Mariners Spring Training 2023: What we learned

Julio’s next step, Kelenic’s time



The Seattle Mariners

LUKE WESTFALL, Evergreen sports co-editor

There are plenty of negative speculations about Spring Training. Some say it is too long for batters and too short for pitchers. Some say it is for monetary value and not for the player’s benefit.

Regardless of anyone’s opinion, Spring Training is the first look at players in the upper echelon of the league, to those vying for roster spots. After watching all the Mariners’ Spring games and checking the stats, here is what we learned.

Julio Rodríguez is a bonafide MVP candidate

Going into his 22-year-old season, Julio is looking to take a jump. But not from the minor leagues to the bigs, or from platoon bat to everyday contributor like most 22-year-olds, he’s looking to go from star to MVP.

Last year, Julio recorded a 25 homerun and 25 stolen base season, hit .284 with a .853 OPS and renamed T-Mobile Park’s centerfield grass the ‘No-Fly Zone.’ In case there was any doubt about Julio going into the Spring, he reassured us all there should be none. 

Julio spent time with the Dominican Republic squad in the World Baseball Classic, but when he was with the team in Peoria, he posted an elite slash line of .444/.487/.750/1.237. On top of that, he had five doubles and two homers in just 36 at-bats.

It will be interesting to see how often he attempts to steal, for the sake of staying healthy this year, but one thing is clear: there will be plenty of people taking Julio’s odds for MVP.

In what may be his last chance, Jarred Kelenic is locked in

Some people might call him the X-factor, considering he will operate left field most games vs. right-handed pitching. Kelenic is a former top-5 MLB prospect who has yet to meet expectations.

He has posted a .168 career batting average, but in 147 career games (just under one season’s worth) he has slugged 21 homers, 18 doubles and 60 RBI. The question is contact.

If Kelenic can simply raise his average over the dreaded Mendoza line (.200 avg.), his production and value could skyrocket. And in the spring, he has shown some progression.

In 51 Spring Training at-bats, Kelenic hit .353, with an OPS over 1.000. He also had two doubles, a triple, four home runs, 10 RBI and stole three bases. All in all, it was a very encouraging spring for Kelenic, but like always, the real test begins Thursday.

Cooper Hummel is a key bench piece

The Mariners traded former Rookie of the Year Award winner Kyle Lewis to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for Hummel. Hummel stood out because of his elite versatility, being able to catch and play both corner spots in the infield and outfield.

He played the most games this spring of any Mariner at 21. In that time, he hit .275 with a .420 on-base percentage. On top of that, he hit two doubles, a triple, four home runs, drove in seven and even stole a team-high four bases. 

The cherry on top is Hummel is a switch hitter, which, if done correctly, can make him matchup-proof. Overall, Hummel is a great chess piece for manager Scott Servais to use to his advantage and will be critical off the bench for the Mariners in 2023.

Evan White’s time may be up

The Mariners have hit on many of their first-round picks in recent years like Logan Gilbert and George Kirby, to name a couple. Their first-round pick in 2017, White, however, may be an exception.

In his 2020 rookie season, he won a Gold Glove, even though the offense was lacking. That has always been the issue for White: offense. But in the last couple of years, the injury bug has hit him hard.

White missed most of last season with injuries, such as a broken hip and a sports hernia. This spring was his chance, but once again injuries made it tough and in the end, he was one of the first fringe major leaguers to be optioned down.

He only appeared in seven games this spring, and in 13 at-bats he only registered one hit and struck out seven times. As long as he is with the team the hope will be alive for White, but things may be slipping out of his grasp in Seattle.

The starting rotation is amazing

The final takeaway from this year’s Spring Training was the excellence of the pitching staff. Ace Luis Castillo, who the Mariners acquired at the deadline last season, picked up 18 strikeouts in 17 innings and will start on opening day for the squad.

Last year’s big free agent pickup Robbie Ray developed a splitter this offseason and now features a four-pitch mix after entering last year with just two. He also increased his average fastball velocity this spring. 

Add it all together and the former Cy Young Award winner and strikeout king rung up 26 in only 17 innings and posted a 1.06 earned run average to go with a .190 opponent batting average and 1.00 WHIP (walks+hits/innings pitched).

The two young guns Logan Gilbert and George Kirby pitched effectively this spring as well, with Gilbert working on a new split-changeup and both fine-tuning the slider. They both sat down to reveal their offseason pitch work with Pitching Ninja on YouTube.

Last but not least, the Mariners will slide Marco Gonzales, a crafty left-handed veteran, into the rotation, but he will have pressure all year. Long reliever Chris Flexen posted a 2.65 ERA this spring and top prospects Bryce Miller, Emerson Hancock, Taylor Dollard and Prelander Berroa are all chomping at the bit for their first big league start.

As you can tell, most of the takeaways are positive. The reason for that is the one pivotal takeaway that means more than the rest from this spring. The Mariners are going to be really, really good.