02/08/10 3:34 PM EST
Around the Horn: Corner infielders
Newcomers Figgins, Kotchman give Seattle offensive jolt
By Jim Street / MLB.com
The cornerstone for power in the Mariners' lineup last season was the corner infield positions, but that won't be the case in 2010.
Gone are first baseman Russell Branyan and his team-high 31 home runs, and third baseman Adrian Beltre, who belted just eight home runs in his final season with Seattle, but averaged almost 21 homers during his five campaigns with the Mariners.
Their likely replacements are slick-fielding, contact-hitting Casey Kotchman at first base, and switch-hitting Chone Figgins across the diamond at third. Home runs have come few and far between for the duo -- 71 in 5,259 Major League at-bats combined.
Even so, manager Don Wakamatsu believes Kotchman has the size, 6-3, 215 pounds, and swing to develop into a 15-to-20 home run per season hitter.
"He's 28 years old and has been through the wars, so to speak," the second-year skipper said. "He's hungry to prove he's better than he has shown."
The Mariners in 2010 will rely more on on-base percentage and moving runners along than brute strength. Beginning on Feb. 23, when the regular position players report for Spring Training in Peoria, Ariz., quality at-bats plan to be the focus.
Kotchman, acquired in a trade with the Red Sox for spare utility player Bill Hall, fits the Mariners' put-the-ball-in-play mold.
After five big league seasons and 1,674 at-bats, Kotchman has a .269 batting average, 40 home runs, 233 RBIs, 157 walks, 166 strikeouts and a .337 on-base percentage.
Figgins, a seven-year veteran, brings a .291 career batting average in 3,585 at-bats, 31 home runs, 341 RBIs, 280 stolen bases and a .363 on-base percentage to the party.
"I know those two guys," said first-year Mariners coach Mike Brumley. "I had Figgins for a couple of years in the Minor Leagues just before he broke in with the Angels and I worked with Kotchman in Triple-A. They are tremendous defensive players with great work ethics."
Kotchman, a left-hander, has not made an error in his last 1,584 fielding chances.
"Casey has real soft hands and is real good with balls [thrown] in the dirt," Brumley said, "and he gives you tough, grind-it-out at-bats. That really helps a team, when you have a couple of free swingers."
Kotchman is ready to go.
"I want to get to Spring Training and become acclimated to my new team as quickly as possible," he said. "Knowing Wak and Brumley from the Angels certainly helps my comfort level because I've never played with anyone on the team, except for Figgy."
Newcomer Ryan Garko currently is second on the depth chart at first base, bringing a .313 career batting average against left-handers to the Mariners. He hit 21 home runs for the Indians in 2007, and 13 last season for the Indians (11) and Giants (2).
Mike Carp, acquired from the Mets prior to last season, most likely will return to Triple-A Tacoma, where he spent most of last season. He had two stints with the Mariners, batting .315 (15-for-54) with one home run and five RBIs.
Moving across the diamond, the versatile Figgins has made at least 17 career starts at six positions -- third base (515), center field (213), second base (86), left field (24), right field (23) and shortstop (17).
There have been discussions about giving him some playing time at second, but most of his early-camp work is expected to be at third base.
"I have always said that as long as I am on the field and hitting first or second in the lineup I'm happy," he said. "I have grown to like playing third, but I'll do whatever they need me to do."
Jose Lopez might get some work at the hot corner, but Jack Hannahan has the inside track at opening the regular season as the backup.
"I might want to take a look at Figgins up the middle [at second] and Lopez at third," Wakamatsu said, "but I would first talk to Jose before doing something like that."
Adding Figgins gives the Mariners two leadoff hitters who can hit for average, steal bases and score runs. That is what Figgins and Ichiro do best and Seattle needs an offensive jolt after finishing last in runs scored last season.
He is no slouch on defense, either, but has a tough act to follow.
Beltre was a back-to-back Gold Glove winner with the Mariners in 2007-'08 and handled slow rollers better than any third baseman in either league. He also was superb at handling hot smashes right at him -- except for that one time last season when a hard-hit ball nailed him below the belt.
Beltre never wore a protective cup before then, but now he does.
"Do I wear a cup?" Figgins asked. "Yes I do. I trust my hands, but not that much."
Next up: Middle infielders.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.