Spring Training notes: Walker, Smoak, Ackley, Miller, Jimenez

 Spring Training 2014 is officially under way in Peoria, Arizona as the Seattle Mariners have begun their first sets of workouts. We’re still about ten days out from official Cactus League games taking place, but the anticipation for the start of the regular season has can officially begin as all thirty clubs start with a clean slate and visions of October baseball filling their heads. The Mariners are no different.

Pitchers Felix Hernandez and Taijuan Walker threw their first bullpens of the spring today; Felix tossed around 30 pitches while Walker threw 25. The Mariners’ top prospect said his shoulder felt fine after the session, alleviating most of the concern over the soreness he felt in the first few days of camp. As it stands, Walker will throw his next session on Thursday and won’t require any more precautionary work as he’s back on schedule. Pitching coach Rick Waits praised the young righty’s composure so far in camp, mentioning that he hasn’t had to ask Walker to slow himself down so far.

The Mariners avoided arbitration with Justin Smoak who agreed to terms on a one-year deal on Saturday. The first baseman will earn $2.63 million in the upcoming season and has a vesting option worth $3.65 million for 2015 that becomes guaranteed at 525 plate appearances on the year. If that plateau isn’t reached, Seattle can still exercise it, or buy the option out for $150 thousand. It’s a little unusual for a player to have an option year with a buyout attached while he is still arbitration eligible, so the deal did raise a few eyebrows. Smoak had 521 plate appearances in 2013 and 535 in 2013 so it’s entirely possible that regular play could cause his option to vest. The first baseman considers the starting job, “his to lose” despite the acquisitions of Corey Hart and Logan Morrison this offseason. Seattle has now agreed to terms with all of their arbitration eligible players.

Former No. 2 overall pick Dustin Ackley is set to become a full-time outfielder this year now that Robinson Cano has second base claimed for the foreseeable future. After starting 54 games in the outfield in 2013, 46 in center field, the soon to be 26-year old has spent much of the offseason preparing to be the team’s everyday leftfielder. Ackley struggled with consistency agian this past year and finished with a .253/.319/.341 line in 427 plate appearances. Since Franklin Gutierrez will be out for the entirety of the season, Ackley and Michael Saunders appear to be locks for starting jobs in the outfield to start the year at least. Hart and Morrison are also likely to see a little bit of time in the outfield if their bodies can handle it; currently Hart is the most likely to spend time in right field.

Nick Franklin figures to see significant time at shortstop this spring as manager Lloyd McClendon stated he’ll be competing with the incumbent Brad Miller for the starting job.

Over at LookoutLanding, Scott Weber questioned how legitimate this “battle” at shortstop really is. Weber argues that Miller deserves to be the starting shortstop in 2014, but if the organization emphasizes small sample sizes, Franklin may be a solid spring away from getting serious consideration for the job. Miller could be a fixture at short for the next several years instead of Franklin struggling to be average defensively at the position. Many thought Nick would find himself shipped to another organization in a trade for a starting pitcher or an outfielder, but nothing of the sort has materialized yet.

It’s possible McClendon is simply posturing to some extent in order to play up the club’s desire to keep the displaced second baseman who appears more likely to start the year with Tacoma than on Seattle’s bench. Also, it’s not uncommon to see coaches play up position battles in order to push players that extra little bit. There’s very little reason to think Saunders won’t have a starting outfield job, but of course McClendon is going to say there’s plenty of talent that could potentially fill the positions. We know Saunders is the closest thing on the roster to an actual everyday outfielder at the moment, although Abraham Almonte and Ackley could possibly change that, and McClendon knows that too.

The remaining big name free agents are slowly starting to find themselves new homes as Ubaldo Jimenez  agreed to terms with the Baltimore Orioles today. The deal is still pending a physical, which is far from a sure thing in Baltimore these days, and stands to be worth $50 million over four years with some money deferred. Jimenez was believed to be looking for a deal in the five year, $75 million range at the start of the offseason, but that quickly became unlikely as his market was incredibly slow to materialize and Matt Garza signed a similar contract last month with the Milwaukee Brewers and didn’t require his new club to give up a pick. Jimenez will cost the Orioles their 17th overall pick in this year’s draft, which Prospect Insider will provide plenty of coverage on in the upcoming months.

With Jimenez and Garza both off the market now, Ervin Santana finds himself standing alone on the free agent starting pitching market. The Orioles were believed to have some interest in Santana previously, but it’s likely that has evaporated now that they’ve signed Jimenez; provided of course, that his physical is successfully passed…

Seattle may still be interested in Santana’s services, although given the contracts given to his two free agent counterparts, it’s likely he’ll also receive a fourth guaranteed year on a deal. The Toronto Blue Jays were allegedly willing to offer three-year contracts worth $27 million to Santana and Jimenez, but those reports haven’t been confirmed. It’s hard to see Santana signing for that little considering the deal Ubaldo received, but anything is truly possibly at this point in time. At four years and $40 million Santana would make an excellent No. 3 in the Mariners’ rotation.

Heck, he would still look pretty good at four years and $50 million for what it’s worth.

 

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Tyler Carmont

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