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Hitting coach Laker on Kelenic, Seager, more

April 8, 2020

SEATTLE -- So what does a hitting coach with no hitters do these days? “For me, a lot of TV,” the Mariners' Tim Laker said with a chuckle. “I do text and keep in touch with some of the coaches and hitters. But pretty much it’s a lot of sitting

SEATTLE -- So what does a hitting coach with no hitters do these days?

“For me, a lot of TV,” the Mariners' Tim Laker said with a chuckle. “I do text and keep in touch with some of the coaches and hitters. But pretty much it’s a lot of sitting on the couch and playing with my dog and watching TV.”

Laker is checking in with players and offering advice and encouragement where he can, but like much of America, the 50-year-old is dealing with the unprecedented challenge of being stuck at his home in Simi Valley, Calif., during the COVID-19 pandemic, with no idea yet when life will return to normal or baseball might resume.

Laker said a few of his hitters like Shed Long Jr. and Tim Lopes have access to baseball facilities, but most are left with makeshift situations as they ride out the shutdown at home. The biggest challenge will be adapting to live pitching again in short order whenever play resumes, but for now, he’s encouraging players to hit off a tee into a net or just do whatever they can to keep active and reinforce whatever swing adjustments they’d been making this spring.

Ironically, Laker says players from cold weather areas like top prospect Jarred Kelenic from Waukesha, Wis., may be better off at this point.

“I just got a text from [assistant hitting coach Jarret] DeHart showing Kelenic hitting in an indoor facility that was almost like a full field,” Laker said. “He’s doing everything he can to be ready. He’s one guy that I’m guessing maybe is ahead of everybody else. A lot of places, like California, there’s not a lot of indoor facilities with that kind of setup where you can actually take live at-bats. In this case, he’s actually lucky to be in Wisconsin.”

Laker has had plenty of time to think about his young Mariners hitters and offered some interesting insights into what he was seeing in his second year on manager Scott Servais’ staff. Here are some of his observations:

On rookie first baseman Evan White's strong spring
“I hadn’t seen him a whole lot. One thing he does is he hits the ball really hard. He’s a really strong kid. Smart. That’s the thing that stood out to me the most. He’s a really intelligent guy. His swing, I guess when you look at it compared to everybody else, it’s a little bit maybe unconventional, but I think he’s got an ability to find the barrel and hit the ball hard.”

Was Kyle Seager building on the changes he’d made last year?
“I think his second half was really good, and I think he left in a really good place with a really good idea of what that difference was from the first half to the second half, the key adjustments he made. And that was his focus in the offseason, just making sure he worked on those moves and made sure they still held tight.”

Who caught his eye?
“You know who really had a good spring was Timmy Lopes. He jumped out of the gate, right off the bat. I thought he did a really good job when he came up last year, but I thought he looked even better this spring. The other guy that was interesting to keep watching was José Marmolejos. We only had a brief look at him this spring, but he looks like a guy who could really hit.”

How was Daniel Vogelbach adjusting after his second-half struggles in 2019?
“I thought it was good. Just trying to not really change anything, maybe approach-wise on the lefties would be something. But I think right-handers, he showed the first half, the guy can hit. I think things kind of got away from him a little bit as the season went on and some bad habits creeped in. His adjustments were more aimed toward just getting him back to where he was the first half of the year. I did see it. He was frustrated a little bit in spring, just because he hadn’t hit any home runs yet, but Daniel Vogelbach is not a guy that is going to have to worry about power. It’s not like he lost his power. I felt like he was having better at-bats, wasn’t striking out nearly at the clip he was in the second half. I did think it was headed in the right direction, for sure.”

What did he see from Kelenic in his first exposure to the top prospect?
“It’s pretty clear for a guy that age to just go in there, one thing I noticed -- and everybody talked about it -- was just how confident he is. He wasn’t intimidated by the situation at all and really felt like he shouldn’t be [intimidated] facing guys with big league experience. He felt like he was better than the competition. He really believes that. That kind of confidence is rare. A lot of guys try to fake that confidence, but I think he really believes it. And you saw, he was, I don’t want to say 'easy,' but he has a lot of natural ability. For a kid that age, it’s special, it’s different.”

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.