Dipoto MarinersFrom the moment Jerry Dipoto became general manager of the Seattle Mariners, he’s emphasized the need to build a roster capable of taking advantage of the expansive Safeco Field dimensions.

As I see it, the 48-year-old executive envisions a foundation of athletic and accomplished players, who are adept at reaching base and wreaking havoc through productive aggressiveness on the bases.

Equally important are outfield defenders who can run down balls in Safeco’s spacious outfield. In Dipoto’s world, a run save is as valuable as a run scored.

To be honest, I thought this season’s Opening Day roster was a massive upgrade over the 2015 version of the Mariners. I’ve been saying as much in previous Prospect Insider pieces and on Twitter. But, the more I think about it, the club has fallen short in a couple of those key areas targeted by Dipoto during the offseason.

This finally became glaringly clear to me in late June when watching the Pittsburgh Pirates take on the Mariners at Safeco. I was thoroughly impressed with the athleticism, speed, and on-base ability of the Pirates. So was Mike Salk of 710 ESPN Seattle, who took to Twitter to deliver his assessment of the visiting team’s roster.

The simple and straightforward comment from the co-host of the Brock and Salk Show hit the nail right on the head — Pittsburgh was better built for Safeco than the home team. This gave me the idea to dig into the Mariners’ home field suitability and look around the league for the teams best built for Safeco.

To get a better feel of where the Mariners stand this season, I decided to see where the team’s on-base ability, outfield defense, and base running ranked against the other 29 major league clubs. I also compared those rankings to last year’s to gauge Seattle’s improvement. Overall, the numbers weren’t encouraging.

Mariners MLB Rankings
Season On-Base Ability Outfield Defense (DRS)
Base Running
OBP BB% SO% OF LF CF RF BsR SB%
2015 22 14 25 30 25 30 26 29 29
2016 10 13 12 28 28 22 24 30 30

As you can see, the Mariners have significantly improved in just one area — reaching base. That’s clearly evident by their top-10 on-base percentage (OBP). Unfortunately, for the ball club and its fans, that’s the only area worth bragging about.

Based on defensive runs saved (DRS), Seattle’s outfield defense isn’t good enough. The addition of center fielder Leonys Martin was a step in the right direction. However, last season’s core of corner outfielders — Seth Smith, Nelson Cruz, and Franklin Gutierrez — remain on the roster.

The trio has combined to play 65-percent of all left and right field innings this season. Based on the defensive metrics, they’re all below-average fielders — as they were last season. This does not bode well for an organization trying to improve their outfield defense.

Nori Aoki was brought in to help the club’s outfield defense, team speed and on-base ability. To date, he’s under-performed in all three areas and finds himself playing for Class-AAA Tacoma as a result. Aoki will likely return to the big league club in the near future. Perhaps, he’ll get his season back on track and help the Mariners make a pennant push.

On the base paths, there’s only one way for me to put it — the baby is ugly. Seattle base runners have cost the team runs and continue to rank at the bottom of the league in both sabermetric and standard base running statistics.

BsR (Base Running) is a FanGraphs statistic that takes into account all aspects of base path action — stolen base success, taking extra bases, being thrown out while on base, etc. If you’ve been watching the Mariners over the last few seasons, their low standing doesn’t surprise you.

The same goes for stolen base percentage (SB%), which is the old-fashioned measurement of how successful a base runner has been at stealing bases. Not only is Seattle still at the bottom of the league, their 53-percent success rate is eight points lower than last season.

Now that I’ve established that the Mariners have a lot of work to do, let’s turn our attention to clubs that I believe are a far better fit for Safeco Field than the home team; based on on-base ability, outfield range, and team speed. Let’s start with the club mentioned by Mr. Salk.

Pittsburgh Pirates
As good as the Pirates look, their roster isn’t the best fit for Safeco among the clubs I plan to discuss. But, their stable of players exemplifies the type of players that fit the mold of what Dipoto has been publicly advocating, especially in the outfield.

The starting trio of Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco form one of the most athletic starting outfields in the majors. Marte leads all major league left fielders in DRS and Polanco ranks tenth among right fielders. Defensive metrics don’t love McCutchen, which confounded me, until I spoke to Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill.

Jason pointed out that Marte/Polanco may be the best corner outfield combo in the majors and that they reach balls in the gaps their peers can’t. As a result, their defensive excellence could be creating the appearance that McCutchen has limited range. Even if McCutchen’s poor DRS accurately portrayed his defensive prowess, the Pirates total outfield is slightly above average, which is all that really matters for any club.

Pittsburgh’s offense is a deep unit that ended the first half of the season with the third best OBP in the big leagues. The club brags nine players — including the rehabbing Francisco Cervelli — with 150 or more plate appearance and an OBP above the league-average (.323). By comparison, the productive Mariners offense has five.

Team speed has been an important element in the Pittsburgh attack. Their base runners entered the all-star break tied with the Houston Astros for third most stolen bases (68) in the big leagues and the fifth best success rate — 76-percent. Leading the way for the Bucs is Marte, who entered the break with 30 swiped bags — second most in the majors.

The Pirates are certainly a better fit for Safeco than the current edition of the Mariners. But, there are two other rosters I like more. The next team has been better known for relying on offensive firepower — not speed, defense, and athleticism.

Boston Red Sox
Boston’s offense reached the all-star break leading the majors in OBP and slugging percentage. In years past, you might have assumed the long ball was the driving force behind their prolific slugging — not in 2016. This version of the Red Sox is only league-average at hitting home runs, but leads the league in doubles and top-10 in triples.

All things considered, the team’s outfield defense has fared well even though left field has been problematic due to injuries to Chris Young, Blake Swihart, and Brock Holt at one time or another. Thanks to the dynamic duo of center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and right fielder Mookie Betts and Holt, the Red Sox outfield ranks number-five in the majors in DRS.

The club’s success on the base paths — third in the majors in BsR — is another new wrinkle in Beantown. Leading the way are Betts, Bradley, and shortstop Xander Bogaerts. Like the Pirates, the Red Sox are top-10 for stolen bases. More importantly, they have the highest success rate (86-percent) in the majors. That’s seven-percent better than the second best Cleveland Indians.

The Red Sox may play in the oldest ballpark in baseball, but they have a foundation of young, athletic ballplayers fueling their success in the outfield and throughout their lineup.

This season, the Red Sox have used 15 position players 28-years-old or younger. That’s tied for most in the majors. Among those players are Travis ShawChristian Vazquez, Bogaerts, Bradley, Betts, Swihart, and Holt. Yes, having young players doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. They have to be good AND young. That’s the case in Boston.

My favorite roster also plays in a ballpark opened before the start of World War I and employs Boston’s former general manager as their president of baseball operations.

Chicago Cubs
Yes, picking the team with the second best record in the majors isn’t exactly a tough choice. But, I didn’t pick the team with the best record — the San Francisco Giants — and the other teams I’ve discussed started the second half in third place. While the Cubs could win in any park, including Yellowstone, they’d be a great fit for Safeco thanks to their superb on-base skills, outfield defense, and overall athleticism.

Chicago’s long lineup is second best in the majors at reaching base. How long is that lineup? All but one of the 12 position players on the current 25-man roster are above league average in OBP. There’s no breathing room for opposing pitchers when it comes to facing the Cubs’ lineup.

Defensively, the team’s outfield ranks third in the big leagues. The best of the bunch — right fielder Jason Heyward — continues to be an elite-level defender with the second best DRS. The 26-year-old has also logged over 120 innings of center field duty this season.

Regular center fielder Dexter Fowler — currently on the disabled list — isn’t on par with his partner in right field. But, his contributions along with Heyward and Albert Almora, have the Cubs center field defense ranked tenth in the big leagues. Thanks to Kris Bryant, Chris Coghlan, and Almora, Chicago’s left field contingent is also top-10.

Although the North Siders are below league-average in stolen base proficiency, they rank number-five in BsR because they’re adept at taking the extra base, which proves there’s more to base running than just stealing bases.

As with the Red Sox, Chicago boasts a bevvy of young stars. Six key contributors are 26-years-old or younger — Anthony Rizzo (26), Addison Russell (22), Bryant (24) , Heyward (26), Javier Baez (23), and Jorge Soler (24) – currently recovering from a hamstring injury. That’s not counting Kyle Schwarber (23), who’s lost for the year due to knee surgery.

The Cubs style of play works in any park, but their position players would be the best fit for Seattle’s home field. They’re athletic, get on base at a high rate, and play superb defense. That brings us back to the Emerald City’s major league baseball club.

Seattle Mariners
Considering the roster that Dipoto started with last September, he’s done well at improving the club’s center field defense and their ability to reach base in less than a year. But, much more needs to be done to reach his stated goal of using the Safeco Field dimensions as an advantage. Getting younger would be a good first step.

Youthful rosters don’t necessarily guarantee success on the field. Look no further than the Minnesota Twins, who are great example of a young club with a terrible win-loss record. Also, not every young player is a great athlete — refer to Jesus Montero’s stay in Seattle.

Still, acquiring talented, young, and athletic players is the best way to build a sustainable home field advantage in Seattle. Having such players is the primary reason that the Red Sox and Cubs are better fits for Safeco — they each boast a half dozen or more quality players under age-27.

Conversely, the Mariners are tied with the New York Yankees for the oldest group of position players and have used just four under the age of 27 this season — Ketel Marte, Luis Sardinas, Chris Taylor, and Mike Zunino. Marte is the lone significant contributor, while Sardinas and Zunino have spent most of the season in Tacoma and Taylor is no longer with the organization.

Whether roster changes begin within the next two weeks or after the season, they’ll need to happen in order to turn Dipoto’s vision into reality for future seasons. That means more players born during the first term of the Clinton administration and fewer defensively challenged players like Gutierrez, Smith, and Cruz patrolling the outfield.

Can the Mariners accomplish such a turnover prior to next Opening Day? It seems unlikely considering the current state of their roster and minor league system. Until they do though, other clubs will continue to be a better fit for Safeco Field.…

With 30 games behind them, the Seattle Mariners sit atop the American League (AL) West division standings with an 18-12 win-loss record. That’s right; the club that’s failed to be relevant for most of the last decade is actually off to a quick start.

Every sophisticated baseball fan knows that a good record with less than 20-percent of the season completed means nothing — especially with the Mariners.

For those not familiar with Seattle’s plight, the situation has become so frustrating that having a winning record on Mother’s Day is newsworthy. After all, we’re talking about an organization that hasn’t started this strongly since 2003, when they were 19-11 in 2003. But, it gets worse.

Mariner fans have dealt with perceived ownership indifference, plus a great deal of losing and disappointment since the club’s inaugural season in 1977. Seattle has recorded just 12 winning seasons and hasn’t appeared in the postseason since their record 116-win season of 2001.

Reasons for optimism
With the bar set so low for so long, it’s understandable that many fans are taking a wait-and-see approach with this year’s edition of the Mariners. Yet, there’s something going on at Safeco Field that’s been a rare occurrence for quite some time. The home team is playing good, fundamental baseball and — more importantly — they’re winning games.

There are several reasons for Seattle’s early season emergence. First, their offense is averaging 4.47 runs-per-game, which is second best in the AL entering today. Moreover, their pitching staff is in the top-five of every significant pitching category. This blend of productive offense and superb pitching could lead the club to postseason contention, assuming it lasts.

Whether the Mariners can sustain their early season success will be determined later — much later. Nevertheless, it’s obvious that general manager Jerry Dipoto’s approach to building a competitive major league roster has yielded early positive returns.

Dipoto’s efforts to reconstruct his club’s roster haven’t been limited to just pitching and hitting though. He’s added “layers of depth” and athleticism to his 40-man roster. Plus, his many deals helped improve another weak link that’s been as troublesome as the club’s run scoring in recent years — defense.

See ball, catch ball
So, just how bad was the club’s fielding and how much has it improved at this very early stage of the season? To get a feel, let’s do a year-by year comparison of how the team’s defense ranked — by position — since the 2011 season using defensive runs saved (DRS) as our comparative metric. As you can see for yourself, the Mariners have struggled with reaching, catching, and throwing the ball for several years.

Seattle Mariners Defensive Rankings (Based on DRS)
Year Team C 1B 2B SS 3B RF CF LF OF
2011 15 27 15 4 1 16 21 15 21 21
2012  9 25 12 5 1 21 5 30 17 23
2013 30 30 26 17 15 24 27 30 30 30
2014 19 26 22 18 11 4 13 20 10 13
2015 29 11 26 26 23 15 26 30 25 30
2016 16 25 9 8 14 12 21 5 20 13

DR what?
For those not familiar with DRS, it quantifies a defensive player’s value by expressing how many runs they saved or lost their team compared to the average player at that position. For instance, +10 DRS recorded by a left fielder means that he was 10 runs better than the average left fielder. If you having a craving for more detailed information about DRS, I suggest reading this article found at FanGraphs.

[pullquote]“We see ourselves as a run-prevention club. You can create a lot of advantage playing good defense.” — Jerry Dipoto[/pullquote]

The fact that Seattle fielders have already shown signs of improvement shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention to the Mariners general manager since his arrival in the Emerald City. When talking to David Laurila of FanGraphs in mid-November, the 47-year-old executive characterized the team’s defense as “our biggest area in need of improvement.”

So, what changes occurred between since last season that’s improved the defensive outlook in Seattle? A combination of familiar faces and new names.

Fixing the outfield
First and foremost, the acquisition of Leonys Martin helped transform Seattle’s outfield defense from the worst in baseball to league-average during the early days of 2016.

When Dipoto acquired the 28-year-old from the Texas Rangers during the offseason, he told Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune “I think we get one of the premier defensive center fielders in baseball.” There’s no doubt that Martin is an elite defender. Defensive metrics prove it and so does the eyeball test.

Why did the Mariners center field defense rank so low last season? After all, the general perception was that Opening Day starter Austin Jackson was a good defender. There were two reasons — Jackson was closer to average, based on DRS, and the club didn’t have an adequate replacement to fill in for him.

There were two points during 2015 when Jackson wasn’t the everyday center fielder for the Mariners — when suffered an ankle sprain last May and after his trade to the Chicago Cubs on August 31. Both times, the Mariners utilized use below-average defenders in his stead.

Look at the players who manned center field last season and their respective DRS. If you were initially surprised to discover that Mariners center fielders ranked so poorly last season, the following breakdown — by player — may help you understand.

2015 Mariners Center Field Defense
Player  Games Innings DRS
Austin Jackson 107  899 -2
Brad Miller 20 146 -10
Dustin Ackley 21 139 -1
Shawn O’Malley 14 90 0.0
Justin Ruggiano 15 88 -6
James Jones 20 82 -5
Ketel Marte 2 14 -1
Stefen Romero 1 4 -1

This is where Martin helps make the entire outfield better. First, he’s a superior defender compared to Jackson. Consequently, he covers a lot of ground — a prerequisite for Dipoto during his search. Being able to cover a lot of real estate in spacious Safeco Field is especially critical because the corner outfield spots are better, but still below average.

While the combination of Nori Aoki, Franklin Gutierrez, Seth Smith, and Nelson Cruz represents a slight improvement in the corner outfield spots, I wouldn’t be surprised if Dipoto added an outfielder who can both hit and play good defense if the club finds itself in contention.

Better around the horn
A healthy Robinson Cano has already been a difference maker at second base. Yes, Cano will occasionally make have a mental lapse, like forgetting the number of outs. But, to date, his defense is far better than last season when he was suffering with a number of physical ailments.

Starting the season with Ketel Marte as the regular shortstop has proven beneficial to the Mariners. The 22-year-old has also suffered a few mental lapses, which are traceable back to his youth. However, he’s delivered the best shortstop defense since the days of Brendan Ryan. Marte isn’t an elite defender like Ryan. Nevertheless, he’s proven far better than recent shortstops.

[pullquote] “To win, you’ve got to pitch. To have good pitching, you’ve got to defend.” — Mariners manager Scott Servais [/pullquote]

At this early stage of the season, Adam Lind and Dae-ho Lee have been better than the cast that patrolled first base last season — Logan Morrison, Jesus Montero, and Mark Trumbo. Lind has superior range to Lee, although the Korean import has proven to have good hands. This area is likely to be average, at best, as the season progresses.

Final thoughts
It’s too early to tell whether the Mariners defensive improvements — or their winning ways — can continue for an entire 162-game season. Yet, it’s encouraging to see the organization place a renewed emphasis on defense and immediately enjoy the benefits — albeit in small sample sizes – of adopting a more practical philosophy.

The Mariners defense has a long way to go before it becomes an elite unit — like the Kansas City Royals. However, if their defenders continue to be run-prevention assets — rather than liabilities — catching pennant fever in Seattle might be possible this season. Wouldn’t that be a welcomed change for Mariners faithful?

jesus-montero-e1459192447251The odyssey of Jesus Montero and the Seattle Mariners came to a close on Monday. The centerpiece of the deal that sent Michael Pineda to the New York Yankees was claimed on waivers by the Toronto Blue Jays after four seasons in the Mariners organization. All Seattle has to show for it’s efforts are the $20,000 waiver fee and a handful of stories that include an ice cream sandwich.

My initial reaction to hearing the news was disappointment after seeing, from a distance, how hard Montero has worked to get his life and career back on track. Considering all that he had been through, to see him show up in camp last spring slimmed down and go on to make the Triple-A All-Star team could be considered inspiring — I’m sure for some it was. He did everything within his power to earn another crack at the big leagues. I wanted to see what he could do with a month’s worth of regular playing time.

But the cruel realities of baseball, and to an extent life, kick in and remind us that often it’s less about what you have done and more about what you are going to do now and in the future. The reality in this case is that Montero doesn’t really offer much to the 2016 Mariners.

Adam Lind does need a platoon partner at first base. But giving the 25th spot on the roster to a guy who would only hit left-handed pitching a couple hundred times a year while providing no value in the field or on the base paths didn’t make much sense. The leading candidate for that role, however, is offseason import Dae-Ho Lee who doesn’t differ significantly from Montero in what he brings to the table. Lee probably has a little bit more power to offer, but likely benefits most by offering a new or different unknown.

The book shouldn’t entirely be closed on Montero at 26-years-old. With nearly 900 plate appearances at the major league level and a measly 92 wRC+ to show for his career, though, the book is several chapters deep.

What exactly Montero’s role will be on the Jays is unclear. On the major league side Toronto has Chris Colabello and former Mariner Justin Smoak sharing first base duties and Edwin Encarnacion set at designated hitter. It’s possible they will try sneaking him through waivers to serve as minor league depth or as insurance should Encarnacion struggle to stay healthy all season.

There has been some concern that Encarnacion wouldn’t be ready for Opening Day after battling an oblique injury for most of the spring. A temporary stopgap solution could work here, but with the slugger back in game action on Monday — albeit minor league action — the club is optimistic he’ll be ready when the games start counting.

With that in mind, there isn’t a fit for him on the Blue Jays’ major league squad, either. But a look at the Jays’ recent history suggests they might know a thing or two about fixing broken power hitters.

Encarnacion is a great example of this after struggling during his time with Cincinnati before a 2012 break-out season. Jose Bautista coming over from the Pittsburgh Pirates and becoming one of the best sluggers in the game is another example. For both of those players, opportunity to fail without losing playing time aided in their eventual successes.

The case is still out for Smoak who only had a slightly above replacement level season. His platoon-mate, Collabello, rode an extremely high BABIP to a breakout offensive season so he’s one to watch going forward.

All that isn’t to say Toronto will somehow capitalize on all the talent we know has existed within Montero — it’s not as though they have something akin to the Pirates’ pitcher-fixing factory. But maybe they did see something mechanically they think could be fixed.

Dave Cameron of FanGraphs wrote an excellent piece that reminds us of the perils of projecting young hitters, and any prospect for that matter. This is particularly the case when the prospect’s stock is tied entirely to a single tool. Some guys can make it work and many can not with a wide range of outcomes in between.

Montero’s tenure in Seattle will be most remembered for the poor and the strange: under-performance, injuries, a PED suspension, eating away an offseason, and the incident with the scout. But at this juncture we have a situation that really isn’t that uncommon: a capable Triple-A hitter who just couldn’t make it work in the show. Nevertheless, the slugger certainly gave us plenty to talk about and to hope for.

I don’t think I’m alone in that I would be happy to see Montero succeed elsewhere, or at least get another shot in the big leagues. It’s tough. Prospects are tough. Life’s tough. A couple of poor decisions can sink the ship the salesman guaranteed would float.

At minimum, Montero was supposed to hit for the Mariners. He didn’t. His story thus far isn’t unlike many others but at the same time is unique. However it ends, 28 home runs in the major leagues is still 28 more than most will ever get the chance to hit.…

02242016-spring04 Prior to his decision to sign a one-year deal with the Texas Rangers, I don’t recall any pundits suggesting former Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond as a good fit for the Rangers.

I certainly didn’t expect that he’d end up with a team that already has Elvis Andrus at shortstop and Rougned Odor manning second base. On top of that, the organization has young middle infielders like Jurickson Profar and Hanser Alberto ready to burst onto the scene.

The signing of the 30-year-old was a surprise, but how the Rangers plan to utilize the career shortstop was also unexpected. The team intends to use Desmond as a left fielder and super-utility player. It’s worth noting that he’s appeared in 1607 games as a professional baseball player. Eight were at second base in eight and four in the outfield; the remaining games were at shortstop.

Normally, a shortstop is the most athletic player on the field. Therefore, Desmond should have the skill set to transition. Nevertheless, the learning curve is going to be steep for the Sarasota, Florida native.

Acquiring the former National as a super-sub may have seemingly come out of nowhere, but a team’s desire to have a Swiss Army knife type shouldn’t come as a shock.

Roster flexibility is especially crucial for American League (AL) teams, like the Rangers, who have to sacrifice a reserve spot to fill the designated hitter role. An AL club that uses a seven-man bullpen is left with just four bench players and one of them will be their backup catcher. This leaves managers little wiggle room when attempting to manipulate their bench.

That’s why having a versatile reserve or — better yet — a super-utility player is such an attractive option for ball clubs. If Desmond demonstrates that he can handle the outfield, the Rangers will have a player who can cover multiple spots in the infield and outfield. A factor that makes Desmond even more attractive is his offensive upside — tied with Troy Tulowitzki for most home runs (63) by a shortstop during the last three seasons.

After considering the Rangers move to diversify Desmond’s positional portfolio, I wanted to find players who had demonstrated that they could play multiple spots in the field and deliver some measure of value to their respective team. With that in mind, I compiled a list of players who I thought were the most versatile and productive during 2015. I first placed an emphasis on finding performers who contributed at multiple positions — the more positions, the better. Then, I ranked them by wins above replacement (WAR).

2015 Swiss Army Knives (Ranked by WAR)
Name Tm 1B 2B 3B SS LF/RF CF WAR
Brock Holt BOS 8 58 33 11 35 2 2.6
Yangervis Solarte SDP 28 19 92 0 0 0 2.2
Eduardo Escobar MIN 0 11 5 71 36 0 2.0
Chris Coghlan CHC 5 15 3 0 120 0 1.9
Danny Espinosa WSN 5 82 16 8 5 0 1.9
Marwin Gonzalez HOU 43 15 21 32 15 0 1.8
Josh Harrison PIT 0 37 72 0 27 0 1.8
Danny Valencia 2TM 5 3 55 0 37 0 1.7
Andrew Romine DET 17 13 59 27 2 0 1.6
Enrique Hernandez LAD 0 20 1 16 19 19 1.4
Jose Ramirez CLE 0 33 13 46 2 0 1.4
Brad Miller SEA 0 11 2 89 21 20 0.6
Kelly Johnson 2TM 25 28 12 1 38 0 0.3
Cliff Pennington 2TM 0 33 18 29 8 0 0.2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/9/2016.

You’ll notice that the most recognizable super-utility player in the majors– Ben Zobrist —  isn’t on my list. Although he’s capable of playing more positions, he “only” manned the corner outfield spots and second base last season. As you can see, the players on my list were more versatile in 2015.

One tactic that AL teams can use to offset the loss of a reserve spot to the designated hitter is to utilize multiple players at the position during the span of the season. However, a few teams — the Rangers, Boston Red Sox, and New York Yankees — used a full-time designated hitter last season. Texas used Prince Fielder in manner last season and intend to do so again, which is another reason why the Desmond acquisition makes sense — if he can make the transition.

The Seattle Mariners are looking at a similar situation with slugger Nelson Cruz. Although Cruz will see more playing time in right field than Fielder will see at his former position — first base — the Mariners are poised to significantly reduce Cruz’s time in the field to a level far below the 80 games that he played last season.

So, what’s the Mariners plan for their bench? At this point, it’s a work in progress.

Franklin Gutierrez is set to be part of a corner outfield platoon and either Steve Clevenger or Rob Brantly will likely fill the back-up catcher spot behind Chris Iannetta. That leaves only two spots up for grabs.

The Mariners will need to have someone capable of playing shortstop and serving as a right-handed option at first base in order to spot Adam Lind from time-to-time. Whether that takes two individuals or one exceptionally versatile player has yet to be determined.

With that in mind, I decided to shed light on the positions that the team’s potential backups have played during their professional careers. The following table illustrates the total number of games that the players have spent at each position at all levels, including minor league baseball, the Arizona Fall League, and foreign leagues.

   Seattle Mariners Versatility Matrix
Player Pos C 1B 2B SS
3B
LF/RF CF
Jesus Montero 1B 432 186 0 0 0 0 0
Dae-Ho Lee 1B 0 364 0 0 0 0 0
Stefen Romero 1B/OF 0 5 162 0 30 302 0
Ed Lucas 1B 0  104 170 300 493 116 3
Efren Navarro 1B  0  1046  0  0  0  115  0
Chris Taylor SS 0 0 81 348 2 0 0
Luis Sardinas SS 0 0 87 477 40 0 0
Shawn O’Malley IF/OF 0 0 226 484 17 50 32
Daniel Robertson OF 0 0 8 0 0 553 403
Boog Powell
OF 0 0 0 0 0 81 218
Steve Clevenger C 575 122 64 0 9 0 0
Rob Brantly C 505 0 0 0 0 0 0

Seattle doesn’t have anyone as recognizable or talented as Desmond — or any of the “2015 Swiss Army knives” — to fill out their bench. The most recent Mariner to demonstrate that kind of potential made it onto the first table — Brad Miller. He’s now a Tampa Bay Ray.

Barring a trade or free agent signing, Seattle will complete their roster by selecting two players from a list of candidates that includes several young players, a few journeyman, and a player who has played solely in Japan and Korea.

Based on position experience only — not talent — players such as Stefen Romero, Luis Sardinas, Shawn O’Malley, and Ed Lucas would appear to have a better chance of earning one of those final two spots than less versatile players.

Previous position experience isn’t the only “versatility factor” that’s being considered. A player’s ability to add a new position to their repertoire could come into play too. If you’ve been watching Spring Training games, you know what I mean.

The Mariners have used Sardinas at his usual positions. Plus, he’s played center field, which is new to him. Finding a center field alternative hasn’t been mentioned much. It’s been overshadowed by the “who’s going to be the right-handed backup first baseman?” chatter.

The team certainly needs to have someone who can occasionally stand in for starter Leonys Martin. Nori Aoki is certainly an option. Nevertheless, having another choice on hand would provide manager Scott Servais with an added layer of depth that he could utilize during critical moments in a game.

Another example of players getting new — or more — experience at a position is Chris Taylor, who’s been spending time at third base. Assuming there aren’t any unforeseen circumstances, starting third baseman Kyle Seager won’t need much rest during the upcoming season. Over the last three years, he’s played more innings than any other fielder has in the majors. Nevertheless, a little less playing time in the field might actually help the 28-year-old at the plate.

Just last week, Steve Sandmeyer and Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill noted during the “Joe Jarzynka episode” of their podcast, that reducing Seager’s innings — not games played — might help keep his bat fresh during his usual 155-plus starts.

As far for the backup first base spot — the Mariners job most often discussed on the internet — Dave Sims and Mike Blowers of ROOT Sports mentioned during a recent broadcast that Sardinas might get some playing time at first base. All of this bodes well for a 22-year-old trying to win a roster spot, assuming that he proves he can hold his own at his new positions.

Earlier this week, Prospect Insider’s Tyler Carmont noted that Romero is a dark horse candidate for a roster spot. He’s primarily been an outfielder in recent years, but is now getting a long look at first base. Factors like previous offensive struggles at the major league level and the fact that he has a minor league option remaining may work against him. As Prospect Insider founder pointed out, Romero’s seemingly hot performance in Peoria doesn’t necessarily equate to success in the eyes of scouts or Mariners management.

From a versatility aspect, Romero presents a better fit for the Mariners than Jesus Montero or Dae-Ho Lee. But, the prevailing belief among observers is that Montero and Lee are the front runners for the job. Although I understand the rationale behind such a choice, it’s still tough for me to believe that the Seattle would go in that direction.

Why do I feel that way? I just don’t see how a couple of one-dimensional sluggers are a good match for the Mariners. Maybe, under previous regimes it would’ve made sense to retain big-bat potential with a limited glove. Still, I can’t fathom the current leadership opting for Montero or Lee.

Both Montero and Lee have limited profiles. They’re “bat first” types who are — at best — passable at first base and available to be a designated hitter or pinch hitter. That’s it. Neither player has proven that they can do any of those jobs at the big league level.

It’s true that the other players vying to make the roster are also unproven commodities at the plate. However, they’ve demonstrated the ability to be — at the very least — an average defender at one or more positions. The same can’t said about either Montero or Lee.

To be fair, Jason pointed out in his most recent piece “several scouts have spoken of Lee in positive tones,” while a rival official assessed Montero as “just OK.” That makes Lee sound like more palatable option. But, it’s just Spring Training and both players are still a one-dimensional.

This brings me back to my original point about the backup first base spot, which Jason refers to as “Chicko’s platoon partner.” I have a tough time envisioning the current regime selecting Montero or Lee. Perhaps, I’m way off base. But, picking one of these two guys just doesn’t add up for a team that’s going to have a near full-time designated hitter.  Then again, I never saw the Desmond deal coming.

In three weeks, we’ll better understand the level of import that Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto truly places on having “layers of depth” and positional versatility on his big league roster. Regardless of which players earn the final bench spots, watching the team’s selection process unfold over the next few weeks will be both fun and informative — at least for me. I’m weird that way.…

SoMWe’re about halfway through the Cactus League schedule. The regular season begins in less than three weeks. The Seattle Mariners just got their ace, Felix Hernandez, his first official work in a spring game. The club’s position “battles” are well under way. Except position battles aren’t a real thing and spring results mean absolutely zero.

Not kidding, spring training roster “battles” are not real, because the best “performer” isn’t the one that will necessarily win the job. In actuality they’re position “decisions” by the team and the results, as seen on paper after the fact, mean absolutely nothing. Nothing at all. Going 3-for-4, in and of itself, doesn’t help Stefen Romero‘s case.

What in the world am I saying?

It’s simple, and in some form I say the same thing every single March: Clubs wants to see process, not numbers in a box score. For example, if Romero goes 3-for-4 but only one of the hits was squared up on the barrel and none of the plate appearances was versus a good arm, did he really gain ground on Dae-Ho Lee, who may have gone 1-for-2 with a walk and a hard-hit fly ball, including a two-out RBI single on a 1-2 slider from a legitimate big-league arm? No, he didn’t. In this instance, Lee’s day would be considered the better one. Clubs use spring games as a way to scout their own players. When you scout players, you look far beyond the results as fans would see it. Results, for evaluators, include things never show up in the box score. Steve Sandmeyer and I discussed this in regards to Ketel Marte in Episode 22 of Sandmeyer and Churchill (click here to check that out).

For hitters

  • Good takes
    Being able to lay off tough pitches out of the zone in pitcher’s counts consistently, and be willing and able to take a pitcher’s pitch before two strikes, even if it means going from 0-1 to 0-2 or 1-1 to 1-2. Good hitters have to be able to do this regularly. Robinson Cano is terrific in this area.
  • Spoiling pitches
    Goes hand-in-hand with ‘good takes’ to help the batter get from 0-2 or 1-2, back to a count where the pitcher has little choice but to throw a pitch the batter has a better chance at handling or risk the base on balls.
  • Barrel
    When contact is made, the ability to put the barrel on the ball at a high rate. Obviously, this produces more hits than the poorly-struck variety.
  • Handling good velocity
    Some hitters can rake versus average velocity but something in their process prevents them from consistently managing satisfactorily versus plus velocity, or average velocity from a pitcher with great deception and explosiveness in his delivery (usually releivers).
  • Mechanics
    Mechanics at the plate appear to work for the hitter without any red flags that suggest a significant problem will present itself in the long run bodes very well for unproven hitters in spring training.
  • Adjustments
    From pitch to pitch, pitcher to pitcher, plate appearance to plate appearance and game to game, showing the ability to make the proper adjustments.

For Pitchers

  • Command
    Not the simple ability to throw strikes, but the ability to locate, hit spots, particularly with the fastball. It all starts here, for even proven aces.
  • Progressing arm strength
    March is the time pitchers are getting their arms in shape for the regular season. At this point in spring games, clubs wants to start seeing typical velocity for those not on an injury program (Charlie Furbush, for instance), as well as more endurance. For relievers, showing well on back-to-back days late in March can be a big indicator.
  • Feel for secondary pitches
    Along with command, this is the area where James Paxton and Nate Karns will win or lose the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Now is about the time Scott Servais and Mel Stottlemyre, Jr. want to see more consistent offspeed stuff. Yes, the air in Arizona can negatively impact the breaking ball, but clubs still can scout the feel for them. Changeups, perhaps the most “feel” pitch of the bunch, come and go throughout the season, but a starter showing a consistent feel for it now may have a leg up on his competition.
  • Mechanics
    If mechanics are out of whack, the short stints on the mound up to this point in March can be random and not trustworthy. Bad mechanics, which is a relative term depending on every pitcher, can produce good results for three or four innings or even consecutive short-stint outings, but suggest issues for the long haul.

Having said all that, here are my thoughts on what’s transpired to this point, just ahead of my mid-spring 25-man roster projection:

  • Neither Karns nor Paxton have separated themselves since Cactus League play started, and likely will not over the next two-plus weeks, barring injury to one of them. If you’re attempting to handicap the No. 5 spot with your friends, bet on Karns. Jerry Dipoto didn’t trade pre-arbs Brad Miller and Danny Farquhar to acquire a starting pitcher that won’t start the season in the majors this season. Clearly there’s a belief in Karns that doesn’t appear to be there in Paxton, and understandably so. Nothing short of injury in 25 or so innings during spring training is changing any of that.
  • While I love the versatility and flexibility of Shawn O’Malley (playable at 2B, 3B, LF, CF, RF, and at SS in short stints), Luis Sardinas make a lot more sense in one way, and about as much sense as O’Malley in all others. He’s a shortstop by trade and is better there than O’Malley, good enough to play there regularly. As much as I like Marte, there’s more than a reasonable chance he struggles enough to warrant a mix at the position, if not an entirely new starter. Sardinas can be that guy, O’Malley cannot, and because he’s never done it at the plate for more than a few weeks, neither can Chris Taylor. If you’re handicapping this one, bet on Sardinas, particularly if the club goes with Romero as the first-base platoon option, since his ability to at least manage in left and right field kills some of the value O’Malley’s defensive versatility brings.
  • With as many as two bullpen jobs up for grabs — Ryan Cook now is on the 60-day disabled list and Evan Scribner likely starts the season on the 15-day DL having not made a single appearance this month — names such as Cody Martin have a more legitimate shot now than three weeks ago. Joel Peralta may be in the lead for one of those four gigs. Only Steve Cishek, Vidal Nuno, Joaquin Benoit, Furbush if healthy and Tony Zych appear to be locks. Want a darkhorse? Donn Roach, who was signed to a minor league deal over the winter and presumed to be about No. 8 or 9 on the rotation depth chart. If Furbush starts the season on the shelf, David Rollins probably starts the year in the big-league bullpen, despite the chance that southpaw Mike Montgomery begins the year as a long man — he’s out of options and being used as a reliever this month.
  • Dae-Ho Lee has been the most impressive hitter among the options for this ridiculous spot on the roster we’ll call ‘Chicko’s platoon partner.’ Yes, Romero is 12-for-25 with just three whiffs, and he makes more sense than Lee because he’s an average runner and can field a ground ball on either side of the infield and a track a fly ball in the outfield. Strictly at the plate, however, several scouts have spoken of Lee in positive tones. “The body is bad, he’s functional at first, with no reach [range) to speak of, but he’s showing like a capable bat,” said one special assistant. “We’ll see [in the long run] but he’s disciplined enough to make it work.” Lee is 6-for-21 with two extra-base hits, two strikeouts and two walks, including 2-for-3 versus lefties, with a home run. Yes, super small sample, but scouts are seeing useful plate skills, despite a long swing. If the Mariners for the best offensive option, Lee leads this race.” Montero has been just OK, according to one rival official. Going back to last season, Montero has focused on using the whole field more, perhaps sacrificing a little of the home run pop to do so. It worked in Triple-A. He’s out of options, a status that plays at least a small factor in the club’s decision. Ed Lucas probably doesn’t have much of a chance here.
  • Tyler O’Neill and Drew Jackson aren’t out of place. Yes, they are in camp for the experience of hanging around the big leaguers. But is it not telling that they are there and getting into a game or two here and there and both Alex Jackson — everyone’s No. 1 prospect in the organization (except mine) — and D.J. Peterson are not? Neither have any chance at all of seeing the majors in 2016, but are being rewarded for their effort and process and giving the big club’s staff a chance to see them work.
  • Rob Brantly, catcher. The Mariners picked up Brantly off waivers this past week. He has big-league experience (112 games, 392 plate appearances, 891 innings behind the plate) and has solid plate skills, but is limited offensively due to fringy bat speed and a swing engineered for anything but extra bases. He’s basically John Baker-ish, which isn’t a bad thing. He’s out of options, though, so he’d have to clear waivers before being assigned to Triple-A Tacoma. As of today, Steve Baron and Steven Lerud project as the Rainiers catchers. Brantly, a left-handed batter like Lerud and Steve Clevenger, isn’t likely to challenge for the No. 2 gig behind starter Chris Iannetta, but he’ll be given some chances to change that.

RomeroIn terms of positional flexibility and athleticism, this year’s iteration of the Seattle Mariners is much different than in previous years. Those are clearly traits that general manager Jerry Dipoto values and were apparent in the talent he accumulated throughout the winter. Among the offseason acquisitions was a new first baseman who perhaps, through no real fault of his own, stands out from the rest.

Adam Lind‘s lack of positional flexibility — his outfield career ended in 2010 and shouldn’t be revisited — and large platoon split shouldn’t be held against why he was acquired: to mass right-handed pitching. But, this does require that the Mariners find someone to handle the majority of playing time at first base against left-handed pitching.

So far this spring we’ve heard a lot about former top prospect Jesus Montero and Korean import Dae-Ho Lee being the leading candidates to be Lind’s platoon partner. Gaby Sanchez had been in the mix before being an early cut. The potential concern with both players is that neither offers the club more than their bat and an ability to play a modest first base. For a roster based on flexibility, adding an inflexible part doesn’t make much sense. Depending on your point of view, though, a flexible roster is the exact kind of roster that allows for a one-dimensional piece to exist.

While the two sluggers mentioned remain are the clubhouse leaders for the part-time spot, there’s another player in the conversation that could become involved before it’s all said and done: Stefen Romero.

The 27-year-old began the 2014 as the Mariners regular right-fielder up until the trade deadline. He didn’t have much success at the plate posting a .192/.234/.299 slash line with a well-below average 52 wRC+ in 190 plate appearances. He resurfaced when rosters expanded in September of that year, but would spend the entire 2015 season at Triple-A before again being re-called in September for a handful of plate appearances.

In between those three major league stints, Romero performed well with Tacoma. His .358/.387/.669 slash line with 12 home runs over 163 plate appearances offered a reminder as to why he was named the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year for 2012. The right-hander’s .292/.333/.494 slash line in 516 plate appearances for Tacoma in 2015 was also solid and accompanied by 17 home runs and 10 steals.

For the most part, Romero doesn’t really have much more to prove in the minors. Over five seasons he’s amassed 2105 plate appearances and owns an .869 OPS. It could be argued that he could use some work on his defense, but the reality is that he only profiles as a fringe-defender in right field and at age-27, what we see is probably what we are going to get.

With a revamped outfield that includes newcomers Nori Aoki and Leonys Martin alongside Franklin Gutierrez and Seth Smith, not to mention the presence of Boog Powell and Daniel Robertson on the depth chart, Romero is in tough to grab a reserve outfield spot. But as a right-handed bat with major league experience, he does potentially fit a need for Seattle.

The question that comes next is the matter of playing first base. Romero has spent the majority of the past three seasons in the outfield after starting in the organization as a second baseman. He’s seen some time at first so far this spring so there’s potential for more work there. While playing first base well isn’t as simple as some make it out to be, Romero is a very good athlete and the previous infield experience works in his favor.

All told, we have a player with a minor league track record who needs consistent playing time at the major league level to improve, hits right-handed, and presumably can handle first base while playing the outfield. Now we can mention that Romero has been red-hot down in Peoria with nine hits and a walk in 18 plate appearances. He also has a pair of doubles and a home run alongside seven runs batted in to his credit.

The reason I mention those spring numbers last is because, as Prospect Insider’s Luke Arkins wrote in February, statistics accumulated during the month of March are relatively meaningless. The Arizona climate benefits hitters and the pitching isn’t necessarily major league quality or the major league arms are still going through their own preparations and not pitching how they would in the regular season.

A second factor working against Romero is the fact that he still can be optioned to Triple-A and does not require waivers. This ultimately could be what it comes down to. With Lee there has been some talk that it’s the majors or bust, as in, he’ll head back to Japan if he doesn’t break camp with the big league club. With Montero, waivers are required and there’s some percentage chance he is claimed, though it’s likely small.

In terms of asset management, optioning Romero and giving Lee a chance at sticking in the majors probably makes the most sense. Remembering that the season has more to do with a team’s 40-man roster than their 25 gives further justification. Also worth noting, as PI’s Jason A. Churchill mentioned on last week’s Sandmeyer and Churchill podcast, Romero serves as some level of protection for Gutierrez. Not to say that there’s any current worry regarding the right-hander, but his history has to be a factor until he puts together a couple consecutive healthy seasons.

Barring a turn of events over the next couple weeks, I would expect Romero to begin the year. Speculation on my part, but maybe he ends up being dealt for relief help if a team is willing to buy into him being one step away from a decent regular or had an injury in their outfield.

There’s still some to be determined on the pitching staff side of things, and the bench isn’t completely finalized, but the right-handed first base option appears to be the biggest roster spot yet to be determined. The fact that we’re not debating if there’s a capable shortstop or No. 3 starter this spring is a nice surprise compared to year’s past.…

Typically the majority of the jobs on a given big-league roster that are ‘open’ have a heavy favorite, and there are few ‘open’ job with which to begin. The Seattle Mariners’ roster is just about solved, but there are a few questions yet to be answered, including the following:

  • Will the club carry a first-base platoon?
    as I have noted many times, it’s not a great idea, but if the club does carry one, there are several candidates in camp.
  • Who will win the first-base platoon gig?
    The candidates are: Jesus Montero, Dae Ho Lee, Stefen Romero and Ed Lucas. Romero brings the versatility of having played second base, third base and the outfield in the minors.
  • Who will serve as the utility infielder?
    Luis Sardinas and Shawn O’Malley are the two top candidates, with Chris Taylor also in the mix to some level.
  • Who will win the No. 5 spot in the rotation?
    It appears the battle is between right-hander Nate Karns and lefty James Paxton. Both have options remaining, but the loser also could start the year in the bullpen.
  • Below is the way-too-early-to-tell edition, but I’ll update this in two weeks, then again the day before the rosters are typically announced.
Projected M’s 25-Man Roster: Way-Too-Early Edition
Pos. Player
B/T
SP Felix Hernandez R/R
SP Hisashi Iwakuma
R/R
SP Wade Miley L/L
SP Taijuan Walker R/R
SP Nathan Karns R/R
RP Ryan Cook R/R
RP Evan Scribner R/R
RP Vidal Nuno
L/L
RP Tony Zych
R/R
RP Charlie Furbush L/L
RP Joaquin Benoit R/R
RP Steve Cishek
R/R
1B Adam Lind
L/L
2B Robinson Cano L/R
3B Kyle Seager L/R
SS Ketel Marte
S/R
C Chris Iannetta R/R
DH Nelson Cruz R/R
OF Nori Aoki
L/R
OF Leonys Martin L/R
OF Seth Smith
L/L
C Steve Clevenger L/R
IF Shawn O’Malley S/R
OF Franklin Gutierrez R/R
1B/DH Jesus Montero
R/R

CanoST14Robinson Cano, 2B
2015: 156 G, .287/.334/.446, .316 BABIP, .335 wOBA, .116 wRC+, 2.1 fWAR
Cano was awful last year through the first full week of June, then he started hitting rockets right at people. Finally, the second half of June, Cano started looking like Cano and he went all pre-Seattle Cano on the league, batting .331/.387/.540 with 15 home runs in 70 games after the All-Star break.

The abdominal injuries, plural, and double hernia didn’t show prejudice, though, robbing Cano of a step on the bases and in the field, and it was noticeable. He turned 33 in October, but 33 isn’t 40 and there’s no reason to keep the perennial all-star from producing another .300/.360 season, perhaps with power numbers somewhere near his first two seasons with the Mariners.

Among the areas to watch as the season unfolds include Cano’s strikeout rate, and even more specifically his swing-and-miss rate on pitches in the zone. He whiffed nearly 16 percent of the time in 2015 with a career rate of 12.1 percent heading into this season. If the Mariners’ 3-4-5-6 is going to be as good as it could be, Cano has to be himself; consistent, draw walks at rate around eight percent, put the ball in play a lot and hit a long ball every week and a half.

One thing is certain with Cano, despite the injuries: there were no signs of a loss of bat speed late in the year, and his second-half roll had nothing to do with Nelson Cruz hitting behind him, because Nelson Cruz was hitting in front of him. (lineup protection from the ensuing is a bit of a myth, anyway)

Lind2Adam Lind, 1B
2015: 149 G, .277/.360/.460, .309 BABIP, .351 wOBA, 119 wRC+, 2.2 fWAR
Lind batted .291/.380/.503 versus right-handed pitching in 2015 and carries a similar career slash against northpaws. He’s a below-average defender at first, but has decent hands, makes the typical first-base play and has shown he can dig throws from the dirt at an average clip.

How Lind helps Mariners
Lind has extra-base power from the right field line to left-center and will use it regularly. He’ll make consistent contact and is a very good fastball hitter — .319 with nine homers and .494 slugging in 2015 versus the heater. Lind also stays back well on changeups and curveballs. Where he struggles is the cutter-slider, and left-handed pitchers will use angles to get him out front.

How often Lind sees a lefty starter is one of the bigger questions heading into the season. The club has brought in numerous platoon options, though carrying such a one-dimensional player makes pretty much zero sense. The Mariners are better off finding a right-handed batting/lefty-mashing OF-1B on the scrap heap this month. If such an opportunity doesn’t arise, don’t force the first-base platoon.

At that point, the option is to start Lind versus lefties — moving him down in the order to seventh or eighth. Ideally, the club would have an option here, but using four percent of your roster — and 25 percent of your bench — for about 2.5 percent of your plate appearances — with negative defensive value, negative baserunning value and absolutely zero versatility — sounds like a move a GM in 1982 might make, not one in 2016.

Keep in mind: Lind batted .221/.277/.298 in 112 PAs versus lefties in 2015 and still ended the season at .277/.360/.460. The club’s first basemen batted .198/.259/.263 versus LHP a year ago and for the year sported a .235/.301/.401 triple-slash

SeagerShotKyle Seager, 3B
2015: 161 G, .266/.328/.451, .278 BABIP, .335 wOBA, 116 wRC+, 3.9 fWAR
Seager is a model of consistency but I believe there’s another 8-15 points in the batting average and 10-25 more points in the on-base department as the 28-year-old learns to hit against the shift, use more of the backside and refines his ability to make decisions in his game plan at the plate; .280/.340/.470 is not out of the question for Seager in 2016, though all three are probably ceiling suggestions.

Seager is one of the top five defensive third basemen in baseball, behind Evan Longoria, Nolan Arenado, Adrian Beltre and Manny Machado. Seager’s right there with Josh Donaldson, holding off a charge from the likes of Matt Duffy, Mike Moustakas and Todd Frazier.

Last season a bit odd for Seager with the bat, as he was better versus lefties than versus righties, but don’t expect that to continue. It’s a good sign, though, that Seager made an adjustment or two and lefties did not for an entire season. I’d expect him to settle in around .255/.310/.410 versus southpaws, while climbing back to where he was in 2014 against righties — 283/.358/.504.

Seager is a 3.5-4 fWAR player by default. If he takes another small step forward, he’ll be among the 5-8 most valuable third baseman in the game, despite having the physical tools of a good utility player. Between the ears he’s Robby Cano or Paul Molitor.

Ketel Marte, SS
2015: 57 G, .283/.351/.402, .341 BABIP, .330 wOBA, 112 wRC+, 1.7 fWAR
Marte fits the mold of what Scott Servais and Jerry Dipoto wants in an offensive player up the middle (sure, everyone would like to have Xander Bogaerts or Troy Tulowitzki). He’ll make contact, he runs well, can handle the bat, and he’s improved as a switch hitter to the point where abandoning it isn’t even a remote possibility.

Marte’s numbers from his two-month stint last season are not indicative of what’s likely to occur in 2016. Expect his BABIP to sink to the low-300s or so, and I base that on his swing and game plan, not random randomness. I also don’t expect his walk rate to approach 10 percent (9.7 in 2015). But he does have solid range at shortstop — he’s improved greatly going to his right the past year or two — with consistency in his throws the main question. He’s not going to win a Gold Glove anytime soon, but more dependability goes a long way in securing the position long-term for the 22-year-old.

Marte is a 60-65 grade runner and is quick out of the left-handed batter’s box. He’s a decent base stealer, but not a great one.

If Marte repeats his 1.7 fWAR from a year ago, sign me up right now. There’s more upside there, however, and the chances he loses grip on his job during the season aren’t as high as with Brad Miller the past few years, simply because of his style of offensive play raising the floor on his overall value.

Luis Sardinas, SS
2015: 36 G, .196/.240/.216, .260 BABIP, .203 wOBA, 17 wRC+, -0.8 fWAR
Sardinas is a sound glove at shortstop and above-average runner, but he doesn’t bring much to the table with the bat. He’s still just 22, like Marte, and has shown better offensively, including a 43-game stretch for Texas in 2014 that resulted in a respectable .261/.303/.313 slash line.

Sardinas is the best of the group in terms of serving as a backup shortstop; He’s a more consistent glove than is Chris Taylor and makes better contact at the plate, and Tyler Smith isn’t quite ready for such a role.

Jesus Montero, 1B
2015: 38 G, .223/.250/.411, .267 BABIP, .284 wOBA, 81 wRC+, -0.5 fWAR
Dear Jim Moore, Jesus Montero is the best and most likely option, in my opinion, to serve as Lind’s replacement versus left-handed starters, even though I think carrying such a player on the roster makes no sense. Sincerely, Jason A. Churchill … and you’re welcome.

Montero has shown he can hit lefties in the past, even in the big leagues; In 2012, Montero hit .322/.366/.463 versus lefties in 191 plate appearances. He struggled in 77 big-league PAs a year ago, but hit .364/.432/.644 against LHPs in Triple-A Tacoma before being called up in July.

He’s worse than Lind defensively, but is getting better at making the routine plays. He does have arm strength but still looks new to the position when pivoting to make throws to second and third — which is difficult to work on, since it doesn’t occur much in games. He’s a 35 runner at best, even after the weight loss.

If Montero hits, he has value, but since he’s not a catcher — and no, he’s not going back to catcher and shouldn’t go back to catcher just because he lost weight — he’ll have to hit big to be a major leaguer; .260/.300/.420 isn’t good enough. Montero will have to absolutely crush lefties and hold his own versus righties or any role for him on the big-league roster will be forced.

He’s out of options, so one of two things is likeliest to happen this month: either Montero will make the club as Lind’s platoon mate, or Montero will be traded for a sack of sacks. There’s a chance he could clear waivers if the club wanted to go that route, but the 26-year-old has shown too much the past year-plus to be a safe bet to get through 29 other teams.

Dae Ho Lee, 1B
2015:
NO MLB STATS
Lee is a big dude — he’s reportedly lost 40-50 pounds coming into this season, but from the video and photos courtesy of the terrific Seattle media covering spring training, Lee remains a very big human.

Despite the opinions of some, Lee is not a good fielder in any manner outside arm strength. He’s slow laterally, slower coming in on balls and I’ve been told he’s also had some issues running back and toward the stands on foul pops. He’s fringe-average digging balls out of the dirt, but tends to let the ball play him, rather than aggressively going after the ball. That said, Lee was signed for his bat, anyway, so he’s very much like Montero in that regard.

There are three opinion types on Lee to completely ignore: those that look at his numbers in Korea and Japan and assume they’ll play in the states; those that ignore that fact that Lee now is 33 years of age; those that pass off their opinions on what others are saying about Lee.

Nobody truly knows with any level of confidence, really, what Lee is capable of in Major League Baseball. He has bat speed, brute strength, has seen a lot of good breaking balls in his day and has the kind of raw power that no ballpark holds down to zero value. How well might Lee adjust to seeing a four-pitch mix every night includes speeds from 72 mph on a two-plane curveball to 95 mph on a four-seamer with late life up in the zone? Stateside arms are much better at attacking all areas of the strikezone than in Japan and Korea, and the stuff, in general, is significantly better. Even some relievers in MLB offer pitches that move horizontally in each direction to complement velocity and vertical break.

Spring will be a nice test for Lee, and maybe his batting eye is better than he’s shown because it will have to be a focus for him. But maybe he takes a statistical hit the same way Ichiro and Hideki Matsui did when they came over to the U.S.; Both were still very good, and Ichiro has a few MVP-caliber seasons, but offensively, both took large hits.

Ichiro, who arrived in his prime at 28 years of age, batted .350, .321, .312, .372 and .303 his first five season with Seattle. He did hit .351 in 2007, and .352 in 2009. That’s pretty darned great. Ichiro slugged between .416 and .455 those first five seasons. But in Japan, he went .385, .342, .356, .345, .358, .343, .387 in the years leading up to his deal with the Mariners, and those Wade Boggs-like averages came with slugging percentages of .549, .544, .504, .513, .518, .572 and .539.

If Lee takes the same hit to his numbers — 25-60 points of average, 100+ points of slugging — he’s set for a .250-260 average and a slugging percentage that struggles to approach .400. That’s .400, not .500, as Lee slugged .524, 454, .493 his last three season in Japan.

Matsui was the same way as Ichiro, so if you’d prefer a power bat versus a power bat, fine. Matsui’s career slugging percentage in Japan was .582. He joined the Yankees in 2003 at age 29 and slugged .522, .496, .494 and .488, and he was four years younger than Lee is now.

I’m not saying Lee can’t succeed, especially if the role is limited to platoon-like status, but the odds are stacked high against him, and making the 25-man out of spring camp isn’t likely barring injury or trade. He has an opt-out late in March.

Chris Taylor, SS
2015:
37 G, .170/.220/.223, .254 BABIP, .201 wOBA, 23 wRC+, -0.4 fWAR
Taylor remains a viable option at shortstop, but has yet to show any consistency at the plate, where his lengthy, yet flat, swing produces too many swings and misses and no chance to turn on good fastball and hit them with authority.

Taylor works counts in the minors, but in the big leagues simply has fallen behind in counts, which induced an attacking mode. That plays against longer swings that don’t produce power, because big-league pitchers are smart enough to deal with it accordingly.

Taylor’s swing needs to shorten, if nothing else (there are a few more things that could be changed, but aren’t easy to do, such as bring his feet closer together and using the front leg as a better timing mechanism), and he needs to get back to being what he is — a line-drive hitter with solid-average speed and glove, and in general a player that plays with energy and instincts. He played as if he’d lost confidence — understandably — in each game he appears with Seattle in 2015.

If I am the Mariners here, I get Taylor some time at third base and left field, and perhaps see what he thinks of playing center field, too. He’s 25 now and the best way for him to help a major-league club may be as a true utility player. He’s fine at shortstop, so now go see if he can handle center, or at least left and third. He’s not going to forget how to play short in the meantime, so if he’s needed in Seattle at the position, he’ll be OK.

Benji Gonzalez, 2B
2015: NO MLOB STATS
Gonzalez is a second baseman by trade and his shot of making the big club are as close to zero as it gets among invites to camp. He does, however, bring an interest track record to the table, one that may sound familiar. Let’s see if you recognize the following: Good contact hitter, above-average speed, gets on base, has defensive versatility. I thought so.

Gonzalez,26, has no power of which to speak but he’s a switch hitter with quick hands and as a lefty can reach the gaps on occasion. In the field he has terrific footwork, gets rid of the ball quickly and is very surehanded.

The former 7th-round pick likely finds a home in Double-A Jackson or Triple-A Tacoma, and that’s if he makes it through camp.

Gaby Sanchez, 1B
2015: NO MLB STATS
Sanchez, whose minor league deal includes an opt-out believed to be in April or May, is another candidate to share first base with Lind. He spent 2015 overseas, but it’s his stateside track record that strongly suggests his big-league career is over and done. In 2014 with Pittsburgh, he 32-year-old Sanchez batted .229/.293/.385 after a .254/.361/.402 line in 2013.

He’s below average defensively and with offensive trends like that, Sanchez is behind the eight-ball — and about four others — in this position battle.

Ed Lucas, 1B
2015: NO MLB STATS
If there’s one candidate Sanchez starts ahead of, it may be Lucas, who has limited big-league experience and never has profiled as a first base type. But can he hit lefties? Who knows? But in 150+ big-league games, he does sport a career line of .330/.360/.469 versus southpaws, and his glove is better than any of the other options for the gig.

He won’t walk much, but he does make contact, at least versus lefties. Does the 33-year-old Lucas sound like a dark horse for this job?

Stefen Romero, 1B/OF: SEE — OUTFIELD CAPSULES

Tyler Smith, SS: No. 15 Prospect — Tyler Smith
2015: NO MLB STATS
Smith won’t make the big club this season, but has the makeup and offensive profile of a Dipoto-Servais player, so don’t be surprised if he finds his way onto the roster later in the year.…

Peoria Sports ComplexWhen pitchers and catchers from the Seattle Mariners officially report to the Peoria Sports Complex in just a few days, baseball will begin to re-enter the consciousness of many Seattle sports fan for the first time since the start of preseason football.

This annual “re-awakening” of the casual baseball fan from their gridiron hibernation will begin to take hold by the middle of next month. Spring Training is such an exciting time for fans of all teams. After all, everyone has a chance of winning before the regular season begins.

Mixed in with fans catching baseball fever are an unfortunate lot who’re susceptible to a more sinister illness that can be contracted by merely watching Spring Training baseball or reading box scores from the games. The principal symptom of this disorder is placing any level of importance on March statistics.

Steve Sandmeyer briefly touched upon the condition during the Vincent Askew” edition of the weekly podcast that he co-hosts with Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill from Mulleady’s Irish Pub in Seattle. During that episode, Steve opined that he gets irritated when Spring Training statistics come into any conversation on who should or shouldn’t make a club’s roster.

I know that many fans agree with Steve. Perhaps, they’ve built up their immunity after succumbing to this illness in the past or they just know better. Sadly, others will inevitably fall into the trap of putting weight into Spring Training numbers.

It happens every year. A player will unexpectedly take the Cactus or Grapefruit league by storm and those infected with this malady will take to social media or call into a local sports talk radio show to express their optimism about this emerging superstar. Eventually, the regular season will start and it’ll become painfully obvious for this poor soul that Spring Training stats are nothing more than fool’s gold.

After hearing Steve’s comments about the silliness of Spring Training performance evaluations based on numbers alone, I thought it’d be interesting to look at some of the more bright and shiny Peoria performances that didn’t lead to regular season success. Since I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest since January 2009, I decided to narrow my focus to the seven years that I’ve been observing the Mariners.

To be eligible for consideration, a position player had to play at least 15 games during Spring Training. The position listed next to each player’s name is the position listed on the official MLB statistics for that particular Cactus League season. The only exception was Jesus Montero, who was still a catcher in 2013. I needed a designated hitter for my squad and he was my choice. Without any further ado, here’s my handpicked “Peoria wonder” starting lineup.

   Spring Training   Regular Season
Pos
Name Year
Hr AVG OBP
SLG   HR AVG OBP SLG
1B Justin Smoak 2014 3 .292 ,368 ,523   7 .202 .275 .339
2B Chone Figgins 2011 1 .373 .448 .490   1 .188 .241 .243
SS Munenori Kawasaki 2012 0 .455 .489 .523   0 .192 .257 .202
3B Alex Liddi 2012 1 .370 .453 .587   3 .224 .278 .353
RF Michael Morse 2013 9 .357 .439 .893   13 .215 .270 .381
CF Austin Jackson 2015 0 .333 .359 .467   9 .267 .311 .385
LF Dustin Ackley 2014 2 .382 .408 .603   4 .253 .319 .341
C Mike Zunino 2015 7 .352 .435 .852   11 .174 .230 .300
DH Jesus Montero 2013 2 .400 .438 .711   3 .208 .264 .327

This group should evoke memories – mostly bad – for longtime fans of the Mariners. If served truth serum, I’m sure that more than a few o the team’s faithful would admit that they were excited – or at least encouraged – by the Spring Training performances of at least a few of these players. Austin Jackson and Dustin Ackley were the only players to perform near league-average after Opening Day. The rest of the group had an underwhelming regular season after shining so brightly during the stupendously small sample-size of March baseball.

The players listed above weren’t the only Cactus League studs available for selection. Oh no, there were plenty of Peoria overachievers available for selection. Here are a few more notable examples of great March play that meant nothing once the regular season got underway. I hope that all of these lists won’t cause nightmares or give Seattle fans the urge to drink excessive amounts of alcohol.

   Spring Training   Regular Season
Pos
Name Year
Hr AVG OBP
SLG   HR AVG OBP SLG
 1B   Chris Shelton  2009 3 .460 .534  .720    0 .231  .286  .308
LF  Cole Gillespie 2014  0  .433  .469  .533    1  .254  .312  .324
 3B   Matt Tuiasosopo 2009  2  .424  .453  .644    1  .227  .280  .409
1B  Justin Smoak 2013  5 .407  .455  .797    20  .238  .334  .412
1B  Justin Smoak 2012 0  .378  .479  .486    19  .217  .290 .364
 SS  Yuniesky Betancourt 2009  3 .400  .419  .683    2  .250  .278  .330
2B Josh Wilson 2011 1 .348 .423 .500   2 .224 .258 .353
 2B  Robert Andino 2013  1 .327  .413 .455    0  .184  .253  .237

Ironically, a few of the players listed above did well during several Spring Training seasons only to disappoint during the regular season. Most notably, Ackley, Justin Smoak, and Mike Zunino fall into that category. Smoak was a“Peoria Triple Crown” winner by playing superb desert baseball in three different years.

This Peoria-bred lunacy knows no boundaries and applies to starting pitchers too. Since there are fewer players vying for a limited number of rotation spots each spring, I selected only three Peoria Cy Young award winners for review. This trio looked so great in March, yet they couldn’t keep it going after Opening Day.

   Spring Training   Regular Season
Pitcher
Year GS
IP ERA OPP AVG   GS IP ERA OPP AVG
Erasmo Ramirez  2014  5 23.2  1.14  .212    14 75.1  5.26 .277
 Brandon Maurer  2013  4  24  1.50  .261    14  90  6.30 .311
Chris Jakubauskas  2009  4  22.2 1.99  .215    8  93 5.32 .254

Unlike position players, who play nearly every day in Peoria, starting pitchers get a limited number of opportunities to show their stuff. Normally, the most Spring Training starts a pitcher gets is five. To compound the evaluation process, pitch counts are limited as the hurlers build their arm strength. As you can see from the list above, all three starters pitched very well and logged just over 20 innings.

On the topic of bad performances, those fans enamored by Spring Training metrics will succumb to being anxious about the poor performance of an established player. My advice to those afflicted is don’t worry, everything will be okay. Look at these five Cactus League pitching performances to see what I mean.

   Spring Training   Regular Season
Pitcher
Year GS
IP ERA OPP AVG   GS IP ERA OPP AVG
Felix Hernandez 2013  12.1 4  10.22  .277    31 204.1  3.04  .242
Roenis Elias 2013  14.2 4 6.75  .426    29  163.2  3.85  .248
Doug Fister 2011  23.1 6  5.01 .275    31  216.1  2.83 .237
Felix Hernandez  2014  13.1  4  4.73  .250    34  236.0  2.14  .200
Hisashi Iwakuma  2013  19  5 4.26  .254    33  219.2 2.66  .220

Although Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma pitched poorly – statistically speaking – during Cactus League play, they went on to be finalists for the American League Cy Young award; Felix in 2014 and Kuma the year prior. Make sure to point this out to the inflicted if Felix stinks up the Peoria Sports Complex next month. He knows what he’s doing and the odds are good that he’ll be ready for Opening Day.

If you encounter someone suffering from the Peoria strain of March madness, try logic first. Point out that an everyday player will typically get roughly 60 at-bats during Spring Training. That’s slightly more than half of what they normally log during a full month of regular season play. The sample size isn’t large enough to gauge performance. Maybe that will shake some sense into the person.

Another option would be to get the afflicted person to make frequent visits to Prospect Insider and faithfully listen to the Sandmeyer and Churchill podcast. Perhaps, constant exposure to common sense and good baseball judgement will help reverse the illness.

When all else fails, try to be patient with this soon-to-be tormented fan. Reality will likely crash down on their Spring Training dreams by Memorial Day and they’ll need a friend to help prevent a recurrence of their Peoria madness in March 2017.…

TrumboDespite the fact many quality free agents are still available, the collection of players scheduled to arrive in Peoria, Arizona in a matter of days will be relatively unchanged. Unless of course, general manager Jerry Dipoto has another trick up his sleeve, but it seems unlikely most clubs focused on arbitration cases at the moment. As it stands, the club will begin the year with at least one fresh face at first base.

Gone is Logan Morrison, the Opening Day first baseman from a year ago. Also departed is Mark Trumbo, the mid-season acquisition that did little to aid an ailing offense. Instead, the Mariners will count on a different former 30 home run hitter, Adam Lind, and a yet-to-be-determined platoon partner. Former top prospect Jesus Montero and recent Korean import Dae-Ho Lee are expected to lead the competition for the right-handed portion of that platoon.

Though Lind may be unspectacular, he’s a solid contributor who offers a slightly more athletic skill set and superior plate discipline skills compared to what had existed. The trio of low-level minor leaguers dealt was not nothing, but none are expected to be major league contributors in the near future. It’s fair to say that some disappointment should be associated with the fact we don’t get to see what Trumbo could do over the course of a full season.

This isn’t because the cost of acquiring him included the only thing resembling a major league catcher in the organization last year. It’s because the idea of Trumbo hitting behind Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager makes for a highly formidable middle of the order. At least on paper.

Instead, and as a means of create a more athletic and flexible roster, Tumbo was dealt to the Baltimore Orioles along with reliever C.J. Riefenhauser in exchange for back-up catcher Steve Clevenger. Equally importantly, approximately $9 million in salary was relieved in the deal. Much of that freed cash will go towards Lind’s contract.

All this leads to the question: are the Mariners better off without Trumbo?

The short answer would be yes, considering Dipoto’s goal in the deal was to gain roster and payroll flexibility. That much he accomplished. But it isn’t fair to judge a deal without considering the other moves it allowed or didn’t allow the club to make; or a few months after the deal took place with a single game yet to take place. But we’re not doing that, exactly.

First, let’s take a look at what Trumbo and Lind produced in 2015, since they are the primary components in this discussion.

  2015 Statistics
Name PA  HR RBI
BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wRC+ fWAR
Adam Lind 572 20 87 11.5% 17.5% .183 .309 .277 .360 .460 119 2.2
Mark Trumbo 545 22 64 6.6% 24.2% .187 .313 .262 .310 .449 108 1.1

From the power point of view, the pair were actually similar hitters in 2015 as their home run, ISO, and slugging percentage marks were in the same ballpark. What separates the two, besides Lind being a slightly better defensive first baseman, are the plate discipline numbers. Simply, Lind walks more and strikes out less. Again, those were characteristic desired by Dipoto, and add value to what the Mariners are collectively trying to do.

Lind did hit for a higher batting average, but the rate at which he drew walks gives him a considerable edge over Trumbo in the on base department. Five percent doesn’t seem like a big number, but over 400-to-500 plate appearances, that’s 20-to-25 times that the left-hander was able to get on base instead of making an out. Or in Trumbo’s case, striking out. Adding up marginal improvements like this one can make a big difference over the course of a season.

Posting a 108 wRC+, Trumbo was barely better than a league average first baseman with the bat. Lind’s 119 mark isn’t earth-shattering, but does play a role in his overall production as a league average player — this with a considerable platoon split, which we will touch on shortly.

Second, let’s look ahead at what both hitters project to produce in 2016 using the Steamer projections provided by FanGraphs.

  2016 Statistics
Name PA  HR RBI
BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wRC+ fWAR
Adam Lind 483 15 59 10.0% 17.8% .162 .302 .268 .342 .431 114 1.1
Mark Trumbo 544 25 73 7.4% 24.9% .203 .291 .252 .307 .455 104 0.6

Trumbo is projected for a comparable offensive year in 2016, his first in Camden Yards, to his 2015. Lind on the other hand is projected for some regression. Lind will turn 33 next summer and his prime years are likely behind him, but there’s a case to be made that his 2016 numbers could more closer resemble his 2015 performance than that projection. Now we can bring in the matter of that platoon split.

In 2015 Lind saw left-handed pitching in just under 21 percent of his plate appearances. For his career he owns a 54 wRC+ and a 25.4 percent strikeout rate against lefties. It isn’t always as simple as protecting him completely from left-handers, but his overall numbers would likely look better if he only faced them 12 to 15 percent of the time instead. Of note: all 20 of Lind’s 2015 home runs came against right-handed pitching and against left-handed pitching he struck out more often than he picked up a hit.

Lind owns a career 130 wRC+ against right-handed pitching. This is where most of his value comes from. Who he will be platooned with has yet to be determined. Early speculation is that Montero will be his other, probably not better, half.

I’m in favor of giving the slugger a chance provided he performs in Spring Training and the gains made last year don’t appear to be lost. The former top prospect is out of options and needs a legitimate shot against major league pitching so the organization can figure out if he’s even worth discussing anymore. Dipoto has said that Montero will have every chance to crack the roster. At this point, if he can handle his half of a platoon job well enough and not be a total liability on defense, he offers some value.

Let’s see what a potential Lind/Montero platoon could look like based on the Steamer projections.

  2016 Statistics
Name PA  HR RBI
BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wRC+ fWAR
Adam Lind 483 15 59 10.0% 17.8% .162 .302 .268 .342 .431 114 1.1
Jesus Montero 207 7 26 5.6% 21.1% .169 .309 .268 .310 .437 107 0.3

Combined, the pair project to be worth about 1.4 fWAR, which would would be below average for a single position player. Getting 22 home runs out of first base isn’t terrible and the position should be a source for some power by looking at the isolated power and slugging percentage numbers.

Montero’s platoon split is less significant than Lind’s — a career 115 wRC+ against left-handed pitching and a career 77 wRC+ against right-handed pitching. Combining that 115 mark against the left side with Lind’s career 130 mark against the right side could make for a solid player from an offensive standpoint. Of course it’s not as simple as combining those two numbers, but they do provide some framework to estimate with as they are career marks and not career-bests.

If Lind and Montero are adequately protected from same-handed pitching they will be positioned to succeed. By fWar the platoon projects to be twice as valuable as Trumbo in 2016 and should get on base plenty more. There is the problem of having two one-dimensional players on an otherwise flexible roster, but we will see how that shakes out in the spring.

Stefen Romero has also had his name tossed in the mix as a candidate and offers the flexibility of playing all three outfield positions as well. In 214 career plate appearances though, he owns a paltry 54 wRC+ and has yet to prove he can consistently hit major league pitching. This is a significant roadblock for him.

Gaby Sanchez‘ name is worth a mention as he’ll be in the mix for a role. But over parts of seven major league seasons he has a pedestrian .254/.332/.413 slash line and probably doesn’t give anything that Montero doesn’t.

Lee is the real dark house since as he’s a relative unknown right now. He could adjust well to the North American game or require several months in the minors. Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill further details Lee and what he could bring to an MLB roster. What we know with some certainty is that he doesn’t provide any value in the field or on the bases. For him it’s the bat or bust.

The Mariners are subtracting a potential 30 home run hitter from the lineup, but in 2015, Lind actually out-slugged Trumbo by 11 points — a testament to his more well-rounded skill set at the plate. There’s even a possibility that Lind is more valuable than Trumbo by himself solely as a platoon hitter. If his mate can produce at or above a league average level then the potential for improvement at the position only increases.

As Jason discussed, there’s legitimate concern for having a truly one-dimensional player — be it Montero, Lee, or another player — but that’s a conversation for a different day.

Overall, it would appear that, indeed, the Mariners are better off without Trumbo, and we didn’t even mention any value that his return, Steve Clevenger, could bring as a solid back-up catcher. The star potential may not be there quite as it would be with Trumbo, but Seattle has increased their certainty at a position that has been anything but in recent years.…

Romero
New Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has repeatedly discussed adding “layers of depth” to his organization roster since taking over the club’s baseball operations four months ago. Accordingly, he’s added 17 new players to the club’s 40-man roster and extended Spring Training invites to over a dozen non-roster players.

Despite Dipoto’s hectic pace, he didn’t throw out the baby out with the bathwater. The 47-year-old retained 23 players from the Jack Zduriencik era for good reason; his best players were already with the team when he became general manager. Take a look.

Three Zduriencik holdovers intrigue me more than the rest – Jesus Montero, Chris Taylor, and Stefen Romero. At some point during their respective careers with the organization, each player was poised to contribute at the major league level. Now, they’re facing career uncertainty.

Jesus Montero – first base/designated hitter
Since arriving from the New York Yankees in exchange for starting pitcher Michael Pineda, the 26-year-old has been an enigma. After posting respectable numbers during his rookie season in 2012, he’s suffered many self-induced setbacks.

Following his first year in the Emerald City, Montero regressed on the field, suffered a knee injury, earned a 50-game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, arrived to Spring Training out of shape, and was involved in a confrontation with a roving scout during a rehab assignment. The former highly touted prospect’s outlook with the ball club was no longer bright.

With so much uncertainty surrounding his future, Montero transformed himself with the help and support of the Mariners organization. He arrived to 2015 Spring Training with a new attitude and in great physical shape. The new-look Jesus Montero produced an impressive .355/.398/.569 slash and 18 home runs during 98 games with Tacoma, rekindling the notion that he still might be able to contribute as a big leaguer.

Entering Spring Training this year, Montero finds himself vying to be the Mariners’ right-handed complement to starting first baseman Adam Lind. When referring to the former catcher in December, Dipoto told MLB Radio in that the team would to give the slugger a chance to “win at bats at first base and DH.”

Barring injury or trade, Montero doesn’t appear to be a fit with Seattle because he doesn’t play another position on the field. That’s a challenge for a team that’s likely to carry only four bench players. Two of those spots will be taken by Franklin Gutierrez and the backup catcher. That leaves room for an infielder who can play shortstop and someone who can play first base and preferably another position. For those wondering, Montero doesn’t catch anymore.

To compound matters, the former Yankee doesn’t have any remaining minor league options. Therefore, he has to make the Mariners’ Opening Day roster or clear waivers before returning to Tacoma. It’s unlikely that he’d get through waivers without another team claiming him. The only other alternative would be to trade the slugger, as the Mariners did with pitcher Erasmo Ramirez when he was out of options and not going to make the team last March.

Chris Taylor – shortstop/second base
The 25-year-old performed well enough during his 2014 debut with Seattle to force a starting shortstop competition with Brad Miller during Spring Training last year. Unfortunately, the contest ended prematurely when the former fifth-round draft pick suffered a broken bone in his wrist after just nine Cactus League games.

When Taylor was ready to return to game action just a month later, he started with Tacoma. The right-handed hitter produced at a torrid pace until he joined Seattle in early May. The former Virginia Cavalier started 19 games with the club during the initial stages of the “Brad Miller super-utility player” science project, but he struggled at the plate with a paltry .159/.221/.206 slash and returned to the minors after just four weeks with the Mariners.

Despite the Seattle setback, Taylor responded well with a .300/.391/.429 slash during 396 plate appearances as a Rainier. The right-handed batter has hit at every minor league stop and has proven that he possesses average-or-better defensive skills. Despite his superb minor league performance, Taylor is no longer the first choice to succeed the since-traded Miller as the Mariners’ starting shortstop.

In late-July, the Mariners promoted shortstop prospect Ketel Marte to the majors. The youngster thoroughly impressed team observers with his composure at the plate and his better-than-expected defensive play during the last third of the season. Barring unforeseen circumstances, the 22-year-old appears to have the inside track to the starting shortstop job.

With Marte seemingly entrenched at shortstop and Robinson Cano expected to play second base for a few more seasons, the likelihood of Taylor getting an opportunity to start for Seattle is diminishing. Now, Taylor is left vying with Luis Sardinas, Shawn O’Malley, and several non-roster invites for the utility infielder spot on the roster. That’s a sharp decline for a player who was in the hunt for a starting role just 11 months ago.

Stefen Romero – corner outfield/first base
The former Oregon State Beaver earned a spot on Seattle’s 2014 Opening Day roster, but his bat didn’t respond well to inconsistent playing time. He slashed .196/.236/.324 during 159 plate appearances and was eventually demoted in June. Since then, Romero hasn’t received another significant chance with the Mariners, except for being a September call-up for two consecutive years.

[pullquote]We’ve talked about Stefen Romero as an internal candidate for a role on our club. That could include some first base to take the load off Adam and it could also benefit from having a sixth outfielder who’s capable of a number of spots. — Jerry Dipoto[/pullquote]

Although Romero became an afterthought for the former regime, Dipoto is on record suggesting that the 27-year-old will get a look at being the platoon relief for Lind. That’s a big step for a player with just three professional starts at first base. Assuming that he can handle the position, Romero offers a versatile, right-handed alternative who can capably play both corner outfield spots, and fill in at second and third base in an emergency.

What’s next?
If they can’t win a spot on the 25-man roster, Taylor and Romero have a minor league option remaining and can serve as “layers of depth” at Tacoma. For Montero, his course is different and hinges on the club’s philosophy towards bench players.

If the Mariners are willing to carry a one-position backup to cover first base, he has a chance of making the ball club. Otherwise, barring unforeseen circumstances, his days with Seattle are dwindling.

Assuming that Montero doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, he still has value as a trade chip. Granted, the return wouldn’t be as nearly as impressive as a young Michael Pineda. Nevertheless, new management can’t undo past transactions; only move on and make the club better.

Finally
Witnessing how the expectations for Montero, Taylor, and Romero spiraled downward after they reached “the show” is a stark reminder that getting to the big leagues and then actually succeeding is a formidable challenge.

Whether these players, and others, would’ve enjoyed more success with a different management team or another organization is irrelevant at this point. For me, the only topic that’s worth discussing is whether Montero, Taylor, and Romero can succeed in the majors after struggling during their earlier auditions. That’s why I’ll be keeping a close eye on this trio’s progress in Peoria.…

Montgomery

After aggressively remodeling his club’s roster for the past three months, Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto says that the team’s roster is essentially set for the beginning of Spring Training.

Assuming for a moment that the 40-man roster remains intact between now and the start of Spring Training, the club will enter camp with six players who have no options remaining. This could set the stage for several tough roster-related choices by Dipoto and his staff.

If these players don’t make the big league roster out of Peoria, they’d have to clear waivers before being assigned to Class-AAA Tacoma. That’s a risky proposition because most or all of them wouldn’t make through the waiver process before being snatched up by another club. Take a look at the six players to see what I mean.

Mike Montgomery – starting pitcher
The Mariners expect the 26-year-old to compete for a rotation spot. However, he’ll be the dark horse when pitchers and catchers report on February 19. Ahead of him are ace Felix Hernandez, newly acquired starters Wade Miley and Nate Karns, plus holdovers Taijuan Walker and James Paxton.

After being exchanged for Erasmo Ramirez – who was ironically out of options – the southpaw got off to a good start after making his major league debut on June 2. Montgomery held opponents to a .191 batting average and threw two consecutive complete game shutouts during his first seven starts. Unfortunately for the rookie and the team, opponents hit .368 during his five final starts in August when he surrendered 21 earned runs in 19.1 innings.

Perhaps, his late season decline was caused by his career-high 155.1 innings pitched. However, his walk and strikeout rates with Seattle weren’t much worse than what he posted during eight minor league seasons. It’s possible that we’ve seen the best that the southpaw has to offer and his destiny is in the bullpen.

It’s too early to determine Montgomery’s future with certainty. But, barring injury or trade, he’ll face an uphill battle earning a spot in the Mariners’ rotation. His destiny may be to start the season in the bullpen with Seattle or be used as trade piece by Dipoto.

Jesus Montero – first baseman/designated hitter
Also age-26, the former catcher has endured a tumultuous three seasons after being dealt to the Mariners for pitcher Michael Pineda. After a decent first season with Seattle in 2012, he fell on hard times that were mostly self-induced.

During the 2013-14 seasons, he performed poorly on the field, received a 50-game suspension due to his involvement with the Biogenesis performance enhancement scandal, arrived to Spring Training 40 pounds overweight, and was in an altercation with a roving scout during a rehab assignment game.

Since then, Montero has turned his life around with the help of the Mariners organization. In 2015, he arrived to camp in the best shape of his life and with a new attitude. On the field, he posted an impressive .355/.398/.569 slash and hit 18 home runs during 98 games for Tacoma. However, his new approach may have come too late for the previous front office.

Due to his previous struggles – and the acquisition of right-handed slugger Mark Trumbo – Montero was in low demand during the 2015 season. Even after his July 10 recall from Tacoma, he had just 116 plate appearances with the big league club during the remainder of the season.

The new regime has outwardly endorsed Montero and Dipoto has called him as “an asset” to the organization. When referring to the right-handed slugger, the Mariners GM recently told MLB Radio that they were going to give him an opportunity to “win at bats at first base and DH.”

That comment came shortly before the arrival of the left-handed hitting Adam Lind, who will be the team’s primary first baseman. Lind’s struggles against southpaws leaves the door open for a right-handed counterpart at first base. Could Montero be that player?

Despite Dipoto saying all of the right things Montero, I can’t envision a scenario where he’ll get enough at bats to justify a spot on the Mariners 25-man roster. Let’s face the facts – he isn’t the kind of player the GM has been targeting in his deals. Montero doesn’t play another field position and he’s a power-first offensive player.

More than likely, the Mariners will only have four reserve position players and that’s including a backup catcher. And no – Montero isn’t a catcher anymore.

Ideally, the Mariners’ backup first baseman can play the outfield. If not, he’ll have to be capable of playing passable defense at another position. Remember, the new leadership has placed an emphasis on improving the team’s fielding and versatility. Montero doesn’t fit into that mold.

Seattle will already be carrying two other players who will only play one position – Lind and catcher Chris Iannetta. If Montero were a third, the bench would consist of outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, backup catcher Steve Clevenger and one infielder.

It’s true that both Lind and Iannetta have played other positions during their respective careers. Lind has played the outfield, but hasn’t done so since 2010. Iannetta has manned first and third base, although it’s been for three or fewer games during any given season. Both players are going to play one field position.

Based on the strategy that the Mariners have been using to reboot their roster, they’ll want to have more versatile bench players. That’s why newly acquired Ed Lucas may be better positioned than Montero to make the team out of Peoria.

The right-handed hitter can play all four infield positions, and has totaled nearly 900 innings playing corner outfield spots during his professional career. His hitter’s defensive versatility could potentially make him an asset. Moreover, he’s hammered left-handed pitching with a .330/.360/.469 slash during a very small sample-size of 179 plate appearances.

Lucas may not be the eventual choice to make the team and may end up being minor league depth. But, a player with versatility similar to Lucas’ will have the edge over a less adaptable player – like Montero.

When discussing Montero, Dipoto relayed to Tacoma News Tribune beat writer Bob Dutton that “He is out of options. So he’s going to be exposed to waivers if he doesn’t make our club. One thing I can say is we do believe Jesus can hit. We’re going to find out if that fits for us.”

Barring injury or trade, I believe that Dipoto will determine that Montero isn’t a fit. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for the club or the player. Perhaps, the Mariners can add a piece to an area of weakness – like bullpen depth – by dealing Montero.

Plus, the former highly-touted prospect may be best served by starting over with a new organization that has a spot for him. Montero has nothing else to prove in the minor leagues and deserves a shot after reinventing himself and turning his life around. Personally, I’m hoping that the guy gets the chance to succeed somewhere in the majors.

Steve Clevenger – catcher
Although the 29-year-old has only appeared in 148 big league games in five seasons, he has the best chance to make the club out of Peoria. Clevenger provides Seattle with much needed catching depth and is a better alternative to last year’s backup – Jesus Sucre.

Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill pointed out here that Clevenger is a player who possesses good on-base abilities and is capable of playing more than one position– both are qualities that Dipoto values. In Clevenger’s case, he’s played first and third base during his professional career. This is another strike against Montero.

Clevenger’s presence also permits the club’s former starting catcher – Mike Zunino – to spend the entire 2016 season at the Class-AAA level, if that’s what it takes to get his offensive development back on track. If the former Mariners’ former number-one draft pick figures it out sooner, Clevenger would likely be the odd man out.

Anthony Bass, Evan Scribner, Justin De Fratus – relief pitchers
All three players – who are new acquisitions – will vie for spots in the bullpen. Bass is the most versatile of the threesome. As Jason pointed out when the right-hander arrived from the Texas Rangers, he’s a “Swiss Army Knife” who can fill multiple roles including long-reliever or spot starter. This versatility gives the 28-year-old a leg up on his competition.

Both Scribner and De Fratus will also compete for spots on the major league roster and are the type of “buy-low” players that Dipoto’s been adding during the offseason. Scribner demonstrated superb control of the strike zone in 2015 while striking out 64 hitters in 60 innings and only walking four. That’s an amazing strikeout-to-walk ratio. On the flip side, he was victimized by the long ball – he surrendered 14 home runs.

De Fratus appears to be a victim of overuse last season. While with the Philadelphia Phillies, he logged 80 innings – second most by a reliever in 2015. Also, he had 26 multi-inning appearances last season – twice as many as in 2014. More than likely, De Fratus’ second-half decline was directly attributable to his heavy workload.

Considering the current bullpen uncertainty, all three relievers have a good chance of making the relief squad out of Spring Training, although it’s important to note that Dipoto will continue to add more arms to the mix when an opportunity arises. Just today, he added reliever A.J. Schugel, who was designated for assignment by the Arizona Diamondbacks last week.

There are two more details that need to be mentioned – Jerry Dipoto is always willing to make a that will help improve his roster and it’s only December 16. So, some of the “men without options” could be dealt prior to the beginning of Spring Training.

In the end, all six players will land on a major league roster if they earn it. Whether that spot is with Seattle or another team will be determined by their performance, the competition, fate, or the trade market.…

 

When Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto set out to reshape the club’s roster, the prevailing thought was that the team needed to address their starting pitching, bullpen, catching depth, outfield defense, and fringe depth. Prospect Insider Executive Editor Jason A. Churchill first discussed these areas of need in late October. Since then, Dipoto has aggressively addressed everything that Jason mentioned through a series of transactions that’s seen 30 players change teams. All-in-all, the Mariners have netted 17 new players.

That doesn’t mean that Seattle is ready to field a contender. There’s still more work to do with the starting rotation and the bullpen, especially after the team was unable to retain the services of free agent starter Hisashi Iwakuma.

Another reason that the Mariners are far from ready is the fact that Dipoto created a new hole at first base while making his multitude of moves. The departures of Mark Trumbo and Logan Morrison leave Jesus Montero and the newly acquired Andy Wilkins as the top candidates to take over the position.

Considering that it’s only the first Monday in December and the Winter Meetings only started today, Mariner fans shouldn’t be alarmed. I suspect that Dipoto desired to make a change from the onset of the off-season and moving Trumbo and Morrison was part of a big picture plan to upgrade first base and other areas on the 40-man roster.

Since most observers don’t view Montero and Wilkins as the answer, let’s look at potential options available to Seattle, via trade or free agency. I’m sure other names will crop up in the rumor mill. It’s not my intent to predict the next Mariners first baseman. I’m just presenting some ideas. Some are more far-fetched than others. Let’s start with a couple of free agents.

Mike Napoli
The 34-year-old could be the kind of buy-low players that Dipoto has been attracted to since taking over. Napoli’s 2015 slash against right-handed pitching doesn’t look great. But, his.243/.340/.464 career slash against righties demonstrates that he still can contribute at the plate.

The former catcher-turned-first baseman has also done well from a defensive perspective by averaging over six defensive runs saved (DRS) during the last three seasons. Another plus – a very minor one – is that he could serve as an emergency catcher, although he hasn’t donned the “tools of ignorance” since 2012.

Steve Pearce
His career slash is .247/.325/.431, which hovers near league-average and he’s a versatile player who has played first, second and third base, plus both corner outfield spots. Since his debut in 2007, he’s totaled 10 DRS while manning first base. Like Napoli, he’d be a low-risk, low-cost signing.

I’ve had several people ask me about former Colorado Rockie Justin Morneau. He poses a much higher risk due to his injury history. In 2015, he once again had concussion and neck problems and has averaged just 112 games played since 2012. Plus, his recent offensive renaissance is probably fueled by playing in Coors Field.

Trades
It’s hard to predict deals between teams because it takes at least two parties who have needs that blend in a way to make a trade beneficial to all involved. It also comes down to the willingness of clubs to part ways with the necessary assets to get their player(s). The law of supply and demand definitely applies to the trade market.

With that in mind, I selected a few players who could be trade targets. Most of them cost more than the Mariners appear to be willing or able to pay, especially if the player doesn’t have multiple years of team control remaining.

Adam Lind – Milwaukee Brewers
The 32-year-old would be a significant offensive upgrade for Seattle. He’s posted a superb .293/.354/.509 slash against right-handed pitching during his career. He is under contract for one more year before he enters free agency and will make a relatively reasonable $8 million next year. More than likely, he’s still with the team because Milwaukee because they haven’t received an acceptable offer from potential buyers.

Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports recently speculated that the Cleveland Indians were able to get southpaw Rob Kaminsky – who was a 2013 first-round draft choice – from the St. Louis Cardinals at last season’s trade deadline and that Brewers management could be seeking a similar return.

As Rosenthal pointed out, there’s one significant difference between Lind and Moss situations. The Brewers’ first baseman is a free agent after next season, while the Cardinals got a season and a half of Moss. More team control leads to getting more value in return during a trade. This concept applies to all of the players I’m about to mention.

Clint Robinson – Washington Nationals
A late bloomer as a 30-year-old rookie last season, the left-handed hitter had an impressive .272/.358/.424 slash during 352 plate appearances and has been a average defender at first base. Granted, it’s a small sample size and whether the Nationals would be willing to part with Robinson is questionable, especially with the injury history of starting first baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

Travis Shaw – Boston Red Sox
The 25-year-old’s .270/.327/.487 slash and 13 home runs in just 248 plate appearances during his rookie season would make him attractive if the Red Sox were to make the left-handed hitter available. It’s possible that Boston would part with Shaw if they’re truly committed to Hanley Ramirez at first base. That remains to be seen since Ramirez has never played first base at any professional level and is coming off a disappointing 2015 season.

Justin Bour – Miami Marlins
The 27-year-old performed superbly during his first full season in the majors and even finished a distant fifth in Rookie of the Year voting to the runaway winner – Chicago’s Kris Bryant. Bour’s .262/.321/.479 and 23 home runs in 446 plate appearances would make the cost of acquiring the left-handed hitter very prohibitive. One mark against him is that his defensive metrics weren’t very favorable – he registered -7 DRS last year. In fairness, a partial season of defensive metrics doesn’t provide a large enough sample size to pass judgement.

Chris Colabello – Toronto Blue Jays
If Toronto opted to move Edwin Encarnacion to first base on a full-time basis, the 32-year-old late bloomer could be considered excess since the team already has former Mariner Justin Smoak to serve as a back-up. The right-handed hitter posted a .265/.323/.438 career slash and has some pop in his bat. Like Bour, Colabello’s -6 DRS during 644.1 innings at first base isn’t reliable due to the small sample size.

Wil Myers – San Diego Padres
It may be a surprise to some that the former American League Rookie of the Year only turns 25-years-old in three days. It may also surprise some that I;ve mentioned Myers as a first base option since he’s only started 24 major league games at the position. Based on his athleticism, the former catcher and outfielder should easily adapt to first base. This is an interesting idea, but it looks like San Diego came up with it first and may opt to keep Myers to be their first baseman, especially after trading away Yonder Alonso.

Lucas Duda – New York Mets
The 29-year-old has excellent left-handed power and good on-base ability for a player who averaged 136 strikeouts over the last two years. Duda will likely earn in the neighborhood of $6.7 million in arbitration and is a free agent after the 2017 season. Despite his disastrous throwing error in the World Series, he’s a good defender. If the Mets opted to move team captain David Wright – who has spinal stenosis – from third base to first, Duda would become expendable. New York may eventually move Wright to first, but there’s no indication that it’ll happen in 2016.

Davis effect
If a team that already has a first baseman were to sign free agent first baseman Chris Davis, a new partner could appear for Dipoto. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, and Toronto are interested in the power-hitting Davis.

Signing Davis would make Colabello available. The Cardinals would likely trade Matt Adams if they inked Davis. The arbitration-eligible Adams is projected to earn $1.5 million according to MLB Trade Rumors and a free agent after the 2018 season. The Red Sox would definitely have an excess at first base if they signed Davis to play there. Whether they would they be more inclined to trade Ramirez or Shaw is unknown.

Multi-team mystery
Since the Mariners have limited trade assets to use to get a first baseman – or starting pitching – Dipoto could turn to a multi-team deal to make a move. That’s how former general Jack Zduriencik was able to flip Nick Franklin for Austin Jackson in 2014 that involved David Price moving from Tampa Bay to Detroit.

Dipoto has used the multi-team deal while with the Los Angeles Angels. In December 2013, he made a three-way trade with the Chicago White Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks that netted the Angels Hector Santiago, Tyler Skaggs, for Mark Trumbo and A.J. Schugel. These deals are complicated and can fall apart at any times.

The trade option would likely net a better player, but the Mariners are planning to contend in 2016. So, they may be reluctant to part with major league talent and they don’t have a much to offer in the form of high-level prospects.

Unless Seattle is willing to take on a bad contract or under-performing player – like Hanley Ramirez – it’s tough for me to envision how the Mariners could pick up one of the above players or someone similar in talent and team control.

That’s why Napoli and Pearce intrigue me the most. Both would be low-cost alternatives who would help the team with on the field and at the plate.

 …

Marte
The Seattle Mariners’ disappointing season has prompted some fans to call for the promotion of players from the Class-AAA Tacoma Rainiers to see if they can help the team salvage 2015.

Fans are also anxious to see if any of these players have the potential to contribute in 2016 and beyond. In recent weeks, a popular veteran – Franklin Gutiérrez – returned to Seattle from Tacoma and one of the organization’s most enigmatic players – Jesús Montero made a brief visit with the Mariners before returning to the Rainiers.

Based on the warm fan reaction he’s received at Safeco Field, fans are happy to have “Guti” back. Based on social media, I think that it’s fair to say that many Mariners faithful would have liked to see a longer audition for Montero and – perhaps – that will still happen in 2015. There’s another Rainier who fans are anxious to see in Seattle –infielder Ketel Marte. Prospect Insider has mentioned the 21-year-old’s on field potential (OFP) often. Just over a year ago, PI’s founder –Jason A. Churchill – discussed the ascension of the 21-year-old switch-hitting infielder and his potential in great detail.

As Jason chronicled, Marte has established himself as an offensive table-setter. His speed and contact-hitting ability – both currently in short demand in Seattle – would be a welcome addition at the top of the Mariners lineup. Entering yesterday’s game, Prospect Insider’s number-two Mariners prospect had a .315/.359/.403 slash with the Rainiers. His 17 stolen bases coming into yesterday’s game ranked him number-eight in the Pacific Coast League despite the fact that he missed about six weeks with a broken thumb. The most intriguing aspect of Marte’s professional progression is the fact that he played in center field for the first time in his professional career last Thursday night and that this may be his quickest route to the majors.

As Seattle Times beat writer Ryan Divish recently pointed out in a tweet, scouts and and some Mariners personnel believe that Marte doesn’t project as a major league shortstop. The other position Marte has played in the minors – second base – is occupied in Seattle by Robinson Canó.

With Cano entrenched at second base, exploring other options with a speedster like Marte is a logical progression for an organization that has no center field prospects close to being major league ready. Jason alluded to the possibility of Marte moving to center field earlier this month in his mid-season prospect rankings.

Last night, I had the opportunity to witness Marte play in person for the first time against the Fresno Grizzlies at Cheney Stadium. Anytime you go to a game to watch a specific player, there’s a chance that he won’t see much action in the field and that’s the part of Marte’s game that interested me most.  Luckily for me, several balls with varying degrees of difficulty were hit his way throughout the game.

Early in the game, Marte seemed to have no issues with balls that were hit to his left and right, but he did misplay two balls that were hit directly at him after the stadium lights had taken full effect. On both occasions, he lost balls in the lights. One ball landed about 20 feet behind him, while the other fell about the same distance in front him. Unfortunately for Tacoma and their new center fielder, both miscues led to Fresno runs. I didn’t get to see how his throwing ability, which was inconsistent at shortstop and the primary reason he doesn’t project as a major league starter at that position. He did throw out a runner who tried to advance from second to third base on the misplayed ball that landed in front of him.

On the offensive front, the switch-hitter has struggled at the plate recently batting .227 in his ten previous games. But, he extended a modest five game hitting streak with a single in the first inning. Afterwards, he promptly stole second base and then scored easily on a Jesus Montero double. For the night, he had two singles – one from each side of the plate – and a stolen base in five at-bats.

This is not the first time that the Mariners have moved a shortstop to center field. In 2005, Seattle made the same move with Adam Jones, who is now an all-star patrolling center field for the Baltimore Orioles. Jones’ permanent transition started in the Arizona Fall League prior to his debut at Class AAA-level.

Before Marte changed positions, he had spent about 75-percent of his 433 professional games playing shortstop and the remainder patrolling second base. That’s about 160 more minor league games than Jones had as a shortstop before switching. If Seattle plans to make Marte’s move to center field permanent, having him play in the Arizona Fall League this year would make a great deal of sense since there are just over 40 remaining on Tacoma’s schedule. To give you a little perspective, Jones played 179 games in center field before debuting in the majors.

One game is too small of a sample size to make a coherent assessment on any player  – let alone a shortstop transitioning to center field with a whopping three games of experience at the position. That’s why I’m looking forward to my next opportunity to watch the young speedster at his new position. I believe that he possesses the athleticism and skill set required to improve after last night’s difficulties and flourish in center field, but only more playing time will determine if I’m correct. In the interim, Mariners fans will just have to wait patiently for the potential that Ketel Marte may eventually deliver in Seattle.…

Zunino
On Wednesday, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reported that the Seattle Mariners were “very close” to making a deal for a catcher. As always, any mention of any potential deal involving the Mariners by any national correspondent energizes the fan base and spurs rampant speculation about trade targets and who may be leaving the Seattle organization as a result of a deal.

Perhaps, fans are even more anxious this year since the team – which was highly touted before the start of the season – is on the verge of falling out of playoff contention and the July 31 trading deadline is quickly approaching. Adding a piece – any piece – would signal to fans that the Mariners haven’t given up on the 2015 season.

Although there haven’t been any new developments since Morosi’s initial report, it’s no surprise that the Mariners would be looking to upgrade their catching corps. Adding a more complete player to be either a backup for starter Mike Zunino or a viable alternative to replace Zunino in the event of injury or poor performance makes sense. Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill further discussed Morosi’s report and the players most likely to be available if the Mariners were to make a deal this month.

Other than Robinson Canó, Zunino has been the most frequent target of fan backlash thanks to his poor offensive numbers. That’s why some fans are hoping that Seattle gets a replacement for Zunino and not just a backup. But, is that a fair and reasonable approach to take with the Mariners’ young catcher? When you take a longer look at Zunino’s path to the majors and the support he’s received since debuting in 2013, you may agree with me that Mike Zunino needs to be saved and not be replaced.

The Zunino file
Although the 24-year-old has demonstrated the ability to hit the long ball, his overall numbers have been well below league-average during his three-year major league career. In April, Jason discussed Zunino’s offensive approach in great detail. At the all-star break, he has a career triple slash – batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage – of .190/.253/.357 during 946 plate appearances.

Zunino isn’t going to be –and was never projected to be – a high on-base percentage hitter. But, his right-handed power is real and not easy to find in a catcher. To put his slugging prowess into perspective, take a look at his standing with respect to Mariners catchers from the past. Zunino’s 36 career home runs ranks number-five among catchers in the team’s 38-year history.

Player          HR   Age    G   PA    H  2B 3B RBI  SO HBP   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
Dan Wilson      88 25-36 1251 4500 1071 207 13 508 739  24 .262 .309 .384 .693
Dave Valle      72 23-32  846 2835  588 104 10 318 356  60 .235 .311 .371 .682
Kenji Johjima   48 30-33  462 1722  431  84  1 198 148  37 .268 .310 .411 .721
Miguel Olivo    42 25-33  321 1160  232  45  3 123 329   4 .210 .239 .370 .610
Mike Zunino     36 22-24  264  946  164  31  2  94 307  24 .190 .253 .357 .609
Bob Stinson     26 31-34  372 1195  257  35  4 123 149  17 .253 .341 .372 .713
Tom Lampkin     21 35-37  191  575  132  27  3  79  90  15 .257 .326 .444 .771

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/17/2015.

The current Mariners’ starting catcher has accomplished this feat with less than 1,000 plate appearances compared to team record holder Dan Wilson, who hit his 88 career homers as a Mariners catcher in 4,500 plate appearances. Zunino also compares well among his contemporaries. Since his first full season in 2013, he ranks number-eight among major league catchers.

Player            HR From   To   Age   G   PA   H 2B 3B RBI  BB  SO HBP   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
Evan Gattis       58 2013 2015 26-28 299 1123 261 51  5 171  55 254  13 .249 .293 .474 .767
Brian McCann      57 2013 2015 29-31 314 1230 272 38  2 187  95 197  18 .246 .313 .439 .752
Buster Posey      51 2013 2015 26-28 378 1541 418 76  3 219 141 169  12 .305 .371 .477 .847
Salvador Perez    45 2013 2015 23-25 367 1436 373 65  5 187  48 192   7 .272 .298 .425 .723
Jason Castro      39 2013 2015 26-28 310 1240 268 67  3 131 104 347  13 .241 .311 .412 .723
Wilin Rosario     39 2013 2015 24-26 289 1051 281 57  2 154  42 219   2 .281 .309 .459 .768
Russell Martin    38 2013 2015 30-32 316 1273 276 56  2 163 148 249  29 .255 .357 .415 .772
Mike Zunino       36 2013 2015 22-24 264  946 164 31  2  94  50 307  24 .190 .253 .357 .609
Yan Gomes         35 2013 2015 25-27 262  994 253 50  5 122  45 231  11 .274 .311 .452 .763
Wilson Ramos      35 2013 2015 25-27 235  946 237 33  0 144  44 150   0 .265 .297 .419 .716
Devin Mesoraco    34 2013 2015 25-27 240  843 190 39  1 124  70 173  13 .253 .324 .443 .767
Miguel Montero    34 2013 2015 29-31 325 1290 264 42  0 146 140 271  17 .236 .326 .365 .691
Jonathan Lucroy   33 2013 2015 27-29 349 1447 368 86  9 168 131 168   7 .284 .350 .440 .790
Tyler Flowers     32 2013 2015 27-29 273  914 191 34  1  95  48 314  15 .225 .278 .381 .659
J.P. Arencibia    31 2013 2014 27-28 201  719 128 27  0  90  28 210  10 .189 .231 .366 .597
Yasmani Grandal   30 2013 2015 24-26 225  808 164 37  1  94 118 182   4 .242 .354 .432 .786
Derek Norris      30 2013 2015 24-26 310 1087 243 55  2 130 109 238   7 .252 .331 .406 .737
Matt Wieters      30 2013 2015 27-29 200  780 177 41  1 108  53 145   0 .249 .295 .437 .732

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/17/2015.

The recent hiring of Edgar Martínez as the team’s hitting coach provides a new opportunity for Zunino get help with continuing his development as a hitter. Early returns haven’t been much better than Zunino’s overall season numbers. Since the arrival of the Mariners legend on June 20, Seattle’s starting catcher is batting .167 – which is only seven points higher than his overall 2015 batting average. In fairness to both the new hitting coach and his protégé, getting more offensive production from Zunino is a long-term project that’s made more challenging by the rigors of being the team’s everyday catcher.

Despite his sub-par performance at the plate, Zunino continues to be that everyday catcher because of his superb skills behind the plate. The number-three overall selection during the 2012 Major League Baseball amateur draft has been regarded as a defensive whiz behind the plate since his college days. As a major leaguer, he’s been highly regarded for his pitch-framing abilities, plus his innate ability to block pitches permits Seattle pitchers to feel confident in throwing a pitch in the dirt regardless of the game situation or the balls and strikes count on a hitter.

Accelerated arrival
In retrospect, Zunino’s quick ascension to the big leagues significantly impacted his growth as a hitter  – the former Florida Gator was rushed to the majors at age-22 after only 96 minor league games and less than 365 days after being drafted.

Year   Age      Tm   Lg Lev Aff  G  PA   H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
2012    21 Everett NORW  A- SEA 29 133  41 10  0 10  35 18 26 .373 .474 .736 1.210
2012    21 Jackson SOUL  AA SEA 15  57  17  4  0  3   8  5  7 .333 .386 .588  .974
2012    21  Peoria AZFL     Fal 19  86  23  4  2  2  15  5 20 .288 .337 .463  .800
2013    22  Tacoma  PCL AAA SEA 52 229  46 12  3 11  43 17 66 .227 .297 .478  .775
2 Seasons                       96 419 104 26  3 24  86 40 99 .286 .365 .571  .937

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/17/2015.

Fans tend to forget that Zunino was only hitting .227 in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League before his promotion to Seattle. The primary motivation for making Zunino the first position player from the 2012 draft to debut in the majors was need. Jesús Montero was lost to a knee injury and a subsequent performance enhancing drug suspension, while other 2013 catchers included Kelly Shoppach, Henry Blanco, Humberto Quintero, Brandon Bantz, and Jesús Sucre – all of these players either under-performed and/or were injured during the course of the season.

Having such a poor group of alternatives wasn’t Zunino’s fault – that responsibility rests at the feet of front office management. The young catcher he was clearly ready to start from a defensive perspective. Unfortunately for the Mariners receiver and the team, his offensive prowess has never caught up with his glove.

Using rear-view mirror perspective, more minor league seasoning may have benefited him. Learning to hit in the majors is a daunting task, especially for someone playing the most demanding defensive position on the field. But, the team needed him and his progression as a hitter was stunted. The issue at hand is finding a way to reboot Zunino, while trying to remain in contention. Adding a veteran presence would go a long way towards achieving both goals.

Déjà vu all over again
Going into the season, the Mariners knew that they were woefully thin at the catcher spot and they initially addressed the situation by acquiring Welington Castillo from the Chicago Cubs on May 19 for right-handed relief pitcher Yoervis Medina. That deal added needed catching depth, plus a quality right-handed bat capable of being a pinch-hitter or even designated hitter when Castillo wasn’t subbing for Zunino. Just 15 days later, the team dealt Castillo – along with reliever Dominic Leone and minor leaguers Gabby Guerrero and Jack Reinheimer – to the Arizona Diamondbacks for slugger Mark Trumbo and pitcher Vidal Nuno.

From Seattle’s perspective, trading Castillo was necessary in order to add a power bat to a lineup that’s struggled to score enough runs on a consistent basis during 2015. Nevertheless, the loss of Castillo left the team – once again – looking for an answer for their backup catching situation. Since the trade of Castillo, Seattle has turned back to Sucre to spell Zunino. Although the 27-year-old’s defense has been reliable, his offense has been virtually non-existent. In 2015, the right-handed hitter has only one hit in 26 at bats. Once again, the Mariners are now in the market to get a veteran backup.

Workload intensive
The lack of a serviceable backup has led to Zunino piling up the innings during the first half of the season. At the all-star break, Zunino’s 665 innings were the second most in the majors with only St. Louis Cardinal Yadier Molina logging more time – 704 innings. During the first three months of the season, Sucre has only started three times-per-month – Castillo started five times during his brief two-week stay in Seattle. Since Castillo’s departure, Sucre has only started five times in the 36 games. Zunino’s availability is commendable, but not having an acceptable understudy to spot him could negatively impact his late season performance and it’s certainly not helping him with the bat.

Contingencies
If Zunino were lost to the disabled list, the only internal options available are the light-hitting Sucre and Class-AAA catchers John Hicks and Steve Baron– both defensively inclined. Hicks is currently batting .232, while Barron is hitting .342 since his promotion from Class-AA Jackson. Barron’s initial success as a Rainier is impressive, but it’s a small sample size – 83 at-bats – and it doesn’t reflect his .228 average during a six-year minor league career. That doesn’t mean that his progress should be completely dismissed. As Jason noted after talking to the 24-year-old today, Barron and Hicks might be able to provide more Sucre right now, but both need more time to develop. Otherwise, they’d fall into the same trap that Seattle set for Zunino.

The next up-and-coming catcher in the Mariners’ system is Tyler Marlette, who is Prospect Insider’s number-ten Mariners prospect. He currently has a .243/.309/.378 slash at Class-AA Jackson, so he’s not ready for prime time either. In an effort to look outside the organization for a low cost alternative, the Mariners recently signed veteran Erik Kratz to a minor-league deal to “kick the tires” and quickly parted ways with the 35-year-old after 10 games. The bottom line is that there are no clear-cut minor league options to replace Sucre let alone fill in as the Mariners’ starting catcher.

What’s next?
It’s likely that the Mariners will make that deal for another catcher. It may not happen today, but I expect to see a new catcher on the roster by the end of the month. Optimally, they would acquire an affordable asset who’ll be under team control beyond 2015, can hit, and has starting experience – someone like Castillo.

Unfortunately for Seattle and their fans, those kind of players aren’t easy to find and the Mariners will be competing with other teams who are also trying to upgrade their roster for a playoff push. As Jason reported today, the Mariners’ interest in acquiring a catcher may have waned a bit due to the high cost associated with getting another backstop.

Final thought
As I stated earlier, Zunino doesn’t need to be replaced, he needs to be saved. Specifically, his offensive development needs to have a chance to flourish before the team gives up on him as a starting catcher. The most probable scenario is that the Mariners will acquire a catcher who can play about three times a week so that Zunino can have more down time to help preserve his health and permit him to focus on his offense with Martinez.

At the young age of 24, Zunino continues to be his team’s catcher of the future. The only thing that could change that trajectory would be the acquisition of a starting-level catcher with a proven offensive record. Is that possible? Sure. But, that would signal that the team has given up on the former Gator and I don’t see that happening anytime in the near future.

 …

"SeattleThe 2014 season for Jesus Montero could be best described in one word: forgettable. Between the rough Spring Training entrance to the ice cream sandwich related exit, it couldn’t have gotten much worse. It couldn’t have, if his 2013 season didn’t involve a PED suspension, injuries, losing a starting job and being sent down to the minors.

But all that appears to be in the past for the former top prospect, we hope.

Montero impressed his superiors by showing up to camp this spring in excellent shape and reportedly losing the 40 pounds he was supposed to the previous year. It was going to take an extraordinary showing during Cactus League games to get the right-hander into the Opening Day roster, though, if that was even being considered by management.

It didn’t help Montero’s case that the Seattle Mariners beefed up the right-handed side of the lineup with free agent acquisitions of Nelson Cruz and Rickie Weeks. The pair were expected to take up the DH at-bats with Weeks seeing regular time in left field. Of course, things didn’t quite go that smoothly as Weeks struggled with the transition to part-time outfielder and was released while Cruz became the mostly-regular right fielder. But with Logan Morrison at first and Willie Bloomquist under contract, Montero still found himself on the outside looking in from the get-go.

And so, with a change in attitude, and pant size, Montero began the 2015 season with the Tacoma Rainiers and immediately began to hit.

The right-hander posted a 126 wRC+ for the month of April. May was a little less productive with an 89 wRC+, but he did double his home run total on the year to six. Montero then exploded for a 153 wRC+ and .950 OPS in June. At the time of his call-up he held a .332/.370/.529 slash line.

Mike Curto, the Rainiers play-by-play announcer, detailed Montero’s season to date and dispelled several of the perceptions that surround the slugger’s improvement. No, the 25-year-old is not directly benefiting from hitter-friendly road parks. Neither is he only pummeling left-handed pitching.

It appears that what we are seeing is Montero finally making adjustments as the season goes on. One particular portion from Curto’s piece stood out:

“If you are a scout and you saw Tacoma for five days, June 21-26, you would have seen Montero go 3-for-24 with 10 strikeouts, swinging and missing at pitches low-and-away from right-handers. If you saw Montero this past week, you would have seen him lay off those pitches and get ahead in the count.”

Sluggers can be streaky players. Look no further than Nelson Cruz or Mark Trumbo, as PI’s Luke Arkins recently examined. More often than not, over the course of a full season these types of streaks will even themselves out and we get a better picture to look at.

With the adjustments, Montero has managed to improved his ability to hit for contact and it resulted in him leading the Pacific Coast League in hits with 115 before his re-call. He’s more or less been able to maintain the power numbers he produced in 2014 only with fewer doubles and more triples — imagine that.

His .370 BABIP suggests he’s had some help in piling up the singles but it’s unfair to discredit the adjustments he’s made in favor of luck. At the same time, we are talking about a guy who has over 1500 plate appearances at Triple-A and he wouldn’t be the first to have solved PCL pitching while not succeeding in the majors.

Alas, Montero is now 25. He is no longer riding the top prospect tag. The Mariners were kind enough to comment that, entering Spring Training, expectations for Montero were non-existent. And truthfully, he has done just about everything possible to sabotage what projected to be a solid major league career. Seattle wouldn’t be the first team to give up on a player that didn’t seem to care enough about his on-field success.

With a strong first half performance, and a struggling Mariner offense, Montero finds himself on the big league squad. It could, and probably will, be short-lived as the club will need to make roster room for starter J.A. Happ who was optioned to High-A in order to make room for the right-handed bat. Dustin Ackley has been heating up and is unlikely to be the odd man out. It also doesn’t sound like the club is unhappy with the performance of Franklin Gutierrez either.

I’m not going to advocate dumping a particular player in order to make room for Montero. The club has done well to move on from Bloomquist and Weeks, and while many have been calling for Ackley’s dismissal, his ability to play center field is needed with the uncertainty surrounding Austin Jackson.

We knew that Montero was talented, it was just a matter of whether or not he was willing to put it to work. It appears that he has and the Mariners — or another team — need to give him that chance at the big league level. Picking up a single and a walk in nine plate appearances is not going to cut it for Montero, but he is going to need more than three games to prove himself in the majors.…