Last week I previewed the Mariners infield; this week I’ll tackle the outfield. Where the Mariners have been able to develop a number of strong infielders, the organization has been almost completely incapable of developing any major league talent in the outfield. They’re hoping to change that trend this year with the promotions of Abraham Almonte and potentially Stefen Romero. Dustin Ackley and Michael Saunders are the returning incumbents and their inconsistent play has made them a pain to project. There is some upside here but this position group is clearly one of the team’s weaknesses.
Right now, Corey Hart is penciled in as the Mariners right fielder. Whether that will actually be the case largely depends on the health of both of Hart’s knees. Manager Llyod McClendon thinks Hart will be able to play 150 games this season, but later clarified that a majority of those games probably won’t played in the outfield. When he’s not in the outfield, Hart will find himself as the designated hitter or playing first base. Regardless of where he’s playing, Hart’s ability to hit the ball shouldn’t be in question. Even though he missed all of 2013, he should be a potent bat in the lineup. Before he was injured, he had an excellent power/speed profile but I wouldn’t expect many stolen bases with his knees. Even the five I project for him seem high.
Stefen Romero is making an excellent case to be the 25th man on the Mariners’ opening day roster this spring. He’s an infielder who has been converted to an outfielder, much like Dustin Ackley. He’s 25 years old and still has some room to develop but he’s a right handed bat that can come off the bench and can fill in at a number of different positions.
Abraham Almonte has played his way into potentially starting as the opening day center fielder for the Mariners. He impressed in a brief, 25 game audition in 2013 and has played fairly well this spring. He has an incredible story and its a minor miracle he’s even made it this far. If he is the starting center fielder, he’ll slot in as the leadoff hitter with his incredible speed. His body type belies the amount of speed he can muster out of his short, squat frame. He’s still very raw and his defense might suffer for it but if he’s able to get on base at a decent clip and continue to develop his plate discipline and power, he could be a very useful piece for the Mariners.
Battling Almonte for playing time is the incumbent, Michael Saunders. The Mariners have made it pretty clear they prefer Saunders at one of the corner outfield spots and the numbers back that up. In over 2,000 innings in center, Saunders is rated -8.7 according to UZR and -23 according to DRS. In over 1,600 innings in the corners, he’s rated +7.0 according to UZR and +8 according to DRS. If Corey Hart is unable to take the field, I would expect Saunders to shift over to right field.
Dustin Ackley is entering his fourth season as a professional and who could have guessed he would find himself as a left fielder in 2014. In college, Ackley has spent time at shortstop, center field, and first base. After being drafted he was moved to second base by the Mariners but also saw time at first and in center. Between all of these position moves and the expectations placed on a first round draft pick, it’s no wonder he hasn’t hit as well as projected. It’s a relief, then, to see him making some positive progress this spring. Obviously, Spring Training stats have to be taken with a grain of salt but Ackley has been stroking the ball to all fields with authority. If he’s able to carry this over into the regular season, we could actually see him hit like he was supposed to. My projection is based off his previous three years so this could be seen as a rough floor to what we might see from him this year.