Mariners top prospect Taijuan Walker calls Hot Stove

PEORIA, Ariz. -- After reporting to camp with a sore right arm, Taijuan Walker has received clearance to throw his first bullpen session on Monday. And the Mariners' top pitching prospect can't wait, which is part of the reason he was delayed in the first place.

Walker threw so much in preparation for camp that he arrived with some tenderness in his shoulder.

"It was just a little soreness, but I'm fine. I'm ready to go," Walker said Sunday. "I think I started a little early. I wanted to try to get a head start, but that's not going to happen."

The hard-throwing 21-year-old threw on flat ground Sunday and is expected to take the mound Monday, as is ace Felix Hernandez. All the other pitchers in camp have already thrown at least one bullpen session, but Hernandez typically starts a little slower.

Now Walker is on the same slightly delayed schedule, which certainly is no problem as far as getting ready for game action. The Mariners' biggest challenge may be holding Walker back, so he paces himself this spring.

"He's probably a little frustrated, because he's like a bull in a china shop," manager Lloyd McClendon said of the youngster's delayed start. "But he's fine. He's doing well."

The Mariners first Cactus League game is Feb. 27, and the regular season begins March 31. Thus Walker has six full weeks to make his case to be included in the rotation. And he knows exactly what he needs to work on.

"My biggest focus this spring is my offspeed pitches," he said. "I want to come out of spring with my offspeed ready to go. Last year in Double-A, it took me a couple weeks to get my offspeed stuff back, so hopefully I can come right out of spring with all my pitches ready to go.

"I think my curveball will be the biggest thing for me. My cutter, I feel already really comfortable with, and my changeup is OK."

Deal done, Smoak can focus on baseball

Outlook: Smoak needs to raise average to find at-bats

PEORIA, Ariz. -- With his contract situation clarified by Saturday's agreement on a one-year deal, Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak said he's eager to turn his attention to baseball, as position players are scheduled to report on Monday.

Smoak avoided a Wednesday arbitration hearing by agreeing on the $2.63 million deal, which also contains a vesting option for 2015 at $3.65 million. If Smoak accumulates 525 plate appearances this season, the $3.65 million will be guaranteed for the following year. If not, the Mariners have the choice of keeping him for that amount or giving him a $150,000 buyout and letting him return to the arbitration process.

"I'm excited to get it done," Smoak said Sunday. "I can look forward to baseball and get everything taken care of now and get ready to go. We've got a great team, and I'm excited for what the season is going to bring."

As for the option year, which is somewhat unusual for a player in an arbitration-eligible situation, "It's something we were excited about," he said. "It's good for both sides. I just need to go out and play and do what I'm capable of doing and good things will happen."

Among those is earning regular playing time, which is something of a question now that the Mariners have acquired Corey Hart and Logan Morrison, who can both play first base as well. But Smoak said he's not concerned about that.

"I feel like it's somewhat my job to lose, and I'm excited to get this thing going," he said. "It's always good to have more bats. Losing guys like [Kendrys] Morales and [Raul] Ibanez, it's good to add a couple more."

Smoak hit a career-best 20 home runs last year, but had only 50 RBIs while hitting .238. He expects more from himself and so do the Mariners.

"I'm just getting to know him," said new manager Lloyd McClendon. "One of the things we'll try to impress upon him this spring is to be a good hitter, not a home run hitter. What that entails is using the whole field, driving balls to the gaps, be a good two-strike hitter. And when they make a mistake, you hit it out of the ballpark.

"But if your mindset is to go up there thinking, 'I have to hit a home run,' then you're not going to be much of a hitter. There's a lot of attention there, and he continues to improve and get better, but we've got to push those RBIs up, and he's got to be a more productive hitter."

With first base crowded, Hart will see time in outfield

Hart on adjusting to new city, joining promising team

PEORIA, Ariz. -- With Corey Hart and Logan Morrison both coming off knee injuries, the question of how much outfield play each might get figures to loom throughout Spring Training as the Mariners sort out their options.

Both are also capable of playing first base and serving as the designated hitter. But Justin Smoak is also in the mix at first, so there figures to be competition there as well as in the outfield.

"I'm going to be very cautious and bring them along very slowly," manager Lloyd McClendon said Sunday. "Both of these guys are very talented, coming off injuries. Ideally, you'd like to see them get some time in the outfield as well as first base. But their health is going to dictate a lot of that.

"They're both healthy, and I want to keep it that way, so we're going to move real slow in that process. But you'll see them out there this spring. I would say Hart more than Morrison. Morrison will be a little more first base and DH."

McClendon said the playing time issue "will sort itself out," and indicated he'll likely rotate at designated hitter in order to play the best matchups and to keep players fresh. But first base could be interesting with Morrison and Smoak competing for time and Hart also an option.

"One thing I know, the manager doesn't make out the lineup," McClendon said. "If you go out and go 3-for-4 and hit a home run and drive in four runs, somehow your name is in the lineup the next day. Your performance on the field will dictate what the lineup is. I'd be a fool not to put the guys out there that I think will give me the best opportunity to win on a daily basis.

"This is one of the messages I said to my club. This is a result-oriented business. This is not about development at this level, it's about winning games. And we have to win games. You want to be developed, we'll send you back to the Minor Leagues and you can do all the developing you want to do."

Worth noting

• Infielder Nick Franklin arrived at camp Sunday, leaving Robinson Cano, Abraham Almonte and Carlos Triunfel as the only 40-man roster position players who are absent. Several non-roster invitees have also not yet arrived, including outfielders Endy Chavez and Burt Reynolds.

Position players are scheduled to report Monday and the first full-squad workout is Tuesday.

• Veteran right-handed reliever Ramon Ramirez, a non-roster invitee, is also not in camp yet due to ongoing visa problems.

• New closer Fernando Rodney threw his first bullpen session on Sunday and looked strong as he worked with catcher Mike Zunino. Fifteen pitchers threw bullpens, with some making their second showings of the spring, including veteran Randy Wolf, as he comes back from Tommy John surgery that has sidelined him since 2012.

• One new aspect of workouts in the McClendon regime is music playing on the speakers during batting practice and drills. The music isn't particularly loud, but serves as a nice background on long mornings in the sun.

"We did that in Detroit," McClendon said. "It just livens things up. Hey, I don't want to be out there bored, either. I can dance a little bit. Not a lot. Look, this is a player's game. I told our video guy, get a couple songs from each guy. Nothing lewd or obnoxious, mix it, put it out there, whether it's country, rap, R&B or whatever it is. And let them have fun with it. And they seem to enjoy it and practices are picking up a little."