By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
PEORIA, Ariz. — Position players were not supposed to officially report until today.
For the Seattle Mariners, most of those players have been here all week.
On Thursday, outfielders Michael Morse, Raul Ibanez and Franklin Gutierrez joined the group of early attendees, pushing the number of position players arriving early to over 20. It’s an impressive number. But will getting to spring training early — some as much as 10 days — help these position players in the season?
No one knows yet, but it certainly can’t hurt. Mariners’ management was more than pleased seeing all the players putting in extra work and doing early preparation.
“That’s all on their own doing,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “When you talk about all the kids that have been in here, it’s pretty impressive. I don’t know if we’ve ever had a camp in all my years that had this many position players in early.”
It’s not uncommon to see many of the young players, who are given non-roster invitations to spring training, show up early. It’s a way to show management some gratitude for the opportunity and top prospects like Nick Franklin, Stefen Romero and Carlos Triunfel have been here for over a week.
But players with established spots on the big league roster like Kyle Seager, Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak have been here for more than a week as well.
“You even seen veteran guys here early and that’s really big,” Smoak said. “There’s always a lot of young guys here early getting ready, but having so many older guys says something. It’s one of those things that as an organization and as a team, guys want to get ready to go for this season. Guys are excited about this year with the additions we’ve added. We want to get going.”
Seated in a golf cart watching all the position players warming up on Thursday morning, general manager Jack Zduriencik grinned at the sight.
“Isn’t that great?” he said. “Look at all those guys.”
Zduriencik and Wedge have often preached about winning the right way and developing a championship attitude. This is one example.
“It’s great,” he said. “I think it sends a message to others that this is how it should be.”
Smoak, who lives in South Carolina, just wanted to be comfortable when the full workouts started. It’s an important season for him and he wanted to show management how committed he is to being the team’s everyday first baseman.
“I live on the east coast so I wanted to get out here and get acclimated,” he said. “You get here a week and a half early and it gives you time to work on things you’ve been doing in the offseason and get your body ready for when we start going. Cause once we have full workouts, it’s nonstop.”
Smoak knew a few teammates had planned to come in early, but didn’t realize so many would show up.
“Guys are excited where we are headed as a team,” he said. “We know we are going to compete.”
Kelly Shoppach’s impact on the team is already evident and it’s only been a few days. The veteran catcher has taken control of the group of six catchers, offering advice, knowledge, encouragement and a few good-natured jabs.
Before Thursday’s workout, Shoppach had a major-league scouting report out and was showing young prospects John Hicks and Mike Zunino how to read it and what to look for. Even Jesus Montero listened intently.
During the bullpen session, Shoppach was catching Erasmo Ramirez. After a few minutes of throwing, Shoppach noticed that Ramirez was changing his arm position slightly on offspeed pitches, affecting the movement of the ball as well as tipping off hitters. Shoppach mentioned it to Ramirez, who made a few adjustments to correct the issue.
“He’s a smart guy, a good baseball guy and a good worker,” said Wedge, who managed Shoppach in Cleveland. “He’s been around championship atmospheres and settings. He’s been around a little bit. It’s not just the other catchers. It’s the pitchers, pitching coaches and managers he’s been around. All those experiences are who you are and what you are about.”
Ronny Paulino and Jhonny Nunez are still absent from camp because of visa issues. … Carter Capps had an impressive bullpen session with good velocity and movement on his fastball. … First baseman/designated hitter Mike Carp remains in baseball after having been designated for assignment. The team is still trying to work out a trade to get something in return for him. Carp would likely be claimed off of waivers.