- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer
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PEORIA, Ariz. -- Barring a surprise in Seattle’s camp, Felix Hernandez has a pretty good idea who his running mates will be in the rotation. The depth chart includes Hisashi Iwakuma and Joe Saunders in the 2-3 spots, with Blake Beavan and Erasmo Ramirez the front-runners to pitch behind them.
But manager Eric Wedge and pitching coach Carl Willis have some intriguing pitchers to watch this spring. The list includes prospects Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Brandon Maurer, who won the Southern League's Outstanding Pitcher award at age 22, and a couple of veterans crafting comeback stories.
Jon Garland, who hasn't pitched since June 2011 because of a shoulder injury, signed a minor league deal with Seattle last week and is making a quick impression. And Jeremy Bonderman is looking to return to the big leagues for the first time since the 2010 season with Detroit.
Wedge remembers both pitchers from his previous managerial tenure with Cleveland, so he has a feel for what they can contribute if they put their injury issues behind them.
"They've both been very impressive," Wedge said. "It's early in camp, and we have to see how they stand the test of wear and tear and going out there and pitching on a regular basis. But they're both going to get good opportunities to make this ballclub."
Bonderman has faced a daunting run of bad luck in recent years. He dealt with shoulder problems, had a rib removed in 2008 to correct thoracic outlet compression syndrome, and missed the entire 2012 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in April.
Amid all the setbacks, Bonderman came to grips with the realization that he wasn't ready to quit. He weighs 220 pounds this spring -- about 25 pounds less than his former playing weight in Detroit. He's still only 30 years old, so time is on his side.
"You take a lot of stuff for granted," Bonderman said. "I made it to the big leagues when I was young, and I stuck. I worked hard, but I didn't eat right or go to bed on time. I was just young and having fun. There are a lot of things I wish I would have done different, but you live and learn."
Bonderman is a native of Kennewick, Wash., so it’s a fringe benefit that his comeback attempt should come with the home state team.
"I had options in other places," he said, "but this team felt like the best opportunity. They're young, they've got open spots and they weren't going to restrict me. They told me if I’m ready, I can do my own thing, and we'll go from there. We’ll see what happens."
Kotsay still plugging away
San Diego outfielder Mark Kotsay, selected by the Florida Marlins with the ninth overall pick in the 1996 draft, is about to begin his 17th season in the majors. Since 2007, Kotsay has played for the Athletics, Braves, Red Sox, White Sox, Brewers and Padres. He ranks 28th among active big leaguers (directly between Michael Young and Placido Polanco) with 1,810 career games played.
Kotsay's name pops up occasionally on the list of active players who might make good managers someday, but he's in no hurry to pursue the next chapter of his life. After signing a one-year contract extension with the Padres last summer, Kotsay plans to continue playing until someone pulls the jersey off his back.
"I still enjoy it," Kotsay said. "If you have a competitive nature, there's no other release for it. A golf game or a pickup basketball game doesn't do it. Then you have the camaraderie of being in the locker room with all the guys, getting to be a boy and be childish.
"I'm not rushing into anything. I'm going to try and do this as long as I'm able to and push off that second career. This is my 17th season. Even if I was to make it to 20, it's still a small window of your life."
Kotsay, 37, hit .259 in 143 at-bats with San Diego last season. The Padres have Carlos Quentin in left field, Cameron Maybin in center and a likely platoon arrangement of Will Venable and Chris Denorfia in right. Barring injury, Kotsay will be around to pinch hit, pinch run, play late-inning defense and mix in a start or so each week for manager Bud Black.