Mariners' leadoff position up for grabs

Mariners' leadoff position up for grabs

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon readily acknowledges that as things stand, Robinson Cano will hit in the three-spot in this year's lineup, with Corey Hart penciled in at cleanup. The team's new skipper likes Kyle Seager as a potential No. 2 hitter. But when it comes to leading things off?

"There are three or four guys [I'm thinking about] right now," McClendon said Wednesday. "We have to sort it out and see how everything shakes out. I'm not ready to reveal who those guys are."

Much depends on who winds up with starting jobs, of course. Brad Miller led off 67 games last season for Eric Wedge, but he is in a battle with Nick Franklin for the shortstop role, which McClendon described as wide open. Franklin started at leadoff once last year.

Endy Chavez (38 games), Michael Saunders (25), Dustin Ackley (6) and Abraham Almonte (2) all led off to start at various times last year and are competing for outfield jobs this spring, but those positions are far from settled. Other leadoff hitters used last year were Jason Bay (13) and Franklin Gutierrez (10), neither of whom are still with the team.

Seattle has not had a traditional leadoff-type hitter since the 2012 departure of Ichiro Suzuki and brought in little speed last season. The Mariners ranked 28th in stolen bases last year with 49, ahead of only the Cardinals (45) and McClendon's former Tigers club (35).

McClendon is not as concerned about stolen-base numbers as he is with being smart on the basepaths.

"We certainly have guys that should be able to steal bases," he said. "But one of my pet peeves and something I really believe in, you don't have to be a fast runner to be a good baserunner. That's one of the things we're trying to stress, being mentally prepared on the bases to do the right thing and anticipate different situations.

"When you talk about closing the gap and winning close games, baserunning does it more for you than any other aspect of the game. Going first to third, taking second on a ball in the dirt, going second to third on a ball in the dirt."

McClendon noted that Tigers star Miguel Cabrera is a very good, instinctive baserunner despite being a big man at 260 pounds. Thus, it is not only road runners who can win a game on the bases.

"I think it's anticipation," McClendon said. "I keep harping on this, and I want my guys to understand, when we talk about mental preparation, it's mental preparation on the basepaths as well. When you've got a guy on the mound that throws two-strike splits that bounce, then you ought to know that and anticipate. So when he does throw one, you're moving up. It's the little things that close the gap for you."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.