A Mid-August Look At The Mariners’ Youth Movement

With the start of football season, the Mariners just haven’t been all that interesting, so my posts on the team have been unsurprisingly less frequent.  However, of late, the Mariners have produced some exciting moments from a batch of our younger guys getting a late-season showcase.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  This is August.  This is a team far from contention.  We’ve seen this before; we’ll reserve our judgment for next year.  Let’s see if they can continue to produce when the games, the at bats, the pitches actually mean something.

I hear you.  How many times have we seen a pitcher come on like gangbusters in September, only to suck to high heaven the following spring?  How many hitters have made a name for themselves with their late-season call up, only to have that name erased forever when shit was on the line?  But, I will say this:  I’d rather have guys produce now than the alternative (being:  not producing at all).  Do quality at bats & innings pitched guarantee success in the following season?  No, of course not.  But, at least they open the door to possibility.  To hope.

I’m going to give an overview of a few of the more exciting players who’ve made an impact of late.  Let’s start with the pitchers, since they’re actually the less interesting of the two sides.

Dan Cortes – Did you know this guy has one of the lowest ERAs on the team?  You wouldn’t think so, by reading all the blogs around the city.  Of course, we’re talking about 8 measly innings pitched, but still.  All I ever hear about the guy is how he walks the world, but truth be told he’s only walked 3 guys.  What’s probably the most disturbing is that he’s struck out 0.  It’s too early to tell if the guy is going to be a major bullpen threat next year, but he’s shown so far in his few outings that he can go multiple innings, he can keep guys off base, and he’s even induced more groundball outs than flyball outs.  If he can keep it up, and have an awesome Spring, you could be looking at a trusted 6th/7th inning guy.

Tom Wilhelmsen – In my opinion, a guy who has no business being on a major league roster right now.  Granted, he’s got a live arm, but he’s too damn wild and ineffective.  He’s given up 12 walks vs. 10 strikeouts, he’s got an ERA in the mid-6 range, and he doesn’t appear to be making any progress.  For every decent outing, he’s got an absolute disaster right around the corner.  My best case scenario for this guy:  manage to somehow not kill the rest of his trade value over the next month and a half, then package him with some other prospects for a quality bat.  He’s a guy I wouldn’t mind losing, even if his is a story heart warming.

Josh Lueke – Glad we traded for this guy, glad we kept him glad he’s gotten a chance to show what he can do after his abomination of an April.  Don’t let the 8.44 ERA fool you; he was over 17 when he was originally sent down to Tacoma after his first 8 appearances.  The guy couldn’t do anything right, the velocity on his fastball was disturbingly low, and he was just getting pounded left and right.  Ever since his mid-July call-up, he’s pitched 9.2 innings and given up only 3 runs (with 7 strikeouts vs. 2 walks).  He’s too young to be closing games in the Majors, but one day he could be the man.  It’s nice having him around on his way up (as I imagine his trip back down the ladder of success will be a quick & painful one).

Charlie Furbush – The jury isn’t just out on this guy; the jury has yet to be selected!  He’s started 3 games for us, relieved in another.  He’s had a good start (5 innings, 1 run), a terrible start (4 innings, 7 runs, 6 earned), and a great start (7 innings, 1 run, against the Red Sox of all teams).  Sure, there’s promise, but promises are made to be broken.  The upside is:  he becomes a left-handed Doug Fister (i.e.  he’s a capable innings-eater who doesn’t strike anybody out, but also doesn’t walk the world).  If all he becomes is the left-handed Doug Fister, then we’ve pretty much come away from that trade ahead, since there are three other guys involved with the deal (not counting Pauley, who nobody in their right mind will ever miss).  If he fails in his charge to become the left-haded Doug Fister, then who cares?  Doug Fisters are a dime a dozen (you’ll never know how it pains me to say that, as I was actually a pretty big Doug Fister fan while he was here).

Blake Beavan – Here’s another guy with limited upside.  Essentially, we want him to be the right-handed Doug Fister (or, just Doug Fister).  At first, you had to LOVE what you saw out of the kid.  6 consecutive quality starts to kick off his career (including a couple of impressive performances down in Anaheim, going 14.1 innings over 2 starts, giving up 3 earned runs).  He has since backed those games up with a couple of real clunkers (11.1 innings, 11 runs, 6 home runs against Boston & Toronto).  That’s not going to cut it.  He’s got to find a way to be a little more spectacular in his wins and a little less like Chinese Water Torture in his losses.  I don’t have a whole lot of confidence in this guy right now, but I don’t think there’s any pitcher I’m more interested in seeing down the stretch.  Can he bounce back?  Will he flame out like the Challenger Explosion?

Now, to the hitters (in an effort to not bum everyone out, I’ve decided to leave Justin Smoak off this list).

Trayvon Robinson – Talk about an exciting debut!  The kid has flashed some serious glove, some serious power, and some serious consistency.  He’s 9 for 36 so far with 4 doubles and a homer.  Of course, in his 10 appearances he’s struck out 14 times with only 1 walk (so, in that sense, he’s just like Halman, Peguero, and all the rest of our high-strikeout AAA bashers).  People in the know seem to have higher hopes about Robinson in spite of these K’s, so who knows?  What I want to see out of him more than anything else is a batting average that doesn’t plummet to Figginsian levels with steady playing time.  All of these guys seem to start out ablaze, then a month goes by and it’s like they’ve been hit with a dozen fire extinguishers.

Casper Wells – Before the trade, Wells was hitting .257 with 4 homers, a .323 OBP, and a .451 slugging percentage in 113 at bats spread out over the first four months.  Since the trade, Wells is hitting .326 with 5 homers (including a homer in 4 consecutive games), a .413 OBP, and a .652 slugging percentage in 46 at bats.  Sure, a smaller sample size, but it could also be a testament to what the guy can do when given a chance to compete for a starting spot (and given a chance to play everyday).  A lot to like about the guy’s results, but I question if he can do it over the long haul.  For the moment, though, he’s making the Fister trade look like a fucking blockbuster.

Mike Carp – This guy is easily my favorite story of the year.  Not Pineda, not Ackley, not Wedge shaving off his moustache, not even the cutting of Milton Bradley.  Here’s a guy who looked like nothing more than a AAA also-ran.  Someone with not enough power for the power positions (left field, first base, DH) and not enough skill for the skill positions where we’re hurting the most (third base, short stop, catcher).  Essentially, he was a baseball player without a position.  No matter where you put him, he would ultimately never live up to the ideal.

Then, something happened.  If I didn’t know any better, I’d say the guy took a few dozen massive doses of steroids, but I’m pretty darn certain that’s not the case.  Simply put, the guy turned into a wild, uncaged animal for our Rainiers.  As guys like Peguero and Halman kept all the Major League playing time for themselves (and doing a poor job at it to boot), Carp quietly went about his business of being the Osama Bin Laden of the PCL (terrorizing, he was terrorizing them).  Finally, in early June, the Mariners had no choice.  They HAD to bring the guy up.

And, I don’t want to say he struggled, but he certainly wasn’t the hitter he was in Tacoma.  He had a .200 batting average with 2 doubles and 0 homers in 35 at bats … okay, so he struggled!  He still had enough walks to keep his OBP at .333.  When he was sent back down in early July, I was convinced that was it for the Mike Carp era.  It proved once and for all that Carp was indeed nothing more than a AAA also-ran.

Then, he was called back up.  And all of a sudden, he started dominating.  They gave him an everyday job and let him take his lumps.  As a result, Carp has rewarded the team with .371 batting average over his last 105 at bats.  He’s hit 6 homers, 6 doubles, and a triple.  He’s slugging .619 over this span to give himself an absolute Ruthian OPS.

You know why he’s my favorite story of the year?  Because he reminds me so much of Edgar.  A guy who toiled in the minors well into his 20s, then finally got a shot on some bad teams.  Once he had a regular opportunity to bat, he ran away with it, winning batting titles and the hearts of the Pacific Northwest.  Who’s to say Carp couldn’t do the same thing as our DH of the future?

I implore Mariners executives:  don’t go out and buy another past-his-prime designated hitter in the hopes that he’ll rebound to his 2-years-ago self.  2 years in baseball years might as well be 2 decades when you’re old.  Mike Carp is here now, he’s inexpensive, and he’s poised to tear the cover off the ball for years to come!

Dustin Ackley – This kid is just amazing.  There’s nothing else to say about him.  I have no concerns whatsoever that he’s going to regress next year.  I fully expect him to have a Wade Boggs type career for the next decade-plus.  Even when he’s struggling (like he has in August, with a .241 batting average), he’s still awesome (a .379 on-base percentage in that very same span).  On the year, he has 25 walks vs. 35 strikeouts.  He’s hit 5 homers, 5 triples, and 11 doubles; I can’t even begin to tell you how awesome that is for a second baseman.  In seriously not that many years, he’s going to go down as the best second baseman the Mariners have ever seen (with apologies to Harold Reynolds).  I love you Dustin Ackley.  So very damn much!

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