It’s summer in Seattle and the Mariners are in the middle of another depressing season. I actually think they have the pieces to turn it around and finish near the .500 range, if their luck would ever turn. I’m also starting to think this might be one of those years where nothing goes right. Regardless, when the offense is this bad, they’re hard to watch.
So once again, I find myself paying more attention to the Mariners’ minor leaguers, the one place where the outlook for Jack Zduriencik’s Mariners is always hopeful. Betweens call-ups, promotions and the draft, a lot has happened lately.
Franklin, Zunino to Seattle
This is old news now, but there’s a little data that’s worth discussing. Franklin has been quite solid. He’s at .277/.362/.494, which would be pretty phenomenal if he could maintain it. His defense looks prettier than Dustin Ackley’s but isn’t as consistently reliable, at least to my eyes. Zunino is showing some of the expected struggles with the bat, hitting below .200 with corresponding power and on-base numbers. His power is consistently apparent, but he’s not quite squaring up the ball well enough to get it out. I don’t see anything that makes me worried for his future, although I wonder how long they’d let him struggle before they’d send him down. His defense is excellent, and I imagine it will keep him in Seattle for quite some time. While it’s far too early to say definitively, both look like line-up regulars for years to come.
Ackley, Others to Return Soon?
Since going down to Tacoma, Dustin Ackley has been hitting around .400, with OBA and Slugging % around .500. He’s done everything they could ask, including spending most of his time in the outfield. That isn’t necessarily a permanent move, but it gives him an avenue back to Seattle for this season. Rumors are he’s working on some mechanical fixes, including shortening his stride. True or not, I’d expect to see him back around the all-star break, if not sooner.
A couple of other Rainiers are likely to see Seattle soon, as well. Erasmo Ramirez should be the first, possibly as soon as five days from now, depending on how Aaron Harang pitches tonight. Erasmo would have started the year in the Seattle rotation if not for injury, and a few Tacoma starts have shown him ready to go, as soon as the Mariners decide who to clear out of the rotation. If he’s on and fully recovered, Erasmo is immediately the third best Seattle starter and would provide a huge lift. In the bullpen, Josh Kinney is also potentially close to making his season debut. He had been excellent in his Tacoma rehab until his last outing. I would bet he’ll see Seattle soon, given their significant bullpen issues. Danny Hultzen is also on the verge of rejoining Tacoma from an injury. If he can return to the form he showed to begin the year, he’d be a candidate to see Seattle by August or so.
Franklin Gutierrez might also be close to a return, although that poses some issues, given his extreme unreliability. Seattle could really use one outfielder, with Morse or Bay as candidates for the DL, or even to be cut in Bay’s case. If they call up both Ackley and Guti, however, that means probably dropping Endy Chavez. Chavez is nothing special, but he’s been solid. Given the probability of another Guti injury, I’m not even sure which one I’d rather have. Add in that Ackley is no guarantee to hit, and that’s a lot of questions.
Minor League Promotions
Taijuan Walker, potential ace and top remaining M’s prospect in the minors, was just promoted to Tacoma. After some early troubles with walks, he’s dominated AA and was more than ready for AAA. He makes his first start on Tuesday. SS Brad Miller got the call a few weeks ago and has been unstoppable. If it weren’t for questionable defense, I bet he’d already be in Seattle. As it is, I would not be surprised if he were called up any day. 40-man roster issues are making some of the next obvious moves a little tricky, but they’ll happen sooner or later. Miller might be below average with the glove to start, but his bat should make up for it. He’s somewhat similar to Nick Franklin, or even Kyle Seager. He makes great contact and gets on base, with surprising power, although it’ll likely be mainly in the form of doubles to start. He bats lefty, which is a nice thing to have at shortstop.
Also in the minors, the short-season leagues have started up. The M’s have two SS teams, one back east in Pulaski and the local team in Everett. Pulaski, the lower level of the two, just started and has a lot of the Mariners’ recent high school picks. 3B Joe DeCarlo is one I’ll be watching closely. Even more interesting is huge lefty Luiz Gohara, who just made his first professional start at the mature age of 16 years old. A Brazilian, Gohara gets compared to CC Sabathia and generates buzz as the next big thing from everyone who sees him pitch. A lot can happen with a guy so young, but if he can avoid injury and improve like people hope, he could be something special soon.
Everett is an interesting team, but mostly because of the 2013 draft picks, whom I’ll talk about below. Of the returners, there are some high upside international guys and rent draftees who have yet to do much professionally. The Mariners haven’t gotten much from their recent international signees, except for some pitchers, so hopefully we’ll see progress from those in Everett.
The Mariners have signed all but one of their first 13 selections. The one remaining, Oregon State SS Tyler Smith, should sign any day, now that the Beavers have been eliminated from the college world series. I’m not sure what to make of this draft, but it could potentially be quite good. With less money to play with, the Mariners went after a few guys with big potential and then supplemented them with low-ceiling college seniors who could be signed for cheap. This is a common strategy, but the Mariners didn’t have to use it last year since they had the third overall pick and it’s big slot value. (The baseball draft is weird. If you’re confused and want an explanation, leave a note in the comments and I’ll happily tell you more.)
I’ve talked about the first two picks before. First rounder DJ Peterson is a an advanced college bat in the Edgar, Billy Butler mode: great eye, contact ability, great power more likely to deliver 50 doubles than 40 homers. He’s playing 3B in Everett, might end up at 1B, and I love him. Stanford OF Austin Wilson just signed for way above slot and is also in Everett. He’s huge and a phenomenal athlete, but his production, especially in the power department, has not been what anyone would expect or hope. If they can get him straightened out to where his production matches his talent, this might be the pick of the draft. Unfortunately, there are lots of those picks every year and usually they don’t work. Still the Mariners seem to love him. They structured their entire draft to be able to sign him and were rumored to be interested in him in the first round. I trust them, but I’ll be a little skeptical until he starts to show consistent power. Either way, he’s an extremely interesting prospect, and might be the top outfielder in the M’s minor leagues immediately.
Of note from the later rounds: high school outfielders Tyler O’Neill (Rd. 3) and Corey Simpson (Rd. 6) have big power. O’Neill in particular is interesting, as a Canadian (they sometimes develop later) who played catcher and SS in high school but will reportedly move to OF. I don’t expect either of them to move quickly. We’ll maybe see them in Everett next year, would be my guess. The rest of the draft is a mix of college pitchers and shortstops, with a few interesting preps and long-shots in the later rounds. The hope would be for that group to give a couple of dependable back of rotation starters or role players, a difference making reliever or two, and a surprise impact player. That, and if two of Peterson, Wilson, O’Neill and Simpson turn into above-average starters, would be an excellent draft.
We won’t know how any of this goes for a while, and if you’re hoping for immediate help, don’t. At best, we’ll see Peterson in Seattle in a year or two, Wilson a year or two after that, and everyone else in another year or two (or longer), if at at all. Overall, though, the Mariners’ system continues to churn out interesting players. One day they’ll hopefully make the big league club a winner.