Leonys Martin, CF
2015: 95 G, .219/.264/.313, .270 BABIP, .254 wOBA, 50 wRC+, 0.5 fWAR
Martin is, and always has been, considered by some to be an all-glove, no-bat center fielder, but one doesn’t have to look very far to get solid offensive production from the Mariners new free safety. In 2013-14, Martin combined to bat .268/.320/.373 with a .307 wOBA and 88 wRC+. The latter metric is adjusted for park and league, and Martin ranked in the middle of the pack among MLB center fielders — No. 14 to be exact — over that time span. At 28, at least a return to form could be in order.
Martin’s swing always has been less-than-ideal, but since signing he’s been able to iron out a few of the flaws. Those fixes have allowed Martin to make just enough hard contact to produce at or near league-standard batting averages and on-base percentages. There’s more raw power created by above-average bat speed, but the left-handed hitting Cuban does not create good leverage or loft in order to take advantage. At this stage, it’s probably best for him to continue to attempt to make more consistent contact — 22.2 percent career strikeout rate — and control the strike zone to perhaps add a few ticks to his on-base marks.
In 2015, Martin’s numbers sank, but he did suffer an injury that can explain most of that away, and by all accounts he’s back to 100 percent to start 2016. In his short career to date, Martin has struggled with good offspeed stuff, which partially explains his less-than inspiring on-base percentages. He’s has to hit the fastball early in counts or find himself in the hole and at the mercy of breaking balls, changeups and splitters. He also struggles with plus velocity, particularly if he chases above his hands — which is common.
STEAMER projects Martin for .242/.293/.350, but if last season truly was due in large part to the wrist injury — which was reported in May but the severity may not have been known until after he was sent to Triple-A — I’d lean more toward a .260/.310/.360 triple-slash. There are signs he’s improved his ability to create the aforementioned leverage — 33 percent fly ball rate in 2015, up more than 5 percent from 2013-14 combined, though his line drive rate plummeted, perhaps, at least in part, due to the fly balls created from his swing.
At Safeco, however, the 2013-14 version of Martin — 22 percent line drives, 28 percent fly balls, 50 percent ground balls — likely produces more value.
Defensively, Martin is as-advertised from his amateur days, using above-average speed, jumps and routes to grade somewhere in the Top 8 in all of baseball. His arm is above-average to plus, too, and Martin is easily the best defensive center fielder Seattle has employed since Mike Cameron. He also enters the season as the club’s best base stealer, posting 36, 31 and 14 the past three seasons. If the bat returns, even 85-90 percent of what it was 2013-14, the M’s have a very solid answer in center this season.
Nori Aoki, LF
2015: .287/.353/.380, .298 BABIP, .326 wOBA, 112 wRC+, 1.5 fWAR
Aoki, even at 34, projects as a solid-average answer to the top of the lineup for the contact-and-OBP-starved Mariners. He missed two months last season but if healthy again should be able to produce in the 90 percentile of his career numbers — .287/.353/.386 — with average outfield defense.
Aoki handles the bat well and is a good baserunner, despite merely solid-average speed. He gets good jumps, but isn’t likely to swipe more than 10-15 bases. He rarely strikes out, though — 6.4 percent in 2015, 7.7 percent career — which gives the club improved opportunities to scratch a few more runs across, especially since the middle of the order is a full hitter deeper in 2016, even if it’s reasonable to expect a little regression from one if its holdovers.
Ideally, Aoki would fit in as part of a platoon, but he’s shown severe reverse splits over the course of his four-year career in the states. If the club were to acquire an everyday answer in a corner, Aoki probably wouldn’t lose much playing time, but may be used as more of a utility outfielder that gets near full-time at-bats.
Seth Smith, RF
2015: .248/.330/.443, .298 BABIP, .331 wOBA, 113 wRC+, 2.2 fWAR
Smith’s first year in Seattle was a successful one, despite the former college QB slashing .219/.319/.394 after the all-star break. Smith is best used in a pure platoon role, facing few lefties and being replaced late defensively a good portion of the time. He’s passable but below-average in right field with the metrics showing that in combination the last five years, and Smith is a below-average runner as he leaves his prime years.
He can still hit right-handed pitching, though, posting a .255/.343/.455 triple-slash against them in 2015, including a .343 wOBA and 122 wRC+. He’ll draw a walk — 11.5% versus righties — and his strikeout rates was a very-acceptable 20 percent.
Smith’s value doesn’t necessarily equal his salary in 2016, but $6.75 million hardly serves as a bad contract as long as Smith produces when called upon at the plate.
Franklin Gutierrez, RF
2015: 59 G, .292/.354/.620, .340 BABIP, .410 wOBA, .167 wRC+, 2.3 fWAR
Gutierrez took 2014 off and exceeded any and all expectations after being called up last summer. While he’ll always be monitored for workload, the 33-year-old still brings some upside in a platoon role with Smith. In 2015, Gutierrez batted .317/.357/.615 versus left-handed pitching — a triple-slash nearly equalled versus right-handers — and for his career the former Gold Glove standout owns a split of .291/.346/.491. He’ll be asked to do just that in 2016 — hit lefties — without the pressure of playing everyday or handling center field.
If Smith repeats his 2015 performance versus righties and Gutierrez comes close to his career mark versus lefties, the Mariners right-field platoon would end up at .270/.345/.465 with about average defense. This puts the onus on the new skipper to use his pieces properly.
Translation: No need for Boomstick23 in right field this season. None at all.
Nelson Cruz, DH/RF
2015: .302/.369/.566, .350 BABIP, .396 wOBA, 158 wRC+, 4.8 fWAR
It’s understandable why most projections systems expect a rather enormous regression from Cruz in 2016; first, he’s 35. Second, he’s coming off a career year and perhaps the best power season in the organization’s history from someone not named Griffey, Buhner, Rodriguez.
The easy analysis includes a BABIP that is not sustainable for someone with Cruz’s career skill set, and his increased strikeout rate that reached 25 percent in 2015 poses concerns, too. One argument for the flip side — a regression but perhaps not one that includes a 50-point drop in AVG/OBP — is that Cruz’s line-drive rate was up more than three percent last season and he’s increased his walk rate four straight seasons, suggesting improved skills.
STEAMER has Cruz dipping to .255/.321/.476 with 31 home runs in 140 games, which isn’t absurd, but it may be aggressive if the hit tool that’s produced the improvements in line-drive rate and walks is indeed a change in ability (rare for a player to do in his mid-30s, but not unheard of and not implausible). Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS is probably closer, in my opinion, projecting a .265.328/.494 season for the slugger. Add that to the removal of at least half of the damage his defense brings to his overall value and Cruz could repeat his 3.7 fWAR from 2014 with the Orioles.
Oh, and no matter what happens with Cruz’s bat this season, none of it will be because he’s not playing the outfield. The argument that he’s a better hitter when he plays the field versus DH’ing is complete and utter hogwash. None of the numbers that ‘back up’ that argument are from a large enough sample, particularly those with Cruz serving in the designated hitter role.
It’s reasonable to suggest, based on the history of the DH, that players need time to adjust to not playing defense. But Cruz has never been the DH for extended periods of time, allowing for literally no useful sample size to suggest he’s not a good DH or can’t be just as good as when he’s playing the outfield. It’s a ridiculously stupid argument and a poor excuse for former skipper Lloyd McClendon giving in to the player over the good of the club last season.
All signs point to that not being the case this coming season.
Shawn O’Malley, IF/OF
2015: 24 G, .262/.418/.357, .357 BABIP, .354 wOBA, 129 wRC+, 0.1 fWAR
O’Malley is a natural infielder and a good athlete who has taken to the outfield well. He’s an above-average runner with plus quickness and he has a solid game plan at the plate supported by a short swing. There’s almost no home-run power in the bat, but he can reach the gaps and take the extra-base. He’s a better hitter from the right side but makes consistent contact from each.
He profiles as an average second baseman, average in left field and third base and can manage in short stints at shortstop with arm strength showing as the main . He’s shown fringe-average in center field, too, and another step in the same direction suggests O’Malley is an ideal utility option, at least with the glove.
If O’Malley is the 25th man, and continues to show what he did a year ago with energy and sound fundamentals, the Mariners’ bench is in good shape.
Stefen Romero, OF/1B
2015: 13 G, .190/.292/.381, .214 BABIP, .298 wOBA, 90 wRC+, 0.0 fWAR
Romero, 27, has handled Triple-A pitching and on the surface has done nothing in the majors specifically suggesting any the minor-league success will translate. A pure platoon role might make a difference, however, and it’s a job Romero will get a chance to win this spring.
General manager Jerry Dipoto mentioned this winter Romero would get a shot to play some first base and win a job on the 25-man roster. The biggest question here isn’t whether or not Romero can play first base — with enough reps, I’d wager he can, at least to acceptable levels, considering he spent his college years and the first several years of his pro career playing second and third base — it’s whether or not he’ll hit.
He’s below-average in the outfield, but is a better option in the long run than Cruz and is a fringe-average to average runner, so if his bat wins him the job he’s a more ideal fit than Dae Ho Lee, Gaby Sanchez, Ed Lucas or Jesus Montero.
I’ve seen him a ton in Tacoma, and he consistently mashes lefties; .314/.340/.529 in 2015 and .419/.447/.791 in 43 ABs in 2014.
Daniel Robertson, OF
2015: 37 G, .280/.299/.307, .309 BABIP, .262 wOBA, 67 wRC+, 0.3 fWAR
Robertson, who was claimed, designated for assignment and outrighted to the minors by Seattle over the offseason, is a right-handed batter with no power, above-average speed and left-field defense (average in CF) but he works counts, gets on base and makes consistent contact.
Robertson is another energy player with a blue-collar approach to the game. The swing is very short to the ball and engineered for line drives and ground balls. He’s limited offensively and isn’t a burner but did bat .271/.333/.333 in 70 games with the Rangers in 2014 and in 37 games with the Angels a year ago posted a .280/.299/.307 triple-slash.
He’s depth for Triple-A Tacoma, but the kind of depth that gives himself a chance versus big-league pitching, albeit with a low ceiling.
Boog Powell, CF
2015: NO MLB STATS
Powell will start 2016 as Triple-A Tacoma’s regular center fielder with a chance to help the major-league club later in the season, as well as earn an everyday gig for the future. He’s a left-handed hitter with no home-run power but an above-average hit tool with a line-drive stroke. He’s an above-average runner and center-field glove. All of the above plays right into what Dipot and skipper Scott Servais want their roster to look like.
The upside in Powell is Adam Eaton without the power and with better contact rates, but there’s a good chance he’s simply a very solid fourth outfielder who finds his way into the lineup 80 or 90 times a year. Either way, the Mariners likely will see Powell at some point this season, even if it’s for a short period of time or in September when rosters expand.
Dario Pizzano, OF
2015: NO MLB STATS
Pizzano has hit some all the way through Double-A Jackson, posting solid on-base percentages to go with some power. He struggled to hit for average in 2014 — .244 — but his .353 OBP was strong and he bounced back to hit .308/.366/.457 in 2015.
That all sounds good until you look up and realize he’s already 24 — 25 in April — and has no real value defensively. He’s a fringe-average runner and will be tested by Triple-A pitching for the first time this season. Pizzano is a longshot, not only to make the big club out of spring training, but to see the majors at any point in 2016.
Mike Baxter, OF
2015: 34 G, .246/.348/.263, .326 BABIP, ,281 wOBA, .74 wRC+, -0.1 fWAR
Baxter,a left-handed hitter, is a 31-year-old veteran with nearly 500 MLB plate appearances scattered across six seasons, including a stint with the Chicago Cubs a year ago. He’s never hit for average with any consistency but makes enough contact and draws enough walks to be of some value — as a regular in the minors and a bench option in the big leagues.
Baxter doesn’t hit for much, power, though, and since he’s merely average in an outfield corner and doesn’t burn up the base paths, he’ll again serve as depth in the minors. The trend here for Seattle is even clear in their non-roster invitees and acquired minor leaguers; contact and/or on-base skills and/or speed and/or defensive value. Not one single acquisition lacks each of these skills, including Lee, who always has shown he can get on base in Korea and Japan. Baxter fits the same mold.
It’s worth noting not all NRIs stay with the organization. Many times players have March opt-outs that allow them to head elsewhere in search of a better opportunity. Sometimes the player doesn’t perform or isn’t healthy and the club releases the player from his minor league deal.
Jason spent 4 1/2 years at ESPN and two years at CBS Radio prior to joining HERO Sports in July, 2016.
Find Jason's Mariners podcast, Baseball Things, right here and follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider.