PEORIA, Ariz. -- Mariners Spring Training is up and running, and Cactus League play begins Sunday.
This camp figures to be one of the more compelling camps in recent years, with Seattle coming off a third-place finish in the American League West in 2020 and its much-improved farm system on the verge of graduating some of those players to the Majors.
Spring Training will be much different than years past, so here is a breakdown of what those changes might look like:
Given the pandemic, how is Spring Training going to be different this year?
Like all teams, the Mariners are going through necessary protocols to keep players safe, meaning masks and physical distance in the clubhouse among other precautions in and away from the park. Workout schedules and logistics are far different than before. Pitchers and catchers are working out separately from position players in different areas of the complex. And since there will be no Minor League camp until the conclusion of Major League camp, the Mariners are utilizing that extra space to create more physical distance throughout the facility.
Will fans be allowed into the Peoria Sports Complex?
Not at this time for workouts, but the Mariners have been approved by the city of Peoria to sell tickets to home Cactus League games on a limited capacity. Due to the pandemic, all Spring Training venues that open will operate at significantly reduced capacities. The Mariners can host 1,960 fans per game, or 16% of the total stadium capacity. Tickets will be sold in groups of one, two, three or four in reserved seating areas. Groups of two, four or six will be available for assigned areas on the lawn in the outfield. And no season tickets are available. The Mariners announced shortly after tickets went on sale that they have virtually sold out, but the club encourages fans to check back regularly in case any returned tickets are quickly made available for sale.
What are the key roster/position battles to watch?
The most notable, at least entering camp, is at second base, where Dylan Moore has the upper hand over Shed Long Jr. Ty France will also get looks there on days he doesn’t DH in order to gear him up for taking over for Kyle Seager at third base next season. Moore was an above-average bat in 2020, and he has earned the chance for more regular playing time, and the clearest spot for him is at second.
There also could be a battle at the back end of the rotation for the sixth spot. Yes, you read that right -- the Mariners plan to deploy a six-man rotation for the 2021 season after seeing some success with it in ’20. The spot up for grabs will likely come down to Justin Dunn and Nick Margevicius, with Dunn having the upper hand as a righty in a lefty-loaded group.
There will also be less-prominent competition for lower-leverage spots in the bullpen.
When is the first Spring Training game?
Seattle opens Cactus League play against its Peoria Sports Complex counterparts on Sunday, with first pitch against the Padres slated for 12:10 p.m. PT. Top Mariners prospects could get their first taste of big league action in camp against the team that has emerged from a rebuild into one of the favorites in the National League, having completed a trajectory that some in baseball circles have likened to the one that the Mariners are on currently.
How can I watch/listen/follow Spring Training games?
Mariners broadcast partners 710 ESPN Seattle and ROOT Sports will provide coverage of Spring Training games on radio and TV. On radio, 27 games will be broadcast, with select midweek day games delayed for air until 7 p.m. All games scheduled to be carried on radio will be streamed live on mariners.com.
ROOT plans to televise eight games:
• March 12 vs. Reds, 5:40 p.m.
• March 13 at Rockies, 12:10 p.m.
• March 14 vs. Brewers, 1:10 p.m.
• March 17 vs. Angels, 6:40 p.m.
• March 19 vs. White Sox, 6:40 p.m.
• March 22 vs. Dodgers, 6:40 p.m.
• March 24 vs. Cubs, 6:40 p.m.
• March 27 vs. Giants, 6:40 p.m.
And ESPN will televise Seattle's 12:05 p.m. game against the Cubs at Sloan Park on Wednesday.
Who are some prospects to keep an eye on in camp?
Prospects will be the top storyline in the early stages of camp, with 10 of the Mariners Top 30 invited. As was the case last year, the headliners will be outfielders Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez -- MLB Pipeline’s Nos. 4 and 5 prospects, respectively -- who wow with potential and are, in many ways, the faces of the Mariners’ rebuild, which enters Year 3.
Starting pitcher Logan Gilbert (No. 33 overall prospect) is a big part of the future, too, and probably the closest to making his debut. The big righty will enter camp in a competition for an Opening Day rotation spot, general manager Jerry Dipoto has said, but Gilbert will have to show little to no rust after the cancellation of last year’s Minor League season. His batterymate Cal Raleigh is also knocking on the big league door, as is outfielder Taylor Trammell, whom the team will finally get an up-close look at after acquiring him from the Padres at last year’s Trade Deadline.
Are there any injuries to monitor?
The most prominent recovery to watch will be that of right fielder Mitch Haniger, who hasn’t played in a big league game since June 2019 due to a series of setbacks that began when a foul ball ruptured his testicle. Haniger then sustained an adductor tear in September ’19 and a back injury in January of '20 -- both of which required surgery and were a result of gearing up from rehab. Long Jr. is looking to bounce back from a shin injury that ended his wildly disappointing season in ’20 during which he lost the reins on the starting second-base job. Catcher Tom Murphy is returning from a broken bone in his left foot that cost him the entire ’20 season. The Mariners say that all three are fully recovered, but the club could temper their workloads in camp out of caution.
When is Opening Day and who is the opponent?
The Mariners will open the 162-game regular season at T-Mobile Park at 7:10 p.m. on April 1 against the Giants. Seattle went 0-4 against San Francisco in 2020 as part of the overhauled schedule that limited the Mariners to exclusively play teams in the West divisions. Normally, Interleague opponents rotate every three years. All four of last year’s matchups were held at Oracle Park, including the two that were scheduled to be played in Seattle but had to be moved because of air quality impacted by the area wildfires.
Is the team planning to sell tickets to regular-season games?
Possibly, but not as of now. The Mariners are hopeful to safely welcome fans back to T-Mobile Park but are awaiting confirmation from local health officials on what that would look like.