MarteThe Seattle Mariners find themselves in familiar territory once again. They have not one, but multiple potentially-viable shortstops. This time, both will make the 25-man roster out of spring training.

In recent years it was Brad Miller, Chris Taylor and Nick Franklin vying for the regular role at the position. This season, Ketel Marte entered camp the overwhelming favorite to get the everyday job at shortstop. He’s still going to get that nod to start 2016, but Luis Sardinas also is going to make the club, and it’s not just to serve as the backup around the infield, fill in at first base and in the outfield and pinch hit and pinch run late in games. Sardinas is going to play shortstop.

Marte may be the future at the position, though he’s an easier profile at second base due to some issues with throwing accuracy from the six-hole. Marte carries the slightly higher upside, too; the two players are fairly similar in many ways, but Marte is a better baserunner with more raw speed and a more dynamic set of physical tools. Sardinas, however, is the better glove at shortstop at present, which may be all he needs to ultimately wrestle the job away.

This doesn’t mean Marte will be headed to Triple-A Tacoma or even traded — the latter is always a possibility, but if he performs, not only is Marte not going to be sent down to the minors, he’s probably going to hang onto his gig at short. But at some point fairly soon, as Prospect Insider’s Luke Arkins discussed over the winter, Robinson Cano, 33, won’t be the everyday second baseman, opening up some time for both of the aforementioned middle infielders.

Sardinas, as I stated on Twitter earlier this week, may end up the defining acquisition of GM Jerry Dipoto‘s first season in Seattle. He was acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for Ramon Flores, who was one of the two prospects acquired from the New York Yankees in the Dustin Ackley trade. For the record, here is what I wrote about Sardinas after the Mariners acquired him in November:

Sardinas is a solid shortstop glove with a decent small sample at the plate under his belt from his time in Texas. He posted a .261/.303/.313 line in 125 plate appearances in 2014 before struggling in a smaller sample for the Brewers a year ago. But there’s more pop in the bat than his career .269 slugging percentage suggests; anything sub .350 is completely unplayable in Major League Baseball without elite on-base production. His minor league slugging numbers dont suggest much, either, but he’s stronger now than at any point pre-2015 and his swing from both sides of the plate is cleaner than ever before, including his time in the minors when he hit .290/.310/.374 in 60 games in 201 that led to his cup-of-coffee call-up.

Perhaps the most important number in this conversation is 22. That’s how old Marte is. But it’s also how old Sardinas is and the Venezuelan has an advantage in terms of refinement versus his Dominican teammate. Ignore the statistics each has posted this spring and pay attention to three things that do not show up in a box score or any stat line: Quality plate appearances, steady defense and instinctual play. They’re both showing it consistently this month, tying with Robinson Cano and Chris Iannetta for the team lead in quality PAs in Cactus League play.

Of the two switch hitters, Sardinas is a little better from the right side than is Marte, but Marte is as good right now as Sardinas from the left, and possesses more power upside from that side of the batter’s box. Neither player is likely to walk much, but Marte has the more natural work-the-count game plan, while Sardinas is more likely to make consistent contact early in their careers — shorter swing, more aggressive early in counts and a better fastball finder.

It’s an intriguing scenario now, but that’s only half the story. The other half is about how the club got to this point. When Sardinas was acquired he performed and appeared to be a reserve-only type player on any team, including a second-division, 90-plus loss type like the Brewers were a year ago. But something’s clicked with him this spring.

“He profiled more like this for me back in about ’12 or ’13,” said one American League scout, who liked Sardinas in Class-A Hickory, his first go of full-season ball. “At that time he was 150 pounds carrying a 25-pound bag of rocks, so you did have to project (physically) some. But the hands were always terrific, the footwork was natural and easy and he never really struggled enough (as a switch hitter) to think he’d have to give it up.”

Another scout who recommended Sardinas to his club last winter before the Rangers sent him to Milwaukee in exchange for Yovani Gallardo opined at the time that the Brewers were simply getting “an insurance policy for (Jean) Segura and a player whose development has slowed considerably since first breaking into the big leagues.”

The same scout now says “this is what Milwaukee hoped they were getting. It really is a different hitter; it’s aggressive with the hands, attacking pitches, staying within himself.”

Sardinas’ swing, particularly from the left side, is all about the line drive, all about not giving up the chance to put the barrel on the baseball, which is why you’re watching a lot of liners off his bat in Arizona.

When the regular season begins, we’ll see how that plays versus everyday, big-league arms over the long haul. Sardinas will have to remain poised and disciplined versus better pitching, something he’s yet to do for more than 125 plate appearances. If he does that, expect a boost in slugging percentage over that 2014 stint, too. The bat speed and swing plane from both sides of the plate suggest gap power.

Marte, too, needs experience, more reps versus legitimate major leaguers. He’ll need to adjust as well, because the league certainly will.

Both players are litmus tests for those wondering if the new field staff is better than their predecessors at handling struggling young players who lack MLB track records.

Either way, even with the trades of Miller and Franklin, the Mariners again have options at shortstop. This time they’re options with more trustworthy skill sets, especially in the case of Sardinas, who is at least an average defender at shortstop without having to make up for too many mistakes over the course of a season.

An interesting twist to Sardinas’ role is the fact that he’s now played center field — and didn’t look stupid doing it — and the club reportedly plans to get him some time at first base. It sounds a little odd; a shortstop playing first base. But Sardinas is 6-foot-1 and has played a plenty of second base, suggesting he won’t be fooled with ground balls off the bat on that side of the diamond — this is a real thing, by the way. Try playing on the left side of the field for your whole life, then all of a sudden moving over to the other side.

If Sardinas truly may be used at first base, even just late in games as a defensive-type replacement, the club has no real reason to carry that right-handed platoon first baseman. As-is, it appears Dae-Ho Lee will indeed make the roster with Jesus Montero being traded or designated or assignment (then traded, claimed or re-assigned) and Stefen Romero being sent to Triple-A to start the year.

Shawn O’Malley or Romero likely would be the beneficiary of the roster spot should Dipoto and Scott Servais surprise and decide to go for the most versatile and flexible roster, versus the 24.5-man type. Lee is a bad glove, can’t run, and can’t even fake it at any other position. The short side of platoons get roughly 200-240 plate appearances per year, and since Lee can’t run or field well, he may be destined for even fewer than that (he’d theoretically be removed a lot late in games in favor of Lind, another pinch hitter or a pinch runner, limiting his overall reps at the plate).

Sardinas, though, has become the key to the entire roster. Not to its success, but how it’s ultimately made up come April 4. And if Marte doesn’t clean up his throws to first, Sardinas may become more of a regular at shortstop, at which time Dipoto and staff may decide to review an option first tried by the previous regime Marte in center field, which still remains an idea I adore, even though Marte could very well fix his throwing issues and/or slide to second base and be just fine.…

Draft
The 2015 Major League Baseball amateur draft is less than two months away and the Seattle Mariners will have to wait until the second round to make their first selection with the 60th pick. That’s the latest that the team has drafted since they drafted Matt Tuiasosopo in at the 93rd overall spot in the third round in 2004. The Mariners are getting a late start in the draft because they’ve surrendered their first-round pick as a result from signing a free agent – slugger Nelson Cruz – who had a qualifying offer placed on him by his former team after the 2014 season.

Since Mariners General Manager Jack Zduriencik took the reigns of the team in late 2008, Seattle has produced three major league players from their first-round draft selections – Dustin Ackley, Nick Franklin, and Mike Zunino. Franklin has since moved on to Tampa Bay as part of the three-team deal that brought outfielder Austin Jackson to Seattle. Zunino quickly established himself as a superb defender after reaching the majors in less than a year, although the former Florida Gator is still developing as a hitter after being selected third overall in 2012. The jury is still out on Ackley, although he’s off to a quick start in 2015. Prospect Insider founder and co-host of The Steve Sandmeyer Show, Jason A. Churchill, recently provided his latest analysis of Ackley’s potential.

While having a first-round draft choice is certainly preferred, there’s no reason for fans to fret if their team doesn’t pick until the second round because plenty of talented players selected in the later rounds every year. Recently, the Mariners have successfully developed several projected 2015 contributors who were drafted later than the 60th pick – James Paxton (132), Chris Taylor (161), Tyler Olson (207), Carson Smith (243), and Dominic Leone (491).

Whether teams use their prospects as the foundation of their big league roster or they flip them to acquire major league-ready players, using the entire draft is vital to a team’s success. To demonstrate the depth of talent available throughout the draft, I’ve constructed a 25-man roster consisting of active players who were drafted 2000 in the sixth round or later.

I decided to use wins above replacement as calculated by FanGraphs.com (fWAR) as the basis of my selection process because fWAR represents the value of a player’s total contribution to their teams’ success. The eligible players with highest 2015 fWAR at each position were my first choice for each section of my roster – starting lineup, bench players, starting rotation, and bullpen. Let’s look at the starting lineup first.Position PlayersThis is a very strong lineup from top-to-bottom. The lone player drafted in 2000, is Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista, who was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates. “Joey Bats” bounced between four teams before coming to Toronto in 2008 and registering a breakout season when he slugged 54 home runs in 2010. Bautista’s story is of perseverance, although there are many players who took less time to establish themselves as good major league players.

The later rounds of the 2009 draft produced several outstanding 2014 performers. Most notably, Matt Carpenter, Paul Goldschmidt, Yan Gomes, and J.D. Martinez who were all selected after Ackley and Franklin 2009.  The one position that was actually a bit thin was shortstop, which is why I selected Oakland’s Ben Zobrist, who played second base, all outfield positions, plus 31 games at shortstop in 2014. Otherwise, I would have used him as a utility player off of the bench.   BenchThree of the four bench players are actually starters for their respective teams. But, the depth of talent at nearly every position gave me the luxury of picking high-value players, including a 2014 Silver Slugger winner – Gomes. If shortstop was deeper, Since Zobrist was unavailable to be my utility player, I chose Miami’s Ed Lucas. The right-handed hitter doesn’t have the lofty offensive numbers of other players on the roster. But, he played all infield positions – with the exception of catcher – plus the corner outfield positions in 2014.

RotationMy rotation may not be the best in baseball. But, it’s pretty decent considering that the group includes 2014 National League Rookie of the Year winner Jacob deGrom and two pitchers who’ve received Cy Young award votes at least once during their career- James Shields and Mat Latos. The bullpen is quite impressive too. BullpenI did make one slight tweak to the relief corps by making David Robertson the closer over reliever Dellin Betances – who had the highest fWAR value – since Robertson closed games for the New York Yankees in 2014, while Betances was his set-up man. I even have two southpaws in the bullpen – Tony Watson and Zach Duke.

Understandably, post-draft evaluations by fans and the media will focus on the early round selections. But, somewhere in the later rounds, future major league stars will be selected with no fanfare and end-up outperforming some first-round selections just as Carpenter, Goldschmidt, Gomes, and J.D. Martinez did in 2009.

 …

Blue Jays Mariners BaseballThe Seattle Mariners fell tantalizingly short of making the 2014 postseason by just one game, which has led to high 2015 expectations by many in the national media and within the Mariners’ fan base. Many pundits and fans have hailed that the addition of slugger Nelson Cruz as the move that will get Seattle over the hump and into the postseason for the first time since 2001, while others believe that the team still needs one more bat to ensure contention.

While Cruz will certainly help Seattle improve and adding another slugger is a need, the Mariners need to improve at numerous positions in 2015. Otherwise, they’ll be no better than a fringe contender.

Reasons for optimism
It’s easy to see why there’s a positive outlook by so many when you look at the Mariners’ standing amongst American League (AL) teams that had 85 or more wins. Seattle was sixth overall in the AL for team-total wins above replacement (WAR) only trailing the five teams that made the postseason. That’s great and can be attributed to the team’s strong pitching staff, outstanding performance by Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, and value delivered by the Brad Miller/Chris Taylor platoon at shortstop.

WAR for 85+ Win AL Teams
Team WAR
Wins
Los Angeles Angels (LAA) 46.8
98
Baltimore Orioles (BAL) 46.8 96
Oakland Athletics (OAK) 45.6 88
Detroit Tigers (DET) 41.5 90
Kansas City Royals (KCR) 40.5
89
Seattle Mariners (SEA) 39.5
87
Cleveland Indians (CLE)
38.2
85

Projecting Opening Day lineup
If no more significant moves are made and barring injury, it’s very plausible that Seattle’s 2015 Opening Day lineup could be very similar to the starting lineup for the last game of the 2014 season. The team will definitely have new faces at designated hitter (DH) and in right field (RH). Other than shortstop where Miller could start in place of Taylor, everyone else may be the same. Does anyone believe that changing those two faces will make Seattle a serious contender?

Mariners starting lineup on last day of 2014 season
CF Austin Jackson
LF Dustin Ackley
2B Robinson Cano
DH Kendrys Morales/Nelson Cruz
3B Kyle Seager
1B Logan Morrison
RF Michael Saunders/Justin Ruggiano
C Mike Zunino
SS Chris Taylor (Brad Miller could replace him)
SP Felix Hernandez

So, where does this team need to improve? Looking at a team’s WAR, by position, helps illuminate areas requiring improvement. In this article, WAR refers to the base-reference.com computation of a player’s value. The position value illustrated below incorporates every player who played that particular position during the 2014 season. The players’ contributions are pro-rated by the plate appearances (PA) they had while playing that position. For example, second base is calculated by including the values of Cano (630 PA), Willie Bloomquist (24), Nick Franklin (19), and Miller (15) who all played the position in 2014. Obviously, Cano’s value drive the positional value at second base.  But, there are other positions such as first base, shortstop, and the outfield positions that had multiple players with significant playing time.

Team WAR Value by Position (American League)
RNK SP RP
C 1B 2B 3B SS LF CF RF OF DH
1 DET 16.5
CLE 8.2
CLE 5.5
DET 4.9
SEA 6.1 TEX 7.4
LAA 3.8
KCR 6.5
LAA 7.6
OAK 4.6
LAA 14.1
DET 4.9
2 SEA 13.8
KCR 7.7
OAK 4.0
BAL 4.1
HOU 6.1
OAK 6.7
BAL 3.7
BAL 5.2
BAL 5.0
LAA 4.5
KCR 13.7 BAL 3.9
3 TBR 13.2
SEA 7.5
KCR 2.7
TOR 3.6
BOS 5.5
SEA 5.6
TOR 3.0
CLE 4.2
CHW 5.0
TOR 4.2
BAL 13.1
BOS 3.0
4 CLE 12.4
OAK 6.5
LAA 2.6
CHW 3.3
DET 5.4
MIN 3.9
CHW 3.0
NYY 3.7
TBR 4.8
BOS 3.0
OAK 10.2
TOR 2.7
5 KCR 12.3
NYY 6.0
CHW 2.5
BOS 3.0
MIN 5.3
BAL 3.5
CLE 2.6
DET 3.4
KCR 4.6
BAL 2.9
TBR 9.5
HOU 1.9
6 HOU 11.8
BAL 5.6
NYY 2.5
LAA 2.7
LAA 5.3
TBR 3.3
SEA 2.6
OAK 3.3
TEX 4.2
HOU 2.8
TOR 9.2
OAK 1.6
7
OAK 11.4
DET 5.3
HOU 2.4
OAK 1.8
TBR 2.6
NYY 3.3
KCR 2.4
TOR 3.3
NYY 3.8
KCR 2.6
NYY 8.0
LAA 1.4
8 LAA 10.9
BOS 4.8
MIN 2.0
NYY 1.6
NYY 1.9
TOR 2.0
MIN 2.1
TBR 2.8
MIN 3.2
TBR 1.9
BOS 7.4
TBR 1.3
9 TOR 10.7
TBR 4.3
BAL 1.8
TBR 1.5
TOR 1.6
CHW 1.6
HOU 1.8
LAA 2.0
CLE 3.1
DET 1.4
DET 7.0
MIN 0.8
10 CHW 9.8
MIN 4.1
TEX 1.6
CLE 1.0
BAL 1.1
CLE 1.6
OAK 1.2
BOS 2.0
HOU 2.8
SEA 1.1
HOU 6.4
CHW 0.8
11 NYY 8.8
TEX 3.7
DET 1.4
MIN 1.0
KCR 1.0
LAA 0.3
TEX 1.1
SEA 1.5
BOS 2.3
NYY 0.5
CLE 6.3
TEX 0.3
12 BAL 8.8
TOR 3.4
TOR 1.4
KCR 0.6
CLE 1.0
KCR 0.3
BOS 0.6
HOU 0.8
OAK 2.3
TEX 0.5
TEX 4.6
NYY -0.1
13 MIN 4.1
DET 2.3
SEA 0.7
SEA 0.3
OAK 0.5
BOS -0.6
TBR 0.6
TEX -0.1
DET 2.2
MIN -0.4
CHW 4.2
CLE -0.1
14
TEX 1.7
CHW 1.5
BOS 0.6
TEX -0.6
CHW 0.5
HOU -1.2
DET -0.1
CHW -0.1
TOR 1.7
CHW -0.7
SEA 3.0
SEA -0.2
15
BOS 0.8
HOU -2.4
TBR -1.1
HOU -1.3
TEX 0.5
DET -1.4
NYY -0.1
MIN -0.3
SEA 0.4
CLE -1.0
MIN 2.5
KCR -0.4
Avg 9.8 4.6 2.0 1.8 3.0 2.4 1.9 2.5 3.5 1.9 7.9 1.5

Where does Seattle need help?
The Mariners were below the AL average at six out of nine non-pitching positions. In some cases, they were among the worst in the league. Does that mean that the Mariners need to make sweeping changes? No. But, Seattle will need to improve considerably to be a serious contender for the AL West title. Take a look at each position to see where there are opportunities to improve internally and where there is help needed from outside the organization.

Catcher
Seattle is content with going forward with Mike Zunino, who had the majority of plate appearances ((472) for the catcher position. Although his value was below league average, it’s important to note that the 23-year-old has only played in 279 major and minor league games since graduating from the University of Florida in 2012. The Mariners’ belief in their young receiver is well placed; Zunino struggled at the plate in 2014 while demonstrating impressive right-handed power and is a superb receiver. It’s realistic to expect that he will continue to add more value to the position in 2015.

Zunino shared the position with John Buck, Humberto Quintero, and Jesus Sucre who provided minimal value to the position; the three backups provided a replacement level value of .2 WAR, with all of that coming from Sucre. Adding a better backup would help improve the position’s value, reduce risk if Zunino were to miss prolonged time due to injury, and ensure that the starting catcher doesn’t get worn down during the season.

First base
Logan Morrison provided the most value (1.4 WAR) of all Mariner first basemen in 2014. Actually, he’s the only Mariner first baseman who had a positive value at the position. Once he supplanted Justin Smoak at first base, “Lo-Mo” posted an impressive .284/.341/.448 triple slash in the second half of the season. If he can stay healthy, it’s reasonable to assume that the position’s value will increase in 2015. Staying on the field has been a problem for Morrison during his five-year career; the most games he’s played were 123 in 2011. So, having a competent backup is a must.

Left field
Only the Minnesota Twin’s outfield ranked worse that the Mariners’ in 2014. In left field, Dustin Ackley provided near-starter 1.9 WAR after a strong second half delivering a .783 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS). Despite his second half resurgence, Ackley’s .212/.255/.298 season record against left-hand pitching demonstrates that more help is needed.

Center field
After trading for center fielder Austin Jackson at the July 31st trading deadline, the Mariners had to be disappointed in his offensive performance during the postseason push. In Jackson’s defense, his .1 WAR for August and September was only a small part of Seattle’s lack of value in center field. James Jones and Abraham Almonte patrolled center field for 111 games and delivered a combined 0.0 WAR. Improvement in center field will hinge on Austin’s ability to bounce back although it should be noted that his 2014 WAR with the Detroit Tigers was a substitute level 1.7.

Right field
In right field, the Mariner who provided the most value was Michael Saunders, who was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for J. A. Happ. His 2.4 WAR value easily exceeded than the combined value of Endy Chavez and Stefen Romero (-1.1) who had a combined 281 plate appearances compared to Saunders’ (220) in right field. The addition of Justin Ruggiano is a positive step. But, it’s unlikely that his contributions will significantly improve outfield value unless he’s used in a platoon role. . Improving right field is an incomplete project for General Manage Jack Zduriencik.

Designated hitter
Adding Cruz instantly makes DH better. Even if he provides half of his 2014 value in 2015, he’ll be significantly better than the every 2014 Mariners’ DH combined.

Holding strong in previous areas of strength
Areas of strength in 2014 are not necessarily guaranteed to repeat in 2015. Barring injury, Cano and Seager should be safe to deliver excellence again. Also, shortstop should be better than last year assuming that the young tandem of Miller or Taylor continues to improve. The bullpen is in good shape too because most of their best arms are young. On the other hand, the young arms of the team’s starting rotation could add risk.

Starting pitching
In some circles, there’s a perception that Seattle has a deep starting pitching core. It’s true that the Mariners’ pitchers are talented and/or have tremendous upside. But, going into the season without adding more depth could come back haunt Seattle if any of their pitchers are lost due to injury; particularly Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. Remember, Erasmo Ramirez, Brandon Maurer, Blake Beavan, and Tom Wilhelmsen started 14.8% of all Seattle Mariners’ games in 2014. The addition of J. A. Happ helps, but he has only pitched over 160 innings once in his career; 166 in 2009. Considering that Elias, Paxton, and Walker averaged a full inning/start less than King Felix and Kuma (5.65 vs. 6.67), adding another veteran pitcher who can eat innings would help take pressure off of the bullpen.

Conclusion
The Mariners will need improved value from Zunino, Morrison, Ackley, Jackson, their right fielder, and their young starting pitchers in 2015 if they want to contend for a playoff spot. But, Seattle isn’t ready to compete for the AL West title with their current roster, at least not without either marked improvements from 1-2 of the incumbent young players, or incremental improvements from a number of them. Getting more from catcher, first base, left/right field, and from the starting rotation is paramount for a team that wants to play deep into October.

Final thought
It’s important to note that Mariners pitchers and catchers don’t report until February 20th and the regular season doesn’t start until April 6th so there’s plenty of time left to upgrade.  But, there’s a lot more to do before Opening Day.…

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Seattle MarinersAfter a Spring Training “battle”, Brad Miller beat out the now departed Nick Franklin for the Seattle Mariners everyday shortstop job. Miller was coming off a strong 2013 campaign and had an impressive Spring, but struggled out of the gate and put up a pedestrian 49 wRC+ in April and 27 wRC+ in May before finally showing some signs of life in June. Meanwhile, Chris Taylor was tearing up Triple-A pitching to the tune of a .774 OPS at the time Willie Bloomquist hit the disabled list in late July. Opportunity struck for the young shortstop, who’s now established himself as a regular member in the Mariner lineup.

Taylor, 23, was the M’s fifth-round pick in the 2012 amateur draft and had an impressive stint with the Everett Aqua Sox at short-season Class-A ball following the selection. He continued to hit well and play a solid shortstop in the minors during 2013 and earned an invite to Spring Training before beginning the 2014 campaign with Triple-A Tacoma. Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill had the following to say about his No. 10 ranked Mariner prospect prior to the start of this season in his annual Prospect Insider Handbook:

“Taylor has exceeded the expectations of most observers, including scouts who saw a fine shortstop but one with little chance to hit enough to warrant big-league consideration, particularly within two years. Taylor has terrific hands and feet, plus enough arm strength suggesting he’s a good bet to play a solid major-league caliber shortstop. He works counts well, understands the strike zone, always has a plan and has quick hands to get the bat head out, suggesting he can manage versus good velocity. His higher-than-ideal strikeout totals are largely due to Taylor’s tendency to become too patient and taking strikes. He’s improved in terms of handling the breaking ball, trusting his hands more and using the right side of the field.”

It’s safe to say that Taylor continued to exceed the expectations of many when he made his major league debut on July 24th — he was thought to be a September call-up candidate at best. Since that date, he’s done nothing but hit and provide a major spark at the bottom of the M’s lineup. Not bad for a so-called “glove first” shortstop.

[pullquote]Taylor was a surprise omission from Baseball America’s midseason top-50 prospect rankings despite his .329/.400/.500 line at the time. He’s been able to handle lefties and righties equally well during his big league stint while continuing his strong defensive play.[/pullquote]

The 23-year old has made 15 starts at shortstop for the major league cub — he also is slated to start tonight’s contest with the Detroit Tigers — and has hit safely in all but one of those starts. That’s an impressive streak for a veteran player to pull off during the season, let alone a rookie. His triple-slash is a robust .385/.431/.481 and his 161 wRC+ currently leads all players on the Mariners active roster — though that’s through just 58 plate appearances for the youngster. A second caveat is the fact Taylor has been aided by a .488 BABIP which he is not likely to maintain as he racks up the at bats and the sample size gets larger. But, there’s no doubt he’s provided a huge boost in the short period of time he’s been with the club.

Prior to the All-Star break the Mariners were getting 63 wRC+ worth of production from the shortstop position, 28th in all of baseball, and it was obvious an upgrade of some kind was needed. Franklin was still waiting in the wings at the point in time and Bloomquist had been seeing his share of time at short after Miller’s solid June turned into a dismal start to July. The club was unwilling to give up on the struggling Miller who they felt just had some kinks to work out. But with Willie heading to the disabled list, the club needed a replacement infielder, and Taylor’s contract would be purchased.

Since the All-Star break, the Mariners have gotten a 129 wRC+ out of the shortstop position which is second to only the Pittsburgh Pirates. Taylor has seen most of the action at short since his call-up — Miller has checked in to face right-handed pitching at times — and his right-handed bat has allowed for some much needed balance in the lineup . So far in August, Taylor has also been one of the best Mariners hitters as his 167 wRC+ trails only Robinson Cano‘s 218 mark.*

Seattle had a significant Trade Deadline when they picked up Austin Jackson and Chris Denorfia, though the pair hasn’t exactly blown anyone away yet, but the M’s also managed to pick up a right-handed shortstop who’s been above average at the plate while playing solid defence in that time. And that could prove to be the best late-July move the club made.

*Both Brad Miller and Endy Chavez have higher August wRC+’s than Taylor, but the two have only 32 plate appearances between them. 

austin jacksonHow’s that for a trade deadline day, eh? Unexpected teams involved, a couple aces trading places — and some of us expected today to be boring. Anyways, the Seattle Mariners actually ended up being one of the more active teams today, and were involved in a blockbuster, though they didn’t end up with the big fish they had been linked to for the past couple months. However, one can’t say that the M’s aren’t better today than they were yesterday, and they didn’t have to mortgage the future to do it.

The M’s acquired veteran outfielder Chris Denorfia from the San Diego Padres in exchange for outfielder Abraham Almonte and right-hander Steve Kohlscheen. Denorfia, 34, owns a .242/.293/.319 slash line on the year with a single home run across 268 plate appearances. Although he has just an 85 wRC+ against left-handed pitching on the year, he owns a 128 wRC+ against them for his career as well as a .301 batting average, which should add a boost to a team that’s had some struggles against lefties on the year. Denorfia is owed about a million bucks for the rest of the year and will be a free agent this winter, which makes him a rental.

Seattle did give up their Opening Day centerfielder in the trade, but after a weak first six weeks in the big leagues Almonte has been playing at Triple-A Tacoma where he’s put together a .267/.333/.292 line. The 24-year old has some potential that could still develop, but at the moment he has the makings of a No. 4 outfielder who could draw into the lineup often given his speed and defensive abilities. Almonte will join the Padres major league club, but it’s not yet clear if he’ll see regular playing time there throughout the remainder of the season.

Kohlscheen was a 47th-round draft pick in the 2010 amateur draft and has been enjoying a decent season in the minors. In 56 and 2/3 innings spent between Double-A and Triple-A, the right-hander owns a 2.70 ERA. The 25-year old does offer some upside as a potential major league reliever, including the fact that he is 6-foot-6, but isn’t one of the M’s more interesting pitching prospects. Not to say he won’t have any value in the future, but this is the type of player a club can deal without too much fear that he’ll come back to haunt them, especially given the volatile nature of relievers.

The Tampa Bay Rays did deal staff ace David Price today, but he ends up with the Detroit Tigers while the Mariners sent infielder Nick Franklin to the Rays and acquired outfielder Austin Jackson from the Tigers in a three-team deal.

[pullquote]Jackson has seen most of his at bats come in the No. 1 and No. 6 spots in the lineup this year and his skill set will likely fit well at the top of the Mariners’ order in front of Cano and Kyle Seager.[/pullquote]

Jackson, 27, has manned center field for the Tigers for the past four and a half years and has posted a .270/.330/.397 slash line in 416 plate appearances for an even 100 wRC+ so far in 2014. The former eighth-round draft choice of the New York Yankees has typically been a plus defender so far in his career — UZR gives him a 7.2 rating in nearly 6000 innings of work — but hasn’t quite played as well in the field this season. However he does give the Mariners a true center fielder and strengthens a strong defensive outfield between Dustin Ackley and eventually Michael Saunders, though Corey Hart has started the last couple games in right. Jackson is arbitration eligible for the final time in 2015 and is owed around $2 million for the remainder of this season. He also has familiarity with manager Lloyd McClendon as he was the hitting coach in Detroit before joining the M’s.

After several months of speculation Franklin finally finds himself a new home, and it’s with a team that has reportedly had interest in him for a while now. The infielder has struggled in a handful of major league plate appearances this year but has posted a .294/.392/.455 slash line at Triple-A. The 23-year old still has all the makings of an above average major leaguer, but with Robinson Cano, Brad Miller, and Chris Taylor in the middle infield picture for the foreseeable future, there was simply no room for that to happen with Seattle. And with the Rays’ excellent player development program, it’d be no surprise to see Franklin have plenty of success in the American League East. The Mariners were also linked to super utility player Ben Zobrist, but the Rays elected to hang on to him for now.

Overall, general manager Jack Zduriencik made well on his “Trader Jack” moniker today and the M’s were able to address their most glaring need: the outfield. The team is also better off heading into 2015 with Jackson set to be their everyday centerfielder, while notgiving up anything of real significance. Yes, Franklin will likely turn out to be something great, but understanding that that probably wouldn’t happen with the M’s, it’s great to see the team get very good value for him, and to see him get an opportunity to succeed.…

scott van slykeThe Los Angeles Dodgers find themselves in an enviable yet difficult position in which they have too many good outfielders. There’s an awful lot of talent between the trio of Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, and Andre Ethier but injuries have limited the playing time and effectives of all three over the last couple seasons and it’s been rare to see a time when a spot on the disabled list isn’t occupied by at least one of them. Add in superstar slugger Yasiel Puig and top prospect Joc Pederson who’s ready at Triple-A and you presumably have five guys for three spots — and that isn’t including one Scott Van Slyke who could be a useful pick up for a team like the Seattle Mariners.

There’s no question that despite their seemingly limitless payroll the Dodgers would love to get out from one of Crawford, Kemp, or Ethier’s contracts. Not including what’s still owed for 2014, Crawford is due $62.25 million over the next three seasons, Kemp is owed $107 million through 2019, and Ethier is owed $56 million including a buyout of his vesting option for 2018. At one time or another all three of the outfielders were some of the best in baseball and would’ve garnered plenty of interest had they been available by trade. How quickly things change.

Normally having overpaid former superstars occupying roster spots wouldn’t be a problem for the Dodgers, but they appear to be very interested in getting Pederson to the big league level, ideally before the end of the 2014 season. He’s currently destroying Triple-A pitching to the tune of a .327/.452/.584 line and his defensive abilities are very highly regarded. Pederson is still just 22-years old but is in his fourth minor league season and it looks as though he’s done verything Los Angeles could’ve hoped for in the minors.

Obviously Puig isn’t going anywhere and manager Don Mattingly would be silly not to keep the enigmatic star in the lineup everyday, but that leaves two outfield spots between Crawford, Ethier, Kemp, and Van Slyke. At first glance that doesn’t appear to be such a problem considering the injury history of the aforementioned trio and the luxury of having a couple of very good bats on the bench late in the game, but it’d be very difficult to add Pederson to that mix and maintain much roster flexibility.

Now there’s always the possibility that the Dodgers could pull off a trade for Kemp in the coming week, he’s said to be very open to going elsewhere, but this situation is far more likely to be resolved in the offseason. So, could that hypothetically make Van Slyke the most likely current Dodger outfielder to go if and when Pederson is summoned? He certainly seems like he’d be the easiest to move.

[pullquote]This year the Dodgers have primarily employed Van Slyke in left field but he’s seen some action in center and has made five starts at first base where he’s logged just over 100 innings in his major league career.[/pullquote]

The soon to be 28-year old Van Slyke has put together a decent 2014 campaign with a .259/.387/.504 triple slash line and eight home runs while playing slightly above average defence in right field and average defence in center according to UZR. The son of current Mariners first base coach Andy Van Slyke may not be the flashy big-name offensive addition M’s fans have hoped for, but on paper he certainly could plug some holes. He’s shown some home run power during his time in the minors and for his short major league career has 17 in 143 games played. His right-handed bat would also help balance the glut of left-handed hitters the M’s have near the top of the order. More importantly he’s handled left-handed pitching very well this year with a 214 wRC+ while seeing the majority of his at bats in the fifth and sixth spot in the lineup.

Van Slyke excels in the on base department and boasts a 12.6 percent walk rate so far in his young career and a 15.3 percent mark in 2014 alone. Perhaps if he was able to hit for a higher batting average he’d be an excellent candidate to hit in the No. 2 spot in the lineup, but he’s the type of player that can fit practically anywhere in a lineup and his ability to get on base could play well for for the top of the order if he hit in the eighth or ninth spot.

In a way Van Slyke is similar to Michael Saunders: he’s good in the outfield, has a decent arm and decent speed, and some home run power while hitting for a passable average — he basically does everything well, but he doesn’t excel in one particular area. Van Slyke is also three months Saunders’ senior. The pair could make a very interesting platoon as Saunders has had better success against right-handed pitching in his career. It’s also fair to say that the M’s already have a player like Van Slyke in Saunders based on the reasons above and there’s no reason to double up.

Van Slyke would be an upgrade on Endy Chavez and Stefen Romero in right field and should have no problem taking at bats from Dustin Ackley in left. He doesn’t seem quite good enough in center to push incumbent James Jones to right field, but the outfield would definitely become more athletic. Depending on what’s happening with Corey Hart and Logan Morrison on any given day mostly depending on match ups, Van Slyke could hypothetically slot in at first and his bat is good enough to start as the team’s designated hitter.

The big question, as with any potential trade target, is what’s he going to cost to bring in? While the Dodgers don’t have any glaring holes on their ball club they could definitely use some bullpen depth and another option for the infield. Hanley Ramirez is a free agent after this season and Alexander Guerrero isn’t quite ready to play everyday in the majors, which could makes Nick Franklin an enticing piece to work with given Dee Gordon‘s flexibility. The Dodgers could also have interest in one of Seattle’s relievers, be it Brandon Maurer, Dominic Leone, Tom Wilhelmsen, or whomever, as a potential return as well. The Dodgers are also in a position were they could take on a prospect with some serious upside but is still several years away from the majors like a Gabriel Guerrero for instance.

Now Seattle is said to be pursing Marlon Byrd as an outfield upgrade but the major hitch in a potential deal is the Philadelphia Philles asking price for the veteran. Not to mention that 2016 vesting option Byrd wants guaranteed in exchange for waiving his no-trade clause to come to Seattle. Compared with Van Slyke, Byrd is the superior hitter and had a very impressive age-35 season in which he amassed 4.1 fWAR and a 143 wRC+ in 2013. The now 36-year old isn’t a great defender, but he’s not a complete liability in the outfield. He will be owed $8 million in 2015 and 2016 however, should his option be exercised.

Van Slyke won’t be arbitration eligible until after the 2015 season so he’s a cost-controlled asset, and should the Mariners want to get really creative they could possibly explore using him in an offseason trade for a bigger fish should they acquire the 27-year old prior to the trade deadline. Or, they could really upgrade the offence and pick up both Van Slyke and Byrd. Again, they’re not perfect players, but they’re very usable within the M’s lineup.

There’s no reason to believe that the Dodgers are ready to deal Van Slyke, Mattingly has recently described him as the team’s best defensive outfielder, but he’d definitely be the easiest outfielder to move should the club decide to do so. Reports indicate that Seattle has many conversations on the go about several outfielders, and should Van Slyke become available he could be a solid fit.…

nickfranklinIt’s not very often that a high major league ready middle infield prospect with plenty of upside is placed on the trade block, but that’s essentially where Nick Franklin has been since the Seattle Mariners signed Robinson Cano back in December. Despite the presence of Cano and incumbent shortstop Brad Miller the 23-year old was given a chance in Spring Training to earn a major league job, but was optioned down to Triple-A in March where he has spent the majority of the 2014 season thus far.

On Monday, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the Oakland Athletics are keen on the young infielder and consider him a “top target”. There was nothing in the report to suggest the A’s and M’s are actively involved in trade talks but it’s likely the two sides have at least exchanged some information on the topic as all teams do plenty of their own due diligence throughout the summer months. Franklin’s name has been coming up frequently in trade rumors as the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline approaches and was most recently connected to the Tampa Bay Rays in a potential deal for Ben Zobrist and possibly David Price.

So far this year the Athletics have employed a combination of Nick Punto and Eric Sogard at second base and Jed Lowrie has seen a majority of the playing time at shortstop. Lowrie is having a down season offensively owning a .237/.317/.344 slash line and an 87 wRC+ across 395 plate appearances after a strong year at the plate in 2013. He has continued to play his typical brand of strong defence however, so it’s unclear whether or not the club could look to Franklin for an upgrade at short in the present or with more thoughts towards the future. Lowrie will be a free agent after the 2014 campaign.

It seems very likely that the A’s would view Franklin as an upgrade at second base as the club has gotten 60 wRC+ from the position so far this year, which the second lowest total in the majors. For what it’s worth, Mariner second basemen have racked up 122 wRC+ this year, good for second best in the league. Of course that was the kind of performance, for the most part anyways, that’s expected when a club invests $240 million into the position.

Punto, signed as a free agent in the offseason, has played well enough defensively, but has struggled offensively to the tune of a .209/.303/.288 line and a 73 wRC+ in 186 plate appearances — all three are well below his career marks. The 36-year old has always been better known for his versatility in the diamond, but presumably the A’s were hoping for production closer to the 89 wRC+ he put with the Los Angeles Dodgers last year.

Sogard hasn’t fared much better than Punto as his paltry .194/.261/.225 slash line contributes to a measly 41 wRC+. The 28-year old posted a 92 wRC+ in regular playing time in 2013 so as with Punto, the Athletics were hoping for more than they’ve received from the the spectacled infielder so far. Sogard has done his job defensively however, and will be arbitration eligible after this season.

The Athletics need an upgrade at second base, that much is obvious, but whether or not they could match up in a potential deal with the Mariners remains to be seen. They don’t have an available outfield bat that the M’s sorely need and they’d probably be hesitant to trade someone like Stephen Vogt at the moment. Outfielder Craig Gentry, who was acquired in an offseason trade with the Texas Rangers, could be an option with regular right fielder Josh Reddick set to return from the disabled list.

Gentry isn’t anything special offensively though his .271 batting average and 83 wRC+ on the year would represent an upgrade over Dustin Ackley‘s performance. The 30-year old is above average defensively and also has 16 stolen bases to his credit on the year. His ability to play center field probably makes him too valuable to the A’s to deal given the fact that Coco Crisp could go down at any moment so it’s unlikely he’d be moved. It’s unlikely Franklin could get Seattle the bat they need, but it’s possible he could extract a starting pitcher.

Left-hander Tommy Milone was demoted to Triple-A after his club acquired Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel in a blockbuster with the Chicago Cubs and has asked Oakland to trade him according to Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports. Milone had made 16 starts with the club before the demotion and was 6-3 with a 3.55 ERA and a 4.43 FIP. The 27-year old made 26 starts for the A’s in 2013 and put together a 4.14 ERA and a 4.30 FIP across 156 and 1/3 innings pitched.

[pullquote]Milone was a tenth round draft pick of the Washington Nationals in 2008 and was sent to Oakland in a December 2011 trade for Gio Gonzalez.[/pullquote]

In several ways Milone resembles current Mariner starter Chris Young; his fastball tends to sit in the mid to upper 80’s, he doesn’t strike out a lot of batters, and relies on getting a lot of ground ball outs. Seattle could use another starter to resolve some of the uncertainty surrounding the back end of their rotation, but there’s no reason to believe Oakland is definitely going to deal the frustrated starter. He’ll be arbitration eligible for the first time after this season and no team wants to be short on pitching depth heading into the stretch run. He could also figure into the club’s plans for 2015 and beyond.

It’s unlikely that the M’s would be willing to deal Franklin straight up for Milone, and depending on whether or not the A’s would be willing to deal the starter in the first place and add another piece, a match appears unlikely. Also, don’t put any stock into believing a deal couldn’t happen because the two teams are division rivals in a playoff race. Does the situation complicate things? Of course, but the M’s feel the best deal to be made is with the Athletics, they’ll probably do it.

The caveat here is whether or not the two clubs will even allow talks to substantiate and may prefer to try and make deals with other parties and avoid even the possibility of helping the other out. It’s also likely that Seattle could see more benefit from dealing Franklin to another club if they decide they don’t want to hang on to him until the winter at the least.

Franklin returns to the Tacoma Rainiers tonight after missing a handful of games with a finger injury, while the big league club begins a three-game set with the visiting New York Mets.…

OAKLAND ATHLETICS VS TORONTO BLUE JAYS Athletics pitcher Jeff SamardzijaWith the All-Star Break complete and Major League Baseball’s second half officially underway, nearly all attention turns to the rumor mill as the July 31st non-waiver deadline quickly approaches. The Oakland Athletics set the bar early for contending clubs looking to bolster their roster when they picked up starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs in a blockbuster deal that sent top prospect Addison Russell to the Cubbies. The Seattle Mariners find themselves with a grip on one of the American League Wild Card spots heading into the weekend and are known to be in the market for an upgrade or two, but could they be the next club to make a franchise-altering trade?

Reports throughout the past few days have connected the M’s with David Price and Ben Zobrist of the Tampa Bay Rays, and on Friday I summed up the latest on the trade talks between the two clubs. There appears to be a real possibility that should the Rays choose to deal during a dismal season they could receive a package including Nick Franklin in exchange for the super-utility player. Reports indicated that the clubs have not only discussed a deal for Zobrist, but have expanded trade talks to include Price as well. As expected however, the inclusion of top prospect Taijuan Walker appears to be a sticking point for the Rays if they are to move their ace, and it’s possible that D.J. Peterson could be involved as well. The cost would be high, but consider the boost Zobrist would add to the lineup and a rotation of Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, and Price. That’d be alright, I’d say.

Sticking with the trade talk, Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill gives a run down on several potential trade targets for the Mariners. Although Samardzija, Hammel, and Brandon McCarthy have already been dealt and Seth Smith was re-signed by the San Diego Padres, Churchill mentions Matt Joyce and James Loney of the Rays as potential targets as well outfielders Alex RiosMarlon Byrd, and Josh Willingham.

Alex Carson examined Byrd as a possibility in depth this week and opines that the outfielder very much makes sense for the M’s to acquire. Byrd is owed $8 million for the 2015 season and has an $8 million option for 2016 that he would want exercised in exchange for waiving his no-trade clause to come to the Emerald City — Seattle is one of just four teams that he can block trades to. The veteran outfielder may not be able to replicate his performance from the second half of the 2013 season, but Carson argues that he doesn’t have to in order to be a worthwhile acquisition as even adding a slight upgrade over what the M’s have in-house could still end up paying difference-making dividends during the stretch drive.

The New York Yankees have now released outfielder and former All-Star Alfonso Soriano and I examined whether or not he would be a fit for the Mariners.

James Paxton has slowly been making his way back to the big leagues and made his first rehab start on Thursday with the Everett Aqua Sox. PI’s Brendan Gawlowski was in attendance and reported that the southpaw felt no pain after throwing 42 pitches in two and two-thirds innings pitched; his pitch count was limited to fifty pitches. It’s expected that Paxton will make two or three more rehab starts before he potentially could rejoin the big league rotation.

Over on the fantasy side of things, Steve Simas features the prospects selected for this year’s Futures Game in a two-part Nook Nacks series. In part one Simas profiles a quintet of players including Julio Urias who is property of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Josh Bell of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. In part two he has analysis on another five players including Mookie Betts who has since been promoted to the big leagues by the Boston Red Sox and Enny Romero, a left-handed pitcher in the Rays organization.

Prospect Insider’s Mariners of the month for June were a pair of the club’s All-Stars: King Felix and Kyle Seager. Fernando Rodney and Robinson Cano also represented the M’s at the midsummer classic. For the rest of baseball it was another pair of All-Stars, Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw, picking up the honors of PI’s players of the month for June.

Sticking with the major league side of things, Churchill presented his mid-season report card for the Mariners a couple weeks ago. While it’s no surprise to see Hernandez and Cano with A’s beside their names, they aren’t the only one to receive high praise for their first-half performance. Relievers Fernando Rodney, Dominic Leone, and Yoervis Medina all received top grades in a bullpen that has no doubt been a strength of Seattle’s this year.

Churchill also rounded up some of the M’s international free agent signings earlier this month when the signing period began. The biggest deal Seattle has given out so far belongs to Brayan Hernandez, an outfielder from Venezuela, who received $1.85 million.

PI’s Chris Hervey has a scouting report on Jamie Schultz who is a pitching prospect in the Rays organization as well as plenty of other notes on Rays and Toronto Blue Jays prospects that are definitely worth checking out. I also got a chance to see Miguel Castro and Ryan McBroom who are with the Blue Jays short-season Single-A club while Gawlowski has reports on Alberto Tirado and Franklin Barreto, also top prospects with the Jays.…

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Tampa Bay RaysAlthough we’re still two weeks away from the July non-waiver trade deadline, as expected, the trade rumors picked up in a big way yesterday with reports that the Seattle Mariners have been engaged in talks with the Tampa Bay Rays over the past few weeks. Jon Morosi of Fox Sports reported on Twitter that the M’s and Rays have been discussing a deal that would send super-utility player Ben Zobrist and ace starter David Price to the Emerald City. Seattle has been connected to Price since the offseason and it’s been widely rumored that the Rays are ready to move their top starter in the right deal.

Shortly after Morosi reported the trade talks, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports came out to say that the M’s have actually been focussed on Zobrist and rather trade talks could expand to include Price. It’s no surprise to hear that Nick Franklin is reportedly involved on the Mariners end of things as the Rays reportedly had interest in the young infielder back in February. In between the updates from Morosi and Heyman, Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill tweeted this interesting bit as well.

Zobrist’s name has come up more frequently in trade rumors the last little while as his club finds itself 9.5 games out of a playoff spot and have occupied the basement of the American League’s East division for much of the season. The 33-year old has what the Mariners need in a bad way: right-handed pop. Zobrist has hit 20 or more home runs in three of the past five seasons and offers an extreme amount of versatility — he’s been a plus defender in right field and at second base according to UZR, and is also capable of providing adequate play in the other outfield spots as well as shortstop and third base. He could also chip in at first base, but hasn’t seen action there since 2010 and presumably the M’s would prefer to use him to plug an outfield hole or take over at short should Brad Miller struggle.

[pullquote]Ben Zobrist, a switch hitter, boasts a career .285/.357/358 triple-slash at Safeco Field and is batting .352/.420/.511 versus left-handed pitching in 2014.[/pullquote]

Corey Hart has yet to provide the right-handed punch to the lineup and even if he does, the club could still stand to add another bat. Zobrist is in the midst of a down year of sorts with a .266/.352/.401 line, but his 117 wRC+ is right on pace with his career mark of 118. He is a classic line drive hitter that shouldn’t be harmed too much by the confines of Safeco Field. He also owns a 12.2 percent career walk rate compared to a 15.9 strikeout rate which would be benefit to the lineup. Zobrist isn’t a huge base stealer — his highest total of 24 was back in 2010 — but he does offer slightly above average wheels on the base paths that can get you an extra base or two when it counts.

On the financial side of things, Zobrist is owed just $7 million for the 2014 season and will make $7.5 million in 2015 before his club can elect to exercise a $7.5 million option for 2016, or pay a $500 thousand buyout. This type of deal is in line with the reports that suggested general manager Jack Zduriencik has the flexibility to make a moderately significant addition to the club. Whether or not ownership has or is willing to also approve the addition of what’s left on Price’s $14 million deal for 2014 and the upwards of $20 million he could command next season remains to be seen.

Now, one key thing to remember is that Tampa Bay doesn’t yet believe they are out of the playoff race. The Rays have been playing better of late, but it still seems unlikely they could make a serious playoff push this year — they have just 11 games before the trade deadline to determine whether or not they should sell. Of course it’s entirely possible that the Rays hold off until the offseason to move either Price or Zobrist, but one could easily make the argument that the pair’s respective value will never be higher than it is right now, especially with Price only under control for one more season before he hits free agency.

Back in the winter the Rays were stuck on acquiring top prospect Taijuan Walker in any potential deal for Price, which the M’s balked at. However, in a new report today from Heyman, it sounds as though the inclusion of Walker could be the deciding factor in whether or not Seattle gets Price. Heyman also confirms that the M’s are talking about a package deal including both Price and Zobrist, and notes that Miller is very much on the table in a potential deal. The fact the club is even willing to discuss their top prospect’s inclusion in a deal could suggest that they’ve become more willing — if only ever so slightly — to deal him in the right situation.

The landscape has obviously changed in many ways since January, especially with the M’s very much in playoff contention heading into the second half and needed a serious boost for the stretch drive, but perhaps the question now turns to exactly where Walker’s trade value sits at the moment. It was expected that the 21-year old would break camp in the big league rotation and contribute, but after some shoulder issues flared up early in Spring Training, Walker has only just gotten healthy enough to make a couple of major league starts prior to the break and is currently working things out at Triple-A. How much the Oakland Athletics dealing of top prospect Addison Russell and others for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel will affect the M’s talks regarding Price, but it’s been reported that the A’s offered Russell in a package for Price and were turned down.

It’s unlikely that anyone will question whether or not Walker still has the talent to be a No. 1 starter after the injury, but now there’s an increased risk added to the already anemic nature of pitching prospects. Not to suggest I’m down of Walker, and I still believe it’d be a mistake to sell low on the youngster, but given the surprise success of Roenis Elias — though he has struggled lately — and rehabbing James Paxton who is feeling no ill-effects after his first start in almost four months, it’s perhaps slightly more palpable to see Walker go in a deal, especially if the return is a pair of superstar-type players.

If it’s a given that Walker would have to be included in any deal involving Price, it’s equally likely that Franklin would be going the other way in a potential deal for Zobrist. Franklin could offer some of the positional versatility that Zobrist does and obviously his bat isn’t as polished yet, but he will be owed close to the league minimum for the next couple of years before hitting arbitration and that would be very enticing for the perennially cash-strapped Rays.

The next question then becomes what else would the M’s have to part with to get a done for either deal or both? Top prospect D.J. Peterson‘s name has come up recently, but he’s progressing very well in the minors right now — currently with Double-A Jackson — and in the last line of the Heyman article it says Peterson is very unlikely to move unless “it was a really big deal”. Price and Zobrist sound like a big deal to me, but the cost of two of the organization’s best prospects could be a little rich for Seattle. Heyman notes in today’s report that the Rays are in fact interested in Peterson and Paxton as well.

It’s expected that the M’s will use some of their bullpen depth to facilitate a potential deal with any one of Danny Farquhar, Brandon Maurer, or Tom Wilhelmsen could hold some reasonable valuable. Other major league ready players such as Stefen Romero, Abraham Almonte, and Erasmo Ramirez could be included as well. Another name off of the active roster, James Jones, has been rumored to be potentially involved as well despite the fact Seattle views him as their centerfielder of the future as well. And there’s always the possibility that Dustin Ackley could be moved as well and Heyman hears that plenty of teams have been asking. It’s also possible that other highly touted prospects such as Luiz Gohara, Edwin Diaz, Austin Wilson, and Chris Taylor could be discussed as well.

The book has been well-written on Price over the last couple months and what he can bring to any rotation — a true ace capable of going the distance each time out — and certainly he would represent an upgrade for the M’s rotation, especially when one considers the trifecta of Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, and Price. That’s without even mentioning the boost to the offence that Zobrist would provide.

At the very least, it’s good to know that the club is at least in strong pursuit of different options including Marlon Byrd — which PI’s Alex Carson examined yesterday — and isn’t afraid of making “the big one”. As the second half begins the Mariners still hold a two and a half game lead on the second AL Wild Card slot and the division isn’t quite out of reach yet, but the M’s now have an opportunity to do something that it looked liked they weren’t going to prior to the start of the season: make the first year of Robinson Cano’s mega-deal count.…

felix all star gameThe biggest questions leading up to Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game were answered on Monday: who would be the starting pitcher for both the American League and National League? For the AL it will be, as expected, Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez. It was thought to be two-horse race between Felix and Masahiro Tanaka for who would take the mound to begin the game, but with the Japanese star currently on the disabled list — and possibly requiring Tommy John surgery — it appeared to be a forgone conclusion that Prospect Insider’s Mariner of the Month for both May and June would receive the honor. The last M’s pitcher to start an All-Star Game was Randy Johnson in 1997.

It’s very well deserved for the Venezuelan star as he’s in the midst of arguably the best season of his already accomplished career. He boasts an 11-2 record in 144 and 1/3 innings pitched this year which is partially a testament to the run support he’s finally starting to receive; an even five runs per game compared to just 3.8 runs per game in 2013. The rest of his mid-season statistics are outrageous: 2.12 ERA, 2.04 FIP, 154 strikeouts, 25 walks, and if the season were to end today, his 5.2 fWAR would be the fifth highest mark of his career. Could a second Cy Young Award be on the way for King Felix? There’s a very strong possibility.

Shifting gears over to the trade market, Mike Puma of the New York Post reported on Monday that the New York Mets are ready to listen on veteran starter Bartolo Colon and may even begin shopping him seriously prior to the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline. The 41-year old has a 3.99 ERA and a 3.66 FIP in 18 starts for the Mets this year and has lasted less than five innings on just one occasion back in May. Colon is also owed $11 million for the 2015 season as part of the two-year, $20 million deal he signed with New York this past winter.

The Mariners have been reportedly interested in adding a starter pitcher this month, a move that makes sense given the number of innings pitched by Roenis Elias already this season and uncertainty surrounding Taijuan Walker and the fifth spot in the rotation — more on that later. Colon has had somewhat of a late career resurgence after missing the entire 2010 campaign, including a 3.9 fWAR season with the Oakland Athletics in 2013. He produced a 2.65 ERA and a 3.23 FIP across 190 and 1/3 innings of work that year, and has actually seen improvements in his strikeout and walks rates so far in 2014.

Colon would definitely help solidify a rotation that has been outstanding this year but could start to slow down in the second half, especially if Chris Young isn’t able to maintain his solid season. Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com reports that the Mets are looking to upgrade their shortstop depth and add a power hitting left fielder as well. Seattle doesn’t a lot to offer in the outfield department aside from possibly Gabriel Guerrero who was selected for the Futures Game this year, but they do have some shortstop depth to deal from. And cue the Nick Franklin speculation.

It’s been well noted over the past several months that Franklin is probably the M’s most useful trade chip at the moment and after a slow start at Triple-A and some injury troubles, he now owns a .306/.401/.491 line with the Tacoma Rainiers. Would Franklin alone be enough to convince the Mets to deal Colon? It’s possible, but perhaps the better question would be whether or not it’d be a worthwhile endeavour for the M’s. Despite the lack of an apparent roster spot on the big league club for the 23-year old, there’s stil  no reason for Seattle to sell low on their No. 2 selection in the 2009 amateur draft — an opinion held strongly by PI’s Jason A. Churchill and myself over the past several months.

Obviously the M’s more pressing need is a bat, but an upgrade is still an upgrade.

James Paxton appears to finally have made some serious progress in his recovery from an April lat strain. The 25-year old threw 53 pitches in a three-inning simulated game on Saturday, and after feeling no ill effects on Sunday, is expected to make a rehab start with the Everett Aqua Sox this Thursday. It’s been a difficult past few months for the highly regarded left-hander after a pair of solid starts to begin the year. He was also shut down in May when he felt some soreness in his shoulder after a rehab start with Tacoma. If everything goes well over the next couple weeks for Paxton there is a possibility he could make an appearance with the big club, but a more conservative time table would have him return to the big leagues in the first seven to ten days of August.

On the other hand, Taijuan Walker has managed to recover from his shoulder issues and return to the big league club a couple weeks ago, but has had his share of struggles in the pair of starts he’s made. Walker was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma prior to the All-Star Break in order to keep him pitching on his regular schedule and he allowed one earned run in five innings of work on Saturday. However, manager Lloyd McClendon didn’t have a very positive sentiment for the M’s top prospect on Sunday, and said the following:

“I guess I see things differently than most people. I don’t see (Saturday’s game) as a good outing. Five innings, 83 pitches, and one strikeout, that’s not a good outing to me. And I’m not trying to bash the kid. But how we go about our business and the level of expectations from the minor leagues all the way up to the big leagues, it’s got to change.”

Walker has walked seven batters in the ten innings he’s pitched in his two major league starts this year and hasn’t looked especially sharp, but he was called up after a shutout performance with the Rainiers on June 24th in which he looked outstanding. Obviously there’s an adjustment to be made at the major league level and ten innings isn’t enough to make an accurate assessment on a player coming off an injury, but McClendon has had a bit of a “tough love” approach throughout the season so it’s unsurprising to hear him make these comments.

It’s not yet certain when Walker’s next start will be or where, and in the M’s projected pitching probables for after the break they don’t have anyone listed for Tuesday’s game against the Mets which was expected to be the 21-year old’s spot. Of course it’s still possible that Walker makes that start and if he doesn’t, Erasmo Ramirez seems to be the likely candidate to start if that’s the case — barring any personnel changes before then. But it does sound as though McClendon would like to see at least one very solid start out of him before he’s brought back up to the major league staff.

Mariners Post-Break Pitching Probables
Hisashi Iwakuma, at Los Angeles Angels — Friday, July 18th
Felix Hernandez, at Los Angeles Angels — Saturday, July 19th
Chris Young, at Los Angeles Angels — Sunday, July 20th
Roenis Elias, vs. New York Mets — Monday, July 21st
TBA, vs. New York Mets — Tuesday, July 22nd…

Cano congratulatedAfter a couple tough losses to the San Diego Padres earlier in the week, the Seattle Mariners have managed to pull off a sweep of the red hot Kansas City Royals and now sit four games above .500. The previous six weeks or so have been up and down for the M’s, and have included a five-game winning and five-game losing streak, but a Wild Card spot is easily within reach at the moment. Let’s take a look at what’s been covered at Prospect Insider over the last six weeks.

The month of June is always an exciting month as it hold Major League Baseball’s amateur draft. This year the Mariners held the No. 6 overall pick and chose outfielder Alex Jackson from Rancho Bernardo High School, and he is expected to take a physical in Seattle on Monday and will receive a $4.2 million bonus according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports. PI’s Jason A. Churchill gave a scouting report on the 18-year old and considers the M’s to have nailed their selection — Jackson was considered by many to be the best available bat in the draft this year. Churchill also has notes and reports on the Mariners’ picks in rounds three to ten, including a report for the M’s No.2 pick, outfielder Gareth Morgan.

Last week Churchill offered his mid-season prospect report for the Mariners, including an updated top-25 list to account for the new draft picks and a projected lineup and rotation for the 2018 season. Jackson takes the top spot on Jason’s list with infielder D.J. Peterson coming in at No. 2.

In other draft related content, Steve Simas offers a fantasy perspective on several of the top selections from this year’s draft including Jackson, Brady Aiken, Carlos Rodon, and Trea Turner. Brendan Gawlowski has an excellent piece on his experience as an ‘advisor’ for a draft hopeful as well as his thoughts on the financial side of the MLB draft. Under the current NCAA policy a player who is enrolled is not allowed to have an agent, which leaves many players — including the young man in Gawlowski’s case — without much direction in terms of what they should ask for or expect to receive as a signing bonus. Of course each draft position comes with a slot value, but that doesn’t mean that that is the amount the player will or should receive.

As expected, the lone free agent that was still tied to draft pick compensation, Kendrys Morales, signed a contract after the conclusion of the draft. Morales signed a prorated, one-year $12 million deal with the Minnesota Twins and since he waited until the completion of the draft, the M’s do not receive a compensatory draft pick for his departure. At the conclusion of day one I wrote that the market for Morales was expected to heat up with the Mariners, Milwaukee Brewers, and a mystery team rumored to be the frontrunners. In 55 plate appearances so far this season, Morales is hitting .216/.273/.275 with three doubles for the Twins.

Roenis Elias, the winning pitcher in today’s game against the Royals, has been a pleasant surprise this year according to PI’s Chris Moran. Those thoughts were echoed by Churchill who took a look at a quote by manager Lloyd McClendon in which the skipper said Elias’ stuff is as good as any left-hander in the league. After throwing six and two third innings of one run ball today, Elias lowered his ERA to 3.74 and his FIP to 4.02 on the season; good for the fourth and fifth best marks among rookies with at least 50 innings pitched this year.

Prospect Insider’s Mariners of the Month for May were Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez, while the MLB players of the month for May included Yasiel Puig and Corey Kluber. Moran took a look at King Felix’s incredible 15-strikeout performance against the Tampa Bay Rays earlier this June.

Chris also analyzed catcher Mike Zunino‘s season to date including what areas he has excelled in and the ones he has struggled in. Brad Miller has also had his fair share of struggles this season, but the young shortstop has put them behind him according to PI’s Alex Gallant. Miller went 2-for-4 today to continue his seven-game hitting streak and has now brought his average up to .207 on the season.

And to wrap things up on this warm summer day in the Pacific Northwest, some new scouting reports. Jason A. Churchill has thoughts and notes on the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Joc Pederson, Carlos Triunfel, Jordan Pries, and Jabari Blash as well as on the M’s Jesus Montero, Logan Morrison, Xavier Avery, and Nick Franklin. Both Montero and Morrison are with the big league club right now and Triunfel has since been recalled by the Dodgers. PI’s Matt Hervey has some in-depth reports on the Cleveland Indians’ Clint Frazier and Robbie Aviles as well as plenty of other notes to take a look at.

Don’t forget there’s to vote your favourite Mariners into the All-Star Game this year — if you actually care about who makes the squads, that is.…

MonteroTACOMA — There were several interesting young players in uniform at Cheney Stadium when the Tacoma Rainiers (Mariners) hosted the Albuquerque Isotopes (Dodgers) Saturday evening.

The pitching matchup pitted two non-prospects in right-handers Jordan Pries and Red Patterson, but both have enough stuff and command to present a challenge to each other as well as the opposing lineups.

Joc Pederson, CF
The last time I saw Perderson he was trying to pull almost everything and when he wasn’t he was putting too much effort into using the whole field, often giving up opportunities to pull balls for extra base hits. In batting practice, he displayed a much more efficient swing on balls on the outer half and hit the ball well to center field. The pull power is above-average and he went yard to right field in the game.

Pederson is a good athlete and might be the Dodgers’ best bet in center field over Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. The problems is Ethier, Kemp and Carl Crawford are each owed about a trillion dollars, so unless a trade is made or one hits the disabled list for a long period of time, Pederson may be more likely to help the club as trade bait.

I do question how consistent he will make solid contact in the big leagues, so we may be talking about a .260 hitter, but he’s shown the ability to work counts and take a few walks so the on-base percentage ultimately should be at least league average.

Carlos Triunfel, SS
Triunfel appears to be exactly the same player he’s been the past three or four years; a solid, yet unspectacular glove at short with a bat that teases in batting practice but doesn’t perform consistently in games. He will tease occasionally in game play, and he did so Saturday collecting three hits. Triunfel remains a hitter with almost zero discpline, swinging at pitches early in counts as if there were two strikes and he’s protecting against the strikeout.

At 24, Triunfel’s big-league role is as an emergency infielder and in the Dodgers’ organization, he’s the third shortstop (behind Hanley Ranmirez and Dee Gordon) and the third second baseman (behind Gordon and Alex Guerrero).

Jordan Pries, RHP
Mariners fans may be wondering if Pries can make a spot start or two after Brandon Maurer and Erasmo Ramirez have struggled fiercely in the No. 5 spot this season. The short answer: Probably not.

Pries will throw strikes, however, starting with a fastball at 88-90 mph. There’s arm side ride on the pitch and he commands it fairly well, particularly on the outer half of the plate against left-handed batters. There’s good sink to the two-seamer, too, a pitch he may want to go to more often.

Pries hit his spots well early in this start, but when he left pitches up he was hurt by the long ball. His changeup is below average but there were a few average versions that showed sink and with good arm speed. His breaking ball is a fringe-average 78-81 mph slider with two-plane break.

Pries is an athletic and strong 6-feet and 190 pounds. He repeated his delivery well throughout. He throws slightly across his body — not much more than most pitchers — but uses his lower half well, bending his knees and back in sync. He’s quick enough to the plate from the stretch at 1.29 to 1.36 and would be quicker if it weren’t for a long arm path.

I don’t see enough stuff to get out big league bats with regularity, but it’s difficult to say he wouldn’t fare better than Maurer and Ramirez have. It does seem the organization believes Matt Palmer is a better bet. He was removed early, with no injury, from his last start, but Pries pitches with focus and energy. Still, he’s probably just an emergency option. Thing is, the M’s No. 5 spot may be an emergency situation.

Jabari Blash, RF
Blash is a good athlete and he shows off that athleticism in the field, on the bases and at the plate where his swing is fluid. He produces plus bat speed and a solid bat path that creates line drives and deep fly balls consistently.

He’s patient at the plate, but perhaps remains too patient, often seen taking strike two on a pitch that may have been hittable.

Blash’s two-strike swing needs altering and perhaps the swing length altogether needs shortening in order to help him make more contact.

He will hit some the longer home runs you’ll see in the Pacific Coast League, but his contact rates are too similar to that of Carlos Peguero.

Blash, however, has improved significantly since the end of the 2012 season, suggesting he’s still developing at a high rate and that he takes to instruction well. He’ll be 25 next month, but there’s a ton to like in Blash physically to give up anytime soon.

Nick Franklin, SS
Franklin looked terrific at shortstop, making two high-difficulty plays, one to his right and one to his left. He’s working well with Gabriel Noriega turning two, and the more I see him there the more I am convinced he’s adequate at the position and could be average in time.

At the plate this wasn’t Franklin’s best day, but he did barrel up a fastball away and smack it to left field from the left-handed bater’s box. It was an out, but certainly a good trait from a hitter.

He’s still pulling off balls middle-in or in off the plate and chased a couple of pitches down and in. When he first came up to the majors last season, pitchers were testing him with hard stuff and he was making them pay.

Now, both in Triple-A and in the big leagues, pitchers are working him away more and when they do come in it’s either hard and out of the zone in or up, or it’s soft stuff nearly in the dirt. It’s an adjustment he’ll have to make before the M’s, or any club, hand him a job in The Show.

Logan Morrison, 1B
Morrison has been the DH mostly in Tacoma but his rehab stint is almost up and he’s playing almost everyday. The hamstring looks fully healed — he even attempted to steal in this series — and he does appear to be seeing the ball well.

What we haven’t seen from Morrison is that extra snap with the bat he showed in the minors with the Marlins and early after his call-up to the majors. The discipline and batting eye are certainly alive and well, but it’s taking him a little longer to get the swing started, which may signal a problem with velocity is imminent, explaining some of his struggles when he has been healthy.

Morrison isn’t trusting his hands right now; he singled softly to right field in his first plate appearance Saturday, but if he’d stayed back and exploded on the ball, he might have hit it to Foss High School. It was knee high and over the middle of the plate and he was fooled by the change of speeds off the fastball.

Xavier Avery, OF
Avery can run, and I love his hands, but he’s displayed timing issues every at-bat I have seen. He lunges toward the plate and does so early, and his stride may be too long for him.

There’s a little pop in the bat — he homered on a middle-in fastball on the first pitch of the game Saturday — and the bat speed comes easy. The drifting is a problem, however, making him susceptible to good velocity and pitches on the inner quadrant.

Jesus Montero, 1B
Montero still is a mess, in my opinion. He remains at least 20 pounds heavier than he should be — he’s listed at 235 but that’s a joke — and the problems he displayed at the plate in the majors in 2013 are still around in 2014.

Montero still cannot hit, nor track, the right-handed breaking ball. He was fooled by and/or swung at several of them in this game, getting himself out on numerous occasions. He gets out front just about anytime the pitcher offers something other than the fastball, robbing him of his bat speed and balance.

As of today, Montero is not an option in the big leagues, in my opinion; he’s better than he was defensively, but still is buried by Justin Smoak in that category, and struggles or not, Smoak is a considerably better bet to occasionally give the Mariners something at the plate.

Granted, Smoak should be batting seventh when he’s in the lineup, but if Morrison can’t help, the Mariners don’t have an in-house option to help at first base.

At this stage, Montero is simply a minor league hitter that was once a good prospect. The raw power is there and the Triple-A numbers aren’t awful, but he’s hopeless against sliders and curveballs, is showing no discipline on them whatsoever and therefore has no place on the 25-man roster in Seattle.

Mike MacDougal, RHP
MacDougal sat 91-93 mph and showed an inconsistent 82-85 mph slider. When he was at his best in the big leagues, the 37-year-old was sitting 95 with a plus slider and occasional curveball with depth. The slider was a swing-and-miss option with sharp downward break.

He did not command his fastball in this one as he had trouble finishing pitches. The slider backed up on him several times. As per usual, MacDougal’s mechanics leave a lot to be desired. His arm lags behind on every pitch because he breaks from the glove late and the arm path is long and employs three parts.…

urlI went down to Tacoma Monday night to watch the Rainiers take on the Reno Aces. The game was light on high ceiling talent without Nick Franklin, but there were still a few players who caught my eye, and I finally feel like I’ve seen Jabari Blash enough to weigh in on his progress as well. Below are a couple of notes from the last few nights I’ve made it out to the ballpark.

Zeke Spruill
Reno started Zeke Spruill, a twenty-four year old righty who made his deubt with the Diamondbacks late last season. Spruill works quickly with an effortless ¾ delivery. What he lacks in deception – he shows the ball briefly as he removes it from his glove — he compensates for with repeatability. My only critique from a mechanical perspective is that he throws a bit across his body, a motion that some analysts have suggested might be linked to shoulder problems.

Spruill used a good sinking fastball that sat 91-93 and touched 94 with arm side run. The fastball is his bread and butter, and he was able to consistently induce weak ground balls from a Rainiers lineup largely bereft of impact bats. His off-speed pitches were less impressive, however. When it’s good, the slider is Spruill’s second best pitch: it’s 80-82 with considerable vertical movement, though sometimes he takes enough velocity off of it to the point where it looks like a curve ball with slider movement. His changeup is more of a waste pitch than an impact offering: it comes out of his hand well enough but features limited vertical drop and no horizontal movement.

While the lack of plus secondary pitches limits Spruill’ ultimate projection, he’ll be able to get plenty of outs in the big leagues by pounding the lower part of the strike zone with his sinking fastball. His reliance on a relatively flat slider and a mediocre changeup will give him problems in the majors against lefties, so I think his likely role is as a middle reliever who can sail through multiple innings on his best days. In a perfect world, he could pull a Charlie Morton and survive as a starter by relying heavily on his sinker, and with the Diamondbacks staff in tatters, he might get the chance to prove he can’t stick in the rotation later this summer.

Jesus Montero
And now, some positive words about Jesus Montero. First, he looks noticeably thinner than he did at the start of the year when he was in the running for heaviest player in professional baseball. He’s still not agile and he has no business playing the field but the weight loss is nonetheless a positive.

Second, I saw evidence of a mid-game adjustment from Montero last night. After the Venezuela native struck out chasing a high fastball in his first at-bat, Spruill tried to beat him with the same offering later in the game. While he initially wanted to offer, Montero was able to keep his hands back and take the pitch for a ball. For a guy who struggled to make any kind of adjustment in the majors, even the little things have to be taken as good signs. He also had the two hardest hit balls of the game.

Jabari Blash
I want to watch Blash a little more before writing anything in depth, but for now, it’s safe to say that the twenty-five year old is a project. He earned some attention after bashing twenty-five home runs last year with impressive walk rates, but while the power looks legit, I don’t think his walk rates will translate to Triple-A or the majors.

At the plate, Blash is more passive than patient, and he has a jerky swing that makes it hard for him to make consistent contact. Several times, I’ve seen him swing early in counts against bad pitches, which suggests that he’s a bit of a guess hitter who doesn’t react well to the ball out of a pitcher’s hand. Triple-A will prove to be a good test for Blash: he’ll consistently see better breaking balls than he ever has before and we’ll learn quite a bit about his ability to draw walks. He’ll always have problems striking out; the question will be whether he can hit for enough power to compensate for all the whiffs.

Nick Franklin
It doesn’t sound like the Mariners want to use Franklin at short much and from what I saw of him in Tacoma, I don’t disagree with the club’s stance. Franklin’s arm remains strong enough for the position but I saw him miss a couple of balls – both to his left and to his right– that I think most shortstops would reach. He also made an error in a game against Las Vegas when he tried to get in front of a ball he really should have backhanded. That’s just one play of course, but if the Mariners are going to use a player with limited range at short, they need to be playing a guy who can make all of the routine reads and plays. I’m not convinced that Franklin can.

Nick Ahmed
I was surprised Ahmed pushed glove wizard Didi Gregorious to the keystone, but the University of Connecticut product showed he has quite the glove himself. He made the defensive play of the night when he ranged far to his left on a grounder up the middle: he was able to make the play on the run and gun the runner out at first with a strong, accurate throw. He also displayed lightning-quick hands on a tough double play ball, getting a throw off quickly and taking the brunt of a collision at the bag in the process.

At the plate, Ahmed’s upside is limited. In nearly 400 minor league games, Ahmed has only nineteen home runs and I don’t think he’ll hit for a good average either: his strikeout rates aren’t alarmingly high, but he pulls his front foot toward third base during his stride – bailing out – and I can’t imagine how he’ll make hard contact on big league fastballs and breaking pitches on the outside corner.…

nickfranklinNearly one month after being sent down to Triple-A after a brief stint with the big league club, Nick Franklin finds himself back in a Seattle Mariner uniform once again after Corey Hart hit the disabled list. The top prospect has already managed to make his presence felt in the lineup during Tuesday’s 6-2 win over the Texas Rangers, going 2-3 with a run scored and a run batted in. The right-hander was also hit by a pitch and stole a base while taking Hart’s place as the designated hitter role. As we heard the last time Franklin was called up, if he’s going to stick around in the majors, he’s going to be playing often and sitting on the bench as little as possible. This time around, there probably won’t be much of a problem with slotting the youngster in the lineup everyday so long as he’s producing.

Hart was officially placed on the disabled list Tuesday with a grade-two hamstring strain and is expected to be out for four to six weeks. It’s an unfortunate case for the right-hander who has seen some struggles so far during his tenure as a Mariner, but barring a setback, he should be able to return to the lineup by the All-Star break. Perhaps the optimist’s approach to the injury is that it finally allows Seattle an opportunity to bring up the the owner of a .376/.481/.633 minor league line this year and immediately place him into the lineup –more on Brad Miller and the shortstop situation shortly. Franklin is expected to see some time at shortstop, outfield, DH, and possibly second base if Robinson Cano is assuming designated hitter duties.

Much has been made of Miller’s struggles so far in 2014, and many have called for Franklin’s call-up and a demotion for the incumbent to come in short order. The M’s seem willing to let their struggling shortstop try and work his way out of it — at least for a little while longer — but there’s no doubt that having Franklin on the active roster makes the possibility of Miller seeing less playing time and a possible demotion all that more realistic should the struggles continue. Certainly there’s the potential that Franklin’s presence alone could help Miller snap out of his funk considering his everyday job could be on the line here, and that’d be especially true of Franklin continues to hit. Miller currently has just two hits alongside five walks in his last seven games which should be considered a positive, but there’s no doubt that the pressure is rising as each day passes.

How much longer Miller will hold on to the starting job is unknown at this point, but one has to wonder when the club’s breaking point is with him will be. He’s reportedly been doing all the right things as far as most can tell — extra batting practice, one-on-one time with hitting coach Howard Johnson, and taking extra reps at short — but things simply haven’t translated into on-field production. If it’s a case where the problem is between the ears, it only gets more difficult to diagnose the problem and find some sort of solution. But, it is easy to forget that the calendar has yet to strike June so there’s certainly plenty of time for Miller to figure things out and start playing like he was expected to when he won the job in the spring.

Although the M’s have downplayed the possibility of transitioning Franklin into an everyday outfield role the same way they did with Dustin Ackley, it may be the most realistic long term solution if the club plans to keep him in blue and teal beyond this season. The 23-year old Franklin has made a handful of minor league appearances in the outfield this season and started a game in his previous big league cameo, so it’s likely he’ll have an opportunity to start there in the next week. There’s no reason to break up the combination of James Jones and Michael Saunders at the top of the order unless necessary — the pair are also the club’s best defensive outfielders — which makes it possible that Franklin could start in left field with Ackley taking designated hitter duties for the game. The M’s are starting a stretch of 16 consecutive games, so it’s definitely possible that Saunders or Jones could receive an off-day during that period in which Franklin could slot in.

The last time Franklin was with the big league club he saw a start at second base with Cano as the club’s designated hitter so we can assume that’s a possibility over the next two weeks as well should the club wish to give their superstar a day off in the field.

It’s also worth noting that the club still has Stefen Romero and Cole Gillespie on the roster so finding them some at bats here and there could be factors in how often Franklin plays as well. Of course Gillespie, 29, is essentially nothing more than organizational depth at this point and hasn’t produce very much in the opportunities he has gotten. Romero on the other hand has seen fairly regular playing time up to this point in the season and will likely get some time at DH during Hart’s absence as well given the glut of outfielders currently on the roster. In 29 games this season Romero owns a 67 wRC+ and has a pair of home runs under his belt, so his presence in the lineup isn’t likely a priority at this point.

Whatever the case may be, it’ll be an interesting next couple of weeks as the M’s lineup sees more fluctuation than usual. Considering Miller reached base twice and scored a run on Tuesday his odds of starting on Wednesday  have probably increased — although nothing is certain just yet — but it’s conceivable that he makes a start in the infield within the next week. Manager Lloyd McClendon described Franklin as “not a typical DH” so penciling him in as the regular designated hitter at the moment would be premature, although it would cause the least disruption to the lineup.

I would expect to see some sort of informal rotation through the DH spot over the next week or so as LMC feels out the best way to use his assortment of players and integrate Franklin into the lineup regularly. But it doesn’t appear to be as difficult to find the youngster plenty of opportunities to play this time around. It’s worth mentioning that Logan Morrison could be sent out on a rehab assignment as early as the end of the week and his impending return stands to crowd the roster further.…

Seattle Mariners v Oakland AthleticsSeattle Mariners DH/RF Corey Hart may be headed for the disabled list with a sore hamstring. If that occurs, the club will have a few options to replace the veteran on the 25-man roster. The obvious one is Nick Franklin, who has played a few innings in the outfield in Triple-A Tacoma lately, but that decision is not as cut and dry and it would be in normal scenarios.

Franklin was pulled from a game on the Rainiers recent road trip after making a mental mistake in the field, then didn’t start the following day. He then played right field, but now is considered day-to-day with a minor back injury. If he’s fine, he’ll be the call-up, and likely get time in the outfield, but can also spell Brad Miller at shortstop, a move that may have been coming soon, anyway.

There are other options, however, including Logan Morrison, but it doesn’t appear Morrison will be able to avoid a rehab stint, which means he’s not going to be the immediate choice to replace Hart. Jesus Montero could also garner some consideration, and if Franklin is the immediate move, Montero may be on the short list if the M’s make the move with Miller in the coming days.

The bigger question beyond the initial roster move is who Lloyd McClendon chooses to bat cleanup for this team in Hart’s absence. Hart has been scuffling fierce since the first three weeks of the season, so his injury may actually help the team in the short term. Ultimately Hart should be productive enough to warrant time in the lineup. Justin Smoak and Kyle Seager are the obvious candidates, and the better bet is on the switch-hitting Smoak, and it’s probably the right choice, considering the team’s lack of options.

This conversation also warrants the mentioning of Kendrys Morales, who remains a free agent and is all but certain to sign after the draft that takes place June 5-7. At that point Morales will not be tied to draft-pick compensation, but that also means the Mariners will not receive a pick if Morales signs with another team. That pick, however, would have become the sacrifice for signing Robinson Cano. As of now, the M’s are set to lose their second-round pick.

Franklin should be able to replace what Hart was giving the club offensively, even if he struggles, and will provide more value in the field and on the bases. Fact is, however, a healthy Hart or not, this team needs to make at least one move for a bat or the efforts of Cano, and to a lesser extent Michael Saunders and James Jones ahead of him, will go for naught.…

TaylorUSAThe Seattle Mariners’ farm system is not very good right now. Both Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, who each qualify, still, are on the disabled list, but a lot of the club’s better young talents are in the major leagues and no longer qualify, including Brad Miller and Mike Zunino. Those that are healthy and remain prospects, however, are faring quite well, including a trio of shortstops, a converted catcher who used to be a shortstop and a bat-first catcher showing improvement behind the dish. Of course, that means I’m going to lead off with a couple of corner-glove bats.

Austin Wilson, RF — Clinton LumberKings
Wilson sat out four days with a minor injury but returned Friday and hasn’t skipped a beat. The 2013 second-round pick is batting .400/.476/.771 in his last 10 games, drawing six walks against seven punchouts in the process. For the year, Wilson is up to .311/.393/.500 with three home runs, nine doubles and nine walks.

When I made calls on Wilson this week the worst of the three initial comments on how he’s looked went like this: “Well, I’m not seeing any reason he slipped to them in the second; using the whole field, steady progress from last spring … he’s not the same hitter, and they (Mariners) have to be pretty happy about that.”

One opposing pitcher told me through his agent that Wilson “sees my breaking ball really well,” which made him “kind of a nightmare to pitch to.” He doesn’t always do the damage, but he’s covering the plate, recognizing pitches and situations, doing his homework on the pitcher and the results are showing up — and have since late last summer in Short-season Everett.

He hasn’t sped up his ETA to the big leagues significantly just yet, but he’s not likely to see the Midwest League too deep into the summer months.

Wilson, 22, ranked No. 6 overall in my M’s Top Prospect rankings.

Gabriel Guerrero, RF — High Desert Mavericks
Through May 10 a year ago, Guerrero was batting .225/.261/.297, and that was after a 5-for-7 doubleheader that included two doubles. At that point he’d drawn six bases on balls and whiffed 27 times in 30 games started. He hadn;t hit a single long ball and those two doubles brought him to seven extra-base hits.

This season, through 35 games, Guerrero has countered 39 strikeouts in 157 plate appearances with 13 extra-base hits, including five home runs, and nine walks. He’s batting .315/.357/.473 for the year.

“What he’s doing,” explained one scout that sat on the Mavericks-Visalia series and part of the Mavericks-Rancho series earlier this month, “is putting together the better at-bats more often. He’s been a guy all along that will put barrel to baseball, but you could catch him chasing down and away, up and in — a lot of up-and-in stuff — and he’d get himself out. He’s learning about himself as a hitter. (There’s) nice upside there.”

Guerrero still is raw in many areas. Despite significant progress he’s nowhere near ready for a new challenge and may remain in High Desert all season.

And in case you’re wondering, Guerrero has hit exactly ero cheap home runs. I spoke to a team representative Wednesday and he’s hit each of the five very hard. He’s not simply getting “Cal League” numbers. He’s earning them.

Most important is Guerrero’s approach and control of the strike zone. Like his uncle Vlad, he is a good bad ball hitter, but that only works to an extent, and he’s not quite as gifted as his superstar uncle in terms of making contact on all those out-of-zone offerings.

Guerrero ranked No. 9 in my pre-season rankings. If I were to reset them today, he’d ran no higher than No. 8, but he’d get a half-grade spike in his present hit tool grade, perhaps more.

D.J. Peterson, 3B/1B — High Desert Mavericks
Peterson batted just .269/.313/.410 in April — in the California League — but he’s turned it up a few notches in nine May contests, batting .341/.372/.439. Word I am getting is that he may be looking to do too much when he earns a hitter’s count, and the numbers back that up as the 2013 first-round pick is at .277/.323/.399 when ahead in the count 2-0, 2-1, 3-0 or 3-1.

Regardless of the numbers, Peterson continues to show he can hit line drives from gap to gap, showing big pull power and big power to center field and even occasionally right-center field, and when he’s not over-anxious and pressing to go big, he displays strong discipline and avoids chasing balls out of the zone.

I believe the M’s will ignore Peterson’s statistics in High Desert. If he’s healthy and gets the reps in Advanced-A ball, he’ll see Double-A Jackson by August.

Peterson ranked No. 3 in the pre-season rankings and nothing would change there for me now after six weeks of action.

Shortstops, shortstops and more shortstops
It’s a hot topic right now among fans of the Seattle Mariners. How long should the M’s wait to send Brad Miller to Triple-A Tacoma and recall Nick Franklin? For me, not now. Six weeks ago Miller won the job in spring training because he was the better bet to hit and the better long-term option between the two with the glove. He hasn’t hit, has struggled defensively some, committing six errors of varying types.

Franklin is batting .376 in the Pacific Coast League playing both middle-infield spots. He’s hitting for power — .677 slugging percentage thanks to seven doubles and seven home runs — and boasts a .459 on-base mark.

So why not make the swap? Because it’s May 10, and making that change now means a lot more than making the change.

When Miller earned the gig in March, that decision wasn’t about just 2014, or about the first few months. That choice, made by more than just skipper Lloyd McClendon, was about all season, and beyond. When that kind of decision is made, six weeks of baseball — 36 games worth — can’t take it back.

So why not make it a temporary exchange? Because that isn’t necessarily going to help Miller, the team in the future, or even the team in the present.

Franklin batted .324/.440/.472 in the PCL a year ago, was called up to the big leagues and initially hit fairly well. He then started to struggle to make contact against big-league arms, finishing 28 for his last 163 (.172) with 57 strikeouts. I’m not suggesting the exact same result is due in 2014, but minor league numbers guarantee absolutely nothing.

Franklin could very well come to the bigs and produce more than is Miller. I’d bet on it, though there’s a good chance the improvement is negligible over any stretch of time.

There will come a time — for me, maybe a month from now — when Miller’s struggles will warrant such a move, for his own good and the team’s. Franklin will be first in line to replace him, but he isn’t the only option.

Chris Taylor, a glove-first shortstop, has been darned-near as good at the plate as has Franklin, sitting at .353/.395/.579 in 32 games. He doesn’t project to hit for the power of Franklin or Miller, but can handle the bat and is a full grade better in the field than either of his two shortstop cohorts.

He’s not on the 40-man roster, though if hes deemed the best option the M’s should not let that get in their way. It’s too early for Taylor, in my opinion, but in July I may feel different, and it may not matter what Miller and Franklin are doing at the time.

If you’re looking for other shortstops to follow in the Mariners’ system, I wrote about one of them right here.

Catching on
Tyler Marlette, my No. 8 prospect before the season began, hasn’t put up pretty numbers at the plate in High Desert. He does have five long balls, however, boasts a solid 11-16 BB/K ratio and is well on his way to taking another step forward defensively this season.

I’m told the improvements are noticeable when you watch Marlette for extended periods of time. He’s making plays and doing things catchers need to do that he wasn’t making early last season. He’s dropping fewer pitches — it’s rare now, as it should be — and he’s shoring up his throwing technique and footwork, which go hand-in-hand.

He’s just 21 and has come a long way since Draft Day 2011 when 75 percent of the scouts I spoke to listed him as a future right fielder. Now, the majority like his chances to be adequate, maybe even solid-average in time.

Marcus Littlewood, who was drafted as a shortstop and converted to catcher, isn’t having any issues with the bat this season, and continues to progress behind the plate.

“He’s starting to really look like a catcher,” one scout said. “It’s smoothing out. It’s a process, but he’s taking top it, it appears.”

The switch-hitting Littlewood is batting .341/.427/.537 and has produced from both sides of the plate. He’s 9-for-20 from the right side, including two home runs and a 9-2 BB/K ratio, though scouts tell me his left-handed swing still is superior.

I would be surprised if Littlewood doesn’t join Marlette in High Desert in a month or two. He can still work on his defense while being challenged by more mature pitching.

Notes
Since April 20, Taylor is batting .367/.405/.620, but does not lead the organization in any of the three categories during that span. Zach Shank, a 23-year-old second baseman, is batting .400 in 16 games since April 20. Ty Kelly‘s .486 OBP tops the charts, and Jabari Henry‘s .673 slugging percentage ranks No. 1 … Kelly leads the organization in walks for the year with 28. Dario Pizzano (High Desert) is second with 23 … Taylor ranks No. 1 in extra-base hits for the season with 20. He and Tim Lopes share the lead with four triples … Edwin Diaz leads the system with 33 strikeouts, and has logged those in 29 2/3 innings. He’s also walked 18, as he looks to iron out some inconsistencies with his delivery. His slider has shown plus most times out, however … Right-hander Emilio Pagan, who was slated to give starting a shot this season, has been used as a multi-inning closer, instead. He’s logged five saves, tops in the system, but more impressive is his 20-2 K/BB ratio in 16 2/3 innings. Pagan still may start later this season, I’m told … One relief pitcher to keep an eye on is righty Aaron Brooks from Mountlake Terrace. He’s 6-foot-6 and throws from a low three-quarter slot. He was just sent out April 30, bit in his first four appearances has not walked even one of the 34 batters he’s faced. The club believes they can get him into the low-to-mid 90s consistently … …