There’s no denying the Seattle Mariners have a number of infield options on the farm primed to push incumbents at the major-league level in the next year or two. In 2012, Brad Miller, Nick Franklin and Stefen Romero left strong impressions in Double-A. And while I don’t question the three as future big leaguers, are they true upgrades over what’s already in Seattle?
Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak are younger options with spotty track records. And while that inconsistency is maddening, the opportunity exists for each to improve once fully healthy. Brendan Ryan is a top flight defensive shortstop, but one of the worst hitters in baseball. Kyle Seager has been an overachiever given his pedigree. And if you consider Jesus Montero a viable catching option, then throw Mike Zunino in this discussion as well (For the record, I don’t). By now, the baseball world expected Montero, Smoak and Ackley to be star caliber players. This hasn’t happened leaving Seattle fans hoping the next wave will be an improvement.
At shortstop, I have little doubt Brad Miller would produce more offense than Ryan now. However, is he really an upgrade at present given his error totals in the minor leagues? As a player capable of posting .350+ on base percentages, it may not matter. Low strikeout totals and a decent number of walks may force the hand of the Mariners and their abominable offense.
Mariners fans expect Nick Franklin to push Dustin Ackley and force the organization to decide on a second baseman of the future before 2014. Franklin is a quality prospect, but will his peak production eclipse a healthy Dustin Ackley? I’m not so sure. Ackley had a career minor league line of .280/.387/.435. Franklin’s is .283/.351/.458. Franklin has been young for every level, but Ackley was considered to have a better pedigree. For me, Franklin is more trade chip than core piece of the next winning Mariners team.
From an organizational standpoint, the future of the Mariners at first base is difficult to project. Justin Smoak has struggled mightily and enters his prime with a career WAR of 0.0. Should Nick Franklin Surface, Dustin Ackley could man first base. Stefen Romero and his .352/.399/.599 line in 2012 may also make a push. Romero is a bat first player with a poor defensive profile. When scouting Romero, I was reminded of a mini-Dan Uggla.
I’ve never cared for Jesus Montero at catcher. As he continues to adjust to Major League pitching, Montero will become a viable designated hitter option. My only concern is shuffling at other positions will lead to a designated hitter by committee with more managers rotating players in and out as a form of pseudo-rest.
This leaves Mike Zunino the undisputed catcher of the future. He and Taijuan Walker are the two untouchable commodities inside the organization. To deal either would be a form of heresy. Of course I would have said the same thing about Trevor Bauer and Wil Myers a week ago.
The only “safe” infielder is third baseman Kyle Seager. While he’s not an impact talent, the Mariners have bigger fish to fry. The 24-year old has done everything asked of him on a baseball field and then some.
It’s fun to try and decipher what the Mariners front office will do with a plethora of infield prospects and youngish big leaguers. For me, it’s disconcerting to think organizational planning may yield the same results as throwing names in a hat and picking at random.
Beyond Zunino, none of the current “baby Mariners” are considerably more valuable than what’s already there. And with the Mariners pursuing a number of impact bats, signs point to their feeling the same way.