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Rookies, veterans compete for rotation slots

The SportsXchange

The age-old debate of age is alive and well at Seattle Mariners camp, where the organization is hoping that a few established veterans can show enough to delay another youth movement.

The most obvious area of impact is in the rotation. While Seattle is excited about the future of high-end prospects Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, it may be in the team's best interest to give each of them a little more seasoning. That's a big reason why vets like Jeremy Bonderman, Joe Saunders and Jon Garland are around vying for starting jobs.

Two of the three veterans could make the Opening Day rotation, although it's conceivable that Hultzen, Walker or Paxton could work his way into serious consideration with a solid spring.

Both Hultzen and Walker were quoted during the first week of spring training as saying that they hope to make the season-opening rotation. Hultzen appeared well on track as he buzzed through the minors, but he struggled at Class AAA Tacoma to close out the 2012 season.

"It was a good learning experience," said Hultzen, who struck out two of the three batters he faced in a scoreless inning of work in his spring training debut.

Walker, a 20-year-old right-hander, gave up one hit in an inning of work in his spring training debut as a non-roster invitee. More important, he hit 97 mph on his fastball while dropping in a 78 mph curve.

The opportunity for a spot became even greater when Hector Noesi struggled through two-thirds of an inning in his first start of the spring. If Noesi can't find a groove, he'd be out of the rotation -- leaving an opening for one of the veterans or rookies.

Bonderman, Saunders and Garland are all hoping to restart their careers in Seattle, and it appears to be a good spot for a veteran looking for innings. After ace Felix Hernandez, the Mariners have very little settled in their rotation and are open to any pitcher who shines in spring training.

The best-case scenario would be for one or two of the new veterans to hold down spots until the young trio of prospects is ready. But it will be up to Bonderman, Saunders and/or Garland to prove to the Mariners that the future shouldn't begin quite yet. Bonderman and Garland are both coming off major injuries that kept them off the mound last season, while Saunders had his own shoulder problems down the stretch in 2012.

All three have a lot to prove this spring, but the Mariners are hoping at least one of them does enough to warrant a roster spot.

Then again, depending on how the spring goes, a young pitcher such as Hultzen, Walker, Paxton or 23-year-old Brandon Maurer could prove too talented for the Mariners to wait on his arrival.
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