With Spring Training rapidly approaching, we're taking an in-depth look at the Mariners' roster. This is the fifth part of an Around the Horn series looking at each position on the team. Today: first base.
The big question: Can Ryon Healy handle every-day duties?
The Mariners have gone with a first-base platoon the past two years, with Dae-Ho Lee and Adam Lind splitting time in 2016 and Danny Valencia, Daniel Vogelbach and Yonder Alonso dividing duties last season.
But general manager Jerry Dipoto acquired Healy from the A's in a trade for reliever Emilio Pagan with the belief that the 26-year-old can hold down the position by himself, which would allow the Mariners to use that extra roster spot to carry another reliever.
The key for the right-handed-hitting Healy will be to hold up against right-handed pitching. He slashed .257/.389/.428 with 18 homers and 56 RBIs in 439 at-bats last year against righties, compared to .314/.347/.526 with seven homers and 22 RBIs in 137 at-bats vs. southpaws. But he was far better against right-handers as a rookie in 2016 when he put up a .302/.338/.515 line against them and went .313/.333/.552 vs. southpaws.
The starter: Healy
Healy will be the Mariners' fourth new Opening Day starter at first base since Justin Smoak departed following the 2014 season.
Mariners' first basemen produced the lowest slugging percentage (.389) and OPS (.697) of any MLB team last year and were 28th in on-base percentage (.308), so clearly Healy could provide some improvement if he hits as well as he's done his first two years in the Majors.
The 6-foot-5 Healy was athletic enough to play third base in his rookie season in Oakland, then split time at first, third and DH last year. The Mariners will let him focus strictly on first base, which is where he played during his college days at Oregon.
"The importance of a good defensive first baseman kind of goes under the radar," manager Scott Servais said. "Being able to pick the ball out of the dirt, start double plays, things like that -- [Healy is] more than capable over there. And just locking in and staying there will help his development there as well."
Backing up: Mike Ford and Vogelbach
Ford was acquired from the Yankees in the Rule 5 Draft in December and is an interesting 25-year-old prospect who slashed .270/.404/.471 with 20 homers and 86 RBIs in 126 games between Double-A and Triple-A last year, with 94 walks and just 72 strikeouts.
If the Mariners did decide to platoon Healy, Ford would be a possible left-handed complement. But if he doesn't make the 25-man roster, he'll need to be offered back to the Yankees unless the two teams can work out a trade to keep him in Seattle's Minor League system.
Vogelbach is another left-handed swinger who has hit well at the Triple-A level, but he will need to show he can produce offensively and handle first base defensively better than he did in limited opportunities last spring.
Depth: Andrew Romine, Taylor Motter, Matt Hague
Assuming Healy is the primary first baseman on the roster, whoever wins the utility battle between Romine and Motter will be his backup if Ford and Vogelbach don't break camp with the team. Romine and Motter don't have much experience at first base, but Romine started 13 games there in his eight-year career, including four last year for the Tigers. Motter started eight games at first last year.
Hague is a 32-year-old local product who graduated from Kentwood High and played several years at the University of Washington before transferring to Oklahoma State and being drafted by the Pirates in 2009. He's had 91 at-bats in the big leagues with Pittsburgh and Toronto, but spent last year in Triple-A Rochester with the Twins while slashing .297/.373/.416 with 10 homers and 65 RBIs in 136 games. He'll be in camp as a non-roster invitee.
In the pipeline:
The Mariners could have a long-term answer at first base in Evan White, their No. 2-ranked prospect per MLB Pipeline. White was the club's first-round Draft pick in June out of Kentucky and is regarded as one of the better defensive first basemen to come out of the college ranks in recent years. But the 21-year-old played just 14 games for Short-A Everett last year before a quad injury sidelined him, so he'll look to stay healthy and begin climbing the ladder this year starting at either Class A Clinton or Class A Advanced Modesto.
Vogelbach (No. 7) and Ford (No. 22) are also ranked among Seattle's top prospects by MLB Pipeline.
By the numbers:
Healy is a big man at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, and he doesn't get cheated on his home runs. Per Statcast™, Healy averaged 413 feet on his 25 homers last year, longer than any Mariner -- including Mike Zunino (412) and Nelson Cruz (411).