by Jason Martinez
Click HERE to go to 2012-13 OFFSEASON TEAM PAGE
Click HERE to hear the 2012-13 OFFSEASON PREVIEW PODCAST
SEATTLE MARINERS OFFSEASON PREVIEW
A last place finish in the AL West was expected but they very likely exceeded expectations by winning 75 games. In fact, they were only four games under .500 on September 5th before losing eight of their last 16. Their trio of impressive pitching prospects -- Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker -- are inching closer to the big leagues while the bullpen is already quite impressive. Offensively, they have a long way to go before they're good. Moving the fences in at Safeco Field, which will happen before the 2013 season, could help lure some free agent hitters to Seattle.
STARTING LINEUP ANALYSIS
I'll go ahead and assume that not one person guessed that John Jaso would be the team's most productive hitter in 2012. Acquired from the Rays before the season in exchange for reliever Josh Lueke and a PTBNL or cash, Jaso was expected to serve as the primary backup to starting catcher Miguel Olivo so Jesus Montero could play regularly as the designated hitter. Olivo's struggles opened the door for semi-regular playing time and Jaso took advantage. Playing primarily against right-handed pitching, the left-handed hitting Jaso hit .276 with a .394 OBP, 10 HR, and 50 RBI. He'll head into 2013 as the team's primary catcher, although Mike Zunino, the 3rd pick in the 2012 draft, could be ready for the majors soon. Having Jaso on the roster would allow the M's to ease him into big league action.
In the meantime, Montero should continue to get the majority of his at-bats as the designated hitter with an occasional start behind the plate. If the team chooses to carry just two catchers, he could get 2-3 starts per week at catcher. It wouldn't surprise me to see Jaso, Montero, and Zunino all on the roster by mid-season. The 22 year-old Montero, considered one of the top hitting prospects in the game going into the season, hit 15 HR and knocked in 62 runs. He'll need to improve greatly on his plate discipline (29 BB, 99 K, .298 OBP) and overall versus right-handed pitching (.608 OPS vs RHP, .829 OPS vs LHP) but there's still plenty of reason to believe he can be a force in the middle of the M's lineup.
Big things were expected from second baseman Dustin Ackley, coming off a very good rookie season in 2011. The former #2 overall pick in the draft had a bit of a sophomore slump, however, as he hit just .226 with a .294 OBP. Justin Smoak also struggled for most of the season but a late-season surge (30 for last 88, 5 HR, 13 BB, 13 K) might've saved his job going into 2013. Michael Saunders likely has a starting corner outfield spot locked up after just missing a 20-20 season (19 HR, 21 SB) as does third baseman Kyle Seager (20 HR, 35 2B, 86 RBI), and Franklin Gutierrez, if healthy, will man center field.
One corner spot is up for grabs with Casper Wells and Eric Thames at the top of the in-house list of candidates. If they were to upgrade one spot this offseason, I'd expect it to be here. Bringing in the fences should make it a much easier sell for a free agent corner outfielder.
Brendan Ryan will likely keep the starting shortstop position to start 2013 but prospect Nick Franklin, who has split his time between shortstop and second base in the minors, could take his job at some point during the season. Ryan is solid defensively but will need to provide more on offense (.555 OPS in 141 games) if he's going to hold off Franklin, who had an .800 OPS between Triple-A and Double-A last season.
STARTING PITCHING ANALYSIS
With "King" Felix Hernandez leading the way and Hultzen, Paxton, and Walker on the way, the rotation is in good shape. Rotation candidates Erasmo Ramirez, Blake Beavan, and Hector Noesi are good enough to hold down the fort until they arrive, and in all likelihood, give the team enough depth to shop #2 starter Jason Vargas, who should make about $6M in 2013 and will not benefit from the fences being moved in. Re-signing free agent-to-be Hisashi Iwakuma or another reliable veteran would be smart after he went 8-4 with a 2.65 ERA in his 16 starts.
Hultzen was dominant in his first 13 pro starts, posting a 1.19 ERA with 32 BB and 79 K in 75.1 innings with Double-A Jackson. He didn't handle a promotion to Triple-A well, however, as he lost the strike zone and never seemed to get back on track. He's good enough to make the adjustments and could be in Seattle before June 1st. Walker, who turned 20 in August, posted a 4.69 ERA in 25 Double-A starts with 50 BB and 118 K in 126.2 innings. A return to Double-A is not out of the question. He has the ceiling of a #1 starter but he'll likely stay in the minors until he dominates in the upper levels.
RELIEF PITCHING ANALYSIS
All the talk of the Mariners' starting pitching prospects overshadowed another area of strength in the organization -- the bullpen. They were led by Tom Wilhelmsen, who took the closer role from a struggling Brandon League in early June and never looked back. If not for his success, we'd be talking about hard-throwing Carter Capps and Stephen Pryor being 'Closers of the Future'. Instead, they are part of what could be a newer version of the Cincinnati Reds' "Nasty Boys" trio of 1990. All throw consistently in the mid-to-upper 90's, even touching 100 MPH at times.
Charlie Furbush and Lucas Luetge give the team two solid lefties and Shawn Kelley and Josh Kinney are reliable right-handers who can take on late-inning roles if Carter and/or Pryor aren't ready.
TOP OFFSEASON PRIORITIES
1 RF or LF
2 Starting Pitcher
4 Backup C
2012 HITTING STATS
2012 PITCHING STATS