It seems like everywhere you look these days in Peoria, there's something to smile about. And not just because it's 85 degrees in mid-March, it's the players on the field.
Click here for a look at some of the pictures I've taken since being down here: Pictures from Peoria.
The Mariners may not have made the big splash in free agency that many fans had hoped for, but the team they've assembled looks every bit the part of another 90-win squad.
Positives are everywhere.
There's the seamless transition Randy Winn has made from left field to center, a position he played thoughout the minor leagues. Yesterday was the first time Winn took a poor route to a ball, but far more often than not he's been as dependable as any other defender on the team. Oh, he's also batted well, spreading the ball around the field with a .353 average (6-17). He's been used both at the No. 2 spot in the batting lineup and back at the end of the lineup.
At third base, Scott Spiezio looks like an enormous upgrade. Watching him go to work in batting practice has been a sight to behold, with pitches leaving the yard both right and left handed. The switch hitter brings a power element to the hot corner that just hasn't been there since the days of Russ Davis. Did I just mention Russ Davis in a positive light? Speez also looks fine at third, doing well on hard-hit line drives, swinging bunts, and anything else that has come his way thus far. Batting mostly in the middle of the lineup, from spots 4-though-6 in the order, he's hit .375 (6-16).
At shortstop, both Rich Aurilia and Ramon Santiago have played extremely well on both sides of the ball. Aurilia is the kind of player like John Olerud who does his work quietly, but professionally, and at the end of the day is a key element in success. He's 3-10 so far from the plate as he adjusts to his new team. Santiago is far and away the surprise in camp, a guy who has absolutely been zeroed in at the plate. He is 8-15 from the plate for a crazy .583 average, and has been right on everything thrown at him. His first homer of the spring nearly came yesterday against Chicago, but bounced high off the wall in left-center and resulted in a double.
Willie Bloomquist no longer seems like the rookie youngster vying for a spot on the team. Now he appears noticeably more comfortable with his role as utility player, and has been steady at each defensive assignment he's been given, at third and short primarily. At the plate he's 4-15 with three RBI.
On the mound, the battle for the final spots on the pitching staff is tight. Terry Mulholland started on Wednesday against Anaheim and threw three scoreless innings. He could be very valuable to the staff and is capable of a variety of roles. Bobby Madritsch, Ron Villone, Mike Myers, George Sherrill and Matt Thornton have all done well too after getting roughed up in their first appearances. Bob Melvin will have a very difficult task of deciding on who to keep for the Opening Day roster if these guys continue to pitch well. Craig Anderson and Randy Williams, two more lefties, may also be in the hunt.
Freddy Garcia has pitched phenomenally since giving up a homerun to Brian Hunter, the first batter he faced this spring. Since that point, he hasn't allowed a hit let alone a run, and has trimmed his ERA to 1.80.
Shigetoshi Hasegawa has yet to allow a run in four innings of work, but then again the sun still rises in the east and sets in the west. He's added four strikeouts and zero walks.
Cha Baek, a righty who spent most of last season at San Antonio, has done well in relief with just one earned run in 4.1 innings.
Over on the minor league practice fields, Rett Johnson is back after leaving for five days to take care of personal issues. It was neat to see him yesterday when he walked back on the field and one player after another greeted him with high-fives. One thing is for sure, the guys missed Rett and are happy to have him back.
On another field, Ryan Anderson is back in uniform going through all the drills and throwing softly. Despite all he's been through – devastating injuries year after year - it's hard not to still see tons of potential in this guy when he walks by. Crowds still gasp at his height, the casual fans still ask who he is in amazement, and Anderson still looks like he loves the game. A great sight to see.
And just one of many early on in M's camp.
Peoria Notebook: Winn Adjusts, Rett Returns
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