Inbox: Who will be the biggest camp surprise?

February 10th, 2020

With Mariners pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training on Wednesday in Peoria, Ariz., the winter wait is just about over. But we do have time for one last offseason Inbox to answer your questions, so here we go:

Who do you think will be a camp surprise this spring for the Mariners?

John D., Wakayama, Japan

Manager Scott Servais already went on record as picking young reliever as his guy to surprise people this spring, so that’s a good place to start. Delaplane, a 23rd-round Draft pick out of Eastern Michigan in 2017, had an excellent year for Double-A Arkansas and pitched very well in the Arizona Fall League as well.

But since Servais already tabbed Delaplane, I’m going to go with a different former 23rd-round Draft pick, , who is another relief candidate the Mariners selected in 2015 out of the University of Cincinnati. The 26-year-old Warren is a little older and got a brief taste of the big leagues with 5 1/3 scoreless innings last season as a September callup after a strong season as Arkansas’ closer.

Warren has had some shoulder issues that limited his 2018 season (15 2/3 IP), but he’s a big man (6-foot-3, 230 pounds) with a 95 mph fastball and a good slider and he brings a presence both on the mound and in the clubhouse with his young teammates.

The Mariners have opportunity for some young relievers to step up and Delaplane, Warren and fellow prospects like , and are among the group of promising young arms you’ll hear a lot about this spring.

How big is the Mike Zunino experiment going to factor into our young prospects? Do you just throw them in and have them “learn on the job” or keep them in the Minors longer?

Cory S., Spokane, Wash

The Mariners certainly don’t want to rush their youngsters to the big leagues as happened with Zunino, who was called up in June 2014, one year after he was drafted in the first round out of Florida. Zunino had played just 96 games with 419 plate appearances in the Minors. He tore it up offensively at Short-A Everett and 15 games at Double-A Jackson his first year, then was hitting .238 with 11 homers for Tacoma, with 59 strikeouts in 185 at-bats when he got the call.

General manager Jack Zduriencik selected Zunino at that time when Jesus Sucre -- the backup catcher to Kelly Shoppach -- went on the injured list. How much of Zunino’s Major League struggles at the plate are attributable to that early promotion is a matter of conjecture, but it certainly raised questions.

Current GM Jerry Dipoto and farm director Andy McKay insist they won’t rush any of their prospects until they show they’re ready. Rookie first baseman may test that theory, as he’ll get every opportunity to win the starting job this spring despite having played all last year in Double-A. But White already has far more Minor League time than Zunino, with 1,011 plate appearances in 230 games over three years.

Rookie had 1,228 plate appearances in 287 Minor League games before his September callup last year. Even 20-year-old , with 751 plate appearances in 173 games, already has nearly twice as much time in the Minors as Zunino and he’ll almost certainly begin this year back in Double-A.

Did get an invite to big league camp?

Steven S., Los Angeles

The promising right-hander is now fully recovered from Tommy John surgery and ready for his first action since two brief Arizona Rookie League outings in 2017 after he was drafted out of high school with a second-round pick. But having not pitched the past two years, the Mariners will take things slowly with the 21-year-old from Minnesota and let him report to Minor League camp later this month and likely open the season at Class-A West Virginia.

At what point during the current process could you see the Mariners signing a big-time free agent to go along with and possibly mentor the young players that will be coming up?

Brian M., Olympia, Wash.

I expect the Mariners to start being active in the free-agent market next offseason. At that point, they’ll have a far clearer picture of which of their young prospects are capable of helping or not and what holes they need to fill, as well as the payroll room to make a splash.

Will the starting rotation look the same after the All-Star break?

Anthony W., Kingston, Wash.

Almost every rotation undergoes change due to injuries, which can’t be foreseen. But , and rookie are all part of the long-term picture at this point and will be in the rotation all year if things go to plan. Rookie figures prominently as well, though it remains to be seen if he opens the year in Seattle.

is something of a wild card, coming back from Tommy John surgery. The 28-year-old free agent signed a one-year deal for $1.5 million, with a $3.5 million club option for 2021. If he pitches well, he could be a midseason trade target for a younger prospect with longer club control. The prospect likely to be added at some point in the second half is 2018 first-round Draft pick , who most scouts believe has the highest upside of any of the pitching prospects.

With sidelined, what odds would you give for to make the Opening Day roster?

Alex L., Bainbridge Island, Wash.

Filia was a late non-roster invitee to camp and figures as a long shot to crack the initial 26-man roster, but this spring will be a golden opportunity for the 27-year-old outfielder to put himself back on the Mariners’ radar after he was suspended 100 games last year for failing a test for a drug of abuse. Filia has hit for average at every level, including Triple-A Tacoma when he posted a .331/.450/.488 line with two homers in 35 games after returning last season.

Though he’s never hit for much power and needs work defensively, Filia’s outstanding ability to make contact and get on base definitely give him a shot at a big-league role. At this point, he’s running behind fellow prospects , and even recently acquired as potential outfield fill-ins for Haniger, but his bat could change that outlook as well as make him a potential designated hitter candidate if continues his second-half struggles.