Games afoot, bringing new set of Mariners questions

February 24th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Daniel Kramer’s Mariners Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Here are four things to watch now that the Mariners’ spring slate is underway:

1. How will the Mariners handle their World Baseball Classic guys? 
The Mariners’ big run producers who will soon be off to play in the World Baseball Classic -- Julio Rodríguez (Dominican Republic), (D.R.) and (Venezuela) -- will see more action early in order to get their timing down and face as much live pitching as possible before being thrust into the playoff-like intensity that awaits in baseball’s grandest international tournament.

“They’re not going to play on consecutive days right out of the chute, but they've all expressed their desire to get more at-bats than they typically get early in the spring,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said.

Seattle also has three pitchers -- (Canada), (Italy) and Diego Castillo (D.R.) -- heading out, and they’ll likely get priority innings early before leaving the first week of March.

2. What about the starting pitchers? 
It’s no secret that the Mariners will ease in and this spring, but how they actually deploy them will remain of intrigue until the plan is seen in action.

“You reverse-engineer it,” Servais said of mapping their workloads. “You look at what the rotation is probably projected to be coming out when the season starts and then work backwards from there.”

Seattle hasn’t announced when Kirby and Gilbert -- both of whom have been throwing bullpens on turn -- will make their Cactus League debuts. Regardless, the expectation is that both will be built up to five innings and the 80- to 85-pitch threshold by Opening Day.

3. Which young pitchers will take the next step?
The combination of WBC sendoffs, the Kirby-Gilbert situation and return to a six-week Spring Training for the first time since 2019 should free up more innings than in an otherwise “normal” year for a bevy of bullpen arms competing for eight roster spots.

Many of those spots are already locked up, but for the ones who don’t break camp, the impression they make in the coming weeks could put them on the radar for later this summer.

“You need more than eight,” Servais said. “So the depth that we have is really important. ... There are a few interesting young guys, too, like there always is in every camp. Someone is throwing 97, 98 [mph], and you’re intrigued by it. That's what excites me -- how could this guy fit into our plans as we go along.”

Some of the prospects who could contribute this year -- and should get good looks this spring -- include (the club’s No. 2 prospect, per MLB Pipeline), (No. 7), (No. 14), (No. 24) and (No. 5), who has already made a strong impression.

4. Who’s the most interesting guy to follow?
Asked this very question, Servais listed off a “number of young arms” and then mentioned Harry Ford by name. The 20-year-old catcher has perhaps the most upside in the organization, and not just for his No. 1 ranking (No. 49 overall) among Mariners prospects. 

Ford possesses incredible strength, a required attribute for a catcher, but he pairs it with rare athleticism and elite bat-to-ball skills that -- if he remains at catcher, which all signs point to -- could make him the next big-ticket headliner to emerge from Seattle’s pipeline in the coming years. 

Ford won’t be in the Majors this year, meaning he won’t be in Cactus League games for long, either, since the Mariners want to allocate more at-bats to their big league roster. But before he departs for the WBC, playing for Team Great Britain, he’ll be the Mariners’ most intriguing player to watch.