What We’ve Learned About the Seattle Mariners Near the Halfway Mark

A disappointing Seattle Mariners team will have to play much better in the second half of the season than it did in the first half to have any shot at making the postseason.

Through 70 games, the Mariners sit at a lowly 32-38. That's 8.5 games behind the surprising Houston Astros in the American League West, and six teams currently stand between Seattle and the second wild card.

On paper, this looked like the Mariners' best chance to make the playoffs or even win the World Series, so it's hard to be too optimistic about the club at the moment. While there's still time for the Mariners to go on a hot streak and get back into it, it isn't early in the season anymore.

There are a few key takeaways from the first 70 games of Seattle's 2015 campaign, and most of them aren't positive.

 

The pitching looks to be set up nicely for the present and future...

Once again, the Mariners' pitching staff has found ways to be successful despite dealing with multiple injuries. After a rough first few weeks of the season, Seattle starters have climbed to fourth in the AL in ERA and fifth in strikeout-to-walk percentage.

Apart from two uncharacteristically bad starts earlier this month, Felix Hernandez has again been spectacular. An even more encouraging sign is the development of some young pitchers.

The biggest concern of the early season was Taijuan Walker looking completely lost on the mound. However, Walker has been dominant over his last five starts, posting a 2.06 ERA in 35 innings with 38 strikeouts and just three walks.

Roenis Elias has also been solid for the most part since being called up in late April. In 11 starts, Elias has a 3.56 ERA (4.44 Fielding Independent Pitching), has decreased his walk rate by 1.3 percentage points since last year and flashed dominant upside by allowing two runs in seven innings with 10 strikeouts and no walks against Houston on Friday.

James Paxton also had a nice stretch in May although it is definitely time to be worried about his injury history. If those four can stay healthy (a huge "if" for any pitcher), the Mariners should be in good hands for the foreseeable future.

A nice surprise has been Mike Montgomery, who has looked like a capable back-end starter since being pressed into action. It's just four games into Montgomery's career, but so far, he's done a nice job of mixing up his pitches and avoiding hard contact to make up for his lack of overpowering stuff. The Mariners need Montgomery to pitch well, as he represents just about the only pitching depth in the minor league system.

The bullpen has struggled a bit more at times than last year. There is some good news, as Carson Smith appears to be the new closer, a role he should keep for a long time.

 

...While the offense is still a problem

This looked like the year the Mariners could finally have the offense to match the pitching. Instead, Seattle has scored the second-fewest runs in the AL to go along with owning the second-worst OBP.

Looking at individual stats, the poor output is a bit hard to figure. Nelson Cruz has been one of the best hitters in the majors, Seth Smith has been good, and five regulars own a weighted runs created plus (wRC+) above 100.

However, three spots in the lineup have been black holes, and the bench has been woeful, as was expected. Seattle also has been awful hitting with runners in scoring position whether that's bad luck or some organizational failure.

The biggest culprit has been Robinson Cano, who owns a 73 wRC+ and minus-0.2 WAR. Everyone expected the Cano deal to become a terrible contract at some point but certainly not in the second year.

If Cano continues to play like this, the Mariners can forget about the playoffs this season, and they'll be in huge trouble for years to come.

There was nothing wrong with adding Rickie Weeks or trading for Mark Trumbo on an individual level. However, it's becoming frustrating to see the Mariners continue to focus on the same player type: right-handed, high-power, low-OBP hitters with no defensive abilities. Unless the offense improves, the Mariners could be looking at changes at the top and another lengthy rebuild.

 

It's time to move on from Dustin Ackley and be worried about Mike Zunino

Ackley and Zunino were two of the biggest question marks in Seattle's projected everyday lineup heading into the season. Both have a lot of untapped potential at the plate but haven't proved much in the major leagues yet.

For a time last year, Ackley remembered to hit to all fields and put up offensive numbers reminiscent of his rookie season. That hasn't carried over to 2015 at all, as Ackley has a .190/.250/.310 line in 61 games.

Ackley is now nearly 2,200 plate appearances into his career with a 89 wRC+, and it might be time for the Mariners to just move on. A former top prospect who can play multiple positions fairly well might have at least a minimum amount of trade value, and it wouldn't be a surprise if Ackley was elsewhere after the deadline.

Zunino isn't nearly as long into his career, and he's fantastic on the defensive side, so it isn't time to give up on him yet. But it is time to be worried, as Zunino was supposed to make major strides this year with another season of experience under his belt.

Instead, Zunino has been worse almost across the board, with a .158/.230/.300 line. A walk rate that is nearly doubled is at least something, but Zunino is striking out over 4 percentage points more.

Ideally, Zunino would be in the minors right now, getting the development the organization denied him for no apparent reason in 2013. However, the Mariners have no other catcher in the system who could possibly start in the big leagues, a major knock against the front office.

 

All stats via FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

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What We’ve Learned About the Seattle Mariners Near the Halfway Mark

A disappointing Seattle Mariners team will have to play much better in the second half of the season than it did in the first half to have any shot at making the postseason.

Through 70 games, the Mariners sit at a lowly 32-38. That's 8.5 games behind the surprising Houston Astros in the American League West, and six teams currently stand between Seattle and the second wild card.

On paper, this looked like the Mariners' best chance to make the playoffs or even win the World Series, so it's hard to be too optimistic about the club at the moment. While there's still time for the Mariners to go on a hot streak and get back into it, it isn't early in the season anymore.

There are a few key takeaways from the first 70 games of Seattle's 2015 campaign, and most of them aren't positive.

 

The pitching looks to be set up nicely for the present and future...

Once again, the Mariners' pitching staff has found ways to be successful despite dealing with multiple injuries. After a rough first few weeks of the season, Seattle starters have climbed to fourth in the AL in ERA and fifth in strikeout-to-walk percentage.

Apart from two uncharacteristically bad starts earlier this month, Felix Hernandez has again been spectacular. An even more encouraging sign is the development of some young pitchers.

The biggest concern of the early season was Taijuan Walker looking completely lost on the mound. However, Walker has been dominant over his last five starts, posting a 2.06 ERA in 35 innings with 38 strikeouts and just three walks.

Roenis Elias has also been solid for the most part since being called up in late April. In 11 starts, Elias has a 3.56 ERA (4.44 Fielding Independent Pitching), has decreased his walk rate by 1.3 percentage points since last year and flashed dominant upside by allowing two runs in seven innings with 10 strikeouts and no walks against Houston on Friday.

James Paxton also had a nice stretch in May although it is definitely time to be worried about his injury history. If those four can stay healthy (a huge "if" for any pitcher), the Mariners should be in good hands for the foreseeable future.

A nice surprise has been Mike Montgomery, who has looked like a capable back-end starter since being pressed into action. It's just four games into Montgomery's career, but so far, he's done a nice job of mixing up his pitches and avoiding hard contact to make up for his lack of overpowering stuff. The Mariners need Montgomery to pitch well, as he represents just about the only pitching depth in the minor league system.

The bullpen has struggled a bit more at times than last year. There is some good news, as Carson Smith appears to be the new closer, a role he should keep for a long time.

 

...While the offense is still a problem

This looked like the year the Mariners could finally have the offense to match the pitching. Instead, Seattle has scored the second-fewest runs in the AL to go along with owning the second-worst OBP.

Looking at individual stats, the poor output is a bit hard to figure. Nelson Cruz has been one of the best hitters in the majors, Seth Smith has been good, and five regulars own a weighted runs created plus (wRC+) above 100.

However, three spots in the lineup have been black holes, and the bench has been woeful, as was expected. Seattle also has been awful hitting with runners in scoring position whether that's bad luck or some organizational failure.

The biggest culprit has been Robinson Cano, who owns a 73 wRC+ and minus-0.2 WAR. Everyone expected the Cano deal to become a terrible contract at some point but certainly not in the second year.

If Cano continues to play like this, the Mariners can forget about the playoffs this season, and they'll be in huge trouble for years to come.

There was nothing wrong with adding Rickie Weeks or trading for Mark Trumbo on an individual level. However, it's becoming frustrating to see the Mariners continue to focus on the same player type: right-handed, high-power, low-OBP hitters with no defensive abilities. Unless the offense improves, the Mariners could be looking at changes at the top and another lengthy rebuild.

 

It's time to move on from Dustin Ackley and be worried about Mike Zunino

Ackley and Zunino were two of the biggest question marks in Seattle's projected everyday lineup heading into the season. Both have a lot of untapped potential at the plate but haven't proved much in the major leagues yet.

For a time last year, Ackley remembered to hit to all fields and put up offensive numbers reminiscent of his rookie season. That hasn't carried over to 2015 at all, as Ackley has a .190/.250/.310 line in 61 games.

Ackley is now nearly 2,200 plate appearances into his career with a 89 wRC+, and it might be time for the Mariners to just move on. A former top prospect who can play multiple positions fairly well might have at least a minimum amount of trade value, and it wouldn't be a surprise if Ackley was elsewhere after the deadline.

Zunino isn't nearly as long into his career, and he's fantastic on the defensive side, so it isn't time to give up on him yet. But it is time to be worried, as Zunino was supposed to make major strides this year with another season of experience under his belt.

Instead, Zunino has been worse almost across the board, with a .158/.230/.300 line. A walk rate that is nearly doubled is at least something, but Zunino is striking out over 4 percentage points more.

Ideally, Zunino would be in the minors right now, getting the development the organization denied him for no apparent reason in 2013. However, the Mariners have no other catcher in the system who could possibly start in the big leagues, a major knock against the front office.

 

All stats via FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

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3 Players Seattle Mariners Should Consider Dealing at the Deadline

Following an offseason full of hype, the Seattle Mariners have been a massive disappointment in 2015, posting a 25-32 record so far.

The problem once again has been offense, despite offseason acquisitions Seth Smith and Nelson Cruz hitting well. Seattle has scored three or fewer runs in 12 straight games, leading to a miserable 2-9 homestand after the team had finally climbed back to .500.

To add some punch, the Mariners acquired Mark Trumbo from the Arizona Diamondbacks last week. Trumbo should be a slight upgrade as a right-handed DH and came at a reasonable enough price, but he isn't enough on his own to fix Seattle's current ailments.

More moves are going to come eventually. The only thing up in the air is if the Mariners will be buyers or sellers at the deadline.

The situation will certainly change by the end of July, and it's way too early to make a decision about the direction of the club, but the Mariners will have some trade chips either way.

 

J.A Happ, SP

Seattle certainly has the talent to make a run and get back into the AL West race. If that doesn't happen and the Mariners fall out completely, they have a few pieces that could net some value and aren't necessarily part of the long-term future.

Happ would be such a piece that would warrant some trade consideration. The Michael Saunders for Happ trade left some in Seattle scratching their heads this offseason, but Happ has Seattle's second-best pitcher this season and could help some contenders out.

In 11 starts this season, Happ has a 3.31 ERA (3.50 FIP) and has allowed two runs or fewer eight separate times. While Happ isn't blowing people with a 18.1 percent strikeout rate, he's walking just 5.2 percent of batters and is keeping the ball in the park effectively.

Happ is a free agent after this season and doesn't seem likely to re-sign with Seattle. The Mariners would also still have the pieces to fill out a rotation if either Hisashi Iwakuma or James Paxton are back by the deadline.

 

Austin Jackson, CF

Jackson was a major disappointment after coming over to Seattle at the 2014 trade deadline. Following a stint on the DL with an ankle problem, Jackson is finally starting to play at the level he's capable of.

Since being activated off the DL on May 26, Jackson has raised his season OPS from .610 to .706. Jackson is hitting for good average right now, but he's also showing some power, collecting three doubles, a triple and a home run over the last seven games.

That's good news for the Mariners on two fronts. Jackson could be a huge piece in sparking the offense if some others get hot alongside him. He also could draw significant interest at the deadline, and he's a free agent after this year.

One potential complication is that Seattle may be interested in bringing Jackson back, as there's no clear long-term option in center field. However, given Seattle's financial obligations elsewhere, re-signing Jackson could prove to be difficult.

 

Chris Taylor, SS

Of course, if the Mariners climb anywhere near playoff position, they will be buyers rather than sellers. Most of Seattle's young talent is contributing in the majors, and it lost a trade chip already with Gabby Guerrero, but there are still some valuable pieces in the farm system.

Seattle tried moving Brad Miller to the outfield earlier this season, while giving Taylor some starts at shortstop. Taylor didn't hit, and Miller is second among AL shortstops in WAR, making the latter seem like the plan at the position for now.

That leaves young shortstops Taylor and Ketel Marte as potential trade chips should the Mariners need to upgrade their roster for the short term. The Mariners would have a difficult decision between the two, but Marte's broken thumb leaves them with little choice at the moment.

The problem is that Taylor's value is low at the moment after his poor showing this season, so Seattle has to hope he performs well over the next month and a half. Still, that was just 65 plate appearances, and Taylor provided 1.5 WAR in 47 games last year, so there could be some interest.

 

All stats via FanGraphs.com unless otherwise noted.

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Seattle Mariners Draft Analysis: What to Expect the Team to Do on Draft Day

While the Seattle Mariners are finally more focused on the present, the MLB draft always provides an interesting glimpse into what a franchise may look like in the future.

Seattle's situation in this year's draft, which begins on June 8, is quite different than in previous years. The Mariners have had three top six picks over the past four years, but they do not have a first-round pick this year due to the addition of Nelson Cruz.

While top picks have not always panned out, the Mariners have found some success in the middle and late rounds. Seven members of the current 25-man roster were acquired through the draft, including All-Star Kyle Seager in the third round in 2009.

Trying to put together an MLB mock draft after the first few picks is a difficult task. Predicting who might be available when the Mariners pick at No. 60 is all but impossible. Still, recent trends give some indication about what the Mariners might be looking for in the 2015 draft.

 

The Mariners finally go back to pitching with their first pick

Drafting based on current need is unwise—a franchise could look completely different by the time a draft pick reaches the majors. Most teams say they don't do it, but it always seems to have some impact on the thought process in the draft.

The Mariners, forever offensively challenged, have primarily addressed that side of things in recent drafts. Alex Jackson, D.J. Peterson and Mike Zunino, Seattle's first-round picks over the past three years, were all regarded as polished hitters with tons of power at the time of being drafted.

Seattle is currently feeling the impact of focusing so much on offense at the major league level. Just about every young top pitching prospect has graduated to the major-league level. The Mariners have also dealt a number of power relievers over the years, leaving them with little organizational pitching depth.

That could lead the Mariners to be interested in adding arms early and often. Seattle could look for a raw high school pitcher with plenty of upside in the second round, much as it did with drafting Taijuan Walker No. 43 overall in 2010.

 

Seattle grabs a prep bat at No. 72

The Mariners have been fairly split between high school and college selections in the first round in recent years. However, they have added a number of high school bats in the second round in the Jack Zduriencik era, including the very raw Gareth Morgan last season.

Seattle won't be expecting an impact player with their competitive-balance pick at No. 72, as all the top prep bats will be off the board at the time. A high school outfielder with raw power might be a good fit here.

 

Expect more under slot signings in the later rounds

Seattle has been assigned a bonus pool of $4,186,000, which ranks 27th in the majors. The slot value for No. 60 is just over $1 million, which will likely use a large chunk of that pool up.

With no first-round pick, the Mariners will probably want to ensure they sign their two picks in the second round so they can at least add a couple of high-potential prospects. Seattle probably won't want to risk adding a player they may not be able to sign, or reaching for someone under slot.

The under-slot signings will likely come somewhere in Rounds 3-10. However, that's not necessarily a bad thing: The Mariners added unheralded pitcher Ryan Yarbrough in the fourth round last season for way under slot due to the expensive bonuses paid out to Jackson and Morgan. Yarbrough put together a dominant 2014 season and is quickly rising up prospect lists.

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Seattle Mariners Draft Analysis: What to Expect the Team to Do on Draft Day

While the Seattle Mariners are finally more focused on the present, the MLB draft always provides an interesting glimpse into what a franchise may look like in the future.

Seattle's situation in this year's draft, which begins on June 8, is quite different than in previous years. The Mariners have had three top six picks over the past four years, but they do not have a first-round pick this year due to the addition of Nelson Cruz.

While top picks have not always panned out, the Mariners have found some success in the middle and late rounds. Seven members of the current 25-man roster were acquired through the draft, including All-Star Kyle Seager in the third round in 2009.

Trying to put together an MLB mock draft after the first few picks is a difficult task. Predicting who might be available when the Mariners pick at No. 60 is all but impossible. Still, recent trends give some indication about what the Mariners might be looking for in the 2015 draft.

 

The Mariners finally go back to pitching with their first pick

Drafting based on current need is unwise—a franchise could look completely different by the time a draft pick reaches the majors. Most teams say they don't do it, but it always seems to have some impact on the thought process in the draft.

The Mariners, forever offensively challenged, have primarily addressed that side of things in recent drafts. Alex Jackson, D.J. Peterson and Mike Zunino, Seattle's first-round picks over the past three years, were all regarded as polished hitters with tons of power at the time of being drafted.

Seattle is currently feeling the impact of focusing so much on offense at the major league level. Just about every young top pitching prospect has graduated to the major-league level. The Mariners have also dealt a number of power relievers over the years, leaving them with little organizational pitching depth.

That could lead the Mariners to be interested in adding arms early and often. Seattle could look for a raw high school pitcher with plenty of upside in the second round, much as it did with drafting Taijuan Walker No. 43 overall in 2010.

 

Seattle grabs a prep bat at No. 72

The Mariners have been fairly split between high school and college selections in the first round in recent years. However, they have added a number of high school bats in the second round in the Jack Zduriencik era, including the very raw Gareth Morgan last season.

Seattle won't be expecting an impact player with their competitive-balance pick at No. 72, as all the top prep bats will be off the board at the time. A high school outfielder with raw power might be a good fit here.

 

Expect more under slot signings in the later rounds

Seattle has been assigned a bonus pool of $4,186,000, which ranks 27th in the majors. The slot value for No. 60 is just over $1 million, which will likely use a large chunk of that pool up.

With no first-round pick, the Mariners will probably want to ensure they sign their two picks in the second round so they can at least add a couple of high-potential prospects. Seattle probably won't want to risk adding a player they may not be able to sign, or reaching for someone under slot.

The under-slot signings will likely come somewhere in Rounds 3-10. However, that's not necessarily a bad thing: The Mariners added unheralded pitcher Ryan Yarbrough in the fourth round last season for way under slot due to the expensive bonuses paid out to Jackson and Morgan. Yarbrough put together a dominant 2014 season and is quickly rising up prospect lists.

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Stock Up, Stock Down for Seattle Mariners’ Top 10 Prospects for Week 7

For the first time in several years, the Seattle Mariners are in win-now mode at the major league level rather than looking more toward the future.

The graduation of many top prospects, particularly on the pitching side, has left Seattle's farm system a little thinner than it has been previously. While the Mariners in no way have a bad farm system and haven't been trading away too many prospects, most of the exciting young players are in the majors.

Still, Seattle entered the year with several prospects who were worth keeping an eye on. D.J. Peterson and Patrick Kivlehan appeared not all that far off from appearing in the majors, while top prospect Alex Jackson figured to move up to more advanced levels.

For many of Seattle's top 10 prospects as determined by MLB.com, the season has gotten off to a disappointing start. Others like Ketel Marte and Edwin Diaz could soon be moving up prospect rankings.

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3 Bold Predictions for the Remainder of Seattle Mariners’ Season

The first five weeks of the 2015 season have been filled with surprises for the Seattle Mariners.

Offseason acquisition Nelson Cruz has been on a tear nobody could have seen coming and is currently leading the majors by a healthy margin with 14 home runs. Cruz has really helped Seattle stay afloat during a rough stretch of play.

Seth Smith and Logan Morrison have provided some value at the plate, other parts of the offense have struggled at times, the starting rotation has been shaky behind Felix Hernandez and J.A. Happ and the bullpen has been poor after an outstanding 2014 season.

All of that has resulted in a 14-17 record through 31 games. The good news is that the Mariners are ahead of the Oakland Athletics and within striking distance of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but a 5.5 game deficit to the Houston Astros is significant even if they are unlikely to keep this pace up.

The rest of the season will surely offer some storylines that would have seemed highly unlikely just a month ago.

 

Brad Miller spends most of his time in the outfield—and is successful

There were rumblings during the offseason that Miller might work on learning other positions and becoming a sort of super-utility man. The addition of Rickie Weeks and the wrist injury to shortstop competitor Chris Taylor seemed to postpone that idea, at least until later in the summer.

Now, Taylor's return, the injury to Austin Jackson and the ineffectiveness of other outfielders have changed the situation again. The Mariners have been getting Miller some time in the outfield and intend to play him there, at designated hitter and occasionally first base this season, according to Shannon Drayer of 710 ESPN.

It's unclear how much Taylor will hit at the major league level, but the team understandably likes his defense (and baserunning) a lot more than Miller's. While Miller has good enough range for the shortstop position, he's been far too prone to throwing errors.

Miller has the athleticism and arm to be successful as an outfielder, potentially even in center field. Coach Andy Van Slyke deserves a lot of credit for turning Dustin Ackley into a plus-seven DRS left fielder in 2014, and Miller has an even better physical skill set for the position.

Don't expect Miller to flat-out take someone's job in the outfield, but the Mariners can rotate around and get him plenty of playing time. With any consistency at the plate, Miller will be a valuable piece for the rest of the season.

 

Logan Morrison has his best season in the majors

On April 28, Morrison owned a .149/.197/.194 line with one home run. A .212 BABIP and great defensive plays to rob Morrison of multiple home runs in the first month didn't help matters.

One hot stretch later, and Morrison owns a much more respectable 94 wRC+ with five home runs, including a walk-off on Friday to begin a three-game sweep of the Oakland Athletics. There are reasons to believe Morrison's numbers should only continue to get better.

Morrison's struggles early on went beyond the typical BABIP woes. According to Baseball Savant, Morrison ranks seventh in the majors in average exit velocity off the bat and ranks right up with some prolific power hitters.

Hitting the ball that hard is eventually going to help Morrison's average and slugging percentage. Morrison's strikeout numbers are also the best of his career in what's quickly becoming a relevant sample size, and he's still drawing a healthy number of walks.

It's easy to forget that Morrison was very good in the second half of 2014 after missing significant time due to injury early on. If he stays healthy (a huge if), Morrison is primed for a big season as a critical part of Seattle's offense.

 

Franklin Gutierrez gets meaningful playing time

Perhaps the biggest question of the early season is what to do with Ackley. Ackley has been unable to sustain his hot July and August from last season, batting .192/.217/.346 with a 54 wRC+ so far.

Those numbers even come with the caveat of being largely shielded from left-handers. As good as Ackley's defense is, a team with ideas of contending can't have such a black hole in the lineup.

Add in Jackson's injury (and uncertainty about his performance at the plate), a slow start from Justin Ruggiano and a minus-0.1 WAR total from Weeks so far, it becomes clear that Seattle needs outfield help. There aren't many good options within the organization, apart from one familiar face.

Gutierrez is off to a .324/.457/.554 start with four home runs in Triple-A Tacoma after missing over a year with gastrointestinal problems. That has put him on the team's radar, according to Bob Dutton of The Tacoma News Tribune.

Nobody is expecting Gutierrez to get back to his 2009 levels, and he's been injury prone on top of a difficult medical condition to deal with. But he could provide some short-term help as a fourth or even fifth outfielder, something the Mariners will be needing soon.

 

All stats via FanGraphs.com unless otherwise noted. 

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3 Biggest Takeaways from the 1st Month of Seattle Mariners’ Season

There's really only one word that could describe the first month of the 2015 season for the Seattle Mariners: underwhelming.

The Mariners finished April at 10-12 before dropping their first three games of May. A sweep of the Texas Rangers near the end of the first month looked to generate some momentum, but a four-game demolition at the hands of the red-hot Houston Astros ended any hope of that.

Houston probably isn't going to continue its .720 pace and finish with the best record in the American League. Still, an eight-game defect in early May is pretty significant.

Seattle's offense has looked much improved at times, and it has gotten a few good performances out of the pitching staff. The problem has been getting every facet of the team to play well at the same time.

While it's still early, a few storylines for the 2015 season took shape in the first month.

 

New additions have been carrying the team

Nelson Cruz, J.A. Happ, Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano have combined for 2.3 WAR so far. The Mariners have 2.7 WAR as a team.

Cruz has been better than Seattle could have even hoped for, already putting up better numbers than the Mariners got from right field or the designated hitter spot in the entire 2014 season. He leads the majors with 13 home runs and 25 RBI and surely looks on the way to one of the more prolific power-hitting seasons for a Mariner in recent memory.

Smith and Ruggiano got off to choppy starts but look like a solid platoon. Ruggiano in particular looks like a wise bench pickup, as he can get on base via plate discipline, steal some bags and play all three outfield positions. The Mariners will likely be seeing more of him in center over the next few days after Austin Jackson rolled his ankle on Sunday.

Other than a bad start against the seemingly unstoppable Astros on Sunday, Happ has also been brilliant. Happ isn't generating a ton of strikeouts, but he showed excellent control and didn't give up too much hard contact in his first four starts before Sunday.

Don't expect the imbalance between newcomers and holdovers to last forever. Cruz can't possibly be this good forever, and Happ will likely regress some, too, while Robinson Cano is going to finish the season with more than 0.0 WAR. Still, it's nice to see some new players come in and succeed after the Mariners have been burned by free-agent busts so often in the past.

 

Felix Hernandez is better than ever

At 29 years old, Hernandez just passed ageless wonder Jamie Moyer for most innings pitched in franchise history. It's Hernandez's 11th year with the Mariners, and somehow he keeps getting better.

Even including the brilliant start on Opening Day, Hernandez's best start came April 24 against the Minnesota Twins, when he tossed his first complete-game shutout since August 2012. He followed that up with a game against Texas in which he clearly didn't have his best stuff but still only allowed two runs on five hits and a walk in 6.2 innings.

Hernandez's strikeout rate currently sits at 27.5 percent with a walk rate of 4.6 percent, both career bests. If those rates hold, Hernandez will continue the incredible trend of improving both marks every season since 2011.

With those metrics plus strong traditional stats so far (4-0, 1.82 ERA), Hernandez looks like he's set up for another run at the Cy Young. No matter how the team does, Hernandez's starts should be appreciated—someone of his caliber may not come to the franchise again for a long time.

 

Mike Zunino and Dustin Ackley look lost

Both Zunino and Ackley came into the season with hopes of a breakout or at least decently productive year. Instead, both have been disasters.

Despite some offseason adjustments, Zunino is again striking out far too often with a career-high rate of 37.8 percent. Zunino's swinging strike percentage is up and his contact rate is down, not exactly a recipe for success.

If there is anything positive in Zunino's start, it's that he's taken six walks after totaling 17 all of last season. But Zunino's strikeout-to-walk percentage, a better indicator of overall plate discipline, is roughly the same.

The ever-inconsistent Ackley has been unable to carry over the hot July and August from last year, posting a 66 wRC+ in the early going. There were some power flashes in the first week when Ackley hit three home runs, but he's been in a horrific slump since.

Strikeouts aren't even a big problem; Ackley just hasn't been making hard contact since those three home runs. His line-drive rate sits at 14.6 percent, well below league average and the worst mark of his career.

This is where Seattle's lack of depth is going to hurt. Zunino really could use the time in Triple-A that he was denied in 2013 for no good reason, but there is certainly no other catcher in the organization ready to been an everyday player.

The Mariners are short on outfielders, too—Rickie Weeks hasn't proved himself worthy of completely replacing Ackley, and there's little other depth at the position, particularly while Jackson is sidelined.

 

All stats via FanGraphs.com unless otherwise noted. 

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Early Grades for All of Seattle Mariners’ Offseason Acquisitions

A pair of offseason acquisitions have helped the Seattle Mariners stay afloat in the early season while much of the starting rotation and bullpen is struggling.

Nelson Cruz is off to an impossibly hot start, leading the majors in both home runs and RBI. The impact that Cruz has on Seattle's lineup has already been felt, as he gives the Mariners one of the more dangerous 3-4-5's in the league.

Meanwhile, J.A. Happ has turned in some much-needed quality work at the back of the rotation. Other than the dominant Felix Hernandez, Happ has been Seattle's best pitcher in the early going.

The Mariners' acquisitions of Cruz and Happ look to have been very wise so far. Seattle could use a little more from three other key additions.

 

Nelson Cruz, OF/DH

The numbers Cruz put up over a recent 13-game streak are mind-boggling. After starting 1-for-15, Cruz put up a stretch where he went 22-for-53 with nine home runs and 20 runs driven in.

While that kind of stretch is obviously unsustainable over the long term, it looks like Cruz could be in for a special season. The idea that Cruz could approach the 40 home runs and 108 RBI he put up as a member of the Baltimore Orioles last year is no longer that far-fetched.

Five of those home runs have come in pitchers' parks (Seattle and Oakland) with cold weather, easing some fears that Cruz's numbers might not translate from the hitter-friendly ballparks he's played in his entire career. It helps that Cruz has the power to hit balls 442 feet at 116.2 miles per hour off the bat, as he did on Friday night, per the ESPN Home Run Tracker.

The impact that Cruz has had on the Mariners lineup can be easily felt. Cruz has already put up 0.6 WAR; the Mariners got a stunningly low minus-2.1 WAR from the designated hitter position (Cruz has been in right field instead of DHing more often recently) last season.

Grade: A+. Cruz has been better than the Mariners could have possibly hoped for.

 

J.A. Happ, SP

So far, Happ has shown exactly why the Mariners felt he has worth the price of talented but often-injured outfielder Michael Saunders. As Seattle hoped, Happ has translated well to a pitcher's park and has turned in three consecutive strong starts at a time when three members of the rotation are struggling and the bullpen is being overworked.

Happ has pitched 20.2 innings over those three starts, allowing just six earned runs on 20 hits. Each start has included an extended period where Happ has looked in total control of the game, and he's been able to pitch at least into the seventh inning every time as a result.

He's running a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) only slightly below his career average and striking out batters at a minuscule rate of 11.1 percent. So how has Happ been so successful thus far?

Not walking anybody (0.87 walks per nine innings) and allowing fewer homers (0.87 home runs per nine innings vs 1.13 career average) helps a lot. One interesting trend is that Happ is using his fastball about 12 percent less than his career average while incorporating his curve and cutter more, which could be sacrificing strikeouts for more weak contact.

These numbers are unlikely to sustain, and it will be interesting to see what happens when Happ goes to a more homer-friendly park. But there's no reason to think that Happ can't be an efficient and effective back-end starter.

Grade: A. Sustainable or not, Happ has turned in three strong starts at times the Mariners have desperately needed them.

 

Rickie Weeks, UTIL

It was easy to see why the Mariners took a cheap flier on Weeks. He could provide right-handed pop off the bench, has mashed lefties in his career and is coming off a rather unnoticed 127 weighted runs created plus (wRC+) season.

Weeks showed that skill set in the first week of the season, blasting a pinch-hit three-run homer in Oakland on April 12. He's been downright ugly at the plate since then, posting an overall line of .156/.206/.250.

The Mariners knew some strikeouts were coming, but a rate of 35.3 percent isn't going to cut it. Weeks isn't winning any playing time with his defense, and the addition of Carlos Quentin on a minor league deal could mean trouble for him.

Grade: D. Weeks flashed briefly what he can do off the bench but has struggled otherwise.

 

Seth Smith, RF

Smith made a splash right away, going a perfect 3-for-3 on Opening Day with two doubles, a triple and two RBI. Unfortunately, a groin injury slowed him a bit right afterwards, and Smith went into a bit of a slump, going 0-for-15 between April 12 and April 19.

Sunday's game may have been an indication that Smith is getting back into rhythm. Smith went 2-for-3 with his first home run of the season and a double, bringing his line for the season up to a strong .263/.333/.500.

One interesting thing to watch is what position Smith is used in, as he's roughly split time between DH and right field. It could be that the injury is still slightly bothering Smith or that Cruz is more comfortable as a hitter when he's getting time in the field, as many hitter are.

Grade: B. Hopefully, the injury was just a blip and Smith can produce at his normal level moving forward.

 

Justin Ruggiano, OF

As the right-handed half of the right field platoon, Ruggiano's playing time has been sporadic so far. He's recorded just 16 plate appearances, collecting two singles and a double.

If anything, Ruggiano has showed he has some plate discipline and has drawn three walks already. Given Ruggiano's 127 career wRC+ against left-handers, the Mariners know he can provide more.

The good news for Ruggiano is that he brings some defensive value and could fill in at center field in an emergency, which is going to keep him on the roster even if things go poorly at the plate.

Grade: C. Ruggiano is in a tough role and isn't getting much playing time, but he has the ability to be better.

All stats via FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. 

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Playing Patience or Panic with 4 Troubling Early-Season Seattle Mariners Starts

After a much-anticipated buildup to the start of the season, the Seattle Mariners had a disappointing start to the year before a pair of thrilling victories last weekend gave them some momentum. 

It's still early, but Seattle's 3-7 start has many in the Pacific Northwest concerned. Things turned around with a series win over the Texas Rangers to improve to 5-7, but the Mariners have been playing poorly in every facet of the game while facing a schedule that included three straight playoff teams to begin the year—not exactly a recipe for success.

Surprisingly, the biggest issue so far has been with the starting pitching. The Mariners have had a starter go seven innings or more just three times, as Felix Hernandez and J.A. Happ are the only starters pitching well at the moment.

This team is a lot better than it's shown at times, and a few slow starts should begin to turn around soon. However, some others are worrisome moving forward.

 

Taijuan Walker, SP

Walker showed some promising signs in his final start of last season and in spring training, tossing 27 innings while allowing just two runs on 10 hits and five walks with 26 strikeouts.

Spring training stats mean virtually nothing, but Walker's velocity was up, and he was showing better secondary pitches and commanding his arsenal very well.

It hasn't translated to the regular season whatsoever. Through two starts, Walker has allowed 14 runs in 7.1 innings with as many walks as strikeouts.

Walker hasn't been getting unlucky, either. He's elevating everything with poor command, allowing a lot of hard contact.

Walker is just 22 years old and at a very advanced level for his age, so the rough start doesn’t necessarily knock down his future value. Still, Walker's a mess on the mound right now, which can't be helping his confidence. Another two or three starts like this, and it will be time to go get Roenis Elias.

 

Verdict

Panic in terms of Walker's ability to contribute in 2015. Patience for his overall career.

 

Logan Morrison, 1B

Morrison was nonexistent in seven April games last season before going down with an injury and missing nearly two months. Now in the role of everyday first baseman, Morrison is off to a .195/.250/.195 start in 2015.

Just by the eye test, it feels like Morrison has been hitting the ball as hard as any Seattle batter, sans Nelson Cruz. Two plays stand out: a home run robbery at the hands of Mike Trout on Opening Day, and a deep flyout in the ninth inning of Friday's loss that may have also been a home run if Shin-Soo Choo wouldn't have caught it.

Some numbers back up the notion that Morrison might be getting a bit unlucky at this point in the season. He is currently running a .222 BABIP (batting average on balls in play), compared to a career mark of .281.

He's not striking out much and making contact at an 88.9 percent rate so far. All of that indicates that Morrison's numbers should be improving at least to some degree in the near future.

Despite struggling at points last season, Morrison still finished with an above-average 110 wRC+. It's fair to identify Morrison as a bit of a weakness, and pairing him with Patrick Kivlehan might be the best option later in the year, but he'll show some improvement soon enough.

 

Verdict

Patience. Morrison isn't going to be great or anything, but he's been really unlucky so far.

 

Hisashi Iwakuma, SP

Iwakuma's tough stretches have typically come in August or September, as he has succumbed to fatigue late in seasons. This year, Iwakuma has struggled early, allowing eight earned runs in 11 innings pitched.

A Robinson Cano error in the first inning of Iwakuma's opening start didn't help matters, but he's given up mammoth home runs to Albert Pujols, Alex Guerrero and Andre Ethier so far on the season. Perhaps even more concerning is the fact that Iwakuma has not pitched more than 6.1 innings in nine consecutive outings.

Unlike Walker, Iwakuma has generally not had poor command. He's uncharacteristically missed a few spots, but there doesn’t appear to be anything seriously wrong with his stuff or velocity.

Iwakuma currently has a HR/9 mark of 2.45 and a HR/FB rate of 27.3 percent, both over double his career numbers. Those will go down soon, and his numbers should improve overall with a couple of winnable matchups ahead.

 

Verdict

Patience for now. Those numbers should get better soon, but the stretch run is still a concern.

 

Mike Zunino, C

Zunino is another player who has been unable to carry over a hot spring. The combination of a full year of experience in the big leagues plus some swing adjustments made Zunino a breakout candidate this season.

Rather than show improvement through those adjustments, Zunino has posted a 33 wRC+ so far. As expected, whiffs have been the problem, as Zunino is only making contact at a 61.1 percent rate right now. It's not just breaking balls, either—Zunino seems to be swinging through hittable fastballs at the moment.

It's still early, but strikeout and walk rates stabilize faster than just about any other stat. Zunino's marks of 43.6 percent and 5.1 percent, respectively, aren't exactly encouraging.

With Zunino's defense and power, he only needs to add a little bit of on-base percentage to be a very valuable catcher. The Mariners may have to still wait a little longer before Zunino is able to do that.

Saturday night finally brought a positive sign, as Zunino annihilated a Colby Lewis slider for his first home run of the season. The power will likely come, but there's only so much value Zunino can provide at the plate.

 

Verdict

Panic. There haven't been adjustments the Mariners hoped for and expected.

 

All stats courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. 

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3 Biggest Takeaways for Seattle Mariners Following MLB Opening Week

The Seattle Mariners completed an up-and-down first week of the 2015 season with a 8-7 win against the Oakland Athletics on Sunday.

Following an impressive win on Opening Day over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Mariners dropped three straight while scoring a total of three runs. It was far too early to draw any conclusions whatsoever about the team as a whole, but the lack of offense may have caused some flashbacks to the Seattle teams of the past decade.

There were a few concerning signs, as newly acquired right-handed bats Nelson Cruz and Rickie Weeks looked a little lost at the plate through the first four games. Taijuan Walker was also unable to carry over his brilliant spring, constantly elevating his pitches in a 12-0 rout against Oakland on Friday.

Still, the Mariners were able to bounce back with what felt like an important 11-inning victory on Saturday led by Cruz's first home run as a Mariner and a game-winning double from Brad Miller. Seattle then overcame a lackluster start by Felix Hernandez and a Fernando Rodney meltdown to beat the A's again on Sunday aided by another Cruz dinger in the 10th inning.

There isn't much that can be discerned from individual statistics so early in the season. Still, a few things can be taken away from the Mariners' first week.

 

Chris Taylor needs to get healthy as soon as possible

Even without suffering a broken wrist midway through spring training, Taylor may not have won the starting shortstop job over Miller, who is playing well early in the season. But it's becoming increasingly clear that Taylor deserves a spot on the 25-man roster even as a backup.

Willie Bloomquist got the start on Friday in his first regular-season action since undergoing microfracture knee surgery last summer. As you might expect from a 37-year-old coming off a major knee procedure, Bloomquist's range at the position was severely limited.

While that's a really small sample size, Taylor clearly has more upside at the plate and in the field at this point in his career. The Mariners like Bloomquist's versatility, but Weeks was brought on to play multiple positions and can at least hit for power.

Taylor would give the Mariners some nice flexibility, as he would bring some speed to the bench and could shield Miller from tough lefties. Seattle could use that out of the 25th man on the roster, so hopefully Taylor will be ready to go sooner rather than later.

 

Giving Carson Smith the last bullpen spot was the right move

It appeared Smith's role this season would be to wait in Tacoma until a member of Seattle's bullpen got hurt or was ineffective. Instead, the club made the slightly surprising decision to put Smith on the roster while demoting Dominic Leone.

That had nothing to do with Leone's performance, as he posted a 2.17 ERA (3.07 FIP) with a strikeout rate of 25.7 percent during his rookie season. The club likely saw something with Leone's mechanics during the spring, and Smith's dominant potential made the move the logical choice.

Smith immediately made the move pay off, striking out Mike Trout on four pitches in a high-leverage situation on Opening Day. He did run into trouble Saturday against Oakland and allowed an inherited runner to score, but Smith's stats to begin his career are very impressive: 12 innings pitched, just three hits and five walks allowed and 17 strikeouts.

Manager Lloyd McClendon talked about putting the young pitcher in such a big situation just days after it looked like he wouldn't make the team, per Jayson Jenks of The Seattle Times: "He has an angle that most right-handed power hitters just don’t see.I don’t think he fears the hitters that are in there. Maybe he doesn’t know who was hitting. I don’t know.”

The 25-year-old already looks like he's ready for a setup role and is certainly the organization’s closer of the future.

 

The offense looks more explosive this year

Before things started to turn around in Oakland, the lack of offense through the first four games had to be a little disheartening for Seattle fans, even in a way-too-small sample size. In both victories to close out the week, the Mariners showed they can pile up runs in a hurry.

Sunday's game was a perfect example of how this team might be different. The Mariners trailed 3-0 entering the sixth inning and were being completely shut down by Jesse Hahn, which would have felt like an insurmountable deficit even for last year's successful team.

This time around, the Mariners were able to put up four runs in the frame, with every hitter from seventh to fifth in the lineup contributing something. They added three more the next inning on a Weeks pinch-hit homer.

Gone are the black holes that have plagued Mariners' lineups for years. Rather than needing Robinson Cano or Kyle Seager to do everything, Seattle appears like it will be able to generate at least some production from every spot in the order.

 

All stats courtesy FanGraphs.com unless otherwise noted.

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3 Biggest Takeaways for Seattle Mariners Following MLB Opening Week

The Seattle Mariners completed an up-and-down first week of the 2015 season with a 8-7 win against the Oakland Athletics on Sunday.

Following an impressive win on Opening Day over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Mariners dropped three straight while scoring a total of three runs. It was far too early to draw any conclusions whatsoever about the team as a whole, but the lack of offense may have caused some flashbacks to the Seattle teams of the past decade.

There were a few concerning signs, as newly acquired right-handed bats Nelson Cruz and Rickie Weeks looked a little lost at the plate through the first four games. Taijuan Walker was also unable to carry over his brilliant spring, constantly elevating his pitches in a 12-0 rout against Oakland on Friday.

Still, the Mariners were able to bounce back with what felt like an important 11-inning victory on Saturday led by Cruz's first home run as a Mariner and a game-winning double from Brad Miller. Seattle then overcame a lackluster start by Felix Hernandez and a Fernando Rodney meltdown to beat the A's again on Sunday aided by another Cruz dinger in the 10th inning.

There isn't much that can be discerned from individual statistics so early in the season. Still, a few things can be taken away from the Mariners' first week.

 

Chris Taylor needs to get healthy as soon as possible

Even without suffering a broken wrist midway through spring training, Taylor may not have won the starting shortstop job over Miller, who is playing well early in the season. But it's becoming increasingly clear that Taylor deserves a spot on the 25-man roster even as a backup.

Willie Bloomquist got the start on Friday in his first regular-season action since undergoing microfracture knee surgery last summer. As you might expect from a 37-year-old coming off a major knee procedure, Bloomquist's range at the position was severely limited.

While that's a really small sample size, Taylor clearly has more upside at the plate and in the field at this point in his career. The Mariners like Bloomquist's versatility, but Weeks was brought on to play multiple positions and can at least hit for power.

Taylor would give the Mariners some nice flexibility, as he would bring some speed to the bench and could shield Miller from tough lefties. Seattle could use that out of the 25th man on the roster, so hopefully Taylor will be ready to go sooner rather than later.

 

Giving Carson Smith the last bullpen spot was the right move

It appeared Smith's role this season would be to wait in Tacoma until a member of Seattle's bullpen got hurt or was ineffective. Instead, the club made the slightly surprising decision to put Smith on the roster while demoting Dominic Leone.

That had nothing to do with Leone's performance, as he posted a 2.17 ERA (3.07 FIP) with a strikeout rate of 25.7 percent during his rookie season. The club likely saw something with Leone's mechanics during the spring, and Smith's dominant potential made the move the logical choice.

Smith immediately made the move pay off, striking out Mike Trout on four pitches in a high-leverage situation on Opening Day. He did run into trouble Saturday against Oakland and allowed an inherited runner to score, but Smith's stats to begin his career are very impressive: 12 innings pitched, just three hits and five walks allowed and 17 strikeouts.

Manager Lloyd McClendon talked about putting the young pitcher in such a big situation just days after it looked like he wouldn't make the team, per Jayson Jenks of The Seattle Times: "He has an angle that most right-handed power hitters just don’t see.I don’t think he fears the hitters that are in there. Maybe he doesn’t know who was hitting. I don’t know.”

The 25-year-old already looks like he's ready for a setup role and is certainly the organization’s closer of the future.

 

The offense looks more explosive this year

Before things started to turn around in Oakland, the lack of offense through the first four games had to be a little disheartening for Seattle fans, even in a way-too-small sample size. In both victories to close out the week, the Mariners showed they can pile up runs in a hurry.

Sunday's game was a perfect example of how this team might be different. The Mariners trailed 3-0 entering the sixth inning and were being completely shut down by Jesse Hahn, which would have felt like an insurmountable deficit even for last year's successful team.

This time around, the Mariners were able to put up four runs in the frame, with every hitter from seventh to fifth in the lineup contributing something. They added three more the next inning on a Weeks pinch-hit homer.

Gone are the black holes that have plagued Mariners' lineups for years. Rather than needing Robinson Cano or Kyle Seager to do everything, Seattle appears like it will be able to generate at least some production from every spot in the order.

 

All stats courtesy FanGraphs.com unless otherwise noted.

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Top Candidates to Enjoy Breakout Seasons for Seattle Mariners in 2015

With a 6-3 win against the Colorado Rockies on Saturday, the Seattle Mariners wrapped up spring training and will now fly back to the Pacific Northwest for Opening Day.

Seattle's surprising decision to recall Carson Smith over Dominic Leone wrapped up the final 25-man roster. Minor league players also will get their assignments soon, with some of the Mariners' top prospects likely to head to Double-A or Triple-A.

Led by the likes of Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano, these Mariners have the potential to make the postseason for the first time since 2001. But, Seattle will need a couple of breakout players rather than stars to elevate from wild card contenders to title threats.

A few breakout candidates, particularly Taijuan Walker and Mike Zunino, look ready to improve at the major league level. Others at various levels of the minors are primed for big seasons and could soon rise up prospect lists.

 

Taijuan Walker, SP

Spring stats rarely mean much in terms of predictive performance. Still, Walker's line jumps out with 25 innings pitched, one run allowed on nine hits and four walks with 24 strikeouts.

Even without looking at the stats, changes or new developments players make during the spring can be significant. Walker has shown some promising signs that he's ready to turn potential into production, both during the spring and his final start of 2014.

As Walker, 22, gets older and continues to develop, a slight uptick in velocity would be expected, and he has shown some of that this spring. Walker's fastball averaged nearly 96 mph in March, after sitting at 94.2 mph over his first 53 innings in the majors.

The pitch that looks most improved this spring is his changeup, which Walker was already developing nicely near the end of last season. He's throwing the pitch at 90 mph—a noticeable increase from a year ago, with superb location and deception. A 90 mph changeup with good downward movement may remind some Mariners fans of Hernandez.

Walker's curveball also is moving nicely this spring, and he has an already plus slider that also sits north of 90 mph on the radar gun.

Perhaps most importantly, Walker is on point with his command after struggling to throw strikes in his first stint in Seattle last year. All of the signs are there that he is ready to show more of that ace potential than ever before.

 

Mike Zunino, C

There isn't much that can be drawn from Zunino's 1.287 OPS in the spring, or the fact that his seven home runs rank second in the majors. Pitchers are working on things and not throwing their best breaking balls, which a hitter like Zunino is going to feast on.

However, there are some encouraging adjustments to take away from this spring. Zunino's plate discipline has been generally better during the spring, as he's posted a 14-7 ratio of strikeouts to walks in 58 plate appearances. He also has done a good job of avoiding the low and away breaking pitch that opponents killed him with in 2014.

That could be the result of swing adjustments Zunino attempted to implement during the offseason. Those changes include keeping the bat head in the zone longer and refining his approach with two strikes, which could help cut down on strikeouts and make Zunino drive the ball the other way more often.

Zunino believed that change in approach had an impact in spring training and will help him moving forward, via Shannon Drayer of 710 ESPN:

I feel like I am night-and-day better there. I feel like I know what I want to accomplish with two strikes. I feel like I have the base, and I can trust myself now instead of feeling like I'm going up there hoping to get a pitch to hit. That's the biggest thing, this feeling I am having now and I had in the early spring is something I am going to try to hold on whether it is video, whether it is mechanics. I mean, it's something I can go back to where I feel comfortable.

Given how quickly Zunino has risen through the various levels since being drafted in 2012, it makes sense that he has struggled with pitch recognition and making contact. With a full year of major league experience under his belt, Zunino should only get better in those areas.

Zunino has already proven he can more than handle the defensive, framing and staff-handling aspects of being a major league catcher. With a slight uptick in OBP, Zunino will be on the verge of stardom.

 

Ryan Yarbrough, SP

Ryan Yarbrough was a complete unknown when the Mariners selected him in the fourth round of the draft last season. It appeared as if Seattle was trying to free up some money to use elsewhere by signing a guy who was expected to go much later for way under slot.

Instead of fading into obscurity somewhere in Seattle's farm system, Yarbrough surprised by promptly striking everybody out in his first season of professional baseball. In 38.1 innings at Low-A Everett AquaSox, Yarbrough posted a strikeout rate of 36.6 percent.

Even more impressively, Yarbrough put up a minuscule walk rate of 2.8 percent. All of that led to a 1.40 ERA (1.88 FIP) with just one home run allowed.

The 23-year-old left-hander was first noticed by the Mariners for his excellent control and good use of a deceptive changeup. What makes Yarbrough really interesting is that his velocity keeps going up, as his fastball reached as high as 95 mph last summer after being more around 89 mph in college.

Yarbrough may have been viewed more as a reliever when drafted, but he's given himself a chance to be a starter down the road. He should move up into High-A or Double-A this year, and a similar performance will make him rise up prospect lists.

 

Edwin Diaz, SP

With Walker and James Paxton graduated to the majors, the Mariners don't have much top-end pitching depth left in their system. Diaz looks like the pitching prospect with the brightest major league future and is ready to establish himself as one of the top two or three overall players in the organization in 2015.

After debuting at just 18 years old in 2012, Diaz already has 204.1 minor league innings under his belt and is still at a young age for his level. Diaz ramped things up to 116.1 innings pitched as a 20-year-old at Class-A Clinton LumberKings last season, posting a 3.33 ERA (3.48 FIP) with a 23.0 percent strikeout rate.

As Diaz continues to develop and get a bit older, he has put some velocity on a fastball that now touches 96 mph and can be commanded well, at times. That's been aided by the fact that Diaz has put 20 pounds of muscle to move to 6'2" and 180 pounds, and he could use even a bit more weight.

MLB.com gave Diaz's slider a 55 grade last season, which has to be considered a plus pitch for his level. Developing a third pitch (he uses a very raw changeup right now) could determine how high Diaz's ceiling goes, but he's ready to turn some heads at more advanced levels of the minors.

All stats via FanGraphs.com, unless otherwise noted. 

 

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Top Candidates to Enjoy Breakout Seasons for Seattle Mariners in 2015

With a 6-3 win against the Colorado Rockies on Saturday, the Seattle Mariners wrapped up spring training and will now fly back to the Pacific Northwest for Opening Day.

Seattle's surprising decision to recall Carson Smith over Dominic Leone wrapped up the final 25-man roster. Minor league players also will get their assignments soon, with some of the Mariners' top prospects likely to head to Double-A or Triple-A.

Led by the likes of Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano, these Mariners have the potential to make the postseason for the first time since 2001. But, Seattle will need a couple of breakout players rather than stars to elevate from wild card contenders to title threats.

A few breakout candidates, particularly Taijuan Walker and Mike Zunino, look ready to improve at the major league level. Others at various levels of the minors are primed for big seasons and could soon rise up prospect lists.

 

Taijuan Walker, SP

Spring stats rarely mean much in terms of predictive performance. Still, Walker's line jumps out with 25 innings pitched, one run allowed on nine hits and four walks with 24 strikeouts.

Even without looking at the stats, changes or new developments players make during the spring can be significant. Walker has shown some promising signs that he's ready to turn potential into production, both during the spring and his final start of 2014.

As Walker, 22, gets older and continues to develop, a slight uptick in velocity would be expected, and he has shown some of that this spring. Walker's fastball averaged nearly 96 mph in March, after sitting at 94.2 mph over his first 53 innings in the majors.

The pitch that looks most improved this spring is his changeup, which Walker was already developing nicely near the end of last season. He's throwing the pitch at 90 mph—a noticeable increase from a year ago, with superb location and deception. A 90 mph changeup with good downward movement may remind some Mariners fans of Hernandez.

Walker's curveball also is moving nicely this spring, and he has an already plus slider that also sits north of 90 mph on the radar gun.

Perhaps most importantly, Walker is on point with his command after struggling to throw strikes in his first stint in Seattle last year. All of the signs are there that he is ready to show more of that ace potential than ever before.

 

Mike Zunino, C

There isn't much that can be drawn from Zunino's 1.287 OPS in the spring, or the fact that his seven home runs rank second in the majors. Pitchers are working on things and not throwing their best breaking balls, which a hitter like Zunino is going to feast on.

However, there are some encouraging adjustments to take away from this spring. Zunino's plate discipline has been generally better during the spring, as he's posted a 14-7 ratio of strikeouts to walks in 58 plate appearances. He also has done a good job of avoiding the low and away breaking pitch that opponents killed him with in 2014.

That could be the result of swing adjustments Zunino attempted to implement during the offseason. Those changes include keeping the bat head in the zone longer and refining his approach with two strikes, which could help cut down on strikeouts and make Zunino drive the ball the other way more often.

Zunino believed that change in approach had an impact in spring training and will help him moving forward, via Shannon Drayer of 710 ESPN:

I feel like I am night-and-day better there. I feel like I know what I want to accomplish with two strikes. I feel like I have the base, and I can trust myself now instead of feeling like I'm going up there hoping to get a pitch to hit. That's the biggest thing, this feeling I am having now and I had in the early spring is something I am going to try to hold on whether it is video, whether it is mechanics. I mean, it's something I can go back to where I feel comfortable.

Given how quickly Zunino has risen through the various levels since being drafted in 2012, it makes sense that he has struggled with pitch recognition and making contact. With a full year of major league experience under his belt, Zunino should only get better in those areas.

Zunino has already proven he can more than handle the defensive, framing and staff-handling aspects of being a major league catcher. With a slight uptick in OBP, Zunino will be on the verge of stardom.

 

Ryan Yarbrough, SP

Ryan Yarbrough was a complete unknown when the Mariners selected him in the fourth round of the draft last season. It appeared as if Seattle was trying to free up some money to use elsewhere by signing a guy who was expected to go much later for way under slot.

Instead of fading into obscurity somewhere in Seattle's farm system, Yarbrough surprised by promptly striking everybody out in his first season of professional baseball. In 38.1 innings at Low-A Everett AquaSox, Yarbrough posted a strikeout rate of 36.6 percent.

Even more impressively, Yarbrough put up a minuscule walk rate of 2.8 percent. All of that led to a 1.40 ERA (1.88 FIP) with just one home run allowed.

The 23-year-old left-hander was first noticed by the Mariners for his excellent control and good use of a deceptive changeup. What makes Yarbrough really interesting is that his velocity keeps going up, as his fastball reached as high as 95 mph last summer after being more around 89 mph in college.

Yarbrough may have been viewed more as a reliever when drafted, but he's given himself a chance to be a starter down the road. He should move up into High-A or Double-A this year, and a similar performance will make him rise up prospect lists.

 

Edwin Diaz, SP

With Walker and James Paxton graduated to the majors, the Mariners don't have much top-end pitching depth left in their system. Diaz looks like the pitching prospect with the brightest major league future and is ready to establish himself as one of the top two or three overall players in the organization in 2015.

After debuting at just 18 years old in 2012, Diaz already has 204.1 minor league innings under his belt and is still at a young age for his level. Diaz ramped things up to 116.1 innings pitched as a 20-year-old at Class-A Clinton LumberKings last season, posting a 3.33 ERA (3.48 FIP) with a 23.0 percent strikeout rate.

As Diaz continues to develop and get a bit older, he has put some velocity on a fastball that now touches 96 mph and can be commanded well, at times. That's been aided by the fact that Diaz has put 20 pounds of muscle to move to 6'2" and 180 pounds, and he could use even a bit more weight.

MLB.com gave Diaz's slider a 55 grade last season, which has to be considered a plus pitch for his level. Developing a third pitch (he uses a very raw changeup right now) could determine how high Diaz's ceiling goes, but he's ready to turn some heads at more advanced levels of the minors.

All stats via FanGraphs.com, unless otherwise noted. 

 

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3 Reasons to Be Optimistic for Seattle Mariners’ 2015 Season

Spring training is winding down, and the Opening Day roster is just about set. It's time for the Seattle Mariners to begin their most anticipated season in recent memory.

Seattle will open Monday against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Safeco Field, which sold out in a matter of minutes. Excitement is building for the Mariners in a city currently dominated by football, as the team finally has the pieces to reach the postseason for the first time since 2001.

The Mariners surprised last year by finishing one game shy of a playoff berth at 87-75. It doesn't appear as if that team will be a one-year flash in the pan, as Seattle addressed its weaknesses over the offseason and has some young players who look like they are ready to take the next step.

There are a still some questions, and injuries and regression can always shape a season for the worse. But fans in Seattle still have multiple reasons to be optimistic, and this roster is capable of contending for the AL West crown and more.

 

Star Power

The Mariners are fortunate to employ some of the brightest stars in the entirety of Major League Baseball. Those stars alone are enough to make Seattle an interesting and likely competitive club.

Felix Hernandez is entering his 11th season as the fan favorite in Seattle yet is somehow still in his prime at just 28 years old (although he turns 29 on April 8). With the potential of finally pitching in the postseason waiting at the end of the year and the sting of the narrow Cy Young defeat last season, Hernandez could be in line for one of the biggest seasons of his career.

Robinson Cano was brilliant in the first year of Seattle's megadeal, even if his home run total was down. Again, Cano projects to be the most valuable second baseman in the league by WAR and should be a contender for the batting title or even MVP if Mike Trout improbably falters.

No matter what happens with the rest of the team, those two players are must-watch TV and should have fans in Seattle feeling optimistic.

Kyle Seager, Hisashi Iwakuma and Nelson Cruz aren't on the elite level of those two but provide some measure of star power in their own right. In particular, Seager is starting to get the recognition he deserves: A homegrown third baseman who can produce over five wins a year is not something that is easy to come by.

Cruz may not live up to the contract the Mariners just paid him, but he'll be such an upgrade over what the team got out of the DH position last year that he could feel like a superstar in Seattle.

 

Young Players Ready to Break Out

Those five form a pretty good core for the Mariners. The key will be surrounding them with the right supporting pieces.

Fortunately, Seattle appears to have a solid mix of proven veterans and up-and-coming young payers. Two of those young players have excelled in spring and look ready to become critical major league contributors.

Spring stats must obviously be taken with a massive grain of salt, but Taijuan Walker's line of 25 innings pitched with one run allowed on nine hits and four walks with 24 strikeouts warrants some attention. Walker's stuff looks better than before. He's mixing in a changeup well, and throwing strikes after having some command issues in 2014.

Walker has impressed everyone this spring, including his teammates. Rickie Weeks noted the 22-year-old's makeup and maturity, via Phil Rogers of MLB.com: 

The guy's got the makeup to be a superstar in the game, with the stuff he has. It's all about makeup and throwing strikes. He's shown that already, so the sky's the limit for him. ... This guy, he knows his role, he knows what he has to do to get better in this game. He's trying to pick the brains of guys like Felix. He's a Cy Young winner. He's able to go out there and just show him the way, basically.

Mike Zunino has also acquitted himself well in the spring, batting .353/.431/.882 over 51 at-bats. His seven home runs during spring training trail only mega-prospect Kris Bryant in the entire majors.

Everyone already knows Zunino has outstanding power, and pitchers aren't throwing their best breaking pitches during the spring. But Zunino has had some encouraging signs in other areas, drawing six walks and generally looking more comfortable with plate discipline.

Manager Lloyd McClendon is pleased with the progress and believes Zunino is ready to cut down on the strikeouts and up his batting average a bit, via Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times. 

“That’s what he’s been working on all spring — the ability to put the ball in play with two strikes and gaining the knowledge and understanding of what they’re trying to do you," McClendon said. "He continues to grow.”

 

This Roster is a Legitimate Contender 

There are some questions for sure (Logan Morrison and Austin Jackson come to mind), but this is arguably the best preseason roster the Mariners have possessed since 2003. It also represents the best chance Seattle has had to make the postseason in quite some time.

Not only are there superstars mixed in with intriguing young talent, but the holes that have plagued the Mariners in recent years, particularly at DH, are gone. At the minimum, this team should be able to win a wild-card spot.

If Seattle can stay healthy, and if players like Zunino, Walker, Brad Miller and James Paxton take the next step this year, it can contend for a lot more. According to FanGraphs's projected World Series odds, the Mariners trail only the Washington Nationals and the Los Angeles Dodgers as the team with the best chance to win it all.

Seattle got better during the offseason, addressing their biggest weaknesses at DH and the outfield with some proven contributors. It can be argued that the other contenders in the AL West all got worse.

The Angels are likely Seattle's main competition for the division and are carried by the best player in baseball. However, they are counting on some major risks in the rotation and downgraded at second base, even if trading Howie Kendrick for Andrew Heaney looks smart for the long term.

It's unwise to count out Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics, who have tons of depth and upside on their pitching staff. Oakland is by no means rebuilding, but losing Josh Donaldson and Jon Lester isn't going to make your team better.

The Houston Astros are getting closer but not ready to compete yet. It looks like another long summer for the Texas Rangers with Yu Darvish sidelined for the year.

Seattle has been dreadful for so long, and the memory of a hyped 2010 season which ended at 61-101 still burns fresh in fans' minds. Still, there are many reasons to be optimistic that this could finally be the Mariners' year.

All stats via FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

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Complete Seattle Mariners 2015 Season Preview

A season full of optimism and expectations for the Seattle Mariners is less than two weeks from getting underway.

The Mariners far outperformed projections last season with an 87-75 record, falling just one game short of breaking a franchise playoff drought that now stands at 13 years. With some new additions at previous positions of weakness, Seattle is expected to get over that hump and be a serious contender in the American League.

Anything short of a postseason berth would have to be considered a massive disappointment in Seattle. Of course, the Mariners had similar expectations following a promising season in 2010 and produced one of the most miserable years in franchise history, but there are plenty of reasons to believe this team won't repeat that failure.

With a mix of star power and young contributors, the Mariners will at the very least be an entertaining club with plenty of upside.

All stats via FanGraphs.com unless otherwise noted.

Begin Slideshow

Complete Seattle Mariners 2015 Season Preview

A season full of optimism and expectations for the Seattle Mariners is less than two weeks from getting underway.

The Mariners far outperformed projections last season with an 87-75 record, falling just one game short of breaking a franchise playoff drought that now stands at 13 years. With some new additions at previous positions of weakness, Seattle is expected to get over that hump and be a serious contender in the American League.

Anything short of a postseason berth would have to be considered a massive disappointment in Seattle. Of course, the Mariners had similar expectations following a promising season in 2010 and produced one of the most miserable years in franchise history, but there are plenty of reasons to believe this team won't repeat that failure.

With a mix of star power and young contributors, the Mariners will at the very least be an entertaining club with plenty of upside.

All stats via FanGraphs.com unless otherwise noted.

Begin Slideshow

Final Prediction for Seattle Mariners’ Key Spring Position Battles

With just over three weeks until Opening Day, the Seattle Mariners are beginning to get a clear idea of who will come out victorious in their most intense position battles.

The Mariners entered spring training with only a couple of spots up for grabs on the 25-man roster. After Seattle shored up its weaknesses from last year's roster with offseason acquisitions, only shortstop, the No. 5 rotation spot, one position in the bullpen and one on the bench were available at the start of camp.

Clear favorites have emerged in each of those battles, whether it be due to performance or injury. While spring stats shouldn't mean everything (or even much) when deciding roster spots, Seattle's position battles feel decided barring something out of the ordinary or further injury.

 

Shortstop

The fight between Brad Miller and Chris Taylor for the starting shortstop job was the most interesting thing to watch in Mariners camp up until Saturday. Both potential candidates were playing well, and it appeared the Mariners would have to wait until the final days of spring training to make a sure decision.

Unfortunately, an examination revealed Taylor suffered a fractured bone in his right wrist and will be sidelined for four to six weeks, according to Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times. That means Miller is guaranteed the job for the first month or so of the season unless he gets hurt himself.

Miller likely had the advantage based on this spring alone, as he has collected seven hits in 17 spring at-bats, including two doubles and two home runs. Of course, Miller had an outstanding spring in 2014 before a terrible first two months of the regular season, but his flashes of upside at the plate may have made him the preferred option to Taylor anyway.

However, Taylor was also hitting well in the spring, with eight hits in 19 at-bats, including a home run, a double and two triples. That power is particularly interesting, as Taylor showed little ability to hit anything but singles during his stint in the big leagues last season.

It's an unlucky injury for Taylor, who also broke a pinkie last May when he was on the cusp of being called up to the majors. While Miller had the advantage for the starting job, Taylor was certainly making the case that he deserved a 25-man roster spot.

 

Winner: Miller by default

 

No. 5 Rotation Spot

Although there are a few other candidates, the final rotation spot always felt like it would come down to Taijuan Walker and Roenis Elias. With a dominant spring so far, Walker has emerged as the clear front-runner.

In three spring starts, Walker has pitched eight shutout innings while allowing just two hits and one walk and striking out eight. Even if it's just spring training, Walker is throwing strikes, his fastball is lively and he's mixing in a changeup better than we've seen before.

The stuff appears to be there, but Walker said after Saturday's outing that he is also improved with maturation, via Greg Johns of MLB.com.

“When I was younger I'd get men on base and I'd get frustrated and try to do so much so they wouldn't score and it kind of got me in trouble. This year I'm keeping my composure when people get on and just work for ground balls and get the easy outs."

Elias does have a chance as he as shown he can successfully pitch in the majors for a full season, but Walker's upside and showing this spring may be too much to ignore. Walker's potential is looking like it may start to produce some results this season.

 

Winner: Walker

 

Lefty Reliever

The Mariners assembled a pile of left-handed pitchers to compete for a bullpen spot to replace Joe Beimel. A couple of them emerged as front-runners to be the second lefty in the bullpen behind Charlie Furbush: Joe Saunders is one of the few candidates with major league experience and has only allowed a .628 OPS against lefties in his career, while the Mariners saw enough in David Rollins to select him in the Rule 5 Draft.

But it's been unheralded Tyler Olson who has come out of nowhere to become a potential leading candidate. In six spring innings, Olson has allowed just one hit while striking out eight.

Of course, spring stats can be misleading, and Olson is coming off a decent but not great season as a 25-year-old starter at Double-A Jackson. Still, the upside Olson has shown might be enough to win him a roster spot, and he has looked dominant against batters from both sides of the plate.

Farm director Chris Gwynn offered his thoughts on Olson to Bob Dutton of The Tacoma News Tribune.

“He has a really good change-up, and he changes eye location. He knows what he’s doing.”

If the event of the Mariners carrying only one left-handed reliever, Carson Smith becomes the clear favorite for the spot.

 

Winner: Olson

 

Final Bench Spot

Taylor's wrist injury also pretty much ends any competition for the final bench spot on Seattle's roster. Rickie Weeks will make the roster and play some left field and first base, but the Mariners are probably going to want a backup middle infielder who can fill in at other positions in an emergency.

That means it's going to be Willie Bloomquist, who looked like a prime candidate to be cut just a couple of weeks ago. Bloomquist has proven he has recovered enough from microfracture knee surgery to at least play, collecting three hits in 13 at-bats.

Taylor may have made the roster anyway even if he lost out to Miller. The Mariners could also give the spot to an unappealing outfielder (Stefen Romero, James Jones) or shortstop Ketel Marte, but Bloomquist appears most likely given current roster construction.

When Taylor gets healthy, the Mariners could make a change quickly.

 

Winner: Bloomquist (for now)

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Final Prediction for Seattle Mariners’ Key Spring Position Battles

With just over three weeks until Opening Day, the Seattle Mariners are beginning to get a clear idea of who will come out victorious in their most intense position battles.

The Mariners entered spring training with only a couple of spots up for grabs on the 25-man roster. After Seattle shored up its weaknesses from last year's roster with offseason acquisitions, only shortstop, the No. 5 rotation spot, one position in the bullpen and one on the bench were available at the start of camp.

Clear favorites have emerged in each of those battles, whether it be due to performance or injury. While spring stats shouldn't mean everything (or even much) when deciding roster spots, Seattle's position battles feel decided barring something out of the ordinary or further injury.

 

Shortstop

The fight between Brad Miller and Chris Taylor for the starting shortstop job was the most interesting thing to watch in Mariners camp up until Saturday. Both potential candidates were playing well, and it appeared the Mariners would have to wait until the final days of spring training to make a sure decision.

Unfortunately, an examination revealed Taylor suffered a fractured bone in his right wrist and will be sidelined for four to six weeks, according to Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times. That means Miller is guaranteed the job for the first month or so of the season unless he gets hurt himself.

Miller likely had the advantage based on this spring alone, as he has collected seven hits in 17 spring at-bats, including two doubles and two home runs. Of course, Miller had an outstanding spring in 2014 before a terrible first two months of the regular season, but his flashes of upside at the plate may have made him the preferred option to Taylor anyway.

However, Taylor was also hitting well in the spring, with eight hits in 19 at-bats, including a home run, a double and two triples. That power is particularly interesting, as Taylor showed little ability to hit anything but singles during his stint in the big leagues last season.

It's an unlucky injury for Taylor, who also broke a pinkie last May when he was on the cusp of being called up to the majors. While Miller had the advantage for the starting job, Taylor was certainly making the case that he deserved a 25-man roster spot.

 

Winner: Miller by default

 

No. 5 Rotation Spot

Although there are a few other candidates, the final rotation spot always felt like it would come down to Taijuan Walker and Roenis Elias. With a dominant spring so far, Walker has emerged as the clear front-runner.

In three spring starts, Walker has pitched eight shutout innings while allowing just two hits and one walk and striking out eight. Even if it's just spring training, Walker is throwing strikes, his fastball is lively and he's mixing in a changeup better than we've seen before.

The stuff appears to be there, but Walker said after Saturday's outing that he is also improved with maturation, via Greg Johns of MLB.com.

“When I was younger I'd get men on base and I'd get frustrated and try to do so much so they wouldn't score and it kind of got me in trouble. This year I'm keeping my composure when people get on and just work for ground balls and get the easy outs."

Elias does have a chance as he as shown he can successfully pitch in the majors for a full season, but Walker's upside and showing this spring may be too much to ignore. Walker's potential is looking like it may start to produce some results this season.

 

Winner: Walker

 

Lefty Reliever

The Mariners assembled a pile of left-handed pitchers to compete for a bullpen spot to replace Joe Beimel. A couple of them emerged as front-runners to be the second lefty in the bullpen behind Charlie Furbush: Joe Saunders is one of the few candidates with major league experience and has only allowed a .628 OPS against lefties in his career, while the Mariners saw enough in David Rollins to select him in the Rule 5 Draft.

But it's been unheralded Tyler Olson who has come out of nowhere to become a potential leading candidate. In six spring innings, Olson has allowed just one hit while striking out eight.

Of course, spring stats can be misleading, and Olson is coming off a decent but not great season as a 25-year-old starter at Double-A Jackson. Still, the upside Olson has shown might be enough to win him a roster spot, and he has looked dominant against batters from both sides of the plate.

Farm director Chris Gwynn offered his thoughts on Olson to Bob Dutton of The Tacoma News Tribune.

“He has a really good change-up, and he changes eye location. He knows what he’s doing.”

If the event of the Mariners carrying only one left-handed reliever, Carson Smith becomes the clear favorite for the spot.

 

Winner: Olson

 

Final Bench Spot

Taylor's wrist injury also pretty much ends any competition for the final bench spot on Seattle's roster. Rickie Weeks will make the roster and play some left field and first base, but the Mariners are probably going to want a backup middle infielder who can fill in at other positions in an emergency.

That means it's going to be Willie Bloomquist, who looked like a prime candidate to be cut just a couple of weeks ago. Bloomquist has proven he has recovered enough from microfracture knee surgery to at least play, collecting three hits in 13 at-bats.

Taylor may have made the roster anyway even if he lost out to Miller. The Mariners could also give the spot to an unappealing outfielder (Stefen Romero, James Jones) or shortstop Ketel Marte, but Bloomquist appears most likely given current roster construction.

When Taylor gets healthy, the Mariners could make a change quickly.

 

Winner: Bloomquist (for now)

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Seattle Mariners: Players Turning Heads Early at Spring Training

The Seattle Mariners kicked off spring training Wednesday with a 4-3 win over the San Diego Padres.

While Seattle is only six games into its exhibition season, plenty of news has been flowing out of Arizona. A couple of top Seattle prospects have impressed early, while Ji-Man Choi unfortunately went down with a broken fibula Wednesday, according to Shannon Drayer of 710 ESPN: 

There's still plenty of time to sort out roster battles and for more standouts to emerge, but a few Mariners are off to a strong start in the spring.

 

D.J. Peterson, 1B/3B

Peterson carries a lot of Seattle's hopes for the future as the top prospect in the organization apart from Alex Jackson. After posting a .261/.335/.473 line in 58 games of Double-A last year, it's fair to assume Peterson will get at least a September call-up this season.

A strong spring training campaign could help Peterson reach the majors even sooner than that. Peterson wasted no time in that regard, drilling a home run to left-center in his first at-bat of the spring.

He's added two singles, a double and a walk in 16 total at-bats so far. While spring statistics aren't all that important, the early display of power surely impressed some in the organization, including Lloyd McClendon, via Larry Stone of The Seattle Times

“This kid has some talent," McClendon said. "He knows what he’s doing in the box, and he didn’t disappoint today.”

Apart from shortstops Brad Miller and Chris Taylor, Peterson could be the most important Seattle player to watch for the rest of the spring.

 

Patrick Kivlehan, 1B/3B

Peterson might have the highest ceiling of any Mariners' prospect at spring training, but Kivlehan is not to be underestimated. Kivlehan put up a .300/.374/.485 in 104 games at Double-A Jackson last season, good for a 140 wRC+, which was 14 points better than Peterson's performance.

Those numbers are even more impressive when considering that Kivlehan only started playing college baseball his senior season at Rutgers. At this point, Kivlehan looks like a future major league contributor, if not more.

Like Peterson, Kivlehan can accelerate his path to the majors with a strong spring. Kivlehan has collected four hits in 11 spring at-bats so far, including a double and a three-run home run.

More importantly, the organization has taken notice of Kivlehan's rapid ascension. Scouting director Tom McNamara offered his thoughts on Kivlehan's skill set to Drayer:

I thought he would struggle with breaking stuff, off-speed stuff because he hasn't seen it, but he's smart and he can track breaking stuff. He reads the pitch. The athleticism and the strength helps. He was playing against the best athletes in the country, playing in front of 60,000 on Saturdays, and I think he makes adjustments quicker than others because of that.

With more flashes of power and athleticism in the spring, Kivlehan's ETA to the majors could be reduced to a matter of months.

 

Taijuan Walker, SP

Walker started Seattle's opener and immediately got the upper hand in his battle with Roenis Elias for the final spot in the rotation. In two innings of work against the Padres, Walker allowed just one single while striking out two.

Two innings is not enough of a sample size to judge much of anything, but there were some encouraging signs from Walker. He threw 19 of his 32 pitches for strikes after having some control issues in the majors last year, particularly with his fastball.

Walker also was able to strike Matt Kemp out on a changeup, which has been Walker's weakest pitch for most of his professional career. He discussed his new confidence in the pitch with Tracy Ringolsby of MLB.com.

"I am throwing it to right-handed and left-handed hitters and know I can throw it any time, in any count, for a strike," he said. "I want to have that confidence and feel relaxed out there. My whole confidence right now is pretty good."

If Walker can keep that level of control and add the changeup as another weapon, he could start flashing his ace potential more and more often.

 

Rickie Weeks, UTIL

Weeks has batted five times in spring training so far and only collected one hit. However, that one hit was noteworthy:

The Weeks signing may have seemed a bit out of nowhere, but this is exactly why the Mariners acquired him. Weeks has upside at the plate one year removed from a 127 wRC+ performance and clearly can still hit for power.

On the defensive side, Weeks has been playing left field and should also see some time at first base before the spring is over. If Weeks can provide depth at multiple positions and the right-handed power he's shown already, he will be a wise addition.

 

All stats via FanGraphs.com unless otherwise noted. 

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