PEORIA, Ariz. — For now, the numbers mean little, although they are finally trending in the right direction. And it’s not just that it’s spring training with its small sample size, either.
Mariners center fielder Leonys Martin is working to overhaul his swing in an effort to boost his on-base percentage. And it’s been a grind.
“Yeah, man, I’m working on it,” he said. “It’s a process, and I’m just trusting the process. It will come.”
Martin is 9-for-39 in 13 Cactus League games, but has four hits in 11 at-bats over his past four games, with his first two spring walks also coming in that span. He had a home run Friday night against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw in a 5-2 victory.
“Much better,” manager Scott Servais said of Martin’s recent showing. “He has made a (change) in his set-up. His hands are a little lower. It doesn’t matter where you start. It’s all about where you’re at when your foot lands and at the hitting position.
“His hands are getting up in a good spot early enough now that he’s able to react — and not just to hit balls. The most important thing with Leonys, when he’s on time, he’s taking pitches he should take.”
Note those two recent walks.
“To control the strike zone, you have to be on time,” Servais said. “Now you’re recognizing ball and strike. You’re recognizing spin and where it’s at in the strike zone. When Leonys starts chasing a lot of pitches, he’s late.
“He’s one of the quickest bats we have. He can hit velocity. You see it. That’s why the ball jumps off his bat when he does square it up.”
Even so, and unlike last year, the Mariners have viable alternatives in place if Martin regresses or dips significantly at any point this season.
“When Leonys was healthy (last year),” Servais said, “we played him every stinking day just because we didn’t have a whole lot of depth.
“If there is a time (this season) when you need to give Leonys a blow, he’s not going to be happy about it, but we do have other options to put out there, and we’re not going to fall off a cliff like we did last year.”
Jarrod Dyson projects as the Mariners’ left fielder but defensive metrics suggest he’s actually a better defensive center fielder than Martin: Dyson rates at plus-47 in runs saved over 2,980 career innings in center; Martin is plus-40 in 4,294. Both numbers are pretty good.
It goes deeper.
The Mariners signed Guillermo Heredia last year following his defection from Cuba in large part because of his defensive skills. His hitting remains a work in progress, but his growing potential is proving to be an unexpected bonus.
Right fielder Mitch Haniger played nearly as much center field in the minors as he did right field. The same goes for Ben Gamel. Then add Boog Powell, who has played his way back into the organizational picture.
All are viewed as plus defenders.
Gone are the days of Nori Aoki tracking fly balls in the manner of kids on an Easter egg hunt, or Seth Smith and an aging Franklin Gutierrez lumbering across the outfield at the speed of Congress.
“We feel like we should have one of the most athletic and best defensive outfields in the league,” general manager Jerry Dipoto said, “with the addition of Jarrod Dyson along with Mitch Haniger to play alongside Leonys.
“With Gamel and Heredia providing depth, we feel like that gives us five center fielders roaming the outfield, which was part of the original plan.”
While Dyson will be eligible for free agency after this season, none of the others will qualify for arbitration for at least two more years and all have options remaining. Martin is out of options and on track for free agency after next season.
That depth underscores Martin’s need to boost his on-base percentage — .306 a year ago, which nearly mirrored his .305 career mark over parts of five previous seasons.
And while Martin’s spring numbers in themselves mean little, the quality of his at-bats is being closely tracked.
“I’m feeling pretty confident at home plate,” he said, “but it takes time. I keep telling myself that. I’ve changed everything. Like I keep saying, I’ve got to trust the process.”
Three of the Mariners’ top prospects were among six players reassigned to minor-league camp Sunday.
Outfielder Tyler O’Neill was reassigned after the Mariners’ 3-2 loss to Texas in Surprise, Arizona. He entered the spring at No. 2 in the Tacoma News Tribune’s Top 10 preseason ranking of the organization’s top prospects.
Right-handed pitchers Andrew Moore and Max Povse were among five players reassigned prior to the game. They are ranked eighth and ninth in the TNT Top 10 and are expected to open the season at Double-A Arkansas.
In addition to Moore and Povse, the Mariners reassigned catcher Steve Baron and right-handed pitchers Christian Bergman and Ryan Weber prior to the game.
The six moves leave 45 players on the big-league camp roster, including 10 non-roster players. More cuts are expected later this week after the Mariners regain several players who took part in the World Baseball Classic.