4 battles to watch in Mariners camp

February 16th, 2023

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- The Mariners might have more roster clarity than they’ve ever had under president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto.

“Something always pops up,” Dipoto said on Wednesday. “Somebody’s going to get dinged. Somebody’s going to get hurt. Somebody is going to struggle and somebody's going to wow you in the spring like they always do. But this is the most stable 26-man roster, especially that 13-man position player group, that we’ve ever had.”

That said, with pitchers and catchers reporting Thursday, there are a few spots to watch as Spring Training unfolds.

More than 8 capable arms for 8 bullpen spots
This will be the most intriguing battle to watch in the coming weeks. The Mariners return everyone from last year’s elite bullpen, but also have a ton of intriguing prospects (Bryce Miller, Prelander Berroa, Isaiah Campbell) and players on Minor League contracts as non-roster invitees ( , Taylor Williams).

“While we can certainly push pretty hard on a pencil or pen, barring injury, what the bullpen will look like ... there are going to be a couple of spots in that bullpen that are likely to be pretty spirited battles through the course of the spring,” Dipoto said, “because we do have a lot of talented arms.”

The Mariners are bringing 38 arms to camp, the most under Dipoto and manager Scott Servais (since 2016). And with , and slated for the World Baseball Classic, there will be Cactus League innings for others to make a case.

“You need more than eight,” Servais said. “So, the depth that we have is really important. ... Every camp that I’ve ever been to, on the first day, I kind of line up what the bullpen is going to be like and it never leaves camp that way, ever.”

Left-field platoon
This area might have become more clear after Dipoto revealed Wednesday that needs surgery to repair a broken hamate in his right hand, his expected recovery time being 6-7 weeks. That should create a clearer path to the gig for , who was going to compete with Trammell to be the platoon partner of the righty-hitting veteran .

, the club’s No. 21 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, could also factor in. At age 24, he’s a more seasoned prospect, one of the system’s best baserunners and hit righties .306/.395/.519 (.914 OPS) last year in 133 combined games for Double-A Arkansas and Triple-A Tacoma, including 16 of his 23 homers. He also was strongly considered for the postseason roster despite no MLB experience -- a reflection of his well-rounded impact-ability.

“That competition with young left-handed hitters just got a little more interesting. ... Now, we’ll take a look at different solutions to fill that spot," Dipoto said.

How many catchers?
It’s unlikely that they carry three, but it became hugely clear down the stretch that the Mariners needed more of a safety net for -- especially as he labored through a torn UCL in his left thumb. That’s made veteran 's full recovery from season-ending shoulder surgery all the more welcome.

“[Murphy provides] a huge value to our club, and we missed it when he wasn't around last year,” Mariners GM Justin Hollander said.

Barring something unforeseen, Murphy will back up Raleigh. But , who was acquired in a trade with the D-backs in November for Kyle Lewis, can also play left field, making him an intriguing option as well. Hummel has Minor League options, though, which could play a factor in the club's decision-making process.

France’s first-base backup
This is more of a question as to whether can play his way onto the roster after missing mostly all of the past two seasons with hip and core injuries. But White will report to camp “as healthy as he's been since the first incident back in 2021,” per Dipoto.

As with Raleigh, the Mariners want more insurance behind at first, especially after Carlos Santana signed with Pittsburgh. Veteran free-agent acquisition is probably the lead candidate, given that he’ll be in the backup mix at second and third and has 17 games of experience at first. But White playing his way back into consideration -- especially given that he’s still owed $18 million after signing a record contract extension before his MLB debut -- could be a huge story.