Repositioning Seattle’s future

peterson_djThe 2015 Major League Baseball amateur draft is just three months away and, based on the reader feedback to Jason A. Churchill’s recent “MLB Draft: 2009 ReDraft” article, the annual draft is a passionate subject for many of Seattle’s baseball faithful. One aspect of the draft that will probably garner more attention than necessary will be the positions played by the team’s higher draft choices.

For example, if the Mariners drafted a shortstop in the early rounds of the 2015 draft, would fans be in an uproar because the team has a perceived “glut” of shortstop talent at the upper levels of the organization? After all, there’s a starting shortstop competition between Brad Miller and Chris Taylor underway in Peoria and Prospect Insider named shortstop Ketel Marte their 2014 Position Prospect of the Year. Drafting another shortstop wouldn’t concern me because stockpiling of talent only makes an organization stronger and there are ways to mitigate perceived talent backlogs.

Repositioned major league talent
First, let’s look at the first-rounders in Jason’s 2009 “re-draft” article who changed positions.

As a freshman and sophomore at the University of Carolina (UNC), Dustin Ackley played centerfield until moving to first base due to Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow. The second overall pick in the 2009 Major League Baseball amateur draft was an outfielder during the 2009 Arizona Fall League (AFL) season, but was moved to second base afterwards. In 2011, he made his major league debut as the Mariners’ second baseman and got off to a great start with the team. Eventually, the combination of Ackley’s subsequent offensive struggles and Nick Franklin‘s emergence led to the former Tar Heel returning to the outfield with Franklin seemingly poised to take the Mariners’ second base job.

Unfortunately for Franklin, the Mariners’ other 2009 first-rounder, the Mariners inked perennial all-star Robinson Cano to a 10-year contract after the 2013 season leaving him to compete with Miller for starting shortstop position in 2014. After losing that battle, the switch-hitter was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays in the deal that brought center fielder Austin Jackson to Seattle. Now, the 24-year-old is competing for the second base job with the Rays.

Billy Hamilton of the Cincinnati Reds was moved to centerfield despite already being hailed as a top 50 prospect at shortstop. The Reds moved the 24-year-old due to a logjam at shortstop. Their current starting shortstop, Zack Cozart, and Didi Gregorius, who was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks and then the New York Yankees, were ahead of Hamilton in the Reds’ pipeline. So, the club moved the young switch-hitter to the outfield in order to take advantage of his tremendous speed.

Although he played some second base at Arizona State University, Jason Kipnis was primarily a center fielder when drafted in the second round by the Cleveland Indians. He started his minor league career in left and center field, but was permanently moved to second base at the start of his 2010 minor league season because the team felt the 27-year-old provided the most value at that position. He proved the organization correct by being named an all-star in 2013. Although the former Sun Devil’s numbers declined in 2014, he’s viewed as a key contributor for the Tribe in 2015.

Ackley’s UNC and Seattle teammate, Kyle Seager, was a collegiate second baseman before debuting at third base with the Mariners in 2011. The former Tar Heel had played some third base and shortstop in the minors. But, the majority of his games were played at second (266) compared to the combined 119 he played at short and third. Making the move to third base made perfect sense for the team and Seager since Ackley was viewed as the second baseman of the future. In 2014, the 27-year-old has emerged as one of the top third basemen in baseball by earning his first all-star appearance and Gold Glove and subsequently being rewarded with a seven-year/$100 million contract extension after the season.

Two players who discarded “the tools of ignorance” and went on to become established major leaguers were Wil Myers and Matt Adams. Myers was a high school catcher when drafted by the Kansas City Royals. The 24-year-old’s athleticism permitted him to seamlessly transition to the outfield when he garnered the 2013 American League Rookie of the Year award during his debut season with the Tampa Bay Rays. Now, the San Diego Padres are expecting him to use that athleticism to patrol centerfield in spacious Petco Park.

Adams, the St. Louis Cardinals’ first baseman, was a catcher at Slippery Rock University when drafted in the 23rd round by St. Louis. After completing his first full season with the Cards in 2014, the 26-year-old is now entrenched in the middle of their line-up.

Seattle prospects on the move
There are several Mariner’s prospects who have moved or will be moving to a new position. Two of the team’s most notable position player prospects, D.J. Peterson and Patrick Kivlehan, will likely find themselves at different position thanks to the Mariners’ long-term commitment to Seager.

Peterson, drafted out of the University of New Mexico as a third baseman, is a top-five Mariners’ prospect and was frequently mentioned in trade speculation during the past off-season. The 23-year-old has played both first and third base although the majority of his playing time has been at third base. Most likely, he’ll see some time at third at AAA-Tacoma in 2015 to hedge against any potential injury scenarios in Seattle. But, his best chance to stick with the Mariners will be at first base. Potentially, Peterson may have to share playing time with former catchers Jesús Montero and Ji-Man Choi, when he returns from his broken fibula. Former third baseman Jordy Lara may eventually be added to the mix at Tacoma although he’ll start the year at AA-Jackson.

Kivlehan is a late-bloomer who played four seasons at defensive back and special teams for the Rutgers University football team. The 25-year-old only played college-level baseball during his senior season, but was still named the 2012 Big East Player of the Year. Initially a third baseman, Kivlehan spread his playing time between the corner infield and the corner outfield spots during his two minor league stops in 2014. Outfield looks to be the former collegiate football player’s best path to Safeco Field.

Another former high school catcher, Tyler O’Neill, is now an outfielder. The 19-years-old is raw and far from seeing time in Seattle although his injury-shorted 2014 performance did earn him consideration for Prospect Insider’s 2014 Position Prospect of the Year.

Outfielder Stefen Romero was drafted as a third baseman out of Oregon State University in 2010 and primarily manned second and third base until he arrived at AAA-Tacoma in 2013. Since then, the former Beaver has transitioned to the outfield, which is where he played the majority of his 72 rookie season games with Seattle in 2014. Romero’s path back to Safeco is currently blocked by the off-season acquisitions of Rickie Weeks, Justin Ruggiano, and Seth Smith. But, the 26-year-old could eventually be a contributor for Seattle as a part of an outfield platoon.

As mentioned earlier, Marte, faces a similar dilemma to Romero; a logjam at the major league level. Not only are Miller and Taylor ahead of him at shortstop, Cano will be manning second base for many more years. Fortunately for Seattle and Marte, time is on their side; he’s only 21-years-old and still needs more time at AAA-Tacoma.

Final thought
The best organizations view talented prospects, regardless of position, as a means to create organizational flexibility and develop talent-equity that can be used on the 25-man roster, as AAA-level depth, or as commodities in the trade market. Expect the Mariners to act accordingly in June and draft the best player available with each of their picks, even if the organization is already top-heavy with prospects at that position; like shortstop.

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Luke Arkins

Luke is a native New Yorker, who was sent to the Pacific Northwest by the Navy and then decided to stay. He grew up as a New York Mets fan and continues to follow them from afar, although he can be frequently found at Safeco Field observing the hometown team. You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins

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