PEORIA, Ariz. -- As a former catcher, skipper Eric Wedge places great emphasis on the work done behind the plate. And two days into his third Spring Training with Seattle, he likes what he is seeing from his new group at that position.
Jesus Montero is expected to assume the starting role this season, but the club brought in Kelly Shoppach and is also high on young prospects Mike Zunino, John Hicks and Jesus Sucre. Ronny Paulino, a six-year Major League veteran, has still not arrived because of visa issues getting out of the Dominican Republic.
The Mariners have had some issues with passed balls and consistency behind the plate in recent years, but Wedge foresees improvement there.
"I think we have a different cast of characters now," he said. "When you talk about our catching crew, I look at the five in our camp now -- and we expect Paulino in another day or two -- you've got some guys that have some big league time and some young catchers that should play in the big leagues for a long time. It's a nice combination."
Wedge said Montero looks like he is running a little better after spending the offseason working on his speed in Venezuela, though he called it "a work in progress."
"He's still not in the shape I'd like him to be in," Wedge said. "But in regard to the footwork and some of the fundamentals of running, I feel like he's better in that sense. He's still a young player that is learning a great deal."
That goes for Zunino and Hicks as well, but Wedge said all the catchers have been solid in early work and nobody is sticking out or lagging behind, which he said is a good sign.
"They're all quality catchers," he said. "They're already big leaguers, or they're going to be big leaguers, in my eyes. To have that many quality catchers in camp says a great deal. ... We've said from Day 1 here we want to do it with pitching and defense, but truly it is pitching, catching and defense.
"And now we're in a better position behind the plate to have a little more versatility back there, having some younger players who'll be pushing some of these guys, giving Montero a chance and bringing in a proven veteran like Shoppach, who gets it and understands what it takes."