Which of the three top pitching prospects is showing the most potential in Double-A, and do you think any of them will be brought up this year?
-- Nicholas L., Apple Valley, Calif.
The talented trio of Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker is off to a nice start with Double-A Jackson. Walker has been the most consistent in his three starts (2-0, 2.25 ERA with 21 strikeouts and five walks in 16 innings), but I continue to think it's a long shot we'll see him this season given his age (19) and the Mariners likely wanting to limit his innings in the second half.
Paxton, 23, has struggled a bit in his last two starts and is 1-0 with a 4.15 ERA, 22 strikeouts and 14 walks in 17 1/3 innings over four games. Hultzen, 22, is 1-2 with a 2.81 ERA, 21 strikeouts and eight walks in 16 innings in three starts.
If I had to guess, right now I'd go with Hultzen being the first to make it to Seattle. As the No. 2 pick in last year's Draft, he's high on the radar and he's also extremely polished. Opponents are hitting .127 off him so far, compared to .175 for Walker and .234 for Paxton, and he displayed an ability this spring to turn things up a notch when needed.
Lots can change, of course, but I think Hultzen will get a look this year, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Paxton at some point as well, depending how the Mariners' rotation holds up. And don't forget about Erasmo Ramirez, the 21-year-old already in Seattle's bullpen. He could be a starting candidate as well, if needed.
Why did it take so long for Hisashi Iwakuma to make his debut? Was there an issue between him and Eric Wedge?
-- Eric W., Polson, Mont.
Iwakuma didn't pitch particularly well this spring and got hit extremely hard in his exhibition outing in Tokyo, so there might have been a lack of trust from Wedge initially. But I think the biggest issue with Iwakuma is that, as a former starter, he takes a long time to warm up, which we saw in Arizona when he came out of the bullpen a couple times.
In those situations, Iwakuma warmed up well in advance, knowing exactly when he'd be coming in. That's harder to do during the regular season, when the innings aren't planned. Even when he finally got in last week, Wedge initially brought in Ramirez mid-inning after Hector Noesi got into trouble, then had Iwakuma enter in the sixth inning so he had time to get ready.
With Chone Figgins' continued struggles at the plate this spring, how short will Wedge's leash be with him?
-- Jeff H., Manhattan, Kan.
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That will be an interesting question when Mike Carp returns from his injury rehab stint in Tacoma. Figgins started the season at third base, but moved primarily to left field after Carp sprained his shoulder in the opener. Kyle Seager moved in at third, and it's hard to imagine sitting him down as well as he's been hitting for a team that needs offense.
Carp, however, is struggling to find his own timing in Tacoma and was batting just .118 through his first nine games and just now is getting his arm healthy enough to play in the outfield. Franklin Gutierrez will further add to that logjam once he's ready to return, but he's probably still at least a month away.
So Figgins figures to get a little more time as the regular left fielder. After that, he'll likely be used more in a utility role in left, center and third base. Exactly how much time he'll get in that scenario will likely depend on whether he's shown any consistent production in the leadoff spot when that time arrives.
Why were the A's the home team in Japan? With Ichiro's stardom in Japan, wouldn't it have made more sense if the Mariners were the home team?
-- Lowell M., Walla Walla, Wash.
Strictly from a fan standpoint, the Mariners indeed received the large bulk of the crowd support in Tokyo for the two-game Opening Series. But the A's played as the home team because they were willing to give up two home games in Oakland later in the season. The Mariners will still play 81 games this year at Safeco, while the A's will have 79 at the Coliseum.
Is David Pauley still a free agent after being released by the Tigers? Are the Mariners looking at him?
-- Ed Q., Kalamazoo, Mich.
Pauley certainly pitched well for Seattle in relief last year before being sent to Detroit in the Doug Fister deal. But after being let go by the Tigers in March, he signed a Minor League deal with the Angels and is currently pitching for their Triple-A team in Salt Lake City. He's 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in nine innings over four appearances.
What is the status on Milton Bradley, and is he still under any obligations to the Mariners?
-- Nolan B., Kenmore, Wash.
Bradley's contract expired at the end of last season. He has not signed with any team, and it would appear his baseball career is probably done. Bradley's issues have been well documented, and in the end, it seems his on-field production just wasn't enough to make up for the problems. He's 34 years old, and he hit just .209 with 10 home runs and 42 RBIs in 101 games over his last two years in Seattle.
How is Felix Hernandez's brother doing and is he a legitimate prospect?
-- Reginald J., Renton, Wash.
Moises Hernandez has pitched very well in the early going this year for Double-A Jackson. He's yet to allow a run in seven innings of relief in four games. Realistically, he's not regarded as a big-time prospect. He's 6-foot-1 and 168 pounds, has had arm problems in the past and is 28 years old and still in Double-A.
But, hey, Hernandez is getting a shot in the Mariners' system, and Seattle has shown it'll promote relievers who produce no matter their background (see Steve Delabar, Tom Wilhelmsen, Lucas Luetge). So we'll keep an eye on The King's elder brother and see how he fares this year.