Prospect Insider: Seattle Mariners 2014 Player Preview
The Seattle Mariners announced their roster late last week and while there weren’t many surprises, there were some changes between this year and last, as we showed you right here.
We’ll make predictions about wins and losses later Sunday night, but here’s a quick rundown of each of the 25-man roster members, what to expect, what not to expect, obstacles, strengths, weaknesses and other things that come to mind.
INFIELDERS – Tyler Carmont
The most noted infield battle from Mariners’ camp this spring was who centered on the starting shortstop job. While few doubted Brad Miller would break camp with the everyday gig, management played things cool as rumors of a potential Nick Franklin trade circulated but did not come to fruition, yet. On the other side of the diamond at first base, the club will go with a combination of Logan Morrison and Justin Smoak and will likely let the hot hand play while managing match-ups.
Franklin will begin the year with Triple-A Tacoma where he’ll be joined by Jesus Montero who’s likely on his last shot to finally get it together. Prospects D.J. Peterson and Chris Taylor participated in Spring Training this year and could be knocking on the major league door as early as next season. Since Franklin will see the bulk of the playing time at shortstop for the Tacoma Rainiers, it’s likely Taylor will start the year with Double-A Jackson and could be promoted quickly.
The first baseman was the key piece Seattle acquired when they dealt Cliff Lee to the Texas Rangers in 2010, but has yet to develop into the hitter the Mariners were hoping for. The 27-year old now has four years of major league experience under his belt and in nearly 2,000 plate appearances he’s put together a .227/.314/.386 line. It’s starting to look like we’ve seen what we’re going to get with Smoak as his performance appears to have peaked.
He’s hit 39 home runs over the past two seasons, but that’s really been where all his value has come since he posted a -4.2 UZR rating in 2013 and other metrics regard him as a below average defender.
Acquired from the Miami Marlins this winter for pitcher Carter Capps, the Mariners helped fulfill their goal of adding as many first baseman/designated hitter types to their roster as possible. Jokes aside, there still is some upside to Morrison who’ll turn 27 this August. He’s coming off of knee surgery however, and the M’s don’t plan on using him in the outfield very much this year in an effort to keep him healthy. His four-year career has been spent with the Marlins where he’s produced a line of .249/.337/.427 including a 23 home run season in 2011.
The hope is that a change of scenery will re-energize LoMo, but right now he profiles similar to Smoak in terms of production in the upcoming year.
Robinson Cano is a Mariner. If that hasn’t sunk in for you yet, get there quick. Although he’s been criticized for going to the highest bidder and the Mariners criticized for handing out a record-setting deal, the second baseman seems excited to be a part of the Mariner family and ready to help turn the tide. There’s not much to be said about Cano that we all haven’t heard already; five time All-Star, five Silver Sluggers, two Gold Gloves. In nine season with the New York Yankees he’s produced a .309/.355/.504 line and has hit 25 plus home runs in the past five years straight.
Nothing less than Robbie being Robbie should be expected in 2014 as he begins Year 1 of his ten-year deal and it’s likely he’ll garner some serious MVP talk by season’s end.
The winner of the ‘shortstop battle’ is primed for a potential breakout year after a solid rookie campaign in 2013. Although 335 plate appearances is too small a sample to draw conclusions from, Miller has hit at every level in the minor leagues and needed only 26 games at Triple-A last year to get the call to the big leagues. The 25-year old appears to be slightly above average defensively, but UZR had him at a -0.2 rating through 561 innings last year. Again, conclusions shouldn’t be made from small sample sizes.
Miller projects for slightly under 4.0 fWAR in 2014 and if he’s able to get anywhere near that, it’ll be a big plus for the Mariners.
One of the better kept secrets in baseball, Seager has put together a pair of impressive seasons despite having some struggles in the second half of 2013. The 26-year old’s ascent to the majors was also relatively quick and it looks like he still has some room to grow before he reaches his ceiling. He’s been average defensively at the hot corner thus far and FanGraphs has given him a 5.3 career DEF rating. But if he can continue to put up 20 home runs and 90 runs batted in with a .260 average, he’ll have a case his share of All-Star games in the next several years.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Mariners pursue a long term extension next winter so long as he keeps up his impressive pace, which he has a great chance of doing.
It’ll be the second tour of duty for the utility man who rejoins the club that drafted him on a two-year free agent deal. Although he’s never been regarded for his bat, his .271/.320/.346 line isn’t the worst you could ask for from a reserve. Bloomquist has seen time at every position other than pitcher and catcher so far in his 12-year big league career. He’s expected to mostly backup Seager and Miller and third and short and it’s possible he may make a few appearances in the outfield as a defensive replacement.
The Bremerton, Wash. native can hold his own in the batter’s box, is as versatile as it gets, won’t hurt you on the base paths or with his glove, and can provide some leadership in the clubhouse. He’s exactly what you want from a reserve player.
OUTFIELDERS – Tyler Carmont
Outfield defence was a huge concern for the club after they watched a combination of Raul Ibanez, Jason Bay, and Michael Morse hit the field on a regular basis until the latter two were sent packing. Franklin Gutierrez was re-signed to a one-year major league deal with the hope that he was finally healthy, but his season came to an end before it could begin as his stomach issues returned and he elected to be shut down for the entire season in an attempt to get healthy. Aside from Corey Hart, who may not even play all that much in the field, Seattle made no other outside additions to their outfield staff.
Youngsters Travis Witherspoon and Gabriel Guerrero are still a ways from the majors and Abraham Almonte and Stefen Romero will both graduate from the top prospect list as they break camp with the team. The Mariners do have a pair of moderately useful veteran outfielders in Endy Chavez and Cole Gillespie stashed at Triple-A to start the year. Also likely to spend time at Triple-A are Julio Morban and James Jones who provide some additional outfield depth for the club.
The former second baseman had an excellent spring and drove the ball well for the whole month of March. Not that Spring Training statistics mean anything, but there’s reason to be hopeful that 2014 will be the year Ackley finally figures it out with the bat. Understandably, the transition from the infield to the outfield has probably played a role in his struggles at the plate, Dustin is entering the year as the everyday left fielder and now has 500 outfield innings under his belt.
He hit .253 in 427 plate appearances last year, but with a little confidence and some improved mechanics, maybe, just maybe, the Mariners will start seeing what they hoped for when they drafted Ackley second overall in the 2009 amateur draft.
A cameo last September and a solid spring have earned the youngster a spot on the Opening Day roster after the Mariners were unable to acquire an everyday outfielder this winter. After being acquired from the Yankees prior to the 2013 season in exchange for pitcher Shawn Kelley, Almonte jumped quickly from Double-A to Triple-A where he hit for a .314 average in 396 plate appearances before joining the big league club.
It’s unclear how often the 24-year old will play this year, although his ability to play center field will keep him in the lineup regularly. The club experimented with him in the leadoff spot for most of the spring, but it remains to be seen if he’ll hit there with any regularity once the games start counting again.
Hart was signed for the purpose of adding some right-handed pop to the lineup that was seriously lacking in 2013. A few weeks back the Mariners were hoping to be able to play him in right field as often as possible, but given his history and a rough spring, he’ll likely see most of his at bats from the designated hitter position for the first couple months of the year at least. The 32-year old missed the entire 2013 campaign after undergoing surgeries on both of his knees, but prior to that he had hit 20 or more home runs in five straight years. Seattle is hoping that’s the Hart that will return and provide a boost in the lineup behind Cano.
The key to Hart, he’s signed to a one-year deal with plenty of incentives, will be staying healthy and that may require minimizing his exposure in the outfield. There’s been very few questions as to whether or not he can hit.
Like Almonte, Romero managed to crack the Opening Day lineup after a strong showing in Spring Training. He’ll be making his major league debut when he takes his first steps towards the batter’s box after spending three years in the Mariners’ minor league system. In 411 appearances at Triple-A last year Almonte managed a .277/.331/.448 line possesses some of the right-hand power that Seattle covets. He’s technically breaking camp as the club’s fifth outfielder but depending on how much time Hart has to spend at DH, he could see regular at bats in right field.
Early projections aren’t terribly fond of the 25-year old, so we’ll have to wait and see what Romero is capable of at the big league level.
The Canadian born outfielder has been a staple in the Mariner outfield the last couple seasons. He tantalized fans in 2012 with his 19 home run and 21 stolen base campaign, but struggled often in 2013 and only managed 12 homers and 13 steals. Saunders will turn 28 this year so one has to begin to wonder whether or not he’s near his ceiling as a major league player. He’s been solid defensively in right field, but he’s found himself spending plenty of time in center due to a lack of alternatives and hasn’t produced quite as well.
While his bat doesn’t quite profile as a corner outfielder, he did manage 2.1 fWAR in 2012 so there is some upside here. He’ll have to find some consistency and raise his .224 career average in 2014 if he wants to stick around for a long time.
CATCHERS – Tyler Carmont
The Mariners were ready to officially hand over the starting catcher reigns to former top prospect Mike Zunino in 2014 after breaking into the big leagues in 2013. Many questioned whether or not Seattle called him up too soon last year after soaring through the minor leagues in one year’s time and it’s a fair concern. It’s likely he would have benefitted from a little more time in Tacoma, but he seems ready for his first full campaign in the big leagues.
Beyond backup John Buck, the Mariners have Jesus Sucre, a 25-year old with 8 games of major league experience, and Humberto Quintero, who failed to make the club as a non roster invitee and signed a minor league deal to remain with the organization.
As it was mentioned earlier, Zunino wasted no time getting to the major leagues after playing in just 115 minor league games after being drafted No. 3 overall in the 2012 amateur draft. He struggled in his first taste of MLB action however, hitting just .214 in 193 plate appearances. He should be better prepared for the season ahead however, and will likely see his overall performance improve. Still just 23-years old, Zunino looks like he’ll be a cornerstone in the Mariner lineup for years to come.
Expect improvements in 2014, but he’s still got some growing pains yet as he makes his way through the development process. For what it’s worth, new Mariner pitcher Chris Young spoke very highly of Zunino’s game calling after pitching to the catcher for the first time on Saturday.
Every young backstop needs a veteran partner and Seattle got a solid one with Buck. Signed for the 2014 campaign at a rate of $1 million, the 34-year is expected to play a couple days a week as Zunino finds his way in the majors. Since 2004 Buck has hit 11 or more home runs in all but two seasons and has been above average defensively while playing regularly with the Kansas City Royals, Toronto Blue Jays, Miami Marlins, and for a short stint last year, the Pittsburgh Pirates.
There aren’t many secrets to what Buck will bring to the table. Like Bloomquist, the backstop is your prototypical reserve who features above average defensive abilities and a little bit of pop in his bat. Buck should also be able to provide a calming veteran presence that can work wonders on the development of a young catcher like Zunino.
STARTING ROTATION – Jason A. Churchill
The starting staff has been the buzz since the club learned Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker were dealing with injuries that would prevent them from starting the season, and continued to be the narrative through spring training as the dominoes fell and landed on two surprising names to fill out the No. 4 and 5 spots. The aforementioned right-handers are well on their way to returning in late April or the first half of May.
Brandon Maurer is an arm to keep an eye on as the season progresses, but he has to get healthy first and the club’s ultimate starting five is actually pretty good, meaning Maurer, as well as other starters in Tacoma and Jackson that have 2014 big-league aspirations, may have to do so in another role.
Hernandez has learned to pitch with a 90-93 mph fastball — both the four-seam and two-seam versions live in this velocity range — and has begun to ditch the hard slider for more of the split-like changeup. The curveball remains a plus pitch in the low-80s and the change, while a mere 3-4 mph off the heater, has heavy sink and some fade and is a weapon versus both right-handed and left-handed hitters.
Hernandez, 28 in just over a week, still is in his prime and appears poised for another run at the Cy Young. With meaningful games in August and perhaps September, M’s fans could see a King Felix they’ve never seen before.
Ramirez with a 90-92 mph fastball that touches 95 on occasion, remains an arm that needs to command his fastball well on the corners to get through the lineup and not overuse his changeup, slider and curveball. Some question his durability due to his lack of ideal height, but Ramirez is sturdy in his lower half, repeats his delivery and throws strikes. The change is his best secondary offering, which induces ground balls, and his curveball is a pitch he could use more often to change the eye level of hitters and keep them off his fastball and slider.
In the end, Ramirez is likely a No. 4 starter capable of 180-190 innings. At times he’ll flash No. 2 starter ability, and others he’ll look like he belongs as a long man, though there are reasons to believe he’s capable of squeezing out some of the poor outings in favor of acceptable ones.
James Paxton, LHP
Paxton’s stuff is unquestionable; it’s 92-98 mph heat, a plus curveball that is more consistent now than it was a year ago, a developing cutter to offset the lack of movement on the four-seamer, and a changeup he’s able to throw with more command the more he throws it. The change is still below average — it lacks sink and movement — but if he can throw it near the strike zone to bait the hitter he could get them out on their front foots, which makes his fastball a devastating memory for batters to consider.
The delivery has been better since August of last year, but Paxton’s control and command remain a bit of a hurdle. He’s all of 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, and the levers are long, but he’s shown he can recognize, sometimes during a start or even an inning, when things aren’t right, allowing him to make the adjustment and battle through the tough frames.
Expecting more than 180 innings or so from Paxton is risky, and I suspect the M’s will take every opportunity to keep a heavy workload off the 25-year-old’s arm. Getting 26-28 starts out of him is probably ideal, depending on variables during each of those outings. There’s a decent chance he’s league average or better, but holding together the mechanics over the long haul is Paxton’s toughest test yet.
As Brendan Gawlowski wrote here, getting too juiced up as a result of the left-hander’s spring performance is a fool’s errand. There is, however, reason to believe he can hold down the fort, perhaps more. Contrary to reports, Elias does not pitch at 93-95 mph, and the breaking ball is not consistent nor “plus-plus” as one reporter tossed out on Twitter earlier this month, embarrassing themselves and the company that pays for that garbage analysis.
The difference between Elias in March, 2014, and the Elias that worked his way through Double-A Jackson in 2013 is nonexistent. He’s the same pitcher in terms of stuff and command, but now his confidence is flying high and his maturity level has taken a step forward at 25 year of age. If the club can get 5-6 innings per start until The Return the M’s should be ecstatic. And no, this isn’t the same situation fans saw a year ago with Maurer. Elias is much more likely to throw strikes, thanks to a better delivery and that confidence in his fastball command.
In the two starts I saw video of Young this spring — one in a Mariners uniform — I saw below-average fastball velocity, average command, an average slider and very few changeups, which is pretty much what he’s been the last several dozen outings of his career. He does pitch inside effectively, and his fastball does show some armside run. He stayed on top well in his start versus the Rockies, and was only squared up when he caught too much of the plate.
If he remains healthy, Young could be the prototypical placeholder in the No. 5 spot; the more innings he covers while keeping the team in the game the more valuable. It wouldn’t hurt if the club could luckily have a few of their better says at the plate with Young on the mound.
BULLPEN – Jason A. Churchill
The club went out and made sure they were one arm deeper by signing Fernando Rodney to a two-year deal, which essentially makes Danny Farquhar one of the better setup men in baseball — at least if he repeats his 2013 performance. The ‘pen remains balanced with not only two southpaws but with a difference in style, which can be important to a relief corps.
Rodney is a fastball-changeup guy while Farquhar is a fastball-cutter-slider type. Tom Wilhelmsen uses the big overhand curveball to go with mid-90s heat and Yoervis Media is the one true right-handed slider-dominant arm of the group. The two lefties are different, too, an the club’s long man, Hector Noesi, is a fastball-changeup pitcher. Yes, he tries to throw a slider, but it looks like a fastball with a touch of gloveside run and is one of the worst breaking balls you’ll ever see.
Carson Smith and Dom Leone will start the year in Triple-A Tacoma, but either would be an upgrade in certain spots and it’s likely you’ll see both at some point this season, anyway.
Rodney can be an adventure with his control problems, but his changeup is nasty and he generally sits 93-96 mph with his fastball, at times riding the 95-98 rail. As volatile a ‘closer’ as there is in the game at times, he has had long stints of consistency, too, and since he knows his role as he did in Tampa Bay, there’s at least a chance he returns to form, or somewhere near it.
The $14 million guaranteed was probably too much, but the M’s did need another option late and Rodney was one of the better options available. It will be fun for M’s fans when Rodney closes out a 2-1 game with a strikeout, looks to the skies with his ultra-cocked Mariners hat and shoots his invisible arrow into the heavens to say, ‘this one’s for you, pop.’
Farquhar added a permanent two-seam fastball to his arsenal over the offseason and wants to throw his changeup more, but he’s already set with a plus fastball up to 97 and one of the better cutters you’ll see. He also offers a curveball that can get swings and misses. He’s not tall — listed at 5-foot-9 — but he throws every pitch with purpose and isn’t afraid to bust a superstar in on his hands.
He has two strikeout pitches in the fastball and slider, and a contact-out pitch with the cutter. If the two-seamer and changeup give him consistent fourth and fifth pitches, he’ll be the ninth-inning option by July.
Medina’s stuff has always been solid, sitting 92-96 with his four-seam and two-seam fastballs, and a plus slider that can be an out pitch for him when he finishes out front well and is consistent with his arm speed. He has a changeup, but he doesn’t mess with it much in his role in relief.
Medina’s issues start and end with overall control. He will walk batters, and if hitters are patient with him he is prone to mistakes somewhere up in the zone. He outpitched his FIP a year ago by nearly a run, something that isn’t likely to occur again this season, but he can still be a valuable sixth-inning option.
Wilhelmsen should have been sent to Triple-A to continue working on his mechanics, rather than being exposed to big-league bats in April, and some really good ones that reside in Anaheim, Arlington and Oakland and litter the early-season schedule for the M’s. The curveball still shows tremendous and sharp break, but he’s still not commanding it the way he did very early in 2013 and late in 2012, and he’s having trouble getting to it because his fastball command is well below average.
The Bar Tender, as he’s called by some, shows the hitters his front side far too early, adding additional strain to his entire body — including the precious shoulder — and makes it extremely difficult to locate his pitches. He falls off to the first base side violently at times and more-than occasionally gives up the plane on his fastball for location on the inner half — not a good tradeoff, and not one he’d need to make if he were to iron out his mechanics.
You’ll see someof the good Wilhelmsen, but there’s serious doubt as to whether or not you’ll ever see the dominant version ever again, especially since it appears the club doesn’t see the significant issues with the delivery that a dumb goon like me can notice from a million miles away.
Furbush can be nearly unhittable when facing left-handed batters and he can ever find a way to finish stronger through his release he could stop hanging sliders and serving up long balls and simply become dominant in his own right. Like many southpaws, he has trouble getting in on right-handed hitters, but he will backdoor the slider and paint the edges to get ahead, making him far from just a situational arm.
Beimel hasn’t pitched regularly in the majors since 2010, but looked decent this spring, suggesting he hasn’t lost the stuff that made him a more-than serviceable left-on-left option. He’s throwing a lot of 85-86 mph sinkers now, as opposed to a below-average fastball in the 86-88 mph range, giving him a chance against righties, too, but he’s basically this year’s Oliver Perez — the second left-hander — without the durability to pitch a full inning four times in a week or cover multiple innings on a semi-regular basis.
Noesi can throw strikes and get a few outs, but should not be used in close games — ever. His command is well below-average and the breaking ball, as noted above, is useless and probably shouldn’t be thrown — ever. Once Stephen Pryor is ready to come off the disabled list and rejoin the big-league bullpen, Noesi should be designated for assignment and Wilhelmsen should cover this role with Pryor grabbing the innings in the sixth and seventh that Wilhelmsen will be charged with to start the season.
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