Only 32 days remain until the Mariners open their 2014 season at the Los Angeles Angels. After a busy offseason, spring training is upon us, and Jack Zduriencik and Lloyd McClendon have some decisions to make regarding the opening day roster. These are my predictions for the 25 men that we will see in uniform on March 31st.
- LF Dustin Ackley – The Mariners have not found a consistent leadoff hitter ever since trading Ichiro Suzuki to the Yankees in 2012, but they are hoping that Ackley can get the job done. The former number two overall pick, the 26-year old was a major disappointment in his first two and a half major league seasons, but after some time at Triple-A Tacoma, he appears to have bounced back hitting .304/.374/.435 in the second half last season.
- 3B Kyle Seager – A consistent .260 hitter over the last two seasons, Seager hopes to get his fair share of pitched to hit now with added protection in Robinson Cano. The left-handed hitter holds above average power, clubbing 22 home runs and 32 doubles last season.
- 2B Robinson Cano – Cano has been one of the best players in the game since entering the league with the Yankees in 2005. Now facing tough critics after joining the Mariners, Cano must continue to post MVP-type numbers to prove that he was worth $240 million.
- DH Corey Hart – The Mariners are taking a bit of a risk by penciling Hart into their everyday lineup. The 31-year old missed the entire 2013 season after undergoing knee surgery, and has a rather lengthy injury history. If he’s able to stay healthy, he has the potential to be a 30-home run hitter who will provide ample protection for Cano.
- 1B Justin Smoak – Smoak has failed to sufficiently live up to the hype that made accompanied his inclusion in the Cliff Lee trade with the Texas Rangers in 2010. A career .227/.314/.386 hitter, Smoak must put up above average numbers to retain his starting job as the Mariners currently have three players capable of playing first base on the roster.
- RF Logan Morrison – Since entering the league in 2010, Logan Morrison has shown baseball fans his high upside, as well as brutal downside. He has 20 plus home run potential, but has a career batting average of only .249. Additionally, Morrison who is naturally a first baseman, will have to spend time in the corner outfield positions as well this season.
- CF Michael Saunders – Saunders would not be a starter on nearly every roster in baseball, but the Mariners lack in outfield depth leaves them with no choice. Saunders has the best speed on the team, as he was the only Mariner to steal double digit bases last season.
- C Mike Zunino – Zunino, the former number three overall draft pick from the University of Florida, got his first taste of major league action as he was called up in the middle of the 2013 season. He hit only .214/.290/.329 with 5 home runs, but his sample size was nowhere near enough fully gauge his potential. Zunino will have a chance to prove that he is one of the best young catchers in the game this season, and a major part of the Mariners future.
- SS Brad Miller – After being called up in the middle of the 2013 season, Brad Miller took over the leadoff spot in what was then Eric Wedge‘s lackluster lineup. He posted fairly good numbers, delivering a .265/.318/.415 slash line with 8 home runs and 6 triples in only 76 games.
- C John Buck – Buck was off to a phenomenal start to the 2013 season and at one point in time, he was leading the major leagues in RBI. Unfortunately, his success proved short-lived as finished the year hitting only .219/.285/.362. In a reserve role, the 33-year old should be a capable backup and positive mentor to Mike Zunino.
- INF Willie Bloomquist – One of the top utility men in baseball, Bloomquist, has appeared at every position except pitcher and catcher in his major league career. Additionally, his above average speed can be used effectively off the bench and will play well late in games.
- INF Nick Franklin – Don’t scratch Franklin out of the starting lineup just yet. Lloyd McClendon has made it clear that he will compete with Brad Miller for the starting spot, and should have every opportunity to claim his spot. Franklin showed good power last season by hitting 12 home runs in 102 games, but he posted only a .225 average. With his future in the air, the former number one draft pick has found his name frequently mentioned in trade rumors.
- OF Abraham Almonte – When Franklin Gutierrez announced that he would not be able to play at all in 2014, a roster spot was freed up for another outfielder. As of right now, it looks as if Almonte has the leg up on the incumbent veteran Endy Chavez for the fourth outfielder spot.
- RHP Felix Hernandez – After another solid season, “King Felix” prepares of another year as the undisputed ace of the Mariners staff. Nealy a lock to post a sub-3.00 ERA and strike out more than 200 batters, it would be no shock if he challenged for another CY Young in ’14.
- RHP Hisashi Iwakuma – As the breakout pitcher of 2013, Iwakuma won 14 games and posted a 2.66 ERA, as well as a 1.01 WHIP in his second season in the US. Finishing third overall in Cy Young Award voting last year, the Japanese hurler will aim to build on his success.
- RHP Taijuan Walker – Everyone has been waiting for this young phenom, to reach the major leagues, and it appears his time has finally come. Walker showed a preview of his immense talent late last season posting a 3.60 ERA with 7.2 K/9 in 15 innings pitched.
- RHP Scott Baker – The right-hander has pitched only 15 innings over the last two years, but could potentially make a huge contribution to the Mariners’ rotation this year. Before being ravaged by injury, Baker was considered the ace of the Minnesota staff from ’08-’11. If he can stay healthy throughout spring training, this non-roster invitee will have a great chance of cracking the roster.
- LHP James Paxton - Like Walker, Paxton is another highly regarded young pitcher who will have the chance to show everyone what he can be in 2014. In four starts last season, he went 3-0 and posted a 1.60 ERA with 7.9 K/9. It is likely that he will compete with Erasmo Ramirez for the last spot in the rotation during spring training, and is largely considered to be the favorite.
- LR Erasmo Ramirez – Ramirez spent most of last season in the rotation, but may the transition to long relief in 2014. His ability to provide innings may be best suited for long relief in the bullpen, while retaining the option to make spot starts whenever necessary.
- MR Lucas Luetge – Luetge has been apart of the Mariners atrocious bullpen in each of the last two seasons. He’s never taken on a major role, but he has been effective as used.
- MR Charlie Furbush – Owner of a rubber arm, Furbush appeared in 71 games last season as a situational lefty in the Mariners bullpen. After refusing to re-sign Oliver Perez for 2014, the Mariners will rely on Furbush even more this year.
- MR Tom Wilhelmsen – There was a point in time last season that Wilhelmsen was considered one of the top closers in all of baseball. Then he posted a 10.97 ERA and blew three saves in the month of June and was quickly demoted from the closer position. “The Bartender” has the potential to be a very good relief pitcher, but his inconsistency caused the Mariners to reevaluate his place in the bullpen last season .
- SU Yoervis Medina – The hard-throwing Medina shined in his rookie season in Seattle, in 2014. In 63 appearances, Medina posted a 2.91 ERA and struck out 71 batters in 68 innings.
- SU Danny Farquhar – In just a few months, Danny Farquhar went from the mop-up man in the Mariners’ bullpen to the closer. Embracing his new found promotion, he posted 12.8 K/9 ratio, and recorded 16 saves.
- CP Fernando Rodney – Just two years ago, Fernando Rodney posted a record 0.60 ERA, notched 48 saves and finished 5th in Cy Young Award voting. However, Rodney was nowhere near as effective last year as he blew 8 saves and posted a 3.38 ERA. He’ll look to rebound in a return to the AL West with Seattle.