SEATTLE -- It's more than a month until pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training, but the Mariners are getting a jump on that process this week as around 50 of their top young players and prospects gather at the team's facility in Peoria, Ariz., for hitting and pitching "summits"
SEATTLE -- It's more than a month until pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training, but the Mariners are getting a jump on that process this week as around 50 of their top young players and prospects gather at the team's facility in Peoria, Ariz., for hitting and pitching "summits" with the club's coaching staff.
While most Major League teams feature offseason instructional league games for youngsters, the Mariners have eschewed that process and gone strictly to the more hands-on minicamp approach that will feature four intense days of classroom and on-field work with the selected players in each group.
General manager Jerry Dipoto's new regime tried out the process with a hitting summit for some of its young position players last year, and the results were so positive that they've expanded it to include a similar session for pitchers.
The pitching session runs from Monday through Thursday, with Mariners pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. and manager Scott Servais leading a group that will include all of the Minor League pitching coaches and roving instructors. The hitting group follows from Friday through next Monday, with Mariners hitting coach Edgar Martinez overseeing a similar group of Major and Minor League staffers.
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The focus for hitters last year largely centered on the "control the zone" philosophy of working counts, the importance of on-base percentage and how to mentally prepare for the challenges of baseball. Expect similar messages this year for the pitching group, along with reminders of what needs to be done to be physically ready when camp opens in February.
"The idea is to bring small groups in and really focus on one specific area and simultaneously work on developing our coaches and staff as well as the players," said Andy McKay, who Dipoto hired last year to be the club's director of player development and helped lead a Minor League operation that saw all seven of its affiliates reach the postseason.
McKay's biggest goal is to get everyone in the organization on the same page in terms of expectations and priorities. That goes for the language and messaging used so that players can seamlessly move through the organization, and coaches are providing the same type of instruction from Rookie ball to the Majors.
McKay says players from each level of the organization will be represented so they can take the ideas back to their teams and help continue the process along with the coaches. Thus, some key youngsters expected to be on the big league club like Mike Zunino, Daniel Vogelbach, Mitch Haniger, Ben Gamel, Guillermo Heredia and Ariel Miranda, along with top prospects Kyle Lewis, D.J. Peterson, Andrew Moore and Thyago Vieira, will be present.
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But there's also a wide mix of less-heralded youngsters who'll benefit from the instruction as well.
"It's not a top-25 prospect camp. That's not how it's meant to be," McKay said. "It's representative of guys at every level from the big leagues on down."
And while fans might be most interested in what players are in attendance, McKay says the biggest priority for him is getting all of the coaches together to teach them the "Mariners Way" so they can carry that to their players throughout the year.
"One of my key focus points in coming into this job was having a formalized staff development program," McKay said. "It's really simple. If you want better players, you have to have better coaches. And coaches have to work at their craft just like players.
"We're trying to create a seamless situation from the Dominican Rookie League to the big leagues, so when we have the opportunity for Mel Stottlemyre to run a camp with all our Minor League pitching coaches and coordinators, it's important. We're spread across the country, so it's very hard to get people together. This is an opportunity for four or five days and 25 hours of guys sitting in the same room. That's very valuable."
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter [
@GregJohnsMLB]() and listen to his podcast.