Seattle Mariners

‘It’s kind of like National League baseball.’ As roster shifts, Mariners getting most out of versatility

When the Seattle Mariners wrapped up spring training in March, they dubbed rookie Dylan Moore as the super utility player who would fill in defensive gaps as needed. He has, appearing at least once in every position but catcher for the Mariners in 76 games.

As the season has progressed and injuries have forced Seattle’s roster to take on new forms, Moore isn’t the only player who has been moving around the field. In this first week of August, the Mariners are carrying three versatile players on the active roster — including Moore, Austin Nola and Ryan Court — and several more who almost fit into the utility mold at this point.

Of the 24 position players the Mariners have used this season, only eight of them have appeared at a single defensive position. The other 16 have played at least two, and seven players have appeared in three or more spots on defense.

“Actually, it’s kind of cool,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said recently. “You get a chance to kind of be creative in how you want to move the guys around. What you’re trying to do — even though those guys can play a lot of different positions — (is to find out) where are they most comfortable? Where are they most effective at? What is their top position? What is their second-best position?

“What do we need the most as a team, and then trying to direct guys, ‘Hey, get your work in over here,’ or, ‘You might be playing here in the next couple of days.’ You’re constantly looking out ahead, based on keeping guys fresh, getting them all some playing time, getting them some starts and (figuring out) where they may land.”

Moore, Nola and Court are the players on the active roster most easily moved around at this point. (Career utility player Kristopher Negron also fit into this category for Seattle before he was traded to the Dodgers last week.)

Moore played significant innings at each of the infield positions during his four seasons in the minors, and some outfield, which he’s carried over to this first season with Seattle. He’s also pitched, but never caught at any level professionally.

Nola converted himself from a middle infielder to a catcher three years ago to boost his versatility, and can play any of the four infield positions. He’s also played some outfield since joining the Mariners.

“I’m enjoying getting to play all over the place,” he said recently.

Court, who has been playing professional baseball since 2011, has also done just about everything in nine seasons — including making his first career appearance in right field for the Mariners during the last homestand. He’s also played some left field and first base for Seattle, despite being primarily an infielder during his career.

“I think the skill that we all have to play different positions helps us out in creating a lineup that can win ballgames,” Moore said recently.

Though by necessity with more than 20 players spending stints on the injured list this season, Seattle’s roster flexibility has extended beyond true utility players.

Tim Beckham has gone from the starting shortstop during the first two months of the season to an infielder-outfielder hybrid who has appeared at first, second, third and recently in left field.

Mallex Smith has appeared in all three outfield positions this season, and recently moved to right field with the addition of Keon Broxton, who has taken over the center field role. Domingo Santana has played left and right, and Mitch Haniger has played right and center.

Tom Murphy is primarily Seattle’s backup catcher, but even he’s pitched three times in blowout games, and appeared in left field, while everyday catcher Omar Narvaez has turned up at second base once.

“As our roster has shifted, the versatility has gone up, which allows us to do some different things with the lineup,” Servais said earlier in the season.

There are some defensive pieces, specifically around the infield, that won’t move, of course. Dee Gordon has only appeared at second base this season, J.P. Crawford’s has only played shortstop, Kyle Seager has stayed at his normal home at third base and Daniel Vogelbach exclusively plays first when he’s not the designated hitter.

But many of the others on the active roster can pop up in different places, and they get a good amount of pregame reps around the field to prepare.

“If there’s a substitution made, a pinch runner, and you go back into the game, you can’t tie the manager’s hands where you can only do one thing,” Mariners infield coach Perry Hill said. “We do all four (infield) positions with those (utility) guys so Scott’s hands are free to make any move when he wants to make it.

“It’s kind of like National League baseball.”

Lauren Smith covers the Seattle Mariners for The News Tribune. She previously covered high school sports at TNT and The Olympian, beginning in 2015. She is a graduate of the University of Washington and Emerald Ridge High School.