SLEEPER Felix Hernandez turns 21 in April, and this could be his season to bust out. He simply needs to walk a few less batters to put it all together.
BUST J.J. Putz's strikeouts spiked last season, and this spring, he's feeling pain in his elbow. We've seen these warning signs before.
HITTER TO WATCH: Adam Jones, SS Jones is still raw but is just 21 years old. He's a great athlete who can run, hit for power, and has a plus arm.
PITCHER TO WATCH: Ryan Feierabend, LHP
Feierabend is a fastball-changeup lefty with good command, but his fastball is just average and he needs to improve his breaking ball to help him get lefties out.
MLB Preview 2007
FIXED Yuniesky Betancourt seemed to have no play on a grounder in Cleveland last July. But as the shortstop fielded the ball far to his left, he suddenly whirled and fired to third, cutting down Shin-Soo Choo and showing the defensive imagination of Roberto Alomar. Even as the Mariners flounder, Betancourt has established himself as one of baseball's best middle infielders. "He reminds me of Omar Vizquel," says M's coach Carlos Garcia. "You can't teach that. You're born with it." Before Betancourt arrived, Seattle had run through three shortstops in three years. The Mariners won't need to change direction again for a while.
NEEDS FIXING If only Felix Hernandez had taken care of himself as well as Seattle took care of him last year. While his stats (1214, 4.52 ERA, 176 K's in 191 IPs) weren't bad for a 20-year-old, they're not fit for a King. So there was much rejoicing when Hernandez arrived for a January function minus the baby fat. "I'm more confident," he says. So are the M's, who've stopped limiting his innings and expect him to be the No. 1 starter. Now he just needs to live up to the hype.
Although he's stuck behind Kenji Johjima for now, 23-year-old catcher Jeff Clement, the high school career home run king (75), could provide second-half pop at DH.
If it weren't for snazzy Safeco Field, the Mariners would have no love at all. Seattle fans eat up the Bullpen Market, home of the IchiRoll (spicy tuna) and Porter's Place & Dixie's BBQ, but what's on the field is almost indigestible. The M's have spent the past three seasons in the AL West basement, weighed down by bad contracts and sketchy coaching.
"There are a lot of ifs that are just too iffy. It's more likely the hitting will pleasantly surprise me than the pitching will blossom. I'll still drop what I'm doing to watch every Ichiro at-bat, and I'll try to see every start by Felix , but I hope those aren't the only things that keep me interested."