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Young Mariner veterans need to step up this season

Orlin Wagner
AP Photo

The Mariners begin spring training play this weekend in Arizona. 

KPLU sports commentator shares his thoughts on the new additions to the team and his concerns about some young returning players.

No big splash with new additions

The Mariners were busy in the offseason acquiring veteran hitters: Jason Bay, Mike Morse, Kendrys Morales and returning Mariner Raul Ibanez.

Art says they've all been signed to one-year contracts.

"They're designed to take the pressure off the younger guys. And I think the range of these guys' ability to help the team is kind of fixed."

Young vets must shine

Art is more concerned with three young veterans who he says will be the keys to the Mariners' success this season: 2nd baseman Dustin Ackley, 1st baseman Justin Smoak and catcher Jesus Montero.

The Mariners have invested a lot in these guys.

"Ackley was a very high first-round draft choice. Smoak was the major acquisition in the Cliff Lee trade in 2010. And Jesus Montero came from the Yankees as this much-regarded hitting prospect in exchange for (pitcher) Michael Pineda. That's a lot of value they've tied up in these guys, and they didn't do so well last year."

Ackley's trouble may have been as simple as a bone spur that he had removed in the offseason.

Smoak: no plan at the plate

Art says Justin Smoak's problem may be harder to fix. After a disappointing season last year (except for a hot streak in September), Smoak admitted in the offseason that he didn't have a plan when he was at the plate.

"And that's really kind of surprising. But he wasn't focusing on the scouting report of the opposing pitcher and wasn't going up to the plate with an idea of what kind of pitches he could hit when in the count, with the game situation being what it was."

The Mariners did fire their hitting coach in the offseason - the man who's job it was to make sure the hitters were prepared. Smoak says he's been working on improving his performance at the plate.

Montero: learning how to run

Jesus Montero entered spring training out of shape, and was chastised for it by manager Erin Wedge this week.

According to Art, Montero spent the offseason learning how to run. No joke. If you saw him in action last season, you'll know what we're talking about. He was very straight and stiff.

"There's a reason he was nicknamed 'El Galapago.' Somebody else described his running style as a guy who's wearing a suit of armor and trying not to make noise."

Montero is the Mariners' starting catcher this season. Art says he hasn't exactly excelled behind the plate, but he's only 23 years old.

The ones to watch

Art says the Mariners hope that the improvements that Montero, Smoak and Ackley have made in the offseason will become evident in spring training. And when Opening Day rolls around.

"So, overall, it's the three young guys who need to prove themselves and not the four new guys who've come here just as a patch."

You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest.

Kirsten Kendrick has been hosting Morning Edition on KNKX/KPLU since 2006. She has worked in news radio for more than 30 years. Kirsten is also a sports lover. She handles most sports coverage at the station, including helping produce a two-part series on the 50th anniversary of Title IX and the ongoing series "Going Deep."
Art Thiel is a co-founder and writer for the rising sports website Sportspress Northwest. In 2003 Thiel wrote the definitive book about the Seattle Mariners, “Out of Left Field,” which became a regional bestseller. In 2009, along with Steve Rudman and KJR 950 afternoon host Mike Gastineau, Thiel authored “The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists,” a cross between and Mad Magazine that has become mandatory reading for any sports fan who has an indoor bathroom.
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