Inbox: Who's the surprise at Mariners camp?

Beat reporter Greg Johns fields questions from fans

March 8th, 2017

Who do you think will surprise us and make the big league club out of Spring Training?

-- Kristi S., Lake Stevens, Wash.

Outfielder has opened a lot of eyes with his excellent play in the first few weeks, and he appears much more comfortable in his second year since arriving from Cuba. He's an excellent defender who has certainly increased his chances with an improved offensive approach. Hard-throwing lefty reliever , a rookie acquired from the Yankees, is another who has helped himself early.

Do the Mariners have the most players in the World Baseball Classic?

-- Kevin D., Kent, Wash.

Seattle has a big contingent with 12 players in the Classic, including 10 out of its Major League camp. But the Tigers and Mets have the most players in the tournament with 14 each. The Mariners are third.

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What are your early impressions of , Mitch Haniger and Mike Zunino?

-- Mike A., Edmonds, Wash.

Vogelbach is moving much better defensively, hitting the ball with authority and seems much more relaxed this spring. Haniger reminds me of a right-handed-hitting -- very rangy and athletic. And he's got a big-time arm. I suspect Zunino is poised for a very solid year behind the plate. He is working very well with veteran , who brings a ton of knowledge.

The Mariners are going to have to make some tough calls for backup outfield and infield. Anybody have a leg up at this point?

-- Kyle K., Pryor, Okla.

Heredia has certainly made a strong case for the backup outfield spot, and he would fit well as a needed right-handed bat. Utility man will get more time in the outfield soon, and he could be a piece of the puzzle there as another right-handed bat. Motter and , who is a switch-hitter, appear in a very tight battle for the backup infield role.

When is the best time to get autographs at Spring Training?

-- Jarrett H., Seattle

A lot of times you can get players as they come off the practice fields at the end of the morning workout. Players are usually on the field from about 9:30-11:30 a.m. and then head in to get ready for that afternoon's game, and many will stop and sign then.

What player will make an impact as a midseason callup from the Minors?

-- Lance M., Snohomish, Wash.

I wouldn't be surprised to see young right-hander get some starts, if the need arises for rotation help. And if shows he can control his 100-mph heat, he could be the next reliever to make the jump from Double-A.

Who do you see as the Mariners' leaders in home runs, RBIs and average?

-- Kalen A., Spokane, Wash.

I'd go with for homers, for RBIs and for batting average.

:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::

Do you see any reasons why the big USA stars don't play in the World Baseball Classic?

-- Dan, Byron Bay, Australia

I think it's a bigger deal for many foreign players because fans from their countries put more stock in it and it's a huge deal back home, where they don't have Major League Baseball.

What are the short- and long-term plans with ?

-- Loren P., Tri-Cities, Wash.

The 2013 first-round Draft pick is playing mostly first base as well as some third in camp. I expect he'll open the year with Triple-A Tacoma, but the long-term plan will depend on how he performs.

How many of these four can we keep on the roster: Ben Gamel, Heredia, O'Malley and Motter?

-- Heath T., Seattle

Most likely two -- one outfielder between Gamel and Heredia, and one utility guy between O'Malley and Motter, unless they decide Motter hits well enough to be the backup right-handed corner outfielder. In that scenario, they could potentially keep both O'Malley and Motter.

Any talk of the Mariners going for Shohei Ohtani of Japan?

-- Jon J., Olympia, Wash.

Ohtani is certainly on their radar, but every team in the Majors is well aware of the "Babe Ruth of Japan" and will be interested whenever he becomes available in the coming years. Many scouts feel Ohtani will be best as a pitcher in the Majors, though he's also an excellent hitter. The only certainty is he'll command a very large salary when that time comes.