By Kirby Arnold Herald Writer
Where some see a logjam of catchers with the Seattle Mariners, the Mariners see strength in their numbers.
Where some wonder if Kenji Johjima can hit well enough to maintain his status as the No. 1 catcher, or if missing much of spring training because of the World Baseball Classic will hurt him, the Mariners say they’re not worried.
Where some believe Jeff Clement should be a first baseman or DH, the Mariners maintain that he can become a special player — behind the plate.
And where some believe Rob Johnson and fast-rising Adam Moore make the organization so top-heavy that it’s time to cash in and trade someone, the Mariners like their catching depth just the way it is. For now.
The Mariners may have as many questions about their catching as they have catchers, but they’re not complaining.
Johjima, Clement and Johnson occupy spots on the 40-man roster, Jamie Burke signed a minor league contract and will go to spring training with a great chance to be a backup for the third straight year, and Moore is pushing them all after a big year at the Class AA level.
“It’s a good situation when we can say there’s not room for a guy in the big leagues, so we want him to go down and play more (in the minors),” said Roger Hansen, the Mariners’ catching coordinator. “But then again, we are starting to run out of room. Spring training will be interesting.”
It will be interesting for the catchers who are at the Mariners’ camp in Peoria, Ariz., and also for the guy who won’t.
Johjima is on Japan’s roster for the World Baseball Classic and he probably will miss most of spring training. The WBC runs from March 5-23 and Japan is considered a favorite to repeat its 2006 championship, which means Johjima wouldn’t join the Mariners until late March.
In a normal year, that would be a much bigger issue. This year, however, spring training has been lengthened by a week and Johjima will have nearly two weeks with the Mariners before the regular season begins April 6.
Hansen, who coached in Japan from 1998-2001 and got to know Johjima long before he became a Mariner, doesn’t believe the WBC will hold him back.
“He’ll get enough playing time over there that I don’t think it will affect him that much,” Hansen said. “He’ll be in shape and ready to play.
“We’ve talked at length on all sorts of things about what Joh needs to do and what Joh doesn’t need to do. I know him so well from Japan, and Joh knows what he needs to do to be ready.”
Johjima is expected to spend at least a week late this month working with Hansen at Safeco Field. Clement and Burke also will work with Hansen before they go to Arizona.
None of them can afford to be off their game when the exhibition season begins. Among the Mariners’ important roster dilemmas, they must decide whether to keep two or three catchers.
Johjima is considered No. 1 at the moment, and the common assumption is that Clement will make the team because of his potent left-handed bat that may earn him considerable time at DH. If that happens, the Mariners would need a third catcher, and that would open the door to Burke or Johnson.
Compounding the two-or-three catcher issue is a roster that may have limited wiggle room. The Mariners have two Rule 5 draft picks — infielder Reegie Corona and pitcher Jose Lugo — who must stay on the roster all year or be offered back to their original teams.
Clement’s defense has been questioned to the point that many wonder if the Mariners shouldn’t convert him full-time to first base or DH. Hansen says it’s too early in Clement’s career to consider that.
“You can go to first base and DH at any time,” Hansen said. “He needs to improve his throwing, but his receiving and blocking are OK. You don’t want to give up on that at 25 years old.
“Once he gets it as the total package, you’re going to have something that’s pretty impressive. People want a No. 1 (draft) pick to be in the big leagues right away, but they need time to learn how to catch.
“Jeff has come a long way in a short period of time,” Hansen said. “Sometimes it takes a little bit longer. Rob (Johnson) will end up being a Dan Wilson-type catcher, and Adam will be a starter, too, with right-handed power. Everybody wants it so fast, but each in their own time will emerge.”
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com