Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the season ahead. Some are competing for jobs in big league camp, others are prepping for the season as they vie for spots at Minor League affiliates up and down a team's system. MLBPipeline.com will be visiting all 30 camps this spring. Today, we check in on the Seattle Mariners.
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Spring Training is always a time of renewal, of starting over. That's particularly true in Mariners camp, where a new front office is getting the chance to instill a new philosophy and culture on this organization for the first time.
It's true on the Major League side with new general manager Jerry DiPoto. And it's true on the Minor League side as Andy McKay sits in the farm director chair for the first time. McKay took the director of player development job officially in October, but this is truly the time he can make his first real impression, with all personnel in one place at one time.
"It's been really positive in terms of the connection between our front office, our analytics group, our Major League staff and our Minor League staff," McKay said. "We're still in the infancy in trying to really change the culture of the Mariners from top to bottom."
McKay comes to this gig with a slightly different background than many who have become farm directors. A former college coach and teacher of sports psychology, McKay headed the Colorado Rockies' mental skills work for four years. The Mariners believe that kind of approach will serve the system well as they try to turn things around throughout the organization.
"I don't think you have mental skills and physical skills; they're totally intertwined," McKay explained. "From the most foundational level, your emotions create your thoughts. Your thoughts create images in your head. Those images drive the behavior. The game is not 80 percent mental. It's 100 percent mental, as is life, really."
This new way to look at the process, the Mariners hope, will help build winning players, but without focusing on winning. An emphasis on preparation is key, McKay believes. That, in turn, will lead to success in a system that saw only it's short-season clubs finish over .500 in 2015.
"What happens between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. matters a whole lot more than what happens between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.," McKay said. "Between two and seven, we have total control over it. That's where we really practice. The game is going to happen the way the game is going to happen. Getting our guys to turn off the scoreboard to some extent and focus on the process, our attention to detail, the precision of what we do, the standards we uphold with our players."
"I have a saying I use with our coaches every day: 'If it happened, we coached it.' What we do in practice usually shows up in a game. So let's forget about the game. It's really hard because it's a results-based game. Results can get you fired. But it doesn't change the fact you can only impact the result by impacting the process."
It's always good when a recent draftee has a strong pro debut. How they react to it after the fact, during his first offseason and leading into his first full season, can go a long way to determining his future.
If that's the case, then No. 3 Mariners prospect Drew Jackson appears ready to follow up on what he did last summer. All he did then was win the short-season Northwest League MVP.
It would have been easy for Jackson, the Stanford product, to show up to camp with an "I have it all figured out" attitude. That has been far from the case. Minor League camp hasn't even officially opened yet, but the shortstop is already turning heads.
"He's opened my eyes, not so much the ability level, but the way he goes about his business," McKay said. "He practices hard. He looks like a professional player. I think the more you do it, you start trusting your gut. That eye test is important. He just looks like a guy you can win a baseball game with. He has caught my attention."
The 2015 season is one right-hander Stephen Landazuri would likely rather forget. He split the year between Double- and Triple-A, but finished the year with a 6.18 ERA, giving up 14.1 hits per nine innings. He struggled with command, as his walk rate spiked to 4.3 per nine.
As a pitcher who previously had relied on command and feel for pitching, things had gone awry. But there's reason to think he may have sorted some things out. The six-foot righty made seven starts for Mexacali in the Mexican Winter League and posted a 3.43 ERA over 39 1/3 innings. More importantly, he walked only seven (1.60 BB/9) and struck out 40. If he can continue to command the ball like that, keeping it down in the zone, he can get back to being a potential choice to help in the back end of the rotation.
Much further down in the system is a shortstop who has yet to make his United States debut. Chris Torres signed with the Mariners back in August 2014 after a reported deal with the Yankees didn't happen. He had a solid debut in the Dominican Summer League last year and the 18-year-old is set to make his first impression in this country. There's considerable upside for the Mariners' No. 14 prospect and a strong showing stateside could move him up their Top 30 in a hurry.