The Seattle Mariners opened their Cactus League schedule with a 3-2 win over the San Diego Padres in walk-off fashion down in Peoria. But in the process, first baseman Ji-Man Choi left the game in the bottom of the ninth after breaking his right fibula. Choi jumped to retrieve a throw from shortstop Tyler Smith on what appeared to be a routine play but landed awkwardly and was in obvious pain.
There is no timetable for Choi’s recovery at this point, but based on the nature of the injury he will miss significant time.
The 23-year old was expected to start the season at Triple-A where he saw 281 plate appearances in 2014. His absence will open the door wide for Jesus Montero and D.J. Peterson to see regular time at first base in Tacoma.
Baring something unexpected, Montero is not expected to make the big league club out of Spring Training. There just isn’t room for a bat-only first base/DH type on the roster right now. The former top prospect looks in considerably better shape — he’s reportedly lost 40 pounds and it’s very evident — and management has been impressed with his change in attitude. Montero picked up a pair of singles in the opener as the starting first baseman, which could be his role in Tacoma when camp breaks.
Peterson, the club’s consensus No. 2 prospect, has come up through the system as a third baseman. However with Kyle Seager signed long-term, the transition to first base, which some felt would be inevitable anyways, was coming up as his bat progresses closer to being major league ready. Seattle doesn’t want to pull Peterson away from third entirely for emergency purposes but the plan is to see him begin the transition this year. With more at bats available at first, except the right-hander to see his share of time there to start the year as well.
Although Choi probably wasn’t going to be the first name called if first baseman Logan Morrison were to go down with injury, he likely would have been in the conversation. Currently on the active roster the Mariners don’t have a true first baseman outside of Morrison. Willie Bloomquist saw some time at first last year and one of Rickie Weeks and Dustin Ackley could be capable, but those are short-term fixes.
It’s worth noting that Morrison altered his offseason training regime with the hiring of a new personal trainer. His goal? Improving durability. The 27-year old hasn’t appeared in more than 100 games since 2011 so his health is a major question mark for the M’s in 2015.
Provided he’s playing reasonable well at Triple-A, it would appear that Montero would have his name called in the event Morrison has to hit the disabled list in the first half of the season. Montero has experience against major league pitching and so long as he’s hitting, the M’s can make up for below average first base defence.
In the second half of the season, Peterson or perhaps Patrick Kivlehan would enter the conversation. Like Peterson, Kivlehan has come up through the system as a third baseman and the M’s experimented with using him in the outfield last year. He is also likely to see some time at first base this year as his long-term position with the club is less clear.
If Seattle was planning for a mid-season call-up of Peterson, they could move him off third base completely and have him focus on first. But that doesn’t appear likely or make sense right now. If the right-hander has a red-hot April and May and forces and the situation forces the team’s hand, that’s one thing. Giving him adequate time to develop, which may mean all of 2015, is the focus.
You hate to see any player get injured, especially in Spring Training. But if there is a silver lining in this for the Mariners, it’s that Montero and Peterson will be able to see plenty of time at first base and possibly give the club better depth in the second half.