The Mariners could use some roster upgrades, but no less important is the need for several of their current players to improve. In some cases — youngsters Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak are prime examples — a physical adjustment could be what it takes. Seattle skipper Eric Wedge addressed the subject during this month’s winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn.
David Laurila: In your press conference, you said Justin Smoak made some mechanical changes this year. What were they?
Eric Wedge: He lowered his hands a little bit and did a better job of finishing his swing. He put himself in a better position to see the baseball, which is half the battle. He did a lot of work — a lot of tweaking — and it paid off for him.
DL: What goes into the decision to make mechanical adjustments?
EW: You have to work off what you see and make educated decisions. It’s a combination of film and what you see [in live action]. You have to communicate with the player and the coaches, and when everybody feels the time is right to do something, you do it. What you don’t want is to do it too early.
DL: Is there a relationship between mechanics and approach?
EW: The approach is more of the intangible. It’s a mindset; it’s your game plan as you head up to home plate. The tangible side of it is the physical and fundamental side — the hands, the swing, the lower-half — and it all works together.
When you talk about a young player starting to figure it out, there are a lot of things he has to master. That’s what [Smoak] has been battling with, and I think he’s just about to get over that hump.
DL: Are there times you want both the mechanics and approach to change?
EW: Yes, and he’s one of them, but sometimes it’s just one or the other. Sometimes a guy has a nice swing, but mentally he’s not doing what he needs to do in regard to his approach, his game plan or his discipline in sticking with that game plan. There’s a lot going on and that’s why it’s so tough to hit. Ultimately, you need everything working together.
DL: Has Dustin Ackley made any mechanical changes?
EW: Ackley is going to need to make some. He also had some physical issues with his ankle, and that’s going to help him along this year. From an approach standpoint, getting a better feel for the big-league strike zone is going help him. He has great barrel-of-the-bat-to-the-ball, so he’s going to be a good hitter. He understands [the need for adjustments] and I think we’ll see that this year.
DL: What about adjustments at the catcher position, specifically what Jesus Montero and John Jaso can do to improve behind the plate?
EW: Montero and Jaso came so far last year, and we want them to continue. They need to keep doing their work in the wintertime and try to make sure it pays off when we get into the season. They’re very different players, very different body types.
The defensive side is obviously very challenging when it comes to catching, without a doubt. But those guys have to hit, too. Every position is different, so from a mechanical standpoint, every position is its own story. And all catchers are different. There are certain tried-and-trues you have to work to, but they’re all different in certain ways.
DL: What about adjustments with pitchers and arm angles?
EW: Ideally, you want to work off the natural arm slot, but every pitcher is different. From a physical standpoint — a fundamental standpoint — you have to work within that. They get to you at a certain point, you work off what you see, and you make whatever adjustments you feel you have to make. It’s what you see, how they perform, and you have to communicate with them. A lot goes into having a player make an adjustment.