Once again, the opportunistic Dodgers get to play a last place team as they continue their onslaught on MLB baseball. This series got a much needed bump when the Dodgers made Cory Seager their number one pick in the just concluded MLB draft, since Cory's brother Kyle is the starting 3rd baseman for the Mariners. More on Kyle when we take a look at the position players.
Unlike the Dodgers the Mariners are playing about as expected. They are fighting the Oakland A's for either 3rd or 4th place, while the Rangers and Angels will battle it out for AL Western supremacy. This team does have some interesting parts and is not nearly as weak as other teams we have faced.
The record is only 26 - 33, but the pythag is 29 - 30. Attendance has been a bit of a struggle as they rank 11th in the AL. Two years from now when someone does this review it is very possible they will be talking about Felix Hernandez, Danny Hultzen, and Taijuan Walker. Maybe even James Paxton. They were ranked headed into this season as the 21st, 20th, and 52nd best prospects in baseball by Baseball America. I suspect if they redid it today, Hulzen would be a top 10.
One thing they have going for them with all the losing are the high draft picks and they seem to be doing a solid job with them and getting them to the majors quickly.
2009 - Dustin Ackley - 2nd overall pick is already the starting second baseman
2010 - Taijuan Walker - 43rd overall pick, he's only 19 and already in AA. Given his age and stuff many consider him to have a higher ceiling then Hultzen.
2011 - Danny Hultzen - 2nd overall pick, he might be the best pitcher in the minors right now, and hard to imagine a scenario where he's not with the big club by the All-Star game.
1st Base - Justin Smoak was supposed to anchor 1st base for years after being acquired from Texas in one of the many Cliff Lee deals. Smoak has yet to live up to his lofty prospect ranking (BA Number 13 in 2010) and looks more like James Loney then any Mariner fan wants to admit. The only American League first baseman doing worse offensively is the much ballyhooed Eric Hosmer. Is 1st base the new 3rd base when it comes to unfulfilled expectations? On the plus side, Smoak did hit six home runs in May but his overall triple stat line still sits at .229 / .288 / .390.
2nd Base - Dustin Ackley was supposed to move fast after being the2nd overall pick in 2009 and he did just that. The AL is full of great second baseman and right now Ackley is not ready to join them. He's been average, Mariner fans expected more. They may still get it.
SS - Brendan Ryan still appears to be the best defensive shortstop in the AL, but whatever runs he takes away with his glove can't possibly make up for the offensive black hole he's been most of his career. This year is particularly bad with a triple stat line of .164 / .265 / .252. I'm sorry to say that is not a misprint. Can you use a DH for the SS or does it have to be for the Pitcher?
3rd Base - In the winter of 2009 the Mariners gave Chone Figgins a 4/35 deal to be their 3rd baseman for the next four years. By April of 2010 they realized they had made a huge mistake. Thing is, Figgins 2010 season was not out of the blue. He had the exact same seasons for the Angels in 2006 and 2008. Hoping 2010 was out of his system he was still starting in 2011, but instead of bouncing back (Uribe Fans) he got worse. Much worse. So in desperation the Mariners turned to Kyle Seager who was drafted in the 3rd round of 2009. I think it is fair to say that headed into 2011 Kyle was not considered much of a prospect. Baseball HQ had him ranked 15th for Seattle and had this to say:
Comments: Fundamentally-sound infielder with natural swing mechanics and instincts for hitting. Led league in BA while putting bat to ball consistently. Can hit pitching from both sides - .371 against LHP - but has below average power and projection. Needs to continue to hit for BA to have any bat value. Makes routine plays at 2B, but doesn't have much range.
MLB Debut: 2012
So the Mariners handed the bat to Kyle because they had no other choice. Kyle did not set the world on fire but he hit enough in Aug that he was at least in the mix in 2012. Now firmly entrenched as the Mariner 3rd baseman he has done what the much more hyped prospects Smoak, Ackley, and even Montero have not done. He has hit and he has hit with power.
Catcher - At one time you could count on Miguel Olivo to at least hit some home runs to counter balance his low batting average / on base % but this year Miguel Olivo would be the worst offensive catcher in the AL if not for the putrid performance of Kurt Suzuki. Luckily for the Mariners they picked up John Jaso from the Ray's and he catches almost as much as Olivo and does a fine job offensively when he does.
DH - Jesus Montero was the result of a great challenge trade between the Mariners and Yankee's. The Yankee's got a pitcher at the time who many considered the best first year pitcher in the game and the Mariners got a slugging propsect who many considered the best offensive prospect in the game. So far the Yankee's got zip but surgery, while the Mariners have a meh hitter. Monterio also catches but mostly is a DH. He has hit but not enough. A .300 OBP with a .700 OPS might be okay for a catcher but he's a DH.
Left Field - Mike Carp opened the season in left field and got hurt. Casper Wells took over for a while then got hurt. So they had to use Chone Figgins who proved that bounce back doesn't always mean what you think it does. Mike Carp got healthy and is back in LF. None of this trio has hit, though Carp does have some serious power potential with 133 career minor league home runs.
Center Field- Franklin Gutierrez has missed the whole season so far so Michael Saunders has the gig. Saunders came up in 2009 at age 22 and was terrible. At 23 he got some at bats in 2010 and was terrible. In 2011 he was 24 and still terrible. His OPS in those three years was .537 / .662 / .424. If not for injuries I doubt he gets a fourth chance but when Mariner outfielders were falling like Alaska snow he got another/last chance. Surprise - he's doing just fine. Heck he's doing more than just fine, he's producing as much offensively as Curtis Granderson. Never give up, never surrendor.
Right Field - The face of the franchise for the last twelve years is but a shadow of his former great self. For those hoping that Ichiro's 2011 was an aberration, they may have to come to grips with the idea the 38 year old future HOF is now dead weight. I hope this is not true, I truly have enjoyed watching Ichiro play this game of American Baseball, yet the numbers say otherwise.
Starters - Right Hander Kevin Millwood goes in game one. Game two will be left hander Jason Vargas. Game three is undecided. It is possible but doubtful that Felix Hernandez toes the rubber for game three. Surprisingly Millwood has been solid. Jason Vargas has been a marvelous find by the Mariners when you consider what the cost was. Once a decent prospect with the Mets he was cast out of NY and found a home in Seattle in 2009 and has made 90 starts for them.
Bullpen - Brandon League lost the closer job a few weeks ago and it looks like hard throwing Tom Wilhelmsen has the gig. He has the stuff to keep the gig for a while. In June he has thrown five innings, seven k's and zero walks. He's basically a fastball (95) and curveball pitcher. Stephen Pryor hits around 97 and I guess has hit 100 MPH. He just came up in June giving the Mariners a trio of hard throwing righties at the back end of the pen since Brandon League also hits 95. During the winter many thought they Mariners had signed Hasashi Iwakuma to work in the rotation but so far he's been relegated to bullpen work. The lone lefty appears to be Charlie Furbush.
For Xeifrank, the scouting report on Mr.Pryor from Baseball HQ:
He throws a plus fastball and slider, and works around the strike zone, attributing to both missed bats and command issues. Lacks a dependable third pitch and does not throw the slider very often when behind in the count. Smooth mechanics will aide in improving control, and he certainly has the repertoire to be an effective late-inning reliever once he gets a little experience under his belt.