With the Cactus League season starting Saturday, the Mariners are about to see how their new power plays in game situations.
Oh, not the lineup — although newcomers Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura, obtained from Arizona in a November trade, are expected to add sock to an attack that ranked third last year among American League clubs in runs scored.
It is rather a higher octane bullpen mix that should draw increased scrutiny this spring as the Mariners work through a 36-game Cactus League schedule, which begins at 12:10 p.m. against San Diego at Peoria Stadium.
“You always get excited about power,” manager Scott Servais said. “I think we saw last year that our bullpen didn’t have a ton of power, but we did a great job of getting them out. And we actually struck them out.”
Some of those guys are back — Nick Vincent (9.7 strikeouts per nine innings) and Steve Cishek (10.7), although Cishek remains on a go-slow plan while recovering from offseason hip surgery and might not be ready until mid-April.
Even so, Servais’ point holds: The relief corps didn’t have much power when last season opened.
Only right-hander Tony Zych pushed the needle beyond the low-90s but, by early May, he was on the disabled list due to rotator-cuff problems. (He underwent surgery and is now trying to pitch his way back into contention for a roster spot.)
The Mariners actually began goosing their bullpen MPH last season by promoting two power righties from Double-A: Edwin Diaz in early June, and Dan Altavilla in late August. Diaz spent the final two months as the club’s closer.
General manager Jerry Dipoto then added power arms through offseason trades for right-hander Shae Simmons (98.3 mph) and lefty James Pazos (97.9). The Mariners also signed free-agent righty Casey Fien (95.6).
Pazos, Simmons and Fien are each tentatively slotted to pitch one inning Saturday against the Padres.
“We feel like the combination of veterans with experience and young upside in the bullpen is particularly intriguing,” Dipoto said, “with a lot of hard throwers and a lot of bat-missers.”
The Mariners now not only have power but flexible power.
Altavilla, Simmons, Zych and Pazos all have options remaining. (So does Diaz, but he’s not going anywhere.) Fien is on a split contract, which means he can be sent to the minors.
Pazos also provides the Mariners with additional flexibility regarding lefty Ariel Miranda (95.5), who currently projects to shift to the bullpen after finishing last season in the rotation.
“A guy (like Pazos) who throws that hard — (people ask) ‘why isn’t he in the big leagues?’ ” Servais said. “Well, he probably has a problem making adjustments.
“And for him, it’s been command. Getting the ball in the strike zone and landing a secondary pitch. He’s aware of that. He’s got to make adjustments a little bit quicker.”
Pazos, 25, delivered a mixed bag over the last two seasons in brief big-league tours for the New York Yankees: no runs over five innings in 11 games in 2015; but five runs and seven hits last season in 3 1/3 innings over seven outings.
He had a 1.79 ERA in 44 Triple-A appearances over the last two years — and that’s the guy the Mariners are hoping emerges.
If that happens, Pazos would be a viable option as the bullpen’s second lefty, alongside veteran Marc Rzepczynski, which would permit the Mariners, if they choose, to send Miranda to Triple-A Tacoma as a starting pitcher.
Pulling Miranda out of the bullpen would create a need for a reliever with multi-inning capability, but Altavilla could fill that role. He was a starting pitcher before converting last season to the bullpen.
“I’m curious to see these guys get into games,” Servais said. “You’ve got to be cautious when just watching a live BP or a bullpen. I think there’s more than just a couple who have a chance to make it and have some real impact for us.”
The Mariners climbed to 23rd in the annual minor-league talent rankings released Friday by Baseball America. They were 28th a year ago and haven’t been higher than 24th since ranking second prior to the 2013 season.
“General manager Jerry Dipoto has been as busy as any front-office executive,” the magazine noted, “turning over much of the team’s 40-man roster and using prospects acquired under the previous administration, such as 2014 first-rounder Alex Jackson, as trade pieces.”
Baseball America identified outfielder Brayan Hernandez as the organization’s “high-ceiling sleeper” and right-handed reliever Thyago Vieira as its “breakout candidate.”
Atlanta tops the rankings, followed by the New York Yankees, Houston, Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox. Miami ranks 30th, just ahead of the Los Angeles Angels and Arizona.