March 14th, 2016

Spring Training Tour-Seattle Mariners

Forgive me for a bit of nostalgia. Whenever I see the Seattle Mariners play a Spring Training game in Peoria it reminds me of my scouting experience with Seattle. I was very fortunate to work with two terrific scouts who helped me a great deal. Both have passed away, but both will be forever in my thoughts.

Bill Kearns was my mentor with the Mariners. He began with the club in 1976 and passed away at the age of 94-when he was still scouting. Even after I had departed the Mariners scouting staff, Bill always called to see how I was doing and to share his stories with me. I have never met a more gentle soul, a more positive person or an individual with a better baseball mind. Bill could recognize talent and never failed to articulate his opinion in our weekly team conference calls. I never met a person with a bad word to say about Bill. I often reflect upon how Bill would evaluate a player I am writing about. I ask myself, “what would Bill think?”

Frank Maddox left us far, far too soon at the age of 49. Frank was very quiet and kept his opinions to himself in the media dining room or in the environment of other pro scouts. I was so fortunate to privately learn his evaluation of players as his colleague and friend. Like Bill Kearns, Frank always kept in touch with me to be sure I was still inn the business of evaluating baseball players. We rarely had opposite opinions on players because we looked for the same qualities.

When I watch today’s Mariners club I know pretty much what Frank and Bill would be saying. They would be optimistic but realistic. They were Mariners first and foremost, sharing a love for their club and the game they represented. But they were honest and truthful in their evaluations-and that’s the only way to evaluate players.

I saw Nate Karns start for the Mariners. Obtained in a trade from Tampa Bay, Karns has they type of stuff and the mound demeanor to have a positive impact on the pitching staff. I have always been concerned about fly balls leaving the park against him, but Seattle will be a good park for his pitching style. He may not be fooling many hitters, but he has enough stuff to keep his team in the game and give his team a chance to win- hopefully going at least three times through the batting order. He will need help from the bullpen, but the 6-foot-3, 225 pound Karns can pitch. I think his ERA will hover under 4.0. as he yields less hits than innings pitched. He’s a nice addition to the club. He needs a sustained chance in the rotation, good health and some offensive support. And the offense he receives in Seattle should be far more than his past with Tampa Bay. As a result, I think his win total will increase as well. I like his addition to the club. Now he just has to win a role in the rotation. Nothing is ever certain, but I see that happening. At least I hope so.

Norichika Aoki is another new addition to the club. He gives the Mariners a leadoff hitter with a chance to get on base, steal some bases and score some runs. He has surprising pop in his bat, making the gaps in his home park a great landing place for his line drive darts. He doesn’t get cheated at the plate. Mariners fans may see a hint of Ichiro in Aoki, and that’s a good thing. A left-handed hitter, he can slap the ball on the ground, bunt hit liners and loopers and hustle to first base. He’ll be an outstanding table setter for the big bats of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager.

Franklin Gutierrez didn’t play in the game yesterday. But I want to mention him here because I think he can have an influence on the offensive side of the Mariners season. He’s got a loud and dangerous bat-especailly against left-handed pitching, where he will see most of his at-bats. Gutierrez has not had good health in the past few seasons. He has battled injury after injury and has to be handled carefully. Given his perfect platoon role, Gutierrez will put some good offensive numbers on the board IMO

Jesus Montero is still a puzzle. Like Wil Myers. Each of those guys have so much talent and neither has lived up to their press clippings and neither has realized their potential. I wrote about Myers this past week. I said he must learn to control his swing and his plate discipline. The same can be said for Montero. I believe the skill exists. It just hasn’t translated yet against big league pitching. He doesn’t look either confident or comfortable at the plate. He is trying way too hard instead of letting his natural ability overcome his desire to blast a 500 foot home run every at-bat.

The Mariners gave up Michael Pineda for Montero. As of now, it looks like a steal for the Yankees, even with Pineda’s arm and shoulder issues. Like I said about Myers, Now is the time for Montero to step up. I’m not sure it will happen with any consistency. Spurts? Perhaps. Consistent day to day loud contact, my jury is still out.

I close this blog today with a thank you to my friends Bill Kearns and Frankie Maddox. I remember you both with great fondness and with extreme gratitude. I hope I am a better scout today because I was around you and I got to work and learn from you both.

Tomorrow I’ll discuss what I see from the Texas Rangers today as they play Cleveland at Goodyear.

Thank you for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

That’s it. I’m done. For now.