Taylor, Sardinas in battle for utility spot

Servais keeping eye on both youngsters for traditionally veteran role

March 5th, 2016

PHOENIX -- One of the final roster decisions that will play out over the course of Spring Training for the Mariners is a battle for the utility infield role between Chris Taylor and Luis Sardinas, two young shortstops who must show they can play other positions as well.

Taylor, 25, has played mostly shortstop as well as some second base in his four years in the Mariners system, but started at third base in Friday's Cactus League game against the Brewers and went 0-for-2 in a 5-2 loss.

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Sardinas, a 22-year-old acquired from the Brewers this offseason, made a nice leaping catch of a line drive at shortstop against the Brewers and again handled himself well in a 1-for-2 day at the plate. He's played second and third in his pro career, and the Mariners are now introducing him to some center field work as well to increase his versatility.

One of the two will make the 25-man roster in the utility role behind second baseman Robinson Cano, shortstop Ketel Marte and third baseman Kyle Seager, while the other likely becomes the everyday shortstop for Triple-A Tacoma.

Manager Scott Servais said that choice will come down to determining which player seems most valuable to the Major League roster to start the year.

"I think when you make decisions at the end of camp and who we break with, it's who is going to help us win," Servais said. "I like both players a lot. I'm really glad we have both Chris and Luis. I think they complement each other well. They have different skill sets and they go about things a little differently. But those guys are very valuable. I think they get overlooked -- the utility guy that can play multiple positions."

Many teams go with a veteran in that role, a Willie Bloomquist type who has proved he can stay ready despite not playing every day. But Servais thinks a youngster can handle the utility gig with the right mindset.

"Players tend to say, 'What do you expect? I'm not getting regular at-bats,'" he said. "It becomes a crutch or excuse. I really have no time for it. That's the role you are in and you've got to be the best you can in that role. To be good at it, your mind has to be in the game on the days you aren't playing. You can't be just chilling and flipping sunflower seeds in your mouth. You have to be paying attention and locked in."

Sardinas did just that in Thursday's 6-5 win over the Padres when he got an unexpected call to duty after Stefen Romero was injured in the fifth inning. The young Venezuelan came in and made several nice plays at third while also ripping a pair of two-run doubles.

Servais feels Taylor is also mentally suited for the role, though he's not played as much third base as Sardinas.

"Chris is always in the game. He's just wired that way," Servais said. "He's locked in on every pitch in the dugout."

Defense has never been an issue for Taylor, a fifth-round Draft pick out of Virginia in 2012, though he's interested in testing himself more at third.

"I've practiced there more than I've played in games," he said. "A lot of it is just reaction. It's definitely different. You just have to react to the ball and not think about it."

Taylor hit .287 in 47 games with Seattle in 2014, but just .170 in 37 games last year, so that is an area he's worked hard on this offseason.

"Everything is going great," he said. "My swing feels better than it ever has. I'm just excited to get going."

Sardinas offers a switch-hitting option with speed, which could help his case. Like Taylor, he needs to show he can hit better than the .196 average he put up in 36 games for the Brewers last year after batting .261 in 43 games for the Rangers in '14.

But Servais is familiar with Sardinas from his days as the Rangers' farm director when Sardinas signed as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela who weighed 146 pounds at the time. Sardinas is now 6-foot-1 and 182 pounds and has grown as a player as well.

"He brings a lot to our team," Servais said. "He's got speed. He switch-hits and plays multiple positions. He's a very good defender. He's a very interesting player to add to our organization."

And Servais notes that whatever decision is made for Opening Day, it's a long season.

"Maybe they'll go back and forth throughout the year," he said. "They both could be on the roster at one point. But to have depth in the middle of the field like that -- guys that you are comfortable with at shortstop -- it's a big plus. There are a lot of teams that don't have anything behind their starter. So we feel really good where we're at there."