SEATTLE -- When the Mariners open their 2016 season, they won't be a young team building for the future. This will be a squad built to compete now, as evidenced by a projected lineup that will have just one position player younger than 28.
But that one youngster, 22-year-old shortstop Ketel Marte, will be an important piece of the puzzle. That is why veteran second baseman Robinson Cano took the rookie under his wing last season and made sure he got his career off on the right foot.
"I think he's going to be good," Cano said of his middle-infield partner. "I'd like to see it more. I know he's got talent. I know what I see from him. He bunts, moves guys over, he got hits when we needed them in big moments.
"You come from Triple-A and are able to play loose and relaxed up here, that says a lot. Especially in your first year, because after that you just need to work on improving and getting better and learning the league."
Marte hit .283 in 57 games with Seattle after getting called up at the end of July. The switch-hitter posted an impressive .351 on-base percentage and 2.3 WAR in just over two months of duty, stealing eight bases and playing quality defense as well.
With Brad Miller traded to Tampa Bay in the offseason, the Mariners' shortstop picture now revolves around Marte, Chris Taylor and Luis Sardinas, who was acquired from the Brewers. Without question, Marte's showing last year has made him the expected starter heading into next month's camp.
"I'm really excited about him," new manager Scott Servais said. "I think he fits exactly what we're looking for as far as a guy to create havoc on the bases offensively. We want to be aggressive. I think he brings some attitude or some swag to his game, which I don't think is a bad thing. I think it's a good thing. He's very confident."
Cano had numerous conversations last season with Marte, including one at the end of the year letting him know what he needed to do this winter in the Dominican Republic to prepare for his second go-round.
"I loved what I saw from him," Cano said. "But I told him he needs to go home and say, 'Yeah, I did good in my first year in the big leagues, but the second one is the toughest one because now people have high expectations. You have to go home and keep working on your speed. I don't care if you want to hit 30 homers. Your job is to get on base for us and when you do that, get on base and steal bases, people are going to talk more about you than if you just hit homers.'"
Cano's big brother act comes from his own experience with older players when he was breaking in with the Yankees a decade ago.
"That was the same as it was for me back in New York. I had guys helping me," Cano said. "Those are the things that make you mature very fast and help you learn the game, too."
Playing alongside Cano and learning from the six-time All-Star was a definite highlight for Marte last season.
"Yeah, he made me feel better," Marte said. "I have to play like him. I think I can be like him in a couple more years, and that makes me so happy.
"He tries to make me better every day. He tells me how I can play here at this level. We've got a routine in the cage every day. He helps me a lot and he's a good person."
And that's the sort of relationship that Servais covets from his older players, particularly with Marte being in the middle of the diamond at a key position.
"Fortunately for me, I've got veteran players and veteran leaders around him," Servais said. "I think he's going to be a key piece to our club. Being in the middle of the field every day, I would like to say we know exactly what we're going to get. We don't. He's a young player. But I do believe he's ready to contribute every day, and I've got my fingers crossed it works out."
Free-agent acquisition Nori Aoki is expected to fill the leadoff role this season, allowing Servais to slide Marte down either to No. 2 or the bottom of the order, depending on how things work out this spring. But having more athletic players who can get on base and run is something the Mariners sorely needed up and down their lineup the last few years.
"He's the only one I saw coming up from the Minor Leagues that runs really well," Cano said. "He can bunt for a hit, he can move guys over. He can do everything -- run, throw, hit. Those are the kind of guys you want in your lineup every day."