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."
Prospect Capps brings early heat in camp
PEORIA, Ariz. -- As Spring Training begins and pitchers begin throwing their first bullpen sessions, pitching coaches invariably warn their players to pace themselves and not get too carried away in their initial outings.
But seconds after Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis issued the "pace yourself" command as his last group of hurlers stepped onto the mounds for a 10-minute outing Wednesday, right-handed reliever Carter Capps reared back and fired a fastball that sizzled through the air and exploded into the mitt of catcher Kelly Shoppach.
There was no radar gun in the practice area at the Peoria Sports Complex, but no measurement was needed to know Capps was throwing gas. The lanky 22-year-old threw consistently in the 100-mph range last year after a midseason callup by the Mariners, and he did not appear to have lost anything over his offseason in North Carolina.
"For me, I'm just trying to make the team," Capps said. "As far as I'm concerned, I'm going out there every day trying to win a job. I don't pace myself at all. As far as you can, I'm ready to go. I want to win. That's what I'm trying to do right now. Even in the spring, I want to win every race. I don't take anything off."
Capps wasn't in Major League camp last year and admits there is some difference being under the watchful eye of Mariners coaches and front-office staff, as well as some media and fans in the Peoria complex.
But performing in 18 games with the Mariners last year while posting a 3.96 ERA in 25 innings of work helped prepare Capps, the team's No. 7 prospect, for this stage.
"When you pitch in the big leagues you've got way more eyes and pressure on you," he said. "It's not really that for me. It's just a matter of getting into competition shape and baseball shape. That's all I'm trying to focus on. But, yeah, it's obviously a little different when there are people there. It's usually just quiet with a couple coaches around you with the Minor League guys. So you can tell. But it's a blast."
Manager Eric Wedge took notice of Capps' effort but said he was not worried about having to dial the youngster back or warn him of the long haul ahead.
"He got Shoppach's attention early on, I'll tell you," Wedge said with a smile. "But that's who he is. He's a big, strong kid who throws hard. You look at effort. As long as you don't see guys trying to do too much, that's where we have to pay attention. We've got a lot of eyes on these young pitchers out there, and we have the conversations you have to have with these guys and make sure they stay where they need to stay."
Felix, position players to report Friday
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Felix Hernandez was given Thursday off from camp as he flew back to Arizona from the Wednesday press conference in Seattle announcing his seven-year, $175 million contract extension.
But Hernandez will be on the field Friday, manager Eric Wedge said, as the Mariners finish up the pitchers and catchers portion of Spring Training.
All position players are to report and take physicals Friday, and the first full-squad workout will be Saturday. Most of the position players were already in camp, with Franklin Gutierrez, Michael Morse, Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay among the final arrivals Thursday.
Most of the younger position players -- like Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager, Justin Smoak, Michael Saunders, Casper Wells, Eric Thames, Alex Liddi and Carlos Peguero -- have been working out informally all week, along with veteran shortstop Brendan Ryan.
The only veteran position players not seen by mid-afternoon Thursday were newly acquired infielders Kendrys Morales and Robert Andino, though they're expected in time for Friday's physicals.
Two non-roster invitees -- catcher Ronny Paulino and right-handed reliever Jhonny Nunez -- missed their second straight day of pitchers and catchers work, as both are having visa issues getting out of the Dominican Republic.
• Left-hander Charlie Furbush and right-hander Hector Noesi agreed to contracts for the upcoming season Wednesday, leaving 10 players on the 40-man roster yet to have signed for 2013. All 10 players are in the 0-3 year category, meaning they will be paid close to the minimum MLB salary range.
• All contracts must be renewed by March 11. Still to be signed are pitchers Capps, Bobby LaFromboise, Brandon Maurer, Stephen Pryor, Erasmo Ramirez and Tom Wilhelmsen; catcher Montero; infielders Alex Liddi and Carlos Triunfel; and outfielder Michael Saunders.
• The second half of the pitching staff threw its first 10-minute bullpen sessions Thursday, including top young prospects Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Maurer. Also throwing were starting candidates Erasmo Ramirez, Joe Saunders and Hisashi Iwakuma, as well as relievers Charlie Furbush, Josh Kinney, Stephen Pryor, Lucas Luetge, Yoervis Medina, Wilhelmsen, Capps and LaFromboise.
• The other 15 pitchers in camp will throw their second bullpen sessions Friday, followed again by the second group Saturday.