Clement's ceiling too high to ride bench

Clement's ceiling too high to ride bench

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Now that outfielder Adam Jones is gone, traded to the Orioles for left-handed starter Erik Bedard, the Mariners' most-watched first-round Draft selection becomes catcher Jeff Clement.

The 24-year-old catcher out of University of Southern California, selected first by Seattle and third overall in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, is into his third Spring Training with the team.

But unlike Jones, Clement might have to be watched from afar again this season.

While Jones was in line to become the starter in right field, Clement will probably start the regular season in the Minor Leagues.

"We're not going to carry Jeff Clement as an extra catcher, or as a pinch-hitter," manager John McLaren said. "He's going to have to be an everyday player at a position. I'm not saying he can't make this ballclub, but we're not going to have him as a third catcher or as a backup catcher. He has too high a ceiling and he needs to play. If he's a starter, he'll be on the club. If not, he'll be in [Triple-A] Tacoma."

The only two positions available to Clement are catcher and designated hitter and there are no plans to give him playing time at first base or in the outfield.

And neither looks promising.

"I'm looking at [Jose] Vidro as our DH and Kenji [Johjima] as our catcher," McLaren said. "We're pretty well set with those two guys."

Also, pretty much set is Jamie Burke as Johjima's backup.

Clement hasn't been told anything so far this spring. He just goes about his daily routine, showing up early and participating in drills that eventually will help him become a regular big league catcher.

As for the probability of him returning to Tacoma, where he spent most of last season, he said: "I have a lot of faith in the people making those decisions. This is my fourth year in the organization and they have done nothing but positive things with me. Whatever decision they make will be the right one for me. It will work out the way it's supposed to."

Clement is making progress behind the plate, but still needs more work to become Major League-ready.

"Obviously, my goal is to play in the big leagues and help the team win," he said. "That's what I want to do, but at the same time, if I don't make the team this spring, if I don't and have to go back to Triple-A and catch there, I'll show up and work hard."

Regardless how good Clement gets on defense, it's his offense that draws the most attention.

That part of his game is big league-ready, as evidenced by what he did the final month of last season.

Spring Training
News and features:
Multimedia:
• Ibanez excited for Opening Day  400K
• McLaren on the '08 Mariners  400K
• Feierabend on his latest outing  400K
• Buhner enjoying spring in Arizona  400K
• Rodriguez on joining Mariners staff  400K
• Green on March Madness  400K
Spring Training info:
MLB.com coverage  |  Schedule  |  Ballpark  |  Tickets

After batting a solid .275 with 20 home runs and 80 RBIs, Clement was among the late-season callups and had a personal September to remember.

He made his Major League debut at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 4, striking out in a pinch-hit appearance. He would make outs in his next three at-bats before getting his first Major League hit -- a double against the Indians in the opener of a doubleheader at Safeco Field.

He sat on the bench for most of the nightcap, appearing as a pinch-hitter with two outs, none on and the Mariners trailing the Indians by one run in the bottom of the ninth inning.

One of his smooth, level swings made contact with a Joe Borowski fastball that landed in the right-center-field bleachers. Seattle eventually won the game, 3-2.

Two nights later, against the Rangers, he delivered a two-run walk-off home run, becoming the sixth rookie in Mariners history to hit a game-ending home run. Clement finished the season with six hits in his final 12 at-bats and scored four runs.

"I really don't know how close I am to making it to the big leagues [for good]," he said. "The more I play, the better I'll get. I had a full season of playing well last season and that helps. I also know I can play better than that.

"I still need to be more consistent. Once I do that, I feel that I can be successful up here."

The big question is when, not if.

"I'll tell you this," McLaren said. "Power-hitting left-handed-hitting catchers are worth their weight in gold. And Jeff will be one of those guys."

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.