Young sluggers, Big Maple shine in spring

March 27th, 2021

The Mariners have all but put a bow on their 2021 Spring Training, capping a camp that was full of prospect potential and glimpses of the long-term future. Players, coaches and other observers all indicated that there was far more energy this spring than in years past, a sign that Seattle’s multi-year rebuild has made promising progress.

But come Opening Day next Thursday, the games will truly matter, and the barometer for where the Mariners stand will become far more clear. The club has gained far more clarity on its personnel for the 26-man roster and that group should be finalized as soon as this weekend, Mariners manager Scott Servais said.

So, with all that in mind, here’s a recap of Seattle’s 2021 Spring Training:

Best development
Fans only got a small glimpse of James Paxton this spring due to work visa issues that limited him to just one Cactus start, but it was a strong first impression: eight strikeouts against 16 batters, which was significantly notable given that Paxton’s 2020 was plagued by back surgery and a left flexor strain that limited him to just five mostly forgettable starts with the Yankees. But, as the Mariners know better than anyone, when Paxton is at his best, he’s one of the American League’s top left-handed starters.

One could also make a case for Jarred Kelenic here, too. MLB Pipeline’s No. 4 overall prospect looked every bit the part and was arguably the most intriguing player in camp given his situation of being on the cusp of the Majors. Kelenic drew headlines with some towering home runs in BP, but the more impressive development was his much-improved approach from last spring. Kelenic's patience at the plate and ability to put himself in favorable counts led to a 1.256 OPS and two homers in Cactus League play.

Unfortunate events
Season-ending shin surgery in September 2020 kept Shed Long Jr. from competing in Cactus League games and still has him sidelined from most baseball activities. The injury proved to be a far more significant setback than he or the club had hoped, particularly after Long lost the starting second base job to Dylan Moore after hitting the injured list last September.

Long has been regularly taking live batting practice on backfields and began running recently, but the 25-year-old hasn’t been able to take extended infield practice due to the quick-movement demands of the shin. At this time last year, Seattle was committed to giving Long the long-term shot at the gig, and the club isn’t giving up hope on him making an impact in 2021. But he still has plenty of work to do.

Additionally, reliever Roenis Elías tore his UCL on March 11 and will need Tommy John surgery. That leaves the Mariners scrambling a bit to account for the mid-to-high leverage innings that the left-hander was slated for this season.

Other than the issues facing those two, Seattle has had a mostly clean bill of health in camp.

Player who opened eyes
Outfielder Taylor Trammell, Seattle’s No. 6 prospect, went from intriguing trade acquisition to the likely left fielder when Seattle breaks camp. He got off to the hottest start of any player and mostly kept that pace as his playing time increased. It didn’t matter where he was on the field, Trammell made plays. He was aggressive on the basepaths, athletic in the outfield and powerful at the plate.

Scouting reports suggested that Trammell struggled against velocity over his first five Minor League seasons, but that wasn’t the case in camp. There are questions of how he’ll be able to adjust to secondary pitches in the Majors, however.

Wow moment
No big leaguer during Nelson Cruz’s four-year run in Seattle crushed more homers than his 163 – and no one quite hit them like him, either. But Julio Rodríguez’s laser shot over the right-center field wall in Surprise, Ariz., had the full Nellie look: a low liner laced with enough backspin to keep carrying.

MLB Pipeline’s No. 5 overall prospect connected on a 97 mph fastball from Royals No. 11 prospect Carlos Hernandez, launching it 437 feet with a whopping 115 mph exit velocity, a threshold that was reached on just 10 MLB homers in 2020. That kind of bat speed is what the Mariners have been touting of the 20-year-old, and fans have plenty to be excited about.

In case you missed it
No player has taken better advantage of Ichiro Suzuki’s coaching presence -- or built a stronger bond with the future Hall of Famer -- than Rodríguez.