With the recent additions of Nick Franklin and Carlos Triunfel, and the recent subtractions of Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero, the Seattle Mariners are now faced with the problem that everyone saw coming: What to do with all these infield prospects. While this is kind of like that guy who complains about always hitting his driver too long, as too many prospects is never a bad thing, eventually, the Mariners are going to have to make a decision about who is going to get the bulk of the playing time. And that is no easy solution.
Let Old Acquaintances be Forgot?
Remember back to June 17, 2011. The promotion of Dustin Ackley, the savior of Seattle. Throughout his rookie season, Ackley hit .273 with 6 homers and 6 stolen bases, posting a .417 SLG in 90 games that season. With a solid inagural season behind him, "experts" had high hopes for his 2012 campaign. He hit just .226/.294/.328 in 153 games. The start of his 2013 season has done nothing to prove his 2012 numbers a fluke. .205/.266/.250 in 45 games. He has not been the productive, top of the order hitter that fans, and "experts" thought him to be.
No remember back to November 2, 2011. The debut of one Jesus Montero. The power hitting catching prospect destined to be the next great Yank. In just the last month of the 2011 season Montero hit .328/.406/.590 with 4 home runs. During the offseason he was traded to Seattle for then heralded (and proven) pitching phenom Michael Pineda. Much like Ackley, his first full season in the big leagues regressed, but it was still a solid campaign, posting .260/.298/.386 with 15 home runs in 135 games. Not great, but for a 22 year old catcher with only a month of big league experience it seemed okay. However, much like Ackley, his 2013 numbers took a huge dive to start the season. Hitting just .208/.264/.327 in 29 games, while losing the starting job to veteran Kelly Shoppach.
The question with both: Should the Mariners move on from the "Montero/Ackley era, or should they still include them in their plans for the future?"
The 3B situation:
Why start with 3B you ask? Its the only position locked down. Kyle Seager is by far the best YOUNG hitter on the team right now. While in May he has hit a rough patch, there are almost no questions about Seager's lock on the 3B position. He is a 20 HR threat and when things are going good, he will hit over .300. A couple other names to watch are Alex Lidd and Vinnie Catricala. Both have struggled mightily, and neither look like they have a chance at taking over the third base job. Seager will have to play awful for him to lose the job, and would most likely need to be traded for Seattle to find another quality third baseman.
The 2B/SS situation:
This is one of the more tricky positions on the team. I combined the middle infield here as the hitting really has no effect on the position, its all defense. While no doubt Nick Franklin and Brad Miller are the best pure hitters of the group, neither are top notch defensive players. As of right now, Brendan Ryan has the starting job at SS. He is one of the best defensive players in the game, and would be a decorated defender if his bat wasn't so awful. However, within the year, Ryan will lose his starting job, whether its via trade or his lack of hitting. When he leaves there will be an enormous gap to fill on the defensive side of the ball.
The best defender out of the bunch is Carlos Triunfel. He has an absolute cannon for an arm, it actually amazed me seeing some of the throws hes made this year. However Triunfel is also the least projectable hitter of the group.
Brad Miller seems to be a lock to get a roster spot at some point during 2013. He has hit everywhere he has gone. He would be the future SS for Seattle without a doubt if he didn't make so many routine errors. I like to compare him to an American version of Starlin Castro. Both have the same great hitting ability and athleticism, but both also have random lapses of concentration in the field. If I had to place him, I would say he would end up at SS, but he will definitely have room somewhere in the Mariners infield.
Nick Franklin is another great hitter. Recent called up by Seattle, he seems like a legitimate threat at the top of the Mariners order. His fielding may be a little better than Miller, but scouts seem to think his arm is lacking the strength to make all the throws. As of right now, he is starting at 2B with Brendan Ryan and Carlos Triunfel splitting time at SS. I'm taking this to mean Seattle thinks he can be their everyday 2B, but that might just be the only place he can play with a full infield. If I had to place him I'd say he is the starting 2B for the future.
So where does that place Dustin Ackley. Some say they'd like to see him play some OF or move back to his natural 1B position. I think Dustin Ackley has hit his way out of a starting job. With all the talent coming up in Seattle, Ackley looks to be the odd man out. But as he has hit his way out of the lineup, he can always hit his way back in.
The 1B situation:
Earlier in this article I explained how the "Jesus Montero/Dustin Ackley Period" of Mariners baseball may have ended. Notice how I did not include Justin Smoak. This is mainly because I believe Justin Smoak still has got something left in the tank. If you have watched the Mariners this year you have noticed how improved his swing, and his approach have been. While he isn't quite putting up the numbers, he has started drawing walks and hitting line drives. He's only hit three home runs so far, but they were mammoth shots, showing how much raw power he still has. While fans are getting frustrated with Jack Zduriencik's faith in Smoak, the improvements are very noticiable, and with a lack of options behind him, I don't think Smoak is going anywhere soon. However there are some other options.
With the 2013 FYP draft looming, the Mariners 1B situation may be getting a lot more complicated. They have the 12th pick in the draft, and at that point, anybody could be available. The Mariners have made it obvious in past drafts that they are only interested in the best available player (see Mike Zunino, Danny Hultzen). However, this year, my hope is Seattle will take a collegiate 1B prospect. If you have read any of my comments you will know I am absolutely a huge fan of New Mexico 1B/3B DJ Peterson. He should still be on the boards then, and if I had a pick, he's the guy I'm taking. Some have hinted that the Mariners will take C Reese McGuire or Colin Moran. Both would be amazing picks, but I'm not so sure either will fall out of the top 10.
The 2 veterans on the team are Mike Morse and Kendrys Morales. If the Mariners had the choice they'd 100% re-sign Morales this off season. However, Morales being a Scott Boras client, will probably test the FA waters and find a team with more money and more wins. Michael Morse on the other hand has already vocalized his love for Seattle many times, but he will need to perform much better for the Mariners to pick him up for another campaign. As of right now Justin Smoak seems to be the best option regardless if either are resigned, as Morse seems to have control over the corner out field spots and Morales with the DH.
The C situation:
Through the month of April, Mariners fans were begging Seattle to call up top prospect Mike Zunino. With Zunino tearing the cover off the ball and Montero struggling to make contact, it seemed like it could be a real possibility. Well now things have changed. Montero is in AAA, as the third string catcher, and Zunino has been brought down to earth. Zunino is hitting .231/.299/.517 with 9 homers in 34 games this season. While he still seems to be locked in as the Mariners catcher of the future, he's going to need to prove he can hit for a better average before the Mariners call him up.
As I eluded to before, many people believe the Mariners will select Reese McGuire with their 1st round pick. If they do, he will still take a while to be called up as he is still a prep catcher.
Jesus Montero has hit his way out of a spot on the roster, and has fielded his way out of being a catcher. Montero could go down to AAA and figure it all out and be an All-Star like we all though, but probably won't be as a catcher. With two catchers already on the depth chart in front of him, he has been sent down strictly to learn how to hit. Though if he can hit, I wouldn't be surprised to see him behind the dish.
The 2014 Seattle Mariners Defense:
C : Mike Zunino
1B : Justin Smoak
2B : Nick Franklin
SS : Brad Miller
3B : Kyle Seager
LF : Stefen Romero
CF : Michael Saunders
RF : Corey Hart?
DH : Kendrys Morales
That's just my take (and wishful thinking) on Seattle's clogged infield. So many top prospects, so little production. Thoughts?