Last March, Matthew started a series called “Y2010M!” (standing for Your 2010 Mariners). It provided the reader with information on players from the 2010 Mariners. It seemed like a logical thing to do at the time. The Mariners were supposed to be good, and there was more optimism in Seattle than there had been in quite a while. This season didn’t work out though. Frankly, Y2010M’s suck. In fact, you probably don’t want to call them yours. I don’t want to call them mine. While next season will certainly be a little better, it can’t get much worse, it isn’t something that we should be extremely excited about. Playoff chances will be slim and the casual fan probably won’t enjoy watching as the young players progress next season. On the plus side, the Mariners could have about 3 legitimate candidates for Rookie of the Year. Because of that reason, I am led to 2012. The Mayan’s aren’t the only ones predicting big things that year. Unlike the Bavasi years, there is actually hope in the future now. Z has put good prospects in the system and the future looks much brighter than it did when he took over. Yes, I know the future doesn’t make the present any more bearable, but at least there’s some hope. So, lets take a way too early look at your 2012 Mariners.
The starting rotation is the place where we know the least about so I’ll start there. Obviously, you have Felix as your ace. I don’t need to say anything about him because he’s awesome and everyone should know it. Then, almost as certain, we have Mr. Pineda. Pineda is a top 3 prospect in the Mariners system and is a top 30 prospect in baseball. He is better than everyone in Seattle’s rotation right now, aside from Felix. No one’s a safe bet, but Pineda is about as close as they come. He is one of those rookie of the year candidates.
After Pineda, it gets a little blurry. There’s Vargas and Fister, who are very solid back of the rotation guys. I think Vargas stands a better chance to still be around in there just because he has better pitches. That’s not to say Fister isn’t capable. He could be a very good 5th starter. That leaves the 2nd, 3rd, and/or 4th spot in the rotation open (assuming Felix is the ace, Pineda is either the 2nd or 3rd starter, Vargas at 4th or 5th, and Fister maybe at the 5th spot). So, who will fill either one or two spots? I wouldn’t be surprised to see an innings eater (like a Kevin Millwood) added via free agency. But, there are several options in the system.
Ryan Rowland-Smith has been much better in Tacoma lately but I wouldn’t count on him. Same goes for Luke French. There’s Mauricio Robles, who has more upside than both of those guys but has a longer way to come. Robles was acquired in the Washburn trade and has the upside of a 3 starter. He’s a short little guy who throws pretty hard and is left-handed. He has high strikeout rates but also has high walk rates. If he can learn to control his stuff, I think he’ll be in the rotation at some point. If not, he may be moved to the bullpen. Nick Hill was once highly thought of but he’s struggled this year. There are also this years draftees but counting on the starters by 2012 isn’t a very good bet.
The 2012 rotation will depend on the emergence of Pineda and the ability to sign or trade for a veteran. If Pineda is as good as we think, the rotation could be quite good.
Now, this is where it starts to get fun! The current bullpen is absolutely terrible. Brandon League and David Aardsma are both pretty good. Not great, but pretty good. After that, there are no guys that I feel safe about. Whenever any of them come out of the bullpen, it’s scary (Jeff Sullivan sums it up pretty well here). But, help is on the way, my friends! And the help is good!
I think either League or Aardsma will still be here in 2012. I don’t think both of them will be here (I think one of them will be traded this off-season), and they both may be gone in time but a veteran in there would be nice to have. To be honest, they both might get pitched out of their spots though.
There’s two guys who could take over the closers role. The guy who I think has the inside track right now is Josh Lueke. He has had a legal problem in the past and it’s yet to be seen if that will keep him out of the big leagues (ownership may want it that way). It shouldn’t in my opinion, but that’s a different story. This guy is racking up ridiculous strikeout rates all over the minor leagues and is currently the closer in Tacoma. He has good control with his mid-nineties fastball and has a sharp slider. I’ve read a few comparisons to Jeff Nelson (most notably by Seattle Sports Insider). He has dominated every level he’s been at and I think he will continue to do so. He’ll be in the bullpen at the start of next year or this September.
Next comes Dan Cortes. He was a starter at the beginning of the year in West Tennessee but then was moved to the bullpen. Subsequently, he was promoted to Tacoma earlier this month and will be in Seattle either this September or out of spring training this year. This guy is hitting 100 mph on the radar gun regularly. He has a slider and change-up to go with it. Both Lueke and Cortes will be sent to the Arizona Fall League to continue to prepare for the big leagues. These guys are good.
There are others that are on their way but aren’t quite as exciting. Josh Fields has the stuff but still hasn’t quite put it all together. He’s in West Tennessee. Stephen Pryor has some pretty electric stuff also and has dominated the lower levels which he’s faced this year. I’d say Pryor probably starts in West Tennessee next year and moves up throughout the season. Here’s a little more on those 4 guys courtesy of Prospect Insider.
There’s also Anthony Vazquez who is a left-handed reliever. So, don’t think that we don’t have potential left-handed relievers around. Here’s a Pro Ball NW report on Vasquez. Edward Paredes is left-handed and has shown promise in Tacoma.
In other words, our bullpen’s future is extremely awesome. This is way too many words and I’m not that close to done…
This one should be much shorter because the plan is to have the outfield the exact same as it is now. Saunders in left, Guti in center, and Ichiro in right. There are a few problems that we have to deal with. Ichiro is getting older but you can’t really tell. I’m not worried about him 2 years from now. It’s the other 2 that I worry about. I like Guti as much as the next Mariner blog reader but, the guy hasn’t really hit in the last 3 months now. I think he can and will hit but if he doesn’t turn it around something may need to be done. Of course, he is the least of the problems right now and I still can’t think of many center fielder’s I’d rather have but we need to keep an eye on Guti. Please turn it around Franklin!
Michael Saunders is on a much shorter leash than his co-outfielders. He had a very good summer but has been plagued by a shoulder injury lately. That and unwarranted playing time to Tui have kept him out of the lineup. Saunders skill set fits Safeco pretty well and he could turn into something special. He’s great defensively and could end up hitting 20-25 home runs a season. He needs to be given a chance next season and if doesn’t work out, oh well. If it does work out than our outfield is awesome!
There’s Greg Halman on the farm. He may get some chances in the next year but he strikes out too much and is a long shot. Mike Wilson fits the same role.
Someone could be traded or signed in the next year but for now it’s Saunders-Guti-Ichiro. That’s pretty solid.
This is where it gets really awesome. Unfortunately, none of the potential awesomeness has proven itself but, again, that’s what next years for. The Mariners don’t have much in the infield right now. Kotchman will be gone after this year. Lopez will hopefully be gone after this year. The Wilsons may be in town for one more season but won’t be there in 2012. That leaves Figgins. I think Chone will be much better next year but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s traded at any point. I give him about a 40% chance to still be here in 2012. If he is he’ll be at third base.
First base will be held down by Justin Smoak. The prize of the Cliff Lee trade, Smoak is a switch hitter who could hit 30 home runs a year while hitting for a good average. He should be the kind of bat the Mariners needed this year. He did look a little lost in his first stint with the Mariners but we have to remember that he’s a rookie who’s been rushed through the minors. Smoak hasn’t been hitting for the highest average in Tacoma (currently .259) but has hit 8 homers in about a month and a half. He’ll be good. Smoak will be called up after the Rainiers finish their playoff run and may never see the minors again.
At second base there is Dustin Ackley! He is the top prospect in the system and, after a slow start, is showing why. Ackley has been hitting the ball like crazy this month. He has a pretty high contact rate and many people think he could develop 15-25 home run power. Dave Cameron wrote this nice piece on Ackley developing power. Ackley has a great K/BB ratio. It has slipped in recent months but that’s okay because he’s hitting more and it was impossible to keep up the pace he has. He’s still adjusting to life at second base but there’s no reason to think that he won’t make it there. He’ll be in the Arizona Fall League to hone his skills a little more. He will probably start the season with the M’s next year but if not he’ll be up by the all-star break.
Shortstop doesn’t have a guy who’s as close to ready as Ackley or Smoak but the position does have a guy who is a top 3 prospect in the system: Nick Franklin. This guy was drafted last year and is a switch-hitting shortstop. He’s tearing up Clinton (middle A ball) this year. Franklin was seen as a defense first type player but has come on with his bat. He was seen as more of a contact hitter when he was first drafted but has over 20 homers and 20 doubles this year. Nick also has over 20 stolen bases to boot. He’s the only player in the system to go over 20 in all 3 of those categories. He’s starting to get a buzz around him. Prospect Insider had this great piece on him the other day, stating that he could make it to the bigs as early as next year. Seattle Sports Insider also had this post on him recently. I think he’ll be the starting shortstop in 2012. There’s also Marcus Littlewood who was the Mariners second round pick this year. We don’t have any information on him yet and 2012 might be a little soon for his target date but we’ll see. He could also be moved to 3rd depending on how Franklin does.
Third base has a few options. None of the options are as good as the other 3 infield positions but they’re somewhat interesting. There’s Chone Figgins who would probably be just fine. If he isn’t traded this is where he’ll play. There’s Matt Mangini, who is having a great year in Tacoma (.348/.504/.851). His breakout year came after a few down years so it’s yet to be seen if this is just a fluke. He may be given some chances in the near future. His defense has been questioned by just about everyone and it doesn’t sound good but it’s better than some (Matt Tuiasosopo, I’m talking to you). He’s a left-handed hitter who has some pop. There’s Alex Liddi, who is Matthew’s favorite prospect. The Italian is generally considered the best 3rd base prospect in the system. Liddi has a .341/.471/.812 line in West Tennessee this year which isn’t great but is strong. I’m not as high on him as some people (Matthew) are but he has a pretty bright future and he’s only 21. It’s not a stretch to see him starting here.
At catcher there’s Adam Moore. That’s it. They could sign or trade for someone, which I think is a likely route unless Moore turns it on. Adam is capable of it. He isn’t Rob Johnson, so that’s good.
Wow, that was a few too many words and thanks for sticking with me if you made it this far. To summarize, the infield and the bullpen have a ton of promise while the outfield may not have a higher ceiling but is already proven. It will be interesting to see how the rotation develops in the next year. There is a ton of talent on the way and it should be fun to see how it shapes up. If it shapes up perfectly, we could become a very talented team.
Thanks for reading!