Friday, July 5, 2013

The Second Coming (of Rookies)

Taijuan Walker
In only a short time, we've gone from seeing the future of the Mariners to wondering if we'll ever see any kind of production from the younger guys.  Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero, Justin Smoak and Kyle Seager were to be the core pieces that would get the Mariners franchise into respectability with a free agent or two to get them to the promised land.

While Seager has been what we had hoped for and more, the three headed monster that is Ackley, Montero and Smoak have, so far, been lackluster at best.  Montero was never going to be a catcher and he came into the 2013 season crowned as the primary catcher on the roster.  That didn't work out too well.  Telling a rookie that he has to learn a position all over again and telling him he also has to make the adjustments to big league pitching usually doesn't work out too well.  He's still young and could end up being a hell of DH in the coming years, but he still has some work to do.

Ackley is Ackley, only without the hitting we thought he would bring.  With the exception of his first few months with the Mariners, he's struggled to make any kind of an impact with the bat and continues to struggle.  His failure to adjust to the way major league pitchers are pitching to him has hampered his production and will continue until he figures it out.

Smoak has very quickly become a known entity to everybody except the Mariners organization.  He's a first baseman without the expected power from a corner infield spot and has struggled mightily this season with runners in scoring position.  With runners in scoring position in '13, he's hit .136/.321/.159 and with nobody on is hitting .309 /.401/.496.  The whole team has struggled with runners in scoring position, but I'm singling out Smoak because of the fact he's still hitting in the middle of the order, he's a younger guy that was supposed to be a producer and he's done nothing unless nobody is on base.

With the struggles of the core players originally pinned as the Mariners hopes, attention has turned to guys like Nick Franklin and Brad Miller.  As exciting as these guys might be, is the second time going to be any better?

In case you don't know the scouting scale, I'll give you the simple explanation.  It's a 20-80 (2-8) scale system with 80 being godlike and 20 being like Jesus Montero running.  A 50 player is league average, which is still a decent player.  I'm nothing close to being a scout, so I'm going with the numbers that are posted rather than putting my own grade on the players.

Nick Franklin, Brad Miller and Mike Zunino have already been called up, obviously, so the Jack Z trying to save my job era has already begun.  Franklin started off doing what none of the other rookies have done, which is hit, but we don't know what he'll be yet.  Yes, a month and a half's worth of production is nice, but remember Ackley in '11.  Half a season doesn't tell you much, let alone a month and a half or so.  Still, it's nice to get something from a younger player.  Brad Miller hasn't done much yet, but it's only been a couple of weeks and, let's face it, he's already hitting better than Brendan Ryan anyway.  Zunino isn't nearly ready for the big leagues, but with the options the Mariners had at catcher after Shoppach was exposed playing every day and the Montero at catcher experiment ending, the Mariners didn't have much of an alternative.

Seeing these guys in a major league uniform is exciting in a season where there's not much to be excited about.  Since Franklin has hit while up in the majors, Ackley was moved to the outfield while he was in Tacoma and has already been playing centerfield while back with the big league club.  This does not bode well for Franklin Gutierrez's future, but that doesn't really matter since Guti hasn't and probably won't play very much anyway.  Whether it's because he pulled an eyelid or because management has put him on the bench is a question that will be answered when/if he comes off the disabled list.

Even with those guys already up and playing, the farm is still packed with talent.  The starting rotation has Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Brandon Maurer waiting in the wings to take over for Aaron Harang and Jeremy Bonderman sometime in '13 or next season.  Hultzen and Maurer are two guys that project as middle of the rotation guys, which is something the Mariners have lacked the last few years.  With the exception of Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, the rotation is a mess and there's help on the way.  Walker probably won't make an appearance until '14 given what I'm sure is an innings limit for this year and the fact he's still only 20 years old with no need to rush him to pitch in what can charitably be called a lost season.  Walker is currently a 5 with a projection of 7, which would put him as Seattle's 1a behind Felix in the rotation.  Basically, the Mariners would have two legit aces at the top of the rotation.

Paxton is still a mystery for most of the fans.  While I think he could be a good #2 or #3 starter, he has yet to prove he can pitch in Tacoma, let alone the majors, and still doesn't have his control issues figured out yet.  He has the strikeout pitch working, as he usually does, but his walk rate is still around 4.0 BB/9, which is only slightly better than his 4.2 BB/9 for his career.  While Paxton is one of the top Mariners pitching prospects, he has yet to show he can harness his ability with any kind of consistency.  He's still only 24 and can get it figured out, but the clock is ticking.

With the exception of those guys, the only other position player prospect to look forward to is Stefen Romero.  He projects as a 5 type player, probably in the outfield, with a decent bat and some power.  Franklin projects as a 20/20 player, which is about where Romero would project, as far as power is concerned.  Romero isn't a speed guy, but he could steal 10-15 bases a season if he tried, which is nothing to sneeze at.

The Mariners have one of the top farm systems in the majors, which is good since the failure rate on prospects is staggering.  Not every prospect the Mariners have will reach their potential, but some will, which is enough.  The only question I have is, where are the power guys?  Most of the prospects the Mariners have at the moment are complimentary pieces.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, but an impact bat is what the Mariners are in desperate need of and there doesn't seem to be any on the horizon.  DJ Peterson could become a guy with 30 homer potential, but he just signed a couple of weeks ago and is years away from the majors.  A guy like Gabriel Guerrero could be an impact bat, but he's only 19 and there's no guarantee he'll even make it to Tacoma, let alone the majors.  Julio Morban is another one, but again, is only 21 and in Double-A right now.  Guerrero has a 6 projected for power and Morban a 5.  That doesn't mean they'll get there, but its a possibility.  If you have a rabbit's foot or 5, blow the dust off and get to work.

The next wave of prospects is still at least a year away, but more realistically 2 years away.  What we have now, in 2013, is what's going to keep the Mariners from sinking into oblivion.  Them and whatever guys the Mariners elect to trade for or sign.  With the Mariners sellers (again) at the trade deadline, you can expect another prospect or two to end up on the shores of the sinking ship Mariners, but nothing to write home about.  Right now, we're crossing our fingers and rubbing whatever good luck charms are at our disposal in the hopes that most of these prospects hit.  Even if they do, what are the odds that a ..280 hitter with 10-15 bombs is going to do it for us?  It's a lot better than what we have now, but what the Mariners lack is a guy that can carry this lineup.  Montero may still be that guy somewhere down the road, but after the last two years, its looking less and less likely.

Its possible the Mariners could swing a trade and get a huge bat that can be plugged into the lineup for years to come.  Keep in mind, however, that you don't get something for nothing.  A player like that in trade is going to cost you dearly.  With any luck, one of the prospects still in the minors will surprise the hell out of everybody and become the power guy we're all desperate for.  It's nice having Raul Ibanez on the team, hitting bombs with regularity, but he's 41 years old.  It's nice to see, but I'd rather it be some 25 or 26 year old doing it, especially in this type of season where there's not really much you can point at and say, "See, THIS is what we can look forward to."  While this second wave of prospects is looking good so far, its not the answer for the offensive struggles of the franchise. We need something that, right now, the Mariners simply don't have in their system.  A free agent could do it, but we also need these prospects to be more hits than misses before we can relight that dead candle with "Hope" carved into the side.  I seriously hope this second wave isn't just a mirage that turns out to be a hill of sand.

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