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New look, new feel to Mariners' roster
An indicator of the changes made by the Mariners this winter could be found in the row of lockers near the front door of their clubhouse.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Raul Ibanez filePos: OF-DH-1B
Did you know? Ibanez hit the first grand slam at Safeco Field (July 17, 1999, vs. Padres)
PEORIA, Ariz. — An indicator of the changes made by the Mariners this winter could be found in the row of lockers near the front door of their clubhouse.
Typically reserved for more veteran players, a slew of faces that weren't here in 2012 are now taking up the prime real estate. Michael Morse and Raul Ibanez looked across at one another, while Kendrys Morales and Jason Bay did the same.
The only holdover from the 2012 Mariners near this front portion was oft-injured Franklin Gutierrez, now occupying the locker formerly belonging to Chone Figgins and sitting closest to the door. It was a noticeable change for a team that began its first full-squad workout Saturday looking to carry those differences over to the field.
"It's definitely an experienced feel," Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager said. "You've got a lot of guys in there, especially on the position side now, that have been around a long time and have had a lot of success for a lot of years. So there's definitely a lot to be learned."
Mariners manager Eric Wedge knows it's a different dynamic and reflected that in his hourlong, camp-opening message to players before Saturday's workout. With general manager Jack Zduriencik and the front office in attendance, Wedge outlined to players his expectations for the squad now that the rebuilding process is another year further along with more experienced youngsters and veterans sprinkled together.
"I like the diversity of it," Wedge said of the different feel to this roster. "As I've said so many times, I feel that if you look at our 61 guys in camp, I feel we could match up with anybody in regards to the quality of the ballplayers in our camp as a whole."
Seager is a stark reminder of how different things were a year ago. In his first full year in the majors last season, measuring 6 feet, 195 pounds, Seager was given 301 plate appearances in the No. 3 spot in the order and another 64 batting cleanup.
This year, the Mariners have 6-foot-5, 245-pound Morse and 6-foot-1, 225-pound Morales looking to see the most action in those two spots.
"They're huge," Seager said. "I didn't realize it. I was in there and you're walking out to the field and I was walking around in the middle of them. I'm like, 'What am I doing? These guys are enormous.' "
That stature carries over to more than just a tape measure and scale. Back in his first go-round with the Mariners, Morse had a locker further back from the front and wasn't seen or heard from much.
Now he's the one picking the clubhouse music and cranking it full volume without asking for suggestions first. He doesn't talk very loudly but has an easy smile and carries himself with more of a swagger than he did before being traded to the Washington Nationals for Ryan Langerhans back in 2009.
Out on the field, Morse wasted no time putting bat to ball for some long home runs in batting practice, including a towering shot to dead center.
Morse is direct when asked how so much could change so quickly for him.
"I got a chance to play," he said.
Morse owns a T-shirt manufacturing company called 22 Fresh and has already started making some for others in the clubhouse. He showed off a newly designed one Saturday to Antony Suzuki, interpreter for pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma.
The shirt reads: "I love Japanese pitching" with a heart symbol where the word 'love' would be.
"I think I'm going to have them made up for everybody except him," Morse said, in reference to Iwakuma. "For him, I'll maybe get one that says, 'I love American hitters.' "
Ibanez has never been one to make T-shirts, nor serve as clubhouse music coordinator. But his more quiet, by-example style will be making its third tour through Seattle's clubhouse after a four-season stopover with playoff teams in Philadelphia and New York.
"I think it's really helped me, playing on some of the championship-caliber teams," he said. "What it's helped me do, as a veteran player, is see why teams do well and why teams don't do as well. Sometimes there's a talent discrepancy, but more times than not it takes more than ability to win. It takes momentum, it takes a drive, it takes belief and it takes confidence. It takes confidence and character to overcome the tough times."
Another sign of the changes in Seattle is that the team is even considering using Morse, Ibanez and Bay in outfield spots. The past several years before the Safeco Field fences came in, the Mariners under Zduriencik have often looked at defense first in employing outfielders like Gutierrez, Endy Chavez, Langerhans and others.
Ibanez said the fences coming in should make it easier on the outfielders. He noted that his advanced defensive metrics improved after he left Seattle and went to the Phillies, who used him in a smaller outfield at Citizens Bank Park.
"Absolutely," Ibanez said. "I've always maintained that when you're evaluating a player, the size of the outfield definitely does matter. It makes a difference. Bringing in the fences is obviously going to make it a smaller area to cover."
The Cuban-born Morales doesn't speak English, so his ability to communicate with most teammates is limited. But he was brought here to make an impact with his bat and wants to do the same with his glove now that he's healthy for spring training for the first time since breaking his leg in 2010.
The Mariners plan to limit his time at first base early on while they wait to see whether Justin Smoak can break out. But Morales wants to prove he can play the field full time if needed and has made that a goal this spring.
"I have to be the one to be ready," he said in an interview in Spanish. "I'm ready, and there's still time to decide where I'm going to play."
That's a message Wedge would love to see all players take to heart. Whether it involves veterans or youngsters, the Mariners are letting it be known they'll have less patience than before when it comes to getting where they want to be.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or email@example.com.
On Twitter @gbakermariners