Spring Training is in full swing and there’s just two weeks until Opening Day! The Mariners enter the 2014 season after handing out the largest contract to the top free agent during the offseason. Personally, it feels like the Mariners have turned a corner from rebuilding mode to win-now mode. Whether it was the right time or not is up for debate but I’m excited to see where this takes us. Just like last year, I’ll be offering my thoughts on the projected roster, broken up by position group. I’ve simplified the amount of data I’m presenting–just a personally built 2014 projection. I trust that you’re able to look up historical data on your own.
First up, the 2014 Seattle Mariners infield. A bunch of young guys out to prove themselves surround a star who will be counted on to lead this team back to the promised land. The signing of Robinson Cano brought a lot of fanfare but three of the five positions in the infield will be held by players drafted and developed by the Mariners. This organization has been able to identify and develop strong talents across the infield and this position group is now one of the strengths of the team.
|Mike Zunino (C)||373||84||16||1||12||2||25%||8%||.225||.289||.369||1.3|
|John Buck (C)||370||80||12||0||13||1||25%||9%||.215||.297||.355||1.2|
After a brief cup of tea in 2013, Mike Zunino is poised to take over full-time catching duties this year. He still has a lot to prove both offensively and defensively but he should bring some stability to the position the Mariners haven’t seen since Kenji Johjima was behind the plate. My projection has him basically maintaining his strikeout and walk rates from last year with a better–but still low–average and slugging percentage.
Backing up Zunino will be the veteran, John Buck. It’s uncanny how similar their projections look. It’s as though the Mariners have a specific archetype they’re looking for in a catcher. I’m not sure if that bodes well or ill for Zunino–the Mariners don’t have the best track record with catchers. Buck, for his sake, will be a serviceable backup to Zunino. He’s proven he can handle a pitching staff and has some pop in his bat.
|Justin Smoak (1B)||472||109||19||0||20||0||22%||11%||.231||.321||.398||0.4|
|Logan Morrison (1B/DH)||387||94||19||3||13||1||18%||11%||.242||.330||.413||0.2|
|Jesus Montero (1B/DH)||374||94||15||1||11||0||20%||6%||.252||.299||.386||0.1|
Well, it looks like it’s one more year of Justin Smoak, Mariner first baseman. The story out of spring training is that new manager Lloyd McClendon gave Smoak his blessing early this offseason and has said that Smoak could lead the league in doubles. This tacit admission that Smoak’s power hasn’t developed as projected has allowed him to focus on getting hits instead of homers. My projection doesn’t reflect that change in approach, instead it sees him producing a year very similar to last year. With so many players who could slot into first base, the leash on Smoak has to be pretty short.
Logan Morrison is one of those players who could slot in at first base but doesn’t really have foreseeable starting role. Depending on where Corey Hart is playing, he could slot in as the DH against righties and even make a few spot starts in the outfield.
If either of the above players get injured or get off to a slow start, the humbled Jesus Montero will be waiting in the wings, ready swoop in and reclaim his once-promising career. He still has a long way to go before he’s a capable defensive first baseman but he’s still only 23-years-old!
The Seattle Mariners will start the best second baseman in the league in 2014. I know that I won’t get tired of saying that for the next few years. Despite all of the qualms about the size and length of his contract, seeing Robinson Cano in the lineup day in and day out will be very exciting. My projection has him losing a few points in batting average and slugging percentage while basically maintaining all of his other rates. I don’t think he’ll be hurt by Safeco as much as some people think he will.
Willie Bloomquist is back for a second tour with the Mariners. He’ll be the primary backup at second base and third base and should see time at a number of other positions around the field. His value comes from his flexibility and his presence alone allows the Mariners to carry all of the first basemen they currently have on the roster.
Kyle Seager has quickly become an integral piece of the Mariners’ infield. Over the past two seasons, Seager has the seventh highest WAR for a third baseman and has averaged 21 HRs and 11 SBs a year. My projection sees a drop in batting average and slugging percentage while maintaining his walk rate from last year. This projected drop in production might be a reflection of Seager’s horrendous second half last year where he hit just.212 after hitting a cool .293 in the first half. In 2012, Seager’s first full year in the majors, he didn’t show a dramatic half-year split. Hopefully the end of last year was a prolonged slump and not a sign of things to come.
Heading into spring training, the Mariners told us they were committed to seeing a proper competition at shortstop. All the praise being heaped onto Brad Miller coupled with the trade rumors surrounding Nick Franklin have settled this position battle fairly decisively. Brad Miller will be the starting shortstop for the 2014 Seattle Mariners–not that it should have been any other way. One of the narratives that has popped up this spring has gone something like this, “Miller is better defensively, Franklin is better at the plate.” I think the numbers show that narrative isn’t grounded in reality. Miller is clearly the better hitter, sporting better plate discipline rates and a higher batting average and slugging percentage than Franklin.
The question then becomes what to do with Franklin if he’s not going to be the shortstop. He’s only 23 and could use this year to further develop his plate discipline. A 60% contact rate does not bode well for his ability to hit well in the majors. If he can work on making consistent contact with the ball while cutting down his strikeout rate, he’ll be on his way to becoming a mature hitter. This is easier said than done and it definitely won’t happen if he’s riding the bench for the Mariners and playing once or twice a week. With the amount of trade rumors swirling around him and the number of teams in need of a middle infielder (the Tigers, Dodgers, and Mets to name a few), many are assuming he won’t even be a Mariner past spring training. I don’t believe he’ll be traded this early in the season. The Mariners have the flexibility and the leverage to wait for the right offer and I think they’re perfectly content letting him spend a season in Tacoma developing.