLG, 14 HR, 58 RBI in 2010
7. LF Michael Saunders:
.211 BA, .295 OBP, .367 SLG, 10 HR, 33 RBI in 2010
8. SS Jack Wilson:
.249 BA, .282 OBP, .316 SLG, 0 HR, 14 RBI in 2010
9. 2B Brendan Ryan:
.223 BA, .279 OBP, .294 SLG, 2 HR, 36 RBI in 2010
1. Felix Hernandez, 13-12, 2.27 ERA in 2010
2. Jason Vargas, 9-12, 3.78 ERA in 2010
3. Doug Fister, 6-14, 4.11 ERA in 2010
4. Erik Bedard, 0-0, 0.00 ERA in 2010
5. Michael Pineda, 11-4, 3.36 ERA in 2010 (Minor Leagues)
The new guys
DH Cust: After signing him to a one-year deal as a free agent, the Mariners look for Cust to improve a designated hitter spot that produced a woeful .194 average, .260 on-base percentage and .609 OPS from the quartet of Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Sweeney, Russell Branyan and Bradley. Cust averaged 28 home runs and 76 RBIs over a three-year span in Oakland from 2007-09 before his playing time was reduced last year, and he's always been a grinder at the plate as well, working counts and drawing walks with a .378 career on-base percentage.
Prospects to watch
2B Ackley: It's only a matter of time before the former North Carolina All-American takes over at second base. After jumping from Double-A to Triple-A last year, the 22-year-old hit .424 while earning MVP honors in the Arizona Fall League. Once the Mariners feel he's adjusted to second base, which he began playing for the first time last year, he'll make the move to the Majors.RHP Pineda: The 6-foot-5, 247-pounder from the Dominican dominated at both the Double-A and Triple-A levels in '10 before wearing down at the end of the year. At 22, he's regarded as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball and will be given every chance to earn a rotation spot this spring. RHP Cortes: The 23-year-old reliever impressed the Mariners with his power arm last year both in the Minors and in a late-season callup and figures to be part of the club's bullpen from the get-go this season if he can control his heat, which tops out in the high 90s. RHP Lueke: Acquired from Texas as part of the Cliff Lee deal last July, Lueke is another hard-throwing youngster. At 26, he's a little older than Cortes and has shown better command, which should put him in the late-inning relief competition as well. 3B Matt Mangini: The Mariners like Mangini's left-handed bat, which figures to fit well at Safeco Field. But finding the 25-year-old a position could be a problem as he's not a strong glove man and Figgins currently is holding down third.
On the rebound
3B Figgins: A year ago, Figgins was the Mariners' big offseason addition, expected to light a fire as an offensive sparkplug while batting second behind Ichiro. But the former Angels' leadoff man got off to a slow start, struggled both with hitting No. 2 and moving to second base, and finished with a .259 average and a sour taste from a difficult season. The club expects him to bounce back now that he's returning to third and has a year's adjustment time.CF Gutierrez: The standout defender was good as gold with the glove, but his offense tailed off along with most of his teammates as he hit just .245 with 12 HRs and 64 RBIs after a .283/18/70 season in '09. If the bat bounces back, he could be one of the premier center fielders in the league. SS Wilson: The defensive standout has been beset by injuries since his acquisition from the Pirates in midseason of '09. A hamstring issue and broken hand limited him to 61 games last year and Ryan could push him for the starting job if he doesn't improve on a .249 average and .598 OPS. C Moore: Regarded as the club's catcher of the future, Moore batted just .195 last year and failed to grab hold of his opportunity. The Mariners brought in the veteran Olivo to handle the starting role, but hope Moore develops under his tutelage. LF Saunders: An intriguing blend of size, speed and power, the 24-year-old never quite put it all together his rookie season while hitting .211 with 10 HRs and 33 RBI in 100 games. But with a year under his belt, Saunders figures as a prime breakthrough candidate on a club that needs a number of its players to step up.
3B Lopez: The former All-Star second baseman was traded to Colorado after a season in which his offensive production declined dramatically. Coors Field could be a boon to the right-handed pull hitter, who wasn't well suited to Safeco.LHP Ryan Rowland-Smith: After opening last season as the Mariners' third starter behind Hernandez and Lee, Rowland-Smith rolled out a 1-10 season with a 6.75 ERA and now finds himself in Houston after Seattle chose to non-tender rather than go to arbitration with the 28-year-old Australian. 1B Casey Kotchman: No one questions Kotchman's glove, but the veteran first baseman hit just .217 with nine home runs and 51 RBIs after being thrust into the middle of a Mariners' lineup that needed more help. The acquisition of Smoak spelled the end for Kotchman, who signed with Tampa Bay. C Rob Johnson: Asked to split time with Moore as last year's young catching duo, Johnson was traded to the Padres after batting .191 and committing a league-high nine passed balls in just 61 games. DH Branyan: The big man gave Seattle some pop with 15 home runs in 57 games after being reacquired in midseason, but the Mariners opted to sign Cust at DH in hopes of getting a younger, healthier hitter with a higher on-base percentage.