Welcome to the next entry in my Spring Training report series. I’ve covered the starting rotation already. This week we’ll take a look at the Mariners infield which is chalk full of youth and a few new faces. Overall, this group was not very strong last year with poor showings from Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, and Jesus Montero. The good news is these three players are very young and still have a lot of room to grow. The most interesting thing about the infield is there are no real position battles this Spring but there are prospects who are very close to the Majors right behind the established starters. Let’s take a look at what the Mariners are working with, position by position.
|Jesus Montero (C/DH)|
|Kelly Shoppach (C)|
|Mike Zunino (C)|
|2012 (Low A/AA)||190||.373||13||1||15.9%||11.2%||.360||.468||.689|
The Mariners seem to be committed to finding out if Jesus Montero is capable of becoming a full-time catcher. They traded away John Jaso and signed a few backup options in Kelly Shoppach and Ronny Paulino. For his part, Montero has a lot of room to grow offensively and defensively. He came from the Yankees with a ton of hype but had a somewhat disappointing year in 2012. His power is real but he needs to work on cutting his strikeout rate and being more selective at the plate.
The problem with committing to Montero fully comes in the form of Mike Zunino. When Zunino proves he is major league ready, one of the two will have to move off their natural position. That probably won’t be a problem this year but it will have to be addressed in the near future as Zunino is pushing his way onto this roster. He destroyed the minor leagues in his brief time last year. He will need to show he’s able to handle a pitching staff and hit well for an entire year before being called up.
|Justin Smoak (1B)|
|Kendrys Morales (1B/DH)|
It looks like Justin Smoak will get one final chance to show that he was worth the hype that followed him when he was traded for Cliff Lee. It’s clear that the Mariners don’t fully trust in his development and have brought in a number of players who could take over 1B if Smoak collapses. Kendry Morales is slated to be our regular designated hitter but he would be our first option at first after Smoak. Mike Morse and Raul Ibanez could also be options at first.
As for Smoak himself, if he is able to build on the strong September he had last year he might actually be a useful piece. He has been hitting very well this spring with 2 HRs and a .345/.387/.690 line. We shouldn’t put much stock into spring numbers but it has to be encouraging to see him actually hitting the ball well.
|Dustin Ackley (2B)|
|Robert Andino (2B/3B/SS)|
|Nick Franklin (2B/SS)|
Dustin Ackley came up two years ago riding a wave of hype. He flashed all the skills that made him a first round pick in 2011 with great defense to boot. However, he wasn’t able to build on that start last year and took a big step back at the plate. To be fair, he was dealing with a bum heel all year which reportedly limited him at the plate. He had surgery over the offseason to remove bone spurs and he should be fully healthy coming into this season. Hopefully he will take another leap forward and show why he was a first round draft pick in 2010. Robert Andino was brought in to be the utility infielder; he has experience playing every infield position.
If Ackley should falter, Nick Franklin is waiting in the wings. Originally a shortstop, I listed him here because the Mariners aren’t sure if his defense will stick at short and I see him transitioning to second full-time this year. Franklin has been a highly rated prospect for three years now with a solid combination of power and speed that should translate well to the majors. He’ll start the season in AAA-Tacoma.
|Kyle Seager (3B/2B)|
|Alex Liddi (3B/1B)|
Kyle Seager has been a surprisingly solid option at third for the last two years. His combination of gap-power and speed has served him well and he’s only 25. He probably hit a bit over his head last year with 20 HRs, I see him hitting only 16 HRs this year with a decent average and on base skills.
Alex Liddi has been in the Mariners system for a while now and we know exactly what we’re getting with him. He has trouble making contact with the ball but when he does, he can hit it a mile. This spring he has been playing well for team Italy in the World Baseball Classic. He will be stashed in AAA-Tacoma as depth.
|Brendan Ryan (SS)|
|Brad Miller (SS)|
|2012 (High A/AA)||643||.378||15||23||16.3%||11.8%||.332||.425||.510|
|Carlos Triunfel (SS)|
Brendan Ryan is the most polarizing player on the roster. Either you love him for his defense (one of the best in the league) or you hate him for his lack of offense. I think he’s a valuable piece but his days are probably numbered as a Mariner with the recent focus on turning around our offense. Expect him to be replaced by the end of the year.
Unfortunately the man who should be replacing him, Franklin, might not be an option moving forward. There are two young shortstops who are pushing their way up the depth chart however. Brad Miller had a strong season last year in A-High Desert and AA-Jackson, hitting .332/.425/.510 with 15 HRs. If he’s able to build on that development in AA-Jackson this year he could be in the majors by next year. Carlos Triunfel has been in the Mariners system for what seems like an eternity yet he’s only 23! He’s dealt with some pretty serious injuries, losing the majority of 2009 to a broken leg, but he has been healthy the last two years. He has strong contact skills but the power that everyone thought would develop hasn’t. He’s still an interesting piece and has room to develop further. He will start the year in AAA-Tacoma.