The Prospect Logjam

The Seattle Mariners are in the midst of a current hot streak.  They have won 10 of 15 and have moved to a ‘not-so embarrassing’ 18-20 record.  Our hometown nine are just one game out of second place in a mediocre division.  No, they probably won’t challenge for a title but they aren’t nearly as bad as they were three weeks ago.  Yet, when you bring them up with a fan who has some knowledge about the team, the conversation usually turns to the young players and the prospects down on the farm.  This isn’t just because Raul Ibanez isn’t someone to talk about.  It’s because these younger players (the core, if you will) are worth talking about.  Jack Z has made some questionable moves but he has turned the farm system from the worst in baseball (when he inherited it) to one of the best in baseball.

Now, people are worried about where this core will play.  There are three shortstops in the Mariners’ farm system whom most Mariner fans would rather have with the team than Robert Andino.  Robert Andino is bad at baseball.  All of these players have questions about their defense.  Nick Franklin doesn’t have range.  Carlos Triunfel lacks consistency.  Brad Miller made more errors last season than I did in my first two years of little league (he has since improved).  All of these guys could probably play second pretty effectively but you already have an above-average glove there in Dustin Ackley.  Ackley isn’t hitting very well right now but the organization will not, and should not give up on him.  I haven’t even mentioned Stefen Romero, who is a right-handed slugger who can cover second, third, or left field.  Franklin and Triunfel could probably play some third but most of their experience is at second and short.  Plus, you have Kyle Seager there who is good with the glove and is the best hitter on the Mariners.  Oh, did I mention Seager can play second?  Wait, what about Mike Zunino?  The catcher of the future who is in triple-A learning how to hit a breaking ball.  While he’s not knocking on the door as loudly as Franklin, Zunino will be getting time in the majors next season, if not before.  Wait!  Where does that leave Jesus Montero, the bat-first catcher who hasn’t played as well as we’d all like but is still only 22 and has enough raw strength to entrance the casual baseball watcher.  Confused yet?  Here, this is an easier way to look at it..

Second Base:
Dustin Ackley (In the majors, also played outfield and first in college)
Nick Franklin (AAA, can also play shortstop)
Carlos Triunfel (AAA, can also play shortstop)
Kyle Seager (In the majors, everyday starter at third)
Stefen Romero (AAA, can also play third and LF

Shortstop:
(Currently manned by Robert Andino and Brendan Ryan in the majors.  Ryan may stick around for a while but if Andino doesn’t hit he could be gone by the end of this coming road-trip)
Nick Franklin (AAA)
Carlos Triunfel (AAA)
Brad Miller (AA, may be able to play second or third.  Mostly groomed as a shortstop though)

Third:
Kyle Seager (Majors)
Stefen Romero (AAA)

Catcher:
(Currently manned by Jesus Montero and, for some reason, Kelly Shoppach in a 50/50 split of playing time)
Jesus Montero (Majors, can also play SS… Just kidding)
Mike Zunino (AAA)
John Hicks (AA, although he’s still a ways off)

In case you weren’t doing the math, that’s 9 players for 4 positions (although Hicks is a bit of a stretch).  All of these players, besides Hicks, will probably see the majors by the end of next year.  Everyone but Miller will probably see it long before then.  Even a beaver wouldn’t know what to do with this many logs.

I have two disclaimers, then a solution.

First disclaimer:  Carlos Triunfel probably isn’t a Major League starter.  He could develop into one but at this point I don’t see him more than a good utility guy.  I have no doubt that if the Mariners called him up tomorrow he’d be more effective than Andino.  In fact, he’d be the first person I’d call up out of all the young guys to fill that exact role, but I don’t think the answer is to start him at shortstop.  Give him a few games a week at short.  Once in a while at second, but I don’t think he will be an everyday starter in the long run (although at this point, anyone would hit better than the Mariners shortstop tandem).

Second disclaimer:  Not all of these guys will work out.  If there is anything the past few years should have taught you, as a Mariner fan, it’s that prospects aren’t always going to work out.  Yes, Nick Franklin has an OPS over 1.000 in Tacoma right now.  I’m as excited about that as anyone but that doesn’t mean he’s going to be an all-star. Prospects always flop.  The Mariners will be doing well if 6 of these guys work out as average or above-average major league players.  All nine will not work out.  I repeat, all nine will not work out.

The solution:  Baseball works on many old precedents that were once set, but don’t need to be there.  One of those precedents is that a player needs a set position.  Sure, every now and then you’ll get a Ben Zobrist who can play everywhere and do it well but that’s not common through the course of baseball history.  Utility guys are usually made to be utility guys because they can’t hit, not because they are good at defense.  But, Jack Z has put together a farm system full of Zobrist’s (some may be better hitters, some might be worse).  There are a group full of players who will soon be Mariners that have positional flexibility, the organization needs to take advantage of this instead of letting it hinder them.

Maybe Stefen Romero plays left field and spells Ackley and Seager at second and third from time to time.  Maybe Franklin plays short but also covers second while Ackley plays a day in left when the M’s want to get more lefties in the lineup.

The notion exists that players are more comfortable with a set position.  I get that and if that’s actually true then leave them there.  If Ackley says that he would be best sticking at second then leave him there, no questions asked.  But, wouldn’t it make sense that switching positions every few days would keep a young guy more focused? Maybe I’m taking crazy pills but that idea doesn’t seem far off to me.  The Mariners have Franklin, Triunfel, and Romero in AAA who are used to switching positions quite often.  Take advantage of it.

Sure, it’s a little frustrating that all of the Mariners good hitting prospects tend to play the same position.  We could really use a guy in center, right or first.  But, organizational depth isn’t a problem, it’s how you make a good team.  The Mariners will soon have a chance to use a group of really good prospects.  I say that they make this happen however they can.

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