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 →
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 →
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.
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.
One year ago I asked your reaction following Prince signing in Detroit. One year later, I’m curious what your take is on Josh Hamilton signing with a division foe, for nearly $100 million less than Prince got.
This is my 5th installment in a series of posts I’ve done recapping and forecasting the Mariners Rebuilding Process, since Jack Z took over as GM. You can find the prior posts here: Years 1 and 2Year 3Year 4
Let’s recap the 5 year rebuild plan I laid out in October 2008.
2009, Year 1: Shed dead weight, Begin overhauling the farm Summary:Traded Putz for Guti, Carp, Vargas, and managed to get rid of Silva, Betancourt, and Johjima, while also using 3 of first 5 picks on Ackley, Franklin, Seager. Grade: A+
2010, Year 2: Shed dead weight, Continue building the farm (and lock up Felix) Summary:Signed Griffey and Sweeney, locked up Felix and acquired Cliff Lee, then swapped him for Smoak. Could have done without the Morrow trade and of course the Figgins contract. Selected Walker, Paxton, Pryor in rounds 1, 4, 5. Grade: B-
2011, Year 3: Bring the youth up, Evaluate potential, Acquire more young talent Summary:Hired Wedge, traded for Brendan Ryan, picked up Wilhelmson at a local bar, and signed low cost vets such as Cust, Olivo, Kennedy. Fielded an even mix of youth and vets, but loads of young talent in the pipeline for the first time in forever. At the deadline traded Fister for Furbush and Wells. Hultzen chosen with #2 pick. Grade: B
2012, Year 4: continue youth movement, achieve .500 record Summary:Swapped Pineda for Montero and made some shrewd acquistions in Jaso, Iwakuma, Luetge, Millwood, Perez, then saw a young roster come up 6 games short of .500, while improving by 8 games from prior season. Picked Mike Zunino #3 overall. Grade: A
2013, Year 5: add 1-2 big pieces, contend for playoffs Summary: Thus far we’ve seen a few low cost signings in Bay, Ibanez, Bonderman, and a 1 for 1 swap of Vargas-Morales. Grade: ???
I’ve said this before, but in 4 1/2 years on the job, Bill Bavasi set this organization back 5 years, minimum. Last year I stated
“For the first time on Jack’s watch, I think the on field W/L record is important. .500 ball is a reasonable expectation this year, which would be a welcomed site for our eyes.”
Well, The M’s flirted with .500 in 2012 and showed noticeable improvement, albeit without much offense yet again. Entering year 5 the talk of laying the foundation and replenishing the system should be over, and playoff contention ought to be close. Zduriencik has said as much if you’ve heard any of his recent interviews.
If the blueprint holds form, the M’s will be adding 1-2 big pieces this offseason, and assembling a playoff capable team in 2013. This sounds great but it is nearly January and almost all the big name free agents have signed elsewhere, and the only acquisitions Seattle has made are Robert Andino, Jason Bay, Raul Ibanez, and a swap of Jason Vargas for Kendrys Morales. Not exactly blockbuster moves capable of propelling the M’s from 75 wins into contention. I suppose the big moves we hoped for are still possible if Jack can, for example, land Justin Upton and Michael Bourn, and add a veteran pitcher to round out the rotation. That would certainly be a competitive team, but is that the best route to take?
Given how the AL West is shaping up, it may be best to hang onto the prospects, add a couple decent pieces, and shoot for a respectable 80-85 wins in 2013, while waiting until next year to make the big splash. I don’t see a scenario, at this point, for the M’s to overtake Texas or Anaheim in 2013, and probably not Oakland either. So why go all in? I’m not suggesting Seattle give up any hopes they had for next year, just because the division rivals are pulling away, but I don’t want the M’s to mortgage the future to field a better team next year, but one that cannot be sustained.
Keeping a positive trajectory is crucial next year, seeing an improved offense is also important, but that’s about all we can reasonably expect in 2013. This puts real contention off until next year, and adds a year to the original 5 year blueprint, but taking the path that leads to sustained success is what is most important. We’ve seen the Washington Nationals do this, and Tampa Bay also, and with much less money. It may not be popular, given the fractured fan base, plummeting attendance, and a decade of bad baseball, but Seattle has never given a player a $100 million contract, and unless it is a Felix extension, I don’t see it happening for at least another year. And surprisingly, I’m fine with that.
I’ll dispense with the lengthy preamble for this one. Like every other position for the Mariners, third base has good options, questions, and lots of guys with something to prove. Not sure when I’ll get to the outfielders or how I’m going to tackle that many guys, so you might have to wait a bit for that. Plus, I’m heading on a long vacation in a couple of days. Sorry. Maybe the Mariners will make a trade and clear things up for me in the meantime.
Think of Kyle Seager‘s pro career up to this point as a reverse on the football field. Unexpected, exciting. Everyone’s paying attention now, where a few seconds ago the game was a bit on the boring side. He’s just turned past the line of scrimmage, so that danger of being caught in the backfield for a big loss is avoided, but now he has to make that defensive end who held his gap miss, or else it was just a pretty three yard run. Seager was a bit unexpected as a third round pick in 2009. He was the second baseman on Ackley’s UNC team, and most thought that Ackley would move to the outfield in the pros and Seager would stay at second. Instead, Ackley moved to second, and eventually, Seager to third.
Seager’s hit more than anyone expected. Early on, he was termed Ackley-lite, but that doesn’t seem so accurate now. He has surprising power without quite having the eye that Ackley was supposed to have. He started 2012 on a tear, and despite tapering off some, he’s still been one of probably the three best position players for the Mariners this year. Right now, he’s an average or slightly wose hitter and a good defender who should only improve. The player he is now is valuable. The Mariners could do and have done much worse at third base (see below). The question now is whether Seager can make that defensive end miss and go for a big gain. To be a star, he needs to make adjustments and become a constant power threat. He’s not likely to ever be a huge power hitter, but home runs in the 20s with 40 doubles and a .340 OBP is realistic and would make him one of the best third basemen in the league. Continue reading →
We’re back with a look at the players in the Mariners’ system who could play a role with the big league club in the next few seasons. Today we look at the shortstops.
Before we look at actual players, let us take a moment to share a few words about that most important of ball-handlers, the shortstop. Throughout baseball lore, the shortstop has been the lynchpin of the defense, the captain of the infield. From the first days of little league, the most athletic, best fielder assumes responsibility for that huge patch of land between second and third, and that doesn’t change no matter how far one goes in baseball. They must cover the most ground and field the most balls. They have to have lightning for feet, a rocket for an arm, and the grace of a dancer around second base. Aside from the pitcher, the shortstop is the most important person on the field.
For all those reasons, little offense has traditionally been expected of shortstops. It was enough to do all of the above, and if one could chip in with the bat occasionally, so much the better. Those who could field the position and hit are legends. Honus Wagner is still considered the best shortstop of all time, and he played before Babe Ruth. There have been teams who sacrificed defense to gain some offense at short, but far more often teams have leaned the other way. It’s always tempting to think that a good hitting shortstop will have a big enough offensive impact to offset weak defense, but the fact that so few managers are willing to play a bad defender is an argument that statistical analysis is hard-pressed to counter. Continue reading →
It was a fairly busy sports weekend in the Seattle area, and I spent the weekend going to a few baseball games. Sandwiched in between the Rainiers on Thursday and Mariners on Saturday was one of the biggest recruiting days in Husky football history. I’ll hopefully get to that tomorrow. The Mariners don’t have much to talk about aside from Munenori Kawasaki being extremely awesome, so I’ll start off recapping the weekend by writing about how my weekend started.
On Thursday, Matthew, our cousin (and loyal blog reader) Tyler, and I made the trek down to Tacoma to see the Danny Hultzen-Jamie Moyer match-up. A trek it was. It took us two and a half hours to get from Bellevue to Tacoma but that’s beside the point, this isn’t a traffic blog, it’s a sports blog! Although, a traffic blog may be more entertaining than talking about the Mariners sometimes. Anyway, we missed one of Hultzen’s innings because of traffic but caught his other 3 innings.
The future Mariner has a hunched over windup, kind of like his shoulders are slouching. Other than that, the rest of his windup was pretty standard. His right foot starts a little bit in front of the rubber and steps to the side, more than it steps backwards. There’s a fairly normal leg kick and his arm comes a little higher than the 3/4’s slot. His follow-through is fairly normal (more on that later) as well. Here’s some video of the start. His fastball sat at about 93 and he flashed 96 twice up on the radar gun (I don’t think the radar gun was hot or anything because Moyer was about where he has been all season and even below that at times). We didn’t see much of his change-up because he didn’t seem to have a lot of control of it. Maybe it was just an off night for that pitch, as it’s usually a plus pitch for him. His slider had tons of movement, although he didn’t have plus control on that either. It was a great strikeout pitch though.
Hultzen walked 4 guys in 4 innings during the game. All of the walks came when Hultzen was pitching out of the stretch. Hultzen often switched his between a slide-step and a high leg kick when runners were on first base. Based on the video, I think he’s a little better when he’s not using the slide-step. Maybe he doesn’t have a good pick-off move (he didn’t use one, that I recall) but a good amount of lefties get away with not using a slide-step. His control was definitely a problem out of the stretch.
Another problem Hultzen seemed to have was finishing his pitches. Matthew picked up on it right away, and after watching the video I have to agree with him. In the second inning, when Danny got into some trouble, he seemed to really struggle with this. By not finishing his pitch, I mean to say that his leg and arm didn’t follow through as much as they usually do. To use the famous phrase, he was trying to “aim it and not throw it.” It was especially apparent on off-speed pitches (this gave the pitch away to some hitters) but there were a few fastballs where it seemed to be a problem as well.
All in all, Danny was good. There weren’t many hard hit balls, the issue was strictly control. He has great stuff and will succeed. He does have to work through this control issue. I don’t know if the mechanical things I mentioned are a constant problem or just an abnormality. If anyone goes to see him in Tacoma again (he’ll pitch again on Tuesday) look for what I mentioned and let us know.
I’ve got a few more thoughts on Nick Franklin, Triunfel, and Peguero after the jump. Continue reading →
We seem to be alternating between barren and loaded positions with this series. That should continue until the outfield. Next up is the loaded second base.
Dustin Ackley is still a pivotal piece in the Mariners’ rebuilding effort. He’s not performing well this year, but that’s not uncommon for someone in his position. He has some clear mechanical issues at the moment and seems to be struggling to make adjustments. I’d expect these to be ironed out at some point soon. It’s still unclear where Ackley will end up offensively. His recent struggles have tempered the Chase Utley comparisons, but that level isn’t impossible. He should still be at least an above-average, allstar level bat most years. He needs to be that, for everyone’s sake. What isn’t a huge issue is his defense. After meeting a lot of skepticism while learning the position, he’s become a solid if unspectacular defender. To my eyes, he’s improving and has the skills to be at least slightly above-average. Continue reading →