Bob Melvin wasn't the only person to come to Seattle from the Arizona Diamondbacks. In Colbrunn, the new Mariners' manager brought with him one of the best bench players in the major leagues in 2002. Colbrunn batted a scorching .333 in 171 at bats with the D-Backs, including 10 long balls. Last year, Lou Piniella was hamstrung by a lack of capable batters on the bench. Late in games there was nobody who could pinch hit and put immediate fear in an opposing pitcher's eyes. Colbrunn is just that guy, the person who'd was missing. Look for Melvin to utilize Colbrunn's right-handed stick late in games in 2003, and use him as a spot-starter at first base and/or designated hitter as well.
John Mabry, OF/3B/1B:
Looking to bolster their bench and outfield depth, the Mariners turned their attention to Mabry in the offseason after the veteran's stellar 2002 season with Philadelphia and Oakland. The left-handed hitter with a long, looping swing batted .275 with the Athletics and helped them to one of the most memorable second-halves in baseball history a season ago. He'll be asked to back up Ichiro in right field, and may also see time at first and third base. The addition of Colbrunn, a natural first baseman, will probably prevent Mabry from ever manning first, however. Mabry's last stop in Seattle, from 1999-2000, was fairly forgettable. The cavernous Safeco Field dimensions seemed to hurt his average, no matter where he batted in the lineup. The Mariners hope he can forget about that, and instead build on his successful 2002 campaign to provide a positive presence in a reserve role.
Ben Davis, C:
Big Ben is back for his sophomore season in Seattle after an up-and-down 2002 campaign. The key this season for Davis will be improving two things: a) his defense behind the plate, and b) his ability to handle the pitching staff. Those factors prevented him from overtaking Dan Wilson, a more polished defender, in his first year as a Mariner. Davis did manage to belt seven homers and knock in 43 RBI in only 228 at bats a season ago. He'll begin the season as the starter behind the plate with Wilson on the disabled list, giving him a chance to make a positive impression on the first-year manager. When all is said and done, look for Davis to have comparable numbers to a season ago while continuing to learn the position behind Wilson. If that occurs, 2004 could be a break-out year for the tall, young catcher.
Willie Bloomquist, SS/2B:
One of the few youngsters on this veteran Mariners roster, Bloomquist will face some added pressure in 2003 for a couple of reasons. The fact that he's a local kid, a former standout at South Kitsap High, will make for some added attention. Playing in front of friends and family isn't always easy. And secondly, Bloomquist made the team thanks to the fact that the Mariners decided not to resign utility-man Desi Relaford, a valuable commodity on the team a season ago. Without Relaford, Bloomquist will need to be able to do what Desi did last year – play the middle-infield positions and possibly some outfield as well. Bloomquist was a September call-up in 2002 and made the most of his opportunity, batting a torrid .455 with 15 hits in 33 at bats. Look for Melvin to utilize his speed and defense as a pinch runner and defensive replacement late in games this season.
Mark McLemore, 2B/3B/LF:
Yes that's right, McLemore is back for more. (Someone should make a sign at Safeco like that). The wise old veteran may not see the playing time this year that he has in years' past due to the acquisition of Randy Winn in left field, but there's no denying his value to this Mariners team. In his four years in Seattle, Mac has been one of the most dependable players. He's played at two natural positions, second base and left field, and even spent time at the hot-corner –third base – when the Mariners were in a crunch. Despite battling injuries in 2002, McLemore still managed to bat .270 and steal 18 bases. If he can put up similar numbers this season while continuing to provide versatility and strong defense, Melvin won't be able to complain.
Joe Kaiser is the publisher of InsideThePark.com. He is a sucker for a drag bunt down the first base line or a head-first slide into third base for a triple. Kaiser can be reached at email@example.com.