SEATTLE -- It’s a different feeling as the Mariners break camp this summer. For one thing, it’s summer instead of spring, they’re wrapping things up in Seattle instead of Peoria, Ariz., and the whole COVID-19 situation and late start to a drastically shortened season hangs over everything.
The short Summer Camp wasn’t enough time to get everyone up to speed after MLB’s 3 1/2-month shutdown, and not all the Mariners are heading into Friday’s regular-season opener in Houston firing on all cylinders.
Designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach, second baseman Shed Long Jr. and left fielder Jake Fraley are among those still searching for their swings, the bullpen is filled with question marks, catcher Tom Murphy has a broken bone in his left foot that has landed him on the injured list and Mallex Smith and Dylan Moore have had just a handful of games to prepare after late arrivals due to COVID-19 issues.
But there have been positive storylines as well, and here are five Summer Camp standouts:
1) First baseman Evan White
Everyone knew the 24-year-old rookie would be a defensive stud, but he’s hitting the ball with authority as well. On Tuesday night, White launched a mammoth shot just to the left of the foul pole down the left-field line that bounced off the concourse above Edgar’s Cantina and out of T-Mobile Park. Though he wound up striking out that at-bat, he followed with a line-drive homer into the Mariners' bullpen off Dan Altavilla.
“I would say he’s ready to roll,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “They said that foul ball went 475 feet or something, then he turned around and got Dan Altavilla on about a 98-mph fastball. Evan has had a really good camp. It really started in Spring Training down in Arizona. He’s really comfortable right now; really confident. I love to see young players that way.
“He hasn’t played a Major League game yet, and he’s as excited to get to Houston as anybody. I can’t wait to see how it plays out for him. He’s just fun to watch defensively, and he has a lot of confidence in the batter’s box right now. Hopefully that continues throughout the season.”
2) Outfielder Kyle Lewis
The Mariners’ other rookie camp standout has clubbed four home runs in intrasquad action, and he looked every bit like a rising star at the plate and in center field, where he might wind up pushing Smith to right field. Lewis’ fourth homer was a soaring opposite-field shot on Tuesday as he continues showing power to all fields.
“We couldn’t have asked for more out of Kyle this camp,” Servais said. “I said it from Day 1 when he showed up, it just looked a little bit different. He was carrying himself different and has not backed off at all.
“You don’t see many right-handed hitters hit the ball like that in this ballpark. And we’ve had some good ones here. We watched Nelson Cruz here for a few years, and that’s not easy to do. Right off the bat, you know it’s a homer when Kyle hits it and stays behind the ball like that.”
3) Right-hander Kendall Graveman
The 29-year-old appears fully back after a two-year recovery from Tommy John surgery, and he dominated again in four scoreless innings with eight strikeouts on Tuesday night. Though things will get tougher against the Astros’ lineup in his Mariners debut on Monday, Graveman has been the feel-good story of camp and an early Comeback of the Year-type candidate.
“Certainly, it’s been a long time since he’s pitched in a Major League game, going through rehab and everything he’s gone through,” Servais said. “I couldn’t be happier for him. I really love his demeanor on the mound. He’s in control, attacking, and it sets a great example for our younger pitchers.
“He does it his way. The two-seam fastball and the cutter, he threw a lot of really good pitches on the inside part of the plate against left-handed hitters [Tuesday]. He really dominated to his glove side and when you can do that in this league, you’re going to have a lot of success. On top of it, the velocity we’ve seen -- it was 94-96 mph -- has been awesome.”
4) Right-hander Taijuan Walker
Like Graveman, Walker provides both a nice comeback story and a potential quality addition to the rotation. The 27-year-old hasn’t been as overpowering as Graveman, but he’s hitting 93 mph with his fastball and bringing a better variety of offspeed pitches than in his prior stint with Seattle as a youngster.
Looking to split up left-handers Marco Gonzales and Yusei Kikuchi in the rotation, Servais has Walker starting the second game of the season on Saturday in Houston, and Walker will have a chance to show if he’s fully back following Tommy John surgery in 2018.
“He’s matured so much,” Servais said. “That’s the thing that sticks out to me. As a person, as a teammate, on the field talking to young players, off the field; the whole package has really come together.”
5) First baseman/outfielder José Marmolejos
Nobody has helped themselves more when it comes to winning a roster spot than the 27-year-old Marmolejos, who signed on a Minor League deal after nine seasons in the Nationals' system.
Though he’s never played in the Majors, he was Washington's Minor League Player of the Year in 2015 and ’16, and he put up good offensive numbers last season at Triple-A and Double-A. Marmolejos' smooth left-handed swing and power potential intrigued the Mariners, and he’s impressed in Spring Training and at Summer Camp. The 6-foot-1, 220-pounder not only wound up earning a 30-man roster spot, he likely will be starting in left field on Friday when the Mariners open in Houston.
“You can really see his at-bats coming together here,” Servais said. “He’s got a good swing, knows the strike zone and certainly has power. We saw it going out to opposite field [for a home run Tuesday]. He consistently gives you a good at-bat. His swing is so simple. I think he’s got a chance to hit and be consistent, and that’s all you’re looking for.”