Tag Archives: Mike Zunino

Mariners Begin Season, Let’s Review!

At the start of the baseball season I had this idea to write a recap of each series the Mariners played.  Then the season started and I got busy, tired, sleepy, or lazy.  So now here we are, 12 games into the season and I think it’s time to recap what happened so far.  If I do that then I could maybe do a series recap starting Thursday!  Probably not, but maybe.  I’ll keep you on your toes.

For now, I’m going to give you a very short series recap of the 4 series the Mariners have completed and then take a closer look at the lineup.  Let’s get started!

March 31-April 2:  Three game sweep of the Angels!

What a way to start the season.  I hate the Angels so it was nice to pummel them.  The offense battled against some pretty good starting pitching and then destroyed a pedestrian bullpen.  The pitching was very good all series.  The closest game of the series was an 8-3 victory.
Star of the Series:  Justin Smoak – Smoak came up big all series long.  He hit a big dinger in the first game and rocketed a bases clearing double off of CJ Wilson in the second game.
Goat of the Series:  No one – I searched through the box scores.  There was no one to pick.  Every single position player got on base and no pitcher had some crazy meltdown.

Ted S. Warren

Ted S. Warren

April 3-April 6:  1-2 in a 3 game series against the A’s

The A’s seem to be pretty even with the Mariners, actually probably a little better.  This was a strange series.  Erasmo threw a clunker.  Elias was screwed over by the worst umpiring I’ve ever seen.  Felix threw a gem.  The Oakland grounds crew did something ridiculous and a game was postponed.  The series was annoying and really weird.  The offense was able to squeak out 8 runs over the 3 games.  The A’s pitching is really good and the offense hasn’t figured them out yet.
Star of the Series:  Felix Hernandez – I think Felix is the right choice here.  He threw a fantastic game and got the Mariners their only win of the series.
Goat of the Series:  Hector Noesi – Noesi threw 2 pitches and gave up a walk off homer.  It was as predictable as things could get.  He’s now gone.  Other goats considered were Sean Barber, Oakland grounds crew, and Coco Crisp (he really was terrible for the Mariners).

April 8-9:  1-1 in a 2 game series against the Angels.

The season opener was electric.  Paxton recovered from a rocky first inning and threw a great game before coming out with an injury.  Hart had his best game of the season to date, homering twice.  The next game was ugly, as the Mariners were shut out by Garret Richardson.  Roenis Elias threw well but not well enough to overcome the offense being shut out.  That’s pretty much impossible to overcome.
Star of the Series:  Corey Hart – He didn’t do much on Wednesday (although he did get on base) but his two dingers won the game on Tuesday.
Goat of the Series:  Dustin Ackley – Ackley didn’t record a hit in this series.  A small blemish in an otherwise very good year to date.

April 11-13:  1-2 in a 3 game series against the A’s

It sure is annoying playing the A’s all the time.  Each game against them feels like a struggle.  It really is.  They don’t make many mistakes and their pitching is so good that you just have to scratch out some runs.  Friday night was an extremely fun baseball game.  Saturday and Sunday the Mariners scored a total of 1 run.  Thankfully, the Mariners don’t play the A’s very many more times before September.
Star of the Series:  Dustin Ackley and Felix Hernandez – After the performance that Felix put up on Friday, I have to include him.  Ackley went 5 for 8 in the series with 2 doubles and quickly bounced back from his lackluster series against the Angels.
Goat of the Series:  Justin Smoak – Smoak didn’t get a hit all weekend, even though he did hit some balls hard on Friday.

That left the Mariners with a 6-5 record after 11 games.  They won tonight (7-5) and I think anyone would have taken a 7-5 record to start the season.

Some thoughts on individual players after the jump.   Continue reading

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2014 AL West Team

To be quite honest, creating a “Preseason All AL West Team” is a futile exercise.  If you are looking for an MLB season preview, full of sound analysis and predictions, this isn’t it.  But I’m a visual learner, and there is some value in seeing where the power is in the division, position by position.  Of course this isn’t an exact science, no predictions are, and only 2 players are selected per position, so you have a guy like Kyle Seager, the M’s second best position player, not making this list thanks to Beltre and Donaldson.   So ya, take this for what it is.  A quick snapshot of the division headed into 2014.  Although I should point out, by forecasting who has the most 1st and 2nd teamers, I correctly guessed the order of finish in the division last year!

My selection process looks at last year’s performance as well as projections for the upcoming season, and anticipated playing time. Some of the picks are obvious and others are less obvious, so of course I’d love to hear your thoughts too.

2014 AL West Team

Taking the visualization one step further, here’s a super scientific bar graph intended to show the separation between teams, by awarding 2 points for a 1st team selection, and 1 point for a 2nd team selection.

2014 AL West Graph

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by | March 15, 2014 · 9:05 pm

Rebuilding the Mariners: A New Attitude

My sixth grade baseball team was a juggernaut.  We had been solid all through little league, always near the top of the league.  Now, in our final season of “major league” ball before heading to the world of middle school baseball, we had matured into a talented and powerful group.  With the added benefit of getting to play weak fifth grade teams, we were ready for a special year.

We opened with the traditional jamboree, where each team plays a couple of innings before rotating to a new opponent.  To start the season, our lead-off hitter, Ryan Cullier, stepped to the plate.  A sturdy first baseman with a good eye and a smooth lefty swing, Ryan immediately put a fastball over the fence and off a car, and we immediately knew this was our year. Continue reading

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Mariners Minor League & Draft Notes

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. Continue reading

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Catchers

Given a bit of time, everything develops its own mythology.  Baseball is one of the best examples of this.  There’s Babe Ruth calling his shot, and Jackie Robinson stealing home, and “the luckiest man on the face of the earth,” and so much more. The mythology is always there, as deep as one wants to look, and it only makes the game richer and more fascinating.

Part of the mythology is the archetypes ingrained in the game. I’ve written before about the importance of shortstops, but that’s only one example. Centerfield might be the most legendary position on the diamond, and I think it’s solely because most seats face toward the centerfielder, and we look out there and see him running down everything near him, going over the fence and deep into gaps, all long strides and grace.  Because it’s most demanding position, it draws the most talented players, and so the mythology becomes self-perpetuating.  We have Mickey Mantle and Joe Dimaggio and Willie Mays and Ken Griffey Jr.  We have songs about it. Everyone wants to play centerfield.

Shortstop and center field are identified with grace, but that doesn’t fit for catchers.  Catchers are some combination of bulldog and point guard.  They’re a coach on the field, the dependable captain who hoists it all on his shoulders.  A catcher is someone for all others to follow.  He’s an ambassador to the umpire, a counselor to pitchers, and a slugger in the batter’s box.  He’s a font of wisdom, like Yogi Berra.  Often, he’s the best player on the field, like Johnny Bench, but he always get a little less credit than he deserves, because he spends his life squatting down instead of racing into the gaps. We close our eyes and we can see the perfect catcher.

There’s always debate over whether teams, to be successful, need players who fill these traditional roles. Teams try to play a bad glove shortstop for his big bat, or they put a left fielder in center, or a guy know one respects at catcher.  Sometimes it works.  Usually it doesn’t.  We have the images in our head for a reason, and it’s because they are successful.  Even if that’s not the case, we can say teams and players need to get over the mumbo-jumbo of it all, but that’s not going to happen.  The mythology has become reality, whether it deserves to be or not.

The Mariners have not had a catcher who came close to fitting the traditional catcher archetype since Dan Wilson.  Miguel Olivo had the toughness, but he was sufficiently undependable and untalented to prevent him from filling the role.  Kenji Johjima had a couple of great seasons with the bat, but language and culture issues kept him from ever being the leader everyone would like.

I never understood how Rob Johnson kept a job.  He couldn’t catch and he was a terrible hitter, but somehow he started a lot of games over a few seasons.  A lot of that was a lack of better options, but not completely.  A few years ago I went to Mariners Fanfest, and we sat down to listen to a Q & A session with a handful of players, Rob Johnson among them.  It became clear within minutes why he was the Mariners catcher.  He controlled the moment and was obviously well-liked by his teammates.  He had a sense of command and confidence that was exactly what we want from a catcher.  Johnson didn’t have enough skill to supplement his presence. Ultimately, production wins out, but that he held the job as long as he did says a ton about what teams want from their catchers.

In the first inning of his first game, Mike Zunino stood up for a pop fly and threw off his mask, and it was clear at that instant that he is a Catcher, the kind you dream about.  He didn’t even make the play.  The camera cut away from him almost as soon as his mask was off, but by some combination of his eyes and the sureness of his movements, his control of the game was obvious.  He looks like a catcher, tall and solid but still athletic-looking.  You see him move and think, oh, this is what the scouts see, this is why he was the third pick in the draft.  There is a stillness and confidence to his movements that makes obvious what Jesus Montero was missing.

This is not a guarantee that Zunino will be a success.  Remember Rob Johnson.  He will have to hit, and his first at-bat exhibited the questionable strike zone judgement about which so many have fretted.  He has plenty of time to work on that, though, and fans can rest easy knowing that he already has those intangibles the Mariners have lacked for years.  Maybe finally having a real catcher will be the first step to making the Mariners a real baseball team.

-Matthew

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Mike Zunino in Seattle: It’s Fine!

The Mariners called up top catching prospect Mike Zunino today, just over a year after he was drafted third overall out of the University of Florida.  Known for his leadership, defense and power, Zunino hit like Babe Ruth when he started his professional career in Low-A Everett last summer.  That earned him a late season promotion to Double-A, where he took a step down to Lou Gehrig production levels.  Already high expectations elevated to the point that fans were wondering if he would make the Mariners out of spring training.

That didn’t happen, and no one really expected it would, but his first weeks in Triple-A made it look like his Seattle absence would be short.  By the end of April, he started coming back to earth, dragged low by breaking balls.  At time of call up, he’s batting .238/.303/.503.  He’s not in the line up tonight as he had to fly from Las Vegas today, but I would expect to see him tomorrow. Continue reading

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Mariners to Get New Mariners Tomorrow, and Other Notes

I’m mostly going to talk about tomorrow’s MLB draft, but there are a few things I should mention first:

  • It seems pesky injuries are hitting the Mariners harder than usual this year.  The latest casualty is catcher Jesus Sucre, who was hit on the back of his hand by a backswing last night. Nothing’s broken, but he’ll be out at least a few days.  Sucre’s been okay, and better than that defensively, since taking Jesus Montero’s roster spot, but he’s no huge loss.  The only problem is the M’s had no other catchers on the 40-man roster, since Montero just suffered a knee injury and is out for a month or more.  They promoted Triple-A back-up Brandon Bantz, who will be around for a week at most and may not even see the field.  Again, no big deal, just a bit of a headache for the M’s to figure out.
  • To open a 40-man roster spot for Bantz, Franklin Gutierrez was placed on the 60-day disabled list. That’s retroactive to when he first went on the DL, but it still feels tantamount to the Mariners giving up on Guti.  I’m sure we’ll see him the second half of the season, and he might even get our hopes up again, but I see no way he’s around next year, even at a near-minimum salary.  Having Guti on the roster means compensating in too many other ways, and it’s just not worth it.  You have to be able to count on players to stay on the field for longer than a week.  It’s a shame, because he still has mountains of talent, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.
  • On a brighter note, Nick Franklin has been a revelation as Dustin Ackley’s replacement at second base.  He actually looks a lot like Ackley did when he first came up, with a great eye and a swing that delivers a lot of contact and surprising power.  He looks better at second, which is nothing against Ackley, who was extremely solid there.  In only a week, Franklin has done enough to generate talk about whether Ackley will ever get a chance to reclaim his spot.  Those talks are fair, but also remember that Ackley was quite good for a half a season before falling apart last year.  You just never know.
  • The Mariners have struggled before this Chicago series, but I’m actually feeling a little optimistic.  The worst part of the schedule is over, and the offense has crept up to league average and is still improving.  More importantly, there’s hope on the horizon for the biggest weakness: the back of the rotation.  I’m okay with Joe Saunders, and Aaron Harang I can live with for the moment.  That fifth spot is a killer, though.  Luckily, Erasmo Ramirez could return within a couple of weeks, and if he has his form back he could immediately become the staff’s third best starter.  Danny Hultzen has started throwing again, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him up around the all star break.  Keep your fingers crossed, but the options are slowly improving.

MLB Draft

The MLB draft starts tomorrow, which most baseball fans are probably not even aware of.  I personally love the draft, but it understandably gets less attention than it’s basketball and football counterparts.  Most of the players are unknown, and they generally won’t make the majors for 3-4 years, if at all.  I like following it because I can completely release my judgement of the picks and just trust in the Mariners.  Trust in the Mariners?  Am I crazy, you ask?  The Mariners are actually quite good at drafting.  Since Zduriencik and Tom McNamara, the amateur scouting director, took over, the Mariners’ farm system has gone from maybe the worst in baseball to top two or three, almost solely on the strength of their drafts.  We can debate another day on why some of those draftees are failing in the majors, but getting players into the system hasn’t been the problem.

After choosing Mike Zunino third overall last year, the Mariners are picking 12th tomorrow, which is good and bad for all the usual reasons.  It’s hard to know who they’ll take that far down the draft, and the Mariners are one of the more unpredictable teams anyway.  I’ll list a few potential names below.  Just remember that no matter who they pick, don’t get worked up.  They know much more about these guys than any of us do.  You can treat the Mariners drafting like we treat the Seahawks drafting: it can be surprising and you might wish they had done something different, but they’ve earned a pretty high level of trust at this point.  That said, here are a few names:

DJ Peterson is one of the best bats in the draft, and maybe the most advanced.  A college third baseman at New Mexico, he’ll likely move to first or DH but should have plenty of bat to still be a threat there.  The comparison I’ve seen most is to Kansas City’s Billy Butler.  Peterson is probably my top choice of guys who could realistically be available, but I’m not sure he’ll make it to them.

Hunter Renfroe is a college outfielder who is getting a lot of buzz lately.  He’s athletic enough to be solid in a corner and has plenty of power.  Someone mentioned Jay Buhner as a comparison.  The Mariners are low on outfield prospects and Renfroe is probably the best one they might have a shot at.

Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier are both outfielders from Georgia and the two best high school position prospects in the draft.  Both will likely go before the Mariners pick, but there’s a chance one could slip.  I’d be thrilled with either.

JP Crawford, a high school shortstop, is the only shortstop considered a first rounder.  I gather he’s not elite with the glove but could be above-average.  The bat is solid.  He’s expected to go right around the Mariners’ pick.  Not sure how I feel about Crawford, but it’s always good to have shortstops around.

Reese McGuire is a high schooler, and he also happens to go to school minutes away from where I’m writing this, at Kentwood High.  He’s a catcher who projects to be solid with the bat and quite good with the glove.  He was going to the Mariners in a lot of earlier mock drafts, but I think most now believe he’ll be gone by then.  I’d be fine with that.  He sounds like a good prospect and it’s fun to add local kids, but I’m not crazy about high school catchers, especially with Zunino and others in the system already.

That’s probably enough names for now.  I didn’t mention any pitchers, because I didn’t feel like it.  A pitcher pick wouldn’t surprise though. Watch especially for high schooler Phil Bickford and his big fastball, or Ryan Stanek, whom the Mariners previously picked but couldn’t sign away from college.

I’ll try to post something tomorrow night after the M’s pick.  For better coverage, try Baseball America or Minor League Ball from a national perspective, and Seattle Sports Insider and Jay Yencich at USS Mariner for a local breakdown.

Go Mariners! Believe Big!

-Matthew

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Remembering Erik Bedard

As the Mariners got stomped by the Astros last night, I ended up in a discussion with the other Good Guys about Erik Bedard.  Bedard is, of course, a former Mariner and as such, the cause of much disdain.  He is now a member of the Astros and was last night’s starting pitcher.

Bedard is not well-liked by Mariners fans.  I personally always liked him, but I can certainly see his shortcomings.  He was divisive and frustrating at his best.  The argument against generally centers on four points:

  1. He was the object of a now horrific trade, where the Mariners gave up Adam Jones and more for Bedard before the 2008 season.
  2. He was constantly injured, losing large chunks of every season he played in Seattle.
  3. His dealings with the media were short and brusque, often given in one word answers. He often came across as a smug, rude jerk.
  4. He obtained a reputation of being unable to pitch deep into games, which, combined with the injuries, led to a reputation of frailty and disinterest.

The first point is indisputable but completely out of Bedard’s control.  The trade was not well liked at the time, but it would have been okay had Bedard stayed on the field. He was a legitimately excellent pitcher when he was on the mound.  Unfortunately, that rarely happened.  He was hurt early and often, missing time in each of the four seasons he spent in Seattle.

With most former players, an injury history like that would be the main memory, but judging by Twitter and blog comments during last night’s game, points three and four above have had a more lasting impression.  The issues with the media were real. He seemed unwilling to speak at any length, especially in response to questions he deemed unnecessary.  It’s understandable if fans were turned off by that.  It personally never bothered me, and I doubt it would have made much impact if he had been good on the field.  For what it’s worth, he was never considered or rumored to be a bad teammate.  Watching him in the dugout, he seemed like a good guy who was liked by his teammates.  That’s hardly conclusive data, but it’s something that runs extremely contrary to the popular narrative.  He also signed with the Mariners for virtually nothing after his first two years, out of loyalty for the way they stood by him during his first two injury-plagued years. Dealing with the media was not his strong suit, but he appeared to be far from a bad guy or a clubhouse cancer.

The reputation for not lasting deep in games is a little more difficult to wade through.  From what I remember, the reputation came from an inability to get through seven innings early in his Mariners career, combined with some comments he made saying that he was essentially a 100-pitch pitcher.  I’m going off memory here, so I apologize if I’m off slightly.  In my memory, the comments were more nuanced than simply saying he could only throw 100 pitches per start.  I remember him saying that he was at his best for 100 pitches, not that he would only throw 100.

Incidentally, this is true for nearly every pitcher in the history of baseball. Hardly anyone is especially good after 90-100 pitches.  A good rule of thumb is that once a pitcher reaches that range or faces the line-up for a fourth time that day, it’s probably time to think about getting him out of there.  There are exceptions, of course, but Bedard was just saying what is universally true. Incidentally, other than a couple of starts where he left early for injury or ineffectiveness, Bedard threw 6-8 innings in most starts that first year. He threw about the same innings as anyone else.

What Bedard did was put his limitations into words, and that’s not something we want out of our athletes.  However unspoken or unrecognized, there’s a level of hero worship with our favorite athletes.  We expect them to do what we can’t, and for good reason. Professional and college athletes can do ridiculous things. The worst player at any point in any of the major sports leagues is one of the greatest athletes to ever walk the earth. I was a moderately decent high school baseball player, but I would have no more luck pitching or hitting against a major leaguer than would my two-year-old nephew. Their talent is so far above anything we can imagine, we expect consistent greatness and lose touch with the limits of their ability.

We want our athletes to go to places we can’t reach. We don’t want to see them ever give up. We know that playing through an injury might actually hurt the team, but we still want to see them out there until their bodies actually prevent them from playing. We don’t want to see a pitcher leave the game until he’s failed.  There’s something noble in giving until there’s nothing left, in leaving only when failure of the body commands it.  It may not be smart, but it resonates with those of us who would have given up days ago.

Erik Bedard knew his limitations, and in many ways he was likely smarter for recognizing and dealing with them.  His problem, as it often was for Bedard, was in letting the rest of us in on the secret.  Communication was never his strong suit.  Pitching was, but since his body never let him do that, a promising career ended as nothing but disappointment.

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A few Mariners notes after the jump! Continue reading

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