The ballplayers are reporting to Spring Training on both coasts, and baseball is finally back after a snowy winter. The M’s have quite a different looking team from the one that ended 2018.
Gone are All Stars like Robbie Cano, Jean Segura, Eddie Diaz, and James Paxton. It’s always sad to see great players go, but it’s also always exciting to embark on a new season, especially with a half new cast of characters to follow for the year.
Join me in counting down my most anticipated events of the 2019 campaign!
5. Rebounds from Hometown Heroes
Okay, so old fan favorites Kyle Seager and Felix Hernandez, and newcomer Dee Gordon had down years in 2018; but that doesn’t mean they can’t bounce back this year. Seager has a career .258 Batting Average and a .325 On-base Percentage, so it’s not unreasonable to assume 2018’s line of .221 and .273 were mere hiccups in his solid career.
Felix’s fastball may not have the zip it used to, but he’s still got the breaking pitches that mix up opposing batters. Gordon is a former batting champion and two years removed from hitting .308, so it’s not like he forgot how to hit overnight.
Baseball is a game of adjustments, and with some more patience at the plate, he could return to the form of an All Star caliber leadoff hitter soon enough.
4. T-Mobile Park
Get ready for some pink days at the ballpark! It’s always nice for the stadium to get a fresh coat of paint so to speak, and that’s what the old Safeco is getting.
It’s also a nice change back to a business with local roots. Safeco Insurance now belongs to the Boston parent corporation Liberty Mutual, so it was only fitting to give the yard a new name that reflected a local company with a nearby headquarters in Bellevue.
3. New Faces
Exciting new players will roam the field for the M’s in 2019, like All Star Edwin Encarnacion at First and Designated Hitter. Along with Domingo Santana and Jay Bruce in the outfield, one of them is sure to knock it out of the park on any given day.
And that doesn’t even get into the plethora of extraordinary talent the team will have in their minor league system. Trading away stars like Cano and Paxton netted the team Jerred Kelenic and Justus Sheffield, who are now two of the best prospects in the franchise.
They’re so good, they might be knocking on the door of the big league club sooner rather than later. But if you want to get an up close look for a good price, head on down to Tacoma to check them out on the Rainiers club at Cheney Stadium.
2. Tokyo Series
The M’s will open the 2019 season in Tokyo, as they had the opportunity to in 2012. This year they’ll have the pleasure of including future Hall of Famer Ichiro on the roster, so this series on March 20-21 is a can’t miss event.
Just be ready to stay up late, since the games will start at 6:30pm Tokyo time, which is 11:30pm here in the Pacific Northwest! But it’ll be worth it, especially since it’ll be our first regular season glimpse of…
1. Kikuchi Mania!
Once again, Seattle is ground zero for the next big Japanese import from the Nippon Professional Baseball League, as Yusei Kikuchi arrives to become the new ace for the M’s.
Unlike 2018’s rookie sensation, Shohei Ohtani, who the Angels won over the M’s, Kikuchi is on Mariner’s roster this year, and signed him for a four-year deal! He may not be a pitcher and hitter like Ohtani, but he’s sure to be a real eye opener with every appearance on the mound.
Plus, his first start will be in his native grounds in Japan, so it makes that series even more tantalizing to watch.