EVERETT — It was a little lonely on the field at Everett Memorial Stadium on Monday as the 2012 Everett AquaSox conducted their first full practice, and that required a little improvisation
Just 17 players were among the first group of arrivals. The only infielder in that group was shortstop Ketel Marte. So when it came time to take infield, it consisted of Marte, outfielder Jean Acevedo at second base, and the three catchers at first.
“We’ve got kind of a skeleton crew for the first couple workouts, with seven position players and 10 pitchers,” said Sox manager Rob Mummau, who’s in his first season in Everett. “But we’ll get more into it the next couple days.”
The AquaSox are entering their 18th season as the Seattle Mariners’ affiliate in the short-season single-A Northwest League. The Sox get things started with the exhibition Everett Cup against the Everett Merchants on Wednesday at Everett Memorial Stadium. The Sox open the season Friday at Tri-City, then play their home opener on June 20 against Spokane.
Mummau takes the reins from Scott Steinmann, who guided the Sox to a 37-39 record last season and is serving as Everett’s hitting coach this season. Mummau managed Seattle’s rookie Appalachian League affiliate in Pulaski last season, guiding the team to a 32-36 mark.
“The biggest thing for me is (that the players) show up on time and play hard,” Mummau said about his managing style. “I’m not a big trickster, I’m more about mastering the fundamentals and mastering the basics. It’s kind of old-school baseball.”
The first group of 17 players consisted of those who spent the past two-plus months at extended spring training at the Mariners’ complex in Peoria, Ariz. Those players are ready to get started with real games.
“We’re all excited, to get out of the heat especially,” said catcher Marcus Littlewood, the lone returning player from last season’s team. “Some of us have been there for four months, so we’re all excited for the change of scenery.”
The biggest names among that group are Littlewood and pitcher Victor Sanchez.
Littlewood, Seattle’s second-round pick in the 2010 draft, comes to Everett under vastly different circumstances from a year ago. Last year the 20-year-old from St. George, Utah, was Everett’s regular shortstop. But Littlewood underwent the conversion to catcher during the offseason and will be learning a new position on the fly.
Meanwhile, Sanchez is the latest teenage Venezuelan pitching sensation to arrive in Everett. Sanchez, perhaps the most coveted pitcher from last year’s international signing period, is a mere 17 years old. He’s following in the footsteps of fellow Venzuelans Felix Hernandez and Jose Campos. Hernandez, Seattle’s ace, was 17 when he pitched for Everett in 2003. Campos, who was dealt to the New York Yankees in the offseason as part of the Jesus Montero trade, was 18 when he starred for Everett last season.
Sanchez is already being put in a position of prominence. The stocky right-hander is scheduled to start the season opener Friday. That puts him in position to start Everett’s home opener, too.
“He’s mature for his age,” Sox pitching coach Rich Dorman said of Sanchez. “He’s got three pitches the throws for strikes and he competes really well. He’ll be able to handle it.”
Sanchez will be part of Everett’s United Nations starting staff. He’s joined in the rotation by fellow Venezuelan Mayekol Guaipe, Dylan Unsworth from South Africa, Seon Gi Kim from South Korea, and Jose Valdivia from Nicaragua. All five are righties.
Eight of the initial group of 17 played for Mummau at Pulaski last season. Guaipe, Unsworth and Valdivia all had solid seasons as starters, while Acevedo batted .300.
The rest of Everett’s roster will be filled primarily by college players selected in the amateur draft, which took place last week. Those players will trickle in as they sign. A handful were on Everett’s initial roster, but did not arrive in time for Monday’s practice.
The highest draftee on the initial roster is Seattle’s fourth rounder, third baseman Patrick Kivlehan. Kivlehan, from Rutgers University, was a football player in college, spending four years as a reserve defensive back. As he senior he decided to try out for the baseball team, then ended up winning the Big East triple crown. He arrived Monday just as practice was ending.
Other picks from this year’s draft on the roster include seventh rounder Taylor Ard, a first baseman from Washington State, and ninth rounder Jamodrick McGruder, a second baseman from Texas Tech.