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02/19/10 7:24 PM EST
Around the Horn: Outfielders
With Seattle starters set, backups ready to battle
By Jim Street / MLB.com
Spring Training has started for pitchers and catchers, and position players will soon join in the workouts at the Peoria Sports Complex. Leading up to the first Cactus League game, MLB.com will take a closer look at the 2010 Mariners, position-by-position. Today: Outfielders. It has been a while since the Mariners went into Spring Training with the starting outfield virtually set in stone. But that's the way it looks heading into the 2010 season. From right to left, the Mariners will have Ichiro Suzuki, Franklin Gutierrez and Milton Bradley standing on the outfield grass on April 5 for the regular-season opener against the Athletics in Oakland. One of the biggest questions heading into camp is who and how many backup outfielders will be carried on the 25-man roster. There will be 10 outfielders competing for probably four or five roster spots this spring, including non-roster invites Corey Patterson and Mike Wilson. Big league veterans Eric Byrnes and Ryan Langerhans, along with less experienced Michael Saunders, figure to have the best shots at earning backup roles. Bradley, a switch-hitter with a couple of stellar seasons under his belt, and a few more that were filled with controversy, takes over in left field -- the third different player to start there in the past three seasons. But which Bradley have the Mariners acquired? "I have only been around him a few times, but I have some really good friends of mine, like Dan Haren, who speak highly of Milton, saying he was a great teammate," said Mariners first base-outfield coach Lee Tinsley. "[Haren] called [Bradley] a warrior and a gamer." The 31-year-old Bradley had another name last season -- trouble. His first (and only) season with the Cubs in a three-year contract ended with him being sent home in September for disciplinary reasons. But he reports to his third American League West team with a clean slate. Bradley had previous success with the Athletics in 2006, when he batted .276 with 14 home runs and 52 RBIs in 99 games, and with the Rangers two years later, batting .321 with 22 home runs and 77 RBIs in 128 games, earning an All-Star Game invitation. "I saw Milton when I was with the Diamondbacks and for the most part, he has a good idea how to play the position," Tinsley said. "He doesn't have great range, but has a good feel out there and has good arm strength." In Gutierrez, the Mariners have their best all-around center fielder since Mike Cameron. Acquired from the Indians as part of the three-team, 12-player trade in December 2008, Gutierrez returned to his favorite position and excelled big-time. He set career highs in games (153), at-bats (565), runs (85), hits (160), home runs (18) and RBIs (70). Gutierrez, who turns 27 on Sunday, also was superb on defense, chasing down would-be extra-base hits in the gaps. "I saw him play center field for the first time last spring and I didn't say a lot to him," Tinsley said. "I wanted to let him run around and observe his actions. And right from the start, it looked like he had a good idea what he was doing. "As the season progressed, he just kind of grew on you. He was very comfortable running down balls and kept getting better and better." Tinsley calls Gutierrez "one of the five best outfielders in the league. He has speed, arm strength, range, ability and feel. He is one of those guys that instinctively know where the ball is going." Ichiro also is like that, giving the Mariners a terrific tandem in the outfield. Besides a record-setting ninth consecutive season with at least 200 hits and a ninth straight All-Star Game appearance, he won his ninth Gold Glove Award. "He is very comfortable in right field," Tinsley said, "almost like it's a piece of him. Ichiro has it all: speed, arm, range and is in great physical shape. He's 35 and is in as good of shape as a 25-year-old." Another 200-hit season would tie Ichiro for the Major League record for most 200-hit seasons, currently held by all-time hit king Pete Rose, who needed 17 seasons to do it. "You never have to worry about Ichiro," Tinsley said. "He gets himself prepared to play every day and when he comes to the park, you know what you are going to get -- consistency." What the Mariners will get from Byrnes is energy, and lots of it. "If everyone else was a 60-watt light bulb, Byrnsie is a 100-watt bulb," Tinsley said. "Everything he does is high energy. It's almost like once he walks onto the field, the volume turns up and everything he does is faster and quicker than anyone else." Byrnes, who is coming off a series of injuries, just turned 34. "He's a workaholic," Tinsley added. Langerhans, 30, was acquired from the Nationals midway through the 2009 season and contributed two walk-off home runs -- against the Rays on Aug. 7 and vs. the Athletics 20 days later, becoming the 12th player in MLB history to hit two walk-off home runs in the same season. Saunders, who spent the second half of the season with the Mariners, is a work in progress and probably would be better off playing every day at Triple-A Tacoma than occasionally with Seattle. The 23-year-old appeared in 46 games with the Mariners and batted .221 with no home runs and four RBIs. He earned his first trip to The Show by hitting .310 with 13 home runs at Tacoma. "There are not too many things wrong with his game," Tinsley said, "but he needs more experience. Overall, he's a good baseball player." Next: Starting pitching.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.