Jason A. Churchill

PEORIA, Ariz. — (1090 The Fan) The more Chris Taylor and Brad Miller play, the more it’s clear both belong on the Opening Day roster. Monday, Miller went yard twice playing shortstop. Tuesday at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick against the Colorado Rockies, Miller collected two more hits, including a laser double to right-center, playing second base. Taylor continues to impress at the plate, too, including several solid plate appearances this week. Getting both on the 25-man roster for the April 6 opener is tricky, but it shouldn’t be.

First, let’s put out the fire that is the concern that anything but full-time duty for Taylor and Miller each is bad for their development. There are stages in a player’s development when half the plate appearances in the big leagues is better than everyday time in Triple-A. Both Taylor and Miller are at that point in their growth. Both will destroy Pacific Coast League pitching but will be robbed of the chance to get better by facing major league quality stuff. Sending either to Tacoma is a waste of what they bring to the table — even without any assumption of marked improvement versus a year ago — and hurts the club and the player. Both are better than the alternative, and really it’s not close.

Now, getting the club to make the right choice… not easy. Willie Bloomquist is the casualty in this scenario. He’s guaranteed $3 million this season, the finale of a two-year pact. He’s versatile, I guess. Bloomquist, 37, has experience at second base, shortstop and third base, plus the outfield. He’s probably a better baserunner than Miller or Taylor, but any advantage is marginal at best. His outfield experience is irrelevant since the Mariners have five outfielders all but guaranteed to make the roster in Austin Jackson, Seth Smith, Justin Ruggiano, Dustin Ackley and Rickie Weeks. Bloomquist never has been a viable option at shortstop, outside of the quick stint in a pinch. He’s playable at second base, but again brings no advantage over Miller and Taylor. He’s the most experienced option at third base behind Kyle Seager, but Seager is likely to play in 150 games, leaving all of about a dozen games Lloyd McClendon needs another player — plus, Miller can handle third base when Seager sits.

Taylor is a far superior defender at shortstop than is Bloomquist — and he has an edge over Miller, too — is a fine baserunner, handles the bat and brings more punch to the box. Miller has at least a small edge over Bloomquist defensively, runs well and wisely and thanks to plus extra-base pop is light years beyond Bloomquist.

Money is what this comes down to, apparently, and I get it, to an extent. I get that the Mariners don’t simply want to place $3 million on a sandwich and eat it at midnight. But this isn’t your older brother’s Mariners, and the front office and management should act as if. Housing Bloomquist because he has $3 million attached — to which the club will never, ever admit; they’ll say it’s his versatility, speed, experience, grit, et al — is a mistake, simply because he doesn’t make them better than keeping both Miller and Taylor does.

Because the Mariners do not need their No. 5 starter until April 15, game No. 9 of the season at the Los Angeles Dodgers, the club could keep an extra position player and keep all three players. To do so, the M’s would be passing on the chance to do two things; one, further spread out the starts of their first four starting pitchers; and two, carry an extra relief pitcher for the first week and a half, which can be especially beneficial early in the year when the weather is cold and arms aren’t as stretched out as they ultimately will be.

On the surface this is a tough decision… for anyone not watching these players on the field this month. Either eat the money or eat most of it and trade Bloomquist in order to field the best roster possible in 2015. It’s a season that could end up quite special. It will be a tough road as it’s a difficult, long season. No need to make it any more difficult by producing less than the best roster available.

Bad Ackley vs. Better Ackley
Ackley had three hits Tuesday but again displayed the worst of his poor hitting mechanics. Last summer Ackley made a few subtle but significant adjustments. His swing itself is fine. He has terrific hand-eye coordination and plenty of bat speed. Everything else is a problem.

Below you can see a typical Ackley plate appearance in terms of mechanics. At the point of release, all is well. He’s still tucked in on his front side, hasn’t leaked out or started his stride early. His hands, head and eyes are in good starting spot.

AckatRel

He remains in a good spot when the ball reaches decision time — when the batter has to decide whether or not to swing, where to swing, when to swing, when to get out of the way, etc. — and when the ball reaches zero moment — when the batter has to have made the decision or it’s too late one way or the other. Below, however, you can see what happens when Ackley’s decision was “swing.”

Ack2

At all points, depicted by the arrows, Ackley has opened up, feet, knees, hips, midsection, shoulders, head and eyes, and because it’s impossible not to bring them with, the hands, too, which is the most critical part of it all, along with head and eyes which allows the hands to see the baseball through contact. What opening up hard like that does is commit to a pitch middle-in or even in off the plate. If the pitch indeed is middle-in or in off the plate, Ackley probably hits it and hits it fairly hard. But this pitch, like in many, many other situations for Ackley, is headed for the outer half of the plate, perhaps even on or just off the corner. Instead of driving the ball off the barrel, Ackley fouls it off weakly out of play. It’s a pitch that should be driven to left field, left-center, center or even right-center field, but Ackley’s mechanics allow only for a foul (or swing and miss, of course) or a hard hit ball if the pitch is left in Ackley’s zone — middle-in.

When he was rolling last summer, Ackley had cut down this early-open and gave himself a chance on the outer quarter of the plate. I believe he also crept an inch or two closer to the plate, something I’d advise doing again, as in, move even closer to the plate in addition to last summer’s adjustment. He has the ability to get to the fastball inside corner because he has plus bat speed and hand-eye, and it gets him closer to the outside corner, in theory allowing him better plate coverage.

Ackley also collapses his back leg, which robs him of some power on many pitches. You can see the back leg in the picture above. When the knee is bent at such a steep angle the leg loses strength. Physically, with proper mechanics, Ackley should be a 20-homer bat, maybe more. He’s got little chance to get even close with these mechanics. Hopefully this is just bad habits coming back to bite him, and as I wrote Monday, maybe a film session or two with Howard Johnson helps him find the right formula this month.

The former No. 2 pick is in danger of not-hitting his way out of Seattle after 2015, if not during the season. The team is in win-mode and cannot afford to wait for him to come around, anymore. If he’s struggling at the All-Star break and the club has a chance to trade for a left-field upgrade, they have to do so. They may need to pull the trigger even if Ackley is having a decent season. His only chance to remain is for Better Ackley to win out over Bad Ackley, and turn into Really Good Ackley. And he’s running out of time.

– Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan

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