Inbox: Has Hultzen's stock dropped after tough 2012?
Beat reporter Greg Johns answers Mariners fans' questions
Danny Hultzen flew through Double-A but stumbled in Triple-A last year. Do you think he is still viewed by management as a good No. 1 Draft pick or is he destined to be a back-of-the-order pitcher of lesser consequence? Most thought they'd choose Anthony Rendon, who would have been a nice bat to help out the offense.
-- Bob G., Erie, Pa.
The Mariners remain very high on Hultzen, as they should with a No. 2 overall pick, and he'll be given a good look this spring. Hultzen, who was ranked No. 2 among Seattle prospects, wore down at the end of last season, but remember, that was his first year in pro ball and it was a long haul after pitching in the Arizona Fall League as well. Of all their top pitching prospects, I'd give Hultzen the best chance of landing a rotation spot, either to start the year or within the first few months.
As for Rendon, he played just 43 games last year in the Nationals' farm system after fracturing his ankle and hit.162 in 21 games in Double-A, his highest stop. But the former Rice standout did hit .338 in the AFL this offseason.
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With the signing of Jason Bay, does that put Mike Carp on the outside looking in and open the possibility of him being traded?
-- Jordan M., Graham, Wash.
I don't think Bay's addition necessarily affects Carp. Even though Carp started the season in left field last year, the Mariners seem to be thinking of him more as a first baseman again now after a shoulder injury wiped out much of his 2012. Unless they sign or trade for a veteran first baseman, Carp appears to be the primary competition for Justin Smoak this spring.
While some seem to have written Carp off, I'm one who thinks he could still help either at first base or DH. When Carp finally got healthy last year, he hit .286, and the club went 11-6 with him in the lineup when Smoak first was sent to Tacoma. But Carp then strained his groin muscle and Smoak wound up hitting well when he returned, so Carp finished the year on the bench. If Carp is healthy and given a chance, I wouldn't count him out of the equation.
More Major League teams seem to be going to two hitting coaches these days. Have the Mariners considered that approach, given their offensive struggles?
-- William P., Puyallup, Wash.
Manager Eric Wedge indeed is thinking about bringing in a second hitting coach to assist newly hired Dave Hansen, though Wedge says it would be critical to find the right fit, particularly with Hansen just establishing his own program. But both Wedge and Hansen agree that the job is so extensive it's hard for one coach to handle the video work, batting-cage instruction and personal attention required.
The Cubs, Dodgers, Royals, Phillies and White Sox have all hired an assistant hitting coach this offseason after four teams -- the Cardinals, Giants, Padres and Tigers -- tried that approach this past season. The trend was a popular topic of discussion among managers at the Winter Meetings, and don't be surprised if the Mariners are one of several more teams to join in by Spring Training.
Do you have any information on the offseason hitting regimens for our position players? Are they on their own with a list of things to work on, or do they receive hands-on instruction over the winter, and by whom?
-- Jim R., Stewartsville, N.J.
Before they headed out, every player was told what they needed to work on over the offseason. Jesus Montero was instructed to work on his speed and agility and has been getting specialized instruction in that area. Franklin Gutierrez is in Venezuela playing winter ball, seeking to regain his timing after missing so many games. Michael Saunders is working with his personal hitting coach, Mike Bard, as he did last offseason.
Players are pretty much on their own, though trainers and coaches stay in close contact by phone. Wedge isn't planning to bring a big group back to Seattle in for a mid-winter conditioning check like he did last year. The manager says they understand what he wants now and he expects everyone to be ready to roll when camp opens in February.
Is there any chance the Mariners could swing a trade for Justin Upton? Do they have what the D-backs want, and is Arizona serious about trading him?
-- Bob M., Spokane, Wash.
After Arizona acquired young shortstop Didi Gregorius in the big three-way trade with the Reds and Indians on Tuesday, D-backs general manager Kevin Towers said it's now "highly unlikely" that Upton will be traded. It was already unlikely for the Mariners to be involved in any such deal since they're reportedly one of the teams under a no-trade clause in Upton's contract, though such clauses can always be waived. But clause or no clause, it doesn't look Upton will be arriving in a Mariners stocking this Christmas.
Why haven't the Mariners done anything yet this offseason? They need offense. What is [Jack] Zduriencik waiting for?
-- Phil T., Woodinville, Wash.
I understand this sentiment as everyone -- including Zduriencik -- is eager to see things happen. But this same question is being asked in a lot of cities at the moment, as not much happened at the Winter Meetings, and the free-agent market has yet to fully break loose. In the American League West, the A's and Rangers haven't done anything of note yet, the Astros made just one small trade and only the Angels have made much noise at all by signing pitchers Joe Blanton, Sean Burnett and Ryan Madson and trading for pitcher Tommy Hanson.
The Mariners have done some things -- re-signing free agents Hisashi Iwakuma and Oliver Perez, trading for Robert Andino and signing Bay -- but they are still looking for the impact bat they'd love to add. The three premier free-agent outfielders -- Josh Hamilton, Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn -- remain available. And if those pursuits don't pan out, Zduriencik could still work out a trade.
Remember, Zduriencik didn't deal Michael Pineda to the Yankees for Montero last winter until Jan. 13. And Prince Fielder didn't sign with the Tigers until Jan. 25. So as tough as it is to be patient, hang in there. The offseason isn't over yet.