C’s Get Degrees: Mariners Lineup First Half Report Card

Who needs plate discipline with a winning smile like that?

Who needs plate discipline with a winning smile like that?

Mike Zunino (B) The young catcher has been invaluable behind the dish for the Mariners as his stellar defense and pitch framing have been a major reason for Seattle’s staff success. At the plate Zunino shows above-average pop (13 HR) but his abysmal pitch recognition (11 BB/97) needs quite a bit of fine tuning.

Kyle Seager (A) After struggling out of the gate Seager has been nothing short of sensational over the past three months, launching himself into the upper echelon of American League players. He is currently third in the A.L. in WAR (trailing only Mike Trout and Josh Donaldson) and is on pace for career highs in nearly every statistical category. Get that man a long-term contract!

Robinson Cano (A) The 240-million-dollar man has been as good as advertised in his first half season with Seattle. Despite a slight drop in power numbers there’s little to complain about with a slash line of .334/.393/.462. His presence in the lineup seems to have a positive effect on the rest of Seattle’s hitters and he’s no slouch on the defensive side either. Will he finally break the curse of Mariners’ free agent signings?

Brad Miller (C-) Miller had a forgettable April (.173) and even worse May (.136) before turning in a solid June (.298) at the plate. He has struggled at times defensively but the numbers show him to be above-average at short despite some costly errors. The Mariners showed unwavering faith in Miller throughout his slump and he looks to be on the verge of repaying their trust in him.

Justin Smoak (D) The sun might be just about ready to set on the Justin Smoak era in Seattle as the first baseman continues to show little of the promise that once made him a top 10 prospect in baseball. Although he still flashes some pop at the plate, Smoak’s ongoing lack of ability to make consistent solid contact grade him out as a below average corner infielder. It’s a make or break second half for the one-time first round pick.

Willy Bloomquist (C) Willy Ballgame has done a little of everything for the Mariners this season in perfectly mediocre fashion. Although his .269 average in 119 AB is almost entirely hollow (just 6 XBH and 3 BB) WFB’s ability to play multiple positions has been crucial to a team with major roster construction issues.

The Condor's inability to stay off the D.L. has put a damper on the M's playoff hopes.

The Condor’s inability to stay off the D.L. has put a damper on the M’s playoff hopes.

Michael Saunders (B-) The Condor was quietly putting together the best season of his career (2.0 WAR in 65 games) before shoulder inflammation and serious oblique injury landed him on the disabled list. Saunders was Seattle’s third best hitter before the injury but his inability to stay healthy has thrown a major wrench into the M’s lineup and outfield defense. Fans hope he’s not becoming Franklin Gutierrez 2.0.

Stefen Romero (D) Romero crushed the ball in Spring Training but couldn’t carry that success into the regular season as he slashed just .196/.236/.324 in 148 AB with a ghastly 4 BB/40 K ratio. Still just 25-years-old, he has a chance to be a part of Seattle’s future with improvement in plate discipline and in the field, but he shouldn’t play a major role in 2014.

James Jones (C+) The speedy outfielder has been a pleasant surprise since being called up to replace the struggling Almonte. A spark plug atop the order, Jones has tallied 17 stolen bases while being caught just once. The left-hander makes consistent contact but will need to show more patience at the plate (just 11 BB in 245 AB) to become a long term fixture in the leadoff spot.

Abraham Almonte (F) Almonte got off to a hot start but quickly cooled down once the league’s pitchers figured him out. The switch-hitting rookie was unable to make any adjustments (40 K’s in 106 AB) leaving him as dead weight atop the lineup for the better part of a month. Almonte also struggled defensively in centerfield leaving many wondering why he stuck around as long as he did.

Dustin Ackley (D-) The former #2 overall pick in the 2009 draft has the third most at-bats on the Mariners this season with just 4 HR, 3 SB and a -0.5 OWAR to show for it. His defense in left has improved to the point where he is at least average at the position (despite one the worst arms in the game) but the player who was supposed to be able to roll out of bed and hit is posting an anemic .616 OPS for the year. It might be time to pull the plug.

Endy Chavez (C-) Chavez probably shouldn’t be in the majors right now, and he certainly shouldn’t be hitting leadoff, but the gritty veteran hasn’t been a complete disaster filling in for Ackley and Saunders. The 36-year-old has struck out just 12 times in 127 AB but his unwillingness to draw a walk and lack of extra-base pop make him unsuited for anything more than a 4th or 5th outfielder. If he gets significant playing time in the second half, the M’s are in trouble.

Logan Morrison (C) LoMo has been adequate at first base since his return from the disabled list, but it’s not tough to look good when you’re replacing Justin Smoak. He’s playing better than his .230 average suggests (due in part to a .252 BABIP) and a strong second half may allow the former top prospect to carve out a long-term role as the Mariners’ first baseman.

Corey Hart (D+) The Mariners were hoping they got the player who averaged 24 HR between 2007 and 2012 when they signed Hart in the offseason, but the ageing slugger has shown a considerable amount of rust after missing 2013 to  knee surgery. Since he can’t play the field anymore Hart is strictly a designated hitter so he had better start hitting before he’s designated (for assignment that is).


2013 Seattle Mariners New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are like receipts – nobody but squares keep ’em. That doesn’t stop millions of people from making them though, including your very own Seattle Mariners:

Carlos Peguero: Close eyes. Swing hard.

Eric Wedge: Bury Casper Wells even deeper on the bench. Stroke mustache more.

Casper Wells: Stare wistfully at field from dugout.

Michael Saunders: Capitalize on his nickname (“The Condor”) and start making bird noises when he hits home runs. Bacaw!

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will hurt forever."

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will hurt forever.”

Felix Hernandez: Two perfect games.

Kendry Morales: Introduce fellow Mariners’ hitters to the mystical powers of Jobu.

Hector Noesi: Stop reading the newspaper the day after a start because it always hurts his feelings.

Alex Liddi: Get picture of cat eating pizza onto front page of Reddit.

Brendan Ryan: Contribute on defense AND at the plate.

Charlie Furbush: Work up courage to ask teammates to stop making fun of his last name.

Dustin Ackley: Found out more about all this “fiscal cliff” hubbub.

Justin Smoak: Play terribly for Seattle. Get traded. Turn into star for new team.

Wow! That sure is a lot to look forward to! Opening Day can’t get here soon enough!

Visual Recap: Seattle Mariners vs. L.A. Angels May 24th-27th

Hope Springs Eternal: Seattle Mariners Open Season with Win over Oakland Athletics in Japan; Next Stop World Series?

What ever he hits, he destroys. (Cliff Welch/ICON SMI)

The Seattle Mariners are in first place in the A.L. West. The Seattle Mariners, are in first place, in the A.L West?

That’s not a phrase we’ve grown accustomed to hearing over the last decade, and it isn’t one we’ll likely hear much more this year (although thanks to the quirky scheduling of MLB the M’s will hold at least a share of the division lead until at least April 5th), but it does feel good to say, no matter the qualifiers.

It wasn’t a convincing win by any means (unless it convinced you that the Mariners will struggle to score runs for Felix again), and you can’t take too much away from one game, but Seattle’s 3-1 win did allow us to form some early impressions:

  • Eric Wedge micromanages like I play croquet; he doesn’t. The stubborn skipper left Michael Saunders in to face a tough lefty in Brian Fuentes (not physically tough mind you, he looks pretty doughy, but he does hold lefties to a .078 lower OPS than righties) rather than going to the bench for Casper Wells. It doesn’t cost the Mariners this game, and I’m not asking Wedge to suddenly turn into Tony LaRussa,  but it would be nice to see him play the match-ups a bit more frequently.
  • The heart of the order needs to perform more like a heart, and less like an appendix. Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero, and Mike Carp combined to go 0-13 at the plate last night in a showing far too reminiscent of the nightmare that was last year’s 4-5-6 hitters. Yes it’s just one game, but an already dwindling fan base isn’t going to put up with another season of 2-1 losses and weeks without home runs.
  • The Oakland A’s sold out a home game! Yes, Oakland was the home team in Japan. No, they won’t sell out another home game this year (other than tonight’s second game in Japan). So long Oakland, hello San Jose!
  • Dustin Ackley is the West Coast version of Chase Utley. The Mariners second baseman showed the world (or at least everyone awake at 3 a.m.) why so many baseball pundits had high hopes for him coming into the season. The second overall pick in the 2009 draft clobbered a home run to right-center off noted ground baller Brandon McCarthy, stole a base, and drove in the go-ahead run in the win. He’s got some work to do on defense, but that Ackley cat can flat-out hit.
  • The Mariners run the bases, like they’ve never been on base. Maybe it was just early season jitters last night, but the Mariners had a pair of base running gaffes (Michael Saunders getting thrown out at third on a ball hit in front of him and Brendan Ryan getting caught stealing second) that a team with limited run scoring ability can’t afford to make.
  • Ichiro isn’t finished just yet. The least prototypical number three hitter in baseball thrilled the crowd in his home country with four hits including a key RBI single in the 11th. The 38-year-old Suzuki struggled mightily in 2011, and a strong year from the M’s elder statesman could go along way towards a turnaround season for Los Marineros in 2012.

What new things will we learn about the Mariners in game two of this whirlwind ride known as the 2012 season? Tune in to Root Sports at 2 a.m. tomorrow morning to find out!

The Future’s So Bright I’ve Got to Wear SPF 15: A Largely Uneducated Look at the Seattle Mariners’ Top Ten Prospects (Part II).

The cupboards aren’t bare but there isn’t much to look at. Here are the Mariners’ top five prospects according to Baseball America:

5. Guillermo Pimentel–OF–(.250-6 HR’s-31 RBI’s-5 SB’s-.276 OBP-.727 OPS): Guillermo Pimentel was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2009 at the tender age of 16 for $2 million dollars (I made $7.56/hour at age 16 so I can certainly relate) and was considered by many scouts to be one of the best international bats available at the time. Pimentel has an advanced approach at the plate for a teenager and his compact swing and power potential gives him one of the highest ceilings of any Mariners’ prospect. Though he struggled in his first season of pro ball (58 K’s/5 walks) Pimentel just turned 18 and has plenty of time to develop into a top-tier hitter for the Mariners. He doesn’t project to be any better than average defensively, but if his bat is as good as advertised, Pimentel could become the middle of the order threat that has long been absent from Seattle.  

4. Taijuan Walker–SP–(1 win-1.29 ERA-9 K’s/3 BB’s-0.74 WHIP): The Mariners’ lone first round pick in 2010 (43rd overall), Taijuan Walker is a live-armed 6’5″ pitcher out of Yucaipa High School in California. Walker pitched sparingly until his senior year of high school (where he was also a star in basketball, averaging 21 points and 15 rebounds per game) but his plus fastball and developing curveball could one day vault him to the front of Seattle’s rotation. The tall right-hander has a smooth delivery and the potential to add more velocity as he fills out his frame. Walker is still quite a few years away from the majors, but in the mean time, he gives the Mariners a sizable advantage in pickup basketball games. Finally, something they can win…

3. Nick Franklin–SS–(.283-23 HR’s-65 RBI’s-25 SB’s-.354 OBP-.841 OPS): A first round pick out of high school in 2009, Nick Franklin burst onto the scene last year with a 20 HR/20 SB season in the pitcher friendly Midwest League (it was the third most HR’s ever by a teenager in the MWL). Franklin is a well-balanced player with above-average skills across the board who could continue to develop more power at the plate as he fills out his lean 6’1″ frame. The confident almost cocky Franklin is a natural leader with a high baseball I.Q. and intangibles reminiscent of Derek Jeter. If Franklin can stick at shortstop he could be in Seattle as soon as 2012,= with an outside shot at a September call-up this season. The Mariners left many baseball experts scratching their heads when they selected Franklin in the first round back in 2009; now the same experts are wondering how so many other teams missed the boat on a future all-star.

2. Michael Pineda–SP–(11 wins-3.36 ERA-154 K’s/34 BB’s-1.11 WHIP): Largely unheralded coming into the 2010 season Michael Pineda ended the year as one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball. Signed out of the Dominican Republic at age 17, Pineda has progressed steadily through the Mariners’ system, posting high strikeout totals while maintaining a low walk rate. The tall, slender righty has an advanced repertoire consisting of a mid-to-high 90’s fastball, slider, cutter and changeup. There are some concerns about the health of Pineda’s elbow (he was limited to just 47 innings in 2009) which leads some scouts to believe that his future may be as a closer, although the Mariners intend to keep him as a starter for as long as possible. Pineda could likely do with some more seasoning in Triple-A, but unless you know something I don’t about Jamey Wright, he’ll likely start the year as Seattle’s fifth starter. There will be some ups and downs for Pineda in 2011, but the kid has got some serious talent, and will be a star by the time I learn how to properly use commas.

1. Dustin Ackley–2B–(.267-7 HR’s-51 RBI’s-10 SB’s-.368 OBP-.775 OPS): Owner of the sweetest swing in minor league baseball Dustin Ackley looks poised to step out of Stephen Strasburg’s shadow (though not a night goes by where I don’t dream of a King Felix/Strasburg starting rotation) and into MLB’s spotlight in 2011. Though his first year in the minors proved to be a bit rocky, Ackley showed marked improvement throughout the season, capped off by an amazing performance in the Arizona Fall League (.424-4 HR’s-19 RBI’s-5 SB’s-1.338 OPS in 66 at-bats for the Peoria Javelinas). Ackley was rated by B.A. as having the best speed and contact skills in the M’s organization and if his doubles continue to turn into home runs he has the all tools to become a perennial 20-20 player for the Mariners (see Chase Utley Lite–all the great flavor, none of the guilt). The Mariners’ second baseman of the future likely won’t start the year in Seattle in order to delay his service clock (giving the M’s an extra year of team control) but Ackley should be in the Emerald City by the end of May or beginning of June…just in time for the team to be eliminated from the playoffs.

So there’s that…

Handing out the Hardware: Major League Baseball’s Best of 2010.

Buster Posey provided the Giants with the offensive punch necessary to capture a World Series.

Not motivated enough for an intro, let’s get right to the action:

NL Rookie of the Year (Buster Posey–San Francisco Giants): Amongst a talented field of NL rookies (Jason Heyward, Stephen Strasburg, Mike Stanton, Jaime Garcia, Gaby Sanchez, etc.) the Giants’ young catcher shone the brightest, leading San Francisco’s late season surge into the playoffs. Despite not being called up until the end of May, Posey still hit 18 HR’s and drove in 67 RBI’s to go along with a .305 average for a Giants’ team nearly devoid of any offensive threats. Posey performed admirably in the playoffs for Los Gigantes and proved once and for all that surnames are not related to athletic prowess.

AL Rookie of the Year (Neftali Feliz–Texas Rangers): This was Brennan Boesch’s award to lose in July while the Tigers’ outfielder was tearing the cover off the ball when suddenly he stopped hitting (kangaroo flu is the suspected cause of his disappearance at the plate). Boesch’s struggles opened the door for the Rangers’ closer to nab the award and Feliz was up to the challenge. The flame throwing Dominican saved 40 games while posting a 2.73 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and striking out 71 batters in 69 innings. Though the Rangers may have fallen short in the World Series, the emergence of Feliz gives the team plenty of reasons for optimism heading into 2011. Re-signing Cliff Lee would add another…

NL Cy Young (Roy Halladay–Philadelphia Phillies): As expected, Roy Halladay took to the NL like a duck to water, throwing a perfect game in the regular season and only the second no-hitter all-time in the playoffs.  For the season, Doc Halladay posted a 21-10 record with a 2.44 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and a career high 219 strikeouts. If any current pitcher (Jamie Moyer excluded–even if he’s playing he’s not “current’) has a shot at 300 wins, it’s the indomitable Halladay. He just keeps getting better. If only we could say the same about my writing…

AL Cy Young (Felix Hernandez–Seattle Mariners): The Mariners didn’t win many games in 2010 (thank you Captain Obvious) but the team sure can’t blame King Felix. The 24-year-old righty was absolutely electrifying with a 13-12 record (he would have had 20+ wins with nearly any other team in baseball), 2.27 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 232 K’s and 6 complete games. More than anything, Hernandez gave M’s fans something to look forward to every fifth day in an otherwise dismal season and surprisingly, never beat up any of the Mariners’ hitters (that we know of)–if that’s not worthy of a Cy Young, I don’t know what is.

NL MVP (Joey Votto–Cincinnati Reds): Who ever said Canadians can’t do great things? I think it was Rush Limbaugh, but that’s besides the point. Votto had a magical season for Cincinnati, leading the Reds back to the playoffs for the first time since 1995 and finishing in the top three in the Triple Crown categories. For the year, the Canadian Crusher posted a line of .324-37 HR’s-113 RBI’s-1.024 OPS and even chipped in 16 stolen bases for all the fantasy owners out there. He also inspired this tremendous song. That’s an MVP in my book.

AL MVP (Josh Hamilton–Texas Rangers): What can you say about Josh Hamilton that hasn’t already been said? He’s been to the moon? Well, I could say that, but I’m not entirely sure it’s true (although one could certainly say his talent is, wait for it…out of this world). Much like Joe Mauer last year, Hamilton lost significant time to injury but still led the league in hitting (.359) and OPS (1.044) while leading the Rangers to their first World Series berth. He also finished 1st in slugging, 2nd in OBP, 5th in HR’s, and 12th in runs and RBI’s despite playing in only 133 games. The only thing more incredible than Hamilton’s 2010 season is his life story…coming soon to a theater near you.

Stay tuned for something else sometime soon.

Mariners Monthly Roundup: September/October “Free at Last” Edition.

AL West pitchers are quickly learning that second hand Smoak can be deadly.

Record: 9-21 (Overall 61-101)  

AL West Standings: Texas, Oakland, L.A., Seattle 

Top Hitter: Ichiro turned it up a notch in September (.342) to continue his extraordinary run of 200 hit seasons but it was a talented rookie who gave Mariners fans the most reasons to cheer in the season’s last month. First baseman Justin Smoak looked like the player we envisioned the team was getting the Cliff Lee trade, posting a line of .325/.400/.525 in September/October, including a string of three straight games with a home run. In a lineup utterly devoid of any power, a full season of Smoak will be just what the doctor ordered for 2011. 

Top Pitcher: Even if he doesn’t win the AL Cy Young Award (he does play on the West Coast after all) Felix Hernandez still  finished the season with a bang, posting a 3-2 record in September with a 1.64 ERA and only 20 hits allowed in 38 innings. Hernandez finished the year ranked first in innings, first in ERA, second in K’s, second in WHIP and third in complete games, and oh yeah, he’s still just 24-years-old. King Felix gave Mariners’ fans something to look forward to every five days and provided hope that things won’t be this bad forever. For all the flak that Jack Zduriencik has received this season (and deservedly so) we should be very thankful that he got Felix inked to a contract extension. Now let’s just hope we can get him some run support in 2011.

Biggest Surprise: After doing absolutely nothing at the plate all year long, Jose Lopez went bananas in a September game against Toronto, hitting three longballs and driving in four runs. Of course he did it at a time when the Mariners couldn’t trade him, instead just stealing time away from young players who needed major league at-bats. Thankfully, he jammed his finger shortly thereafter and was shut down for the rest of the season–if only that had happened in April.

Biggest Disappointment: Everyone except Felix and Ichiro.

Home Run Tracker: The Mariners finished the season with the same number of home runs (101) as losses. Woof!

Injuries: Matt Tuiasosopo and Ryan Langerhans both had surgery to remove bone chips from their elbows. Erik Bedard is on a steady diet of tough pills to prepare for next season, but no one’s holding their breath. It’s dangerous.

Lingering Questions: Why did I pay to go to five Mariners’ games this year? Why did anyone pay to go to any Mariners’ game this year? Will anyone miss Casey Kotchman or Jose Lopez? Did we just witness the worst offensive season in the history of baseball? How was Dave Niehaus able to keep his sanity in the broadcast booth? Will my heart ever recover? Can I ever love the M’s again? Do they even deserve a second chance? Who will be the manager next season?


Overall Grade: (D) The last month was as painful as any this season but at least Mariners’ fans got to watch Ichiro pass 200 hits and King Felix continue to dominate hitters at an otherworldly level. While the young kids (Cortes, Mangini, Halman, Varvaro, etc.) didn’t wow in their brief stunt with the big club, they gained invaluable major league experience and hopefully will help the Mariners gain some level of respectability in 2011. This month would have been graded an “F” but mercifully, it brought the season to a close. Let’s try to forget about 2010 as quickly as we can…