Today, we conclude our 3-part series, by taking a look at the batters/fielders. Let’s get going before it all becomes obsolete!
One more time, let’s try to predict a reasonable lineup, 1-9:
- Austin Jackson – CF
- Dustin Ackley – LF
- Robinson Cano – 2B
- Nelson Cruz – DH
- Kyle Seager – 3B
- Logan Morrison – 1B
- Mike Zunino – C
- Seth Smith – RF
- Brad Miller/Chris Taylor – SS
- Backup Catcher
- Willie Bloomquist
- Rickie Weeks
- Justin Ruggiano
With the signing of Rickie Weeks this week – to a guaranteed, Major League contract, no less – things start to clear up a little bit. For starters, we can be all but assured that the loser of the short stop battle will be starting his season in Tacoma. You can also bet on Guti, Endy, Montero, Romero, Jones, and all of these other fringe Major Leaguers to start in Tacoma too (unless injuries get in the way). In one fell swoop, the depth on this team is improved greatly (in theory).
In theory, Rickie Weeks could play backup to Logan Morrison and/or Dustin Ackley. In reality, Rickie Weeks has never played anything other than second base in his entire professional career. I’m not 100% sold on his ability to transition to the outfield – especially considering he’s already not that great at defense when it comes to playing his “natural” position – but I’ll tell you what this DOES mean (and you’re not going to like it): if Ackley struggles early, or he in general continues to struggle against left-handed pitching, instead of experimenting with Weeks in the outfield, what’s more likely to happen is we DH with Weeks against lefty starters, and push Cruz to left field. I mean, what’s the simplest answer here? That after 32 years, we force a guy to learn a completely foreign position? Or, we let our big-money free agent signee get some work in the outfield once in a while when we need to sit Ackley? WAKE UP, DUM DUMS!
I’m not saying that’s the worst thing in the world, but it’s probably going to happen, so better to brace for it now.
I’m not going to go too much more into the bench situation as it stands now. I just like that our depth is a little more impressive than it was at this time last week.
Austin Jackson – I’m not buying it. A-Jax has been trending downward the last two years, bottoming out in his couple months with Seattle. He’s going to get the starting job in center because he’s the only guy we’ve got. And, he’s going to play a lot more than he probably should, because again, he’s the only guy we’ve got. But, it’s not going to be pretty. I give it until the end of May before he’s knocked down in the order. In no way should he be leading off, and I’m going to be repeating that phrase over and over for the first two months of the season, I can already tell. By mid-season, the Mariners will be scrambling for even a lukewarm body to replace A-Jax in center, rendering him a useless bench player who comes in for defensive relief late in games.
Dustin Ackley – Again, I’m not buying it. BAD START! We’ve got two REAL BIG red flags here at the top of our order. It’s going to be super annoying when we have to endure the entire month of April with Cano hitting with the bases empty. The Mariners will have a quicker hook in moving Ackley down in the order, but unlike A-Jax, I don’t think they’ll be as quick to remove him from the lineup entirely. I think Ackley will have the better season offensively than A-Jax, though it’ll still pale in comparison to Ackley’s second half in 2014. It’s impossible to predict what Ackley is going to do, so it wouldn’t shock me to see him turn it back on in the second half of 2015, but I think in the end we’re all going to quietly wish we’d traded him at the height of his value.
Robinson Cano – Stud. Expect more of the same as last year. I think we’re still 2-3 years away from his decline. Hope he doesn’t get injured.
Nelson Cruz – I’m more or less in line with everyone else on Cruz. I think him hitting 40 homers was an anomaly (in spite of the fact that he hit more homers away from Baltimore). I think his more natural number is anywhere from 25-30. I think that number takes a hit with him playing half of his games in Safeco, meaning he probably tops out at 25, with a floor somewhere around 17-18. I think there’s enough talent around him to make his other numbers look good (RBI, runs scored, OBP), and I think we still win enough games that it doesn’t matter. But, we’re not REALLY going to be getting the bang for our buck that we were hoping. If I’m wrong, then HALLELUJAH! Our best bet is Cruz getting off to a hot start. If we’re at the end of April and he’s at 2 home runs, this will probably be a match made in hell.
Kyle Seager – As always, no worries here. It’d be a damn fine sight if he continues to improve. One of these years, he’s going to hit over .300; why not this year? For the first time since he came on as a regular you can count on, he’s not The Man. He’s more like The Third Man. If we ever get to the point where we can bat him in the 2-hole, I would expect his batting average to skyrocket. As it stands now, I think he finally has it in him to get over the .270 hump. Let’s play it safe: .290, 24 homers, 101 RBI.
Logan Morrison – I’m much more relaxed about LoMo being our everyday first baseman now that we’ve got Rickie Weeks in the fold. While it’s unrealistic to expect Weeks to just magically convert into an outfielder overnight, it’s not impossible to see him quickly adapt to playing first base. Obviously, he’s not ideal, but I think he’s going to see quite a bit of playing time, as I just can’t envision a world where LoMo is healthy for a full season and producing in such a capacity that he’s not benched at some point for performance. I mean, he’s not QUITE Justin Smoak-bad, but he’s also not a guy with a huge track record of success. When he’s inevitably injured around mid-May, Weeks will step in and we’ll be fine for a while. Then, we’ll get tired of Everyday Weeks, and by the time LoMo returns from injury, it’ll be a strict platoon the rest of the way (to spare LoMo’s fragile body, and to spare US from Everyday Weeks).
Mike Zunino – This is actually a really fun time to be a Mike Zunino fan. So, if you’re not already on the bandwagon, I encourage you to hop on now before there’s a long line to get in. He had his abbreviated rookie season, cut short by injury. He had his full season as The Man behind the plate. To date, nothing appears to be “too big” for this kid to handle. The most important stuff – receiving pitches, handling pitchers, calling a game – is well within his wheelhouse. The rest – hitting for stuff besides gargantuan power – is sure to improve as his comfort level continues to grow.
Last year, our boy hit 22 homers, in the mostly pressure-free “bottom of the order”. That’s the good, but even that is something that can be improved upon. The bad is his .199 batting average. His 17 walks compared to 158 strikeouts. His lack of speed and overall baserunning ability is something that’s just taken for granted, but his work at the plate can use some improvement. Nevertheless, we now have his floor established. If he is – going forward – the guy he was in 2014, it’s not the WORST thing in the world. You’ve still got a quality defender and a power bat at the bottom of the order. BUT, if he improves in his work at the plate – working counts, reducing strikeouts, eliminating holes in his swing – then the sky is the limit and we will all quickly forget what a trainwreck he was with a bat in his first couple seasons. I believe he’s bound to only get better. He’s probably 3-4 years away from his offensive peak years, but it’s still going to be fun to watch him improve. If we get the same great defense, add about 25 points to his batting average, reduce his strikeouts by 10-15, and increase his walks by 10-15, I think those are very reasonable goals to attain in 2015. His ceiling for this year is all of that, plus he scratches the surface of 30 homers & 30 doubles, but that’s probably a best-case scenario.
It’s also probably going to be the norm in his peak offensive years, so like I said before, these are fun times to be a Mike Zunino fan.
Seth Smith & Justin Ruggiano – You can’t talk about one without the other, as this is a package deal. Seth Smith is the lefty. That’s what we all need to remember. He’s the guy who’s going to be playing more often, because there are more right-handed starting pitchers in baseball than lefties. So, figure Smith plays about 2/3 of the games compared to Ruggiano’s 1/3 (if everything pans out, and both stay healthy).
I’m utterly convinced that one of these guys is going to fail miserably. Odds are, Ruggiano is that guy. Smith has experience playing in bigger ballparks, as he’s played with the A’s and Padres the last three seasons. The fact that he was reasonably successful with the A’s doesn’t lead me to worry too much about his abilities to hit American League pitching. And, quite frankly, considering he’s coming off of his best season – playing down in San Diego – gives me great comfort that he’s not about to fall off the tracks.
Ruggiano has been more or less a career backup. He’s bounced around from the Rays to the Marlins to the Cubs last season. He’s got moderate pop in his bat, which should be riddled useless in Safeco. He’s the righty who does pretty well against lefties, so hopefully that trend continues. Given the fact that he’s looking at some pretty spotty playing time, it wouldn’t shock me in the least if he gets off to a slow start. I’m not expecting a ton out of either of these guys, though. If we can get some good batting averages out of them, and occasional timely hitting with runners in scoring position, I’ll be happy.
Brad Miller & Chris Taylor – This is the loser-out situation in camp. So, get ready for a million articles and blog posts on the Short Stop Battle of 2015!
Remember the Short Stop Battle of 2014? Pretty lame, if you ask me. Brad Miller had a torrid love affair with Spring Training and knocked Nick Franklin down to Tacoma. Then, of course, Miller stunk once the calendar flipped to April, and was pretty bad until we were able to call up Chris Taylor.
What you need to know here is: Miller has the bat, Taylor has the glove. Miller’s power gives him the edge in this race, and since I’m convinced he’s a Spring Training Dandy, I’m throwing my full prediction behind Miller winning the job. Either way, I think it’s good we have both of these guys, as I’m not convinced we should be sold on either.
I’m encouraged by the way Miller finished up his season last year. That leads me to believe the pressure didn’t totally deflate him. With that year under his belt, maybe he’ll be able to calm down and relax at the plate a little more. It also helps that he’s not going into the season as the leadoff hitter. They’ll most likely keep him in the 9-hole to take advantage of his speed as the lineup turns over. I’m expecting a little more consistency out of Miller, which will be good for everyone, because if we can get him going, this lineup has the potential for juggernaut status.
Lots to like here. Can’t wait for it to begin. Go M’s.