Baseball is officially back, my friends. With their first spring training game against the San Diego Padres tomorrow afternoon, the Seattle Mariners are that much closer to the 2015 World Series. While there’s a hint of sarcasm in the previous sentence, the 2015 Mariners (on paper) look like a team that could compete for the AL West title and earn their first postseason berth since that miraculous 2001 season. The key addition of a legitimate right-handed power bat in Nelson Cruz along with a couple of savvy moves to acquire platoon candidates Rickie Weeks, Seth Smith, and Justin Ruggiano – all of whom are sure to have an impact on this team’s success – means Lloyd McClendon‘s ballclub may have an acceptable lineup for the first time in over a decade. Combine that with the stellar pitching that carried the Mariners to within one game of the playoffs in 2014, and it’s no wonder why this team has this city excited.
While Seattle fans are still recovering from the Seahawks’ heartbreaking defeat in the Super Bowl last month, the Mariners should give them a reason to look forward instead of dwelling on the past. Those spring and summer days inside the friendly confines of Safeco Field are right around the corner. So without further to due, here is a position-by-position preview of your 2015 (World Champion) Seattle Mariners.
Depth chart: Mike Zunino, Jesus Sucre, John Baker
This position is firmly held by Zunino, who is already one of the best defensive catchers in the league. Not only that, but he is a huge reason for the success of Seattle’s pitching staff because of how he calls games. The one caveat of Zunino’s game is his batting average and strikeout rate, as he only hit .199 and struck out 158 times in 476 plate appearances (nearly one in every three at-bats) in 2014. Despite this, Mike has insane power. He stroked 22 home runs last year and it’s not out of the question that he could swat 25-30 dingers this season. If he can continue to play elite defense and provide some offensive power numbers, it will be considered a successful season for the young catcher, even if his average numbers stay down – though I expect him to eventually hit in the .230-.240 range.
I would expect Sucre to beat out Baker for the backup catcher spot, but that will be a battle to watch this spring. Both of them are legitimate 2nd-string catchers and the M’s should feel comfortable with putting either one out there once a week to rest Zunino.
Depth chart: Logan Morrison, Rickie Weeks, Willie Bloomquist, Jesus Montero
Without a doubt, Morrison – better known around the clubhouse as “Lo-Mo” – can be at least an average every-day first baseman. He was one of the hottest players on the team toward the end of last season. He ended 2014 batting .262 with 11 home runs and 38 RBI’s, but hit .302 and .342 in August and September, respectively, while swatting 6 home runs during that those two months. Unfortunately, Morrison has huge health issues and he’s only played over 100 games once in five MLB seasons (he only played in 99 last year). He’s incredibly productive when healthy, as is evidenced by his numbers the final two months of 2014. The M’s are aware of this, and are betting on Lo-Mo to be healthy in 2015. His bat will be key for an improved offense.
The late acquisiton of Weeks provides a bit of a safety net at this position in case Morrison goes down. Weeks will compete with Bloomquist this spring for a utility-role on the team, but I expect Rickie to win the battle. A slimmed-down Montero also makes for an intriguing spring training story, but he will likely start in Tacoma.
Depth chart: Robinson Cano, Rickie Weeks, Willie Bloomquist
Robbie Cano. Enough said. Easily the most complete position-player on the team and fans shouldn’t expect anything but greatness for Cano’s 2015 campaign.
The winner of the Weeks-Bloomquist battle will serve as the primary fill-in on Cano’s off-days (again, probably Weeks). Weeks has never played any position besides second-base, but he’s capable of learning other positions.
Depth chart: Brad Miller, Chris Taylor, Willie Bloomquist
By far, this is the biggest position battle and position of uncertainty this spring. The experts say that Miller’s bat has more upside but his defense still needs some work. On the other hand, they say that Taylor is more polished defensively, but his bat is below average. While we’ve seen bursts of Miller’s potential, he’s failed to deliver any kind of consistency in his young career. So much so that the M’s decided to bring up Taylor late last season to platoon with Miller. Taylor hit .287 and flashed great defense in 47 games, but his bat has very little pop.
The ideal situation for the Mariners is for Miller to figure out his consistency issues offensively and defensively and to win the starting job at shortstop, meaning that Taylor would likely start the year in Tacoma (McClendon stated that the loser of the battle won’t be on the Opening Day roster). If he resolves his issues, Miller is too valuable offensively for Seattle to not have in the lineup every day. He’s shown flashes of his bat and it’s potential during his first two years, so hopefully he can provide a more steady offensive presence at the bottom of the lineup.
Bloomquist is slated as the third-stringer on the Mariners’ website, but that will likely change if Weeks beats him out and either Taylor or Miller are sent to Tacoma at the beginning of the year.
Depth chart: Kyle Seager, Willie Bloomquist, Rickie Weeks
The development of Seager over the past three years has been one of the most pleasant things for any Mariner fan. Originally in Dustin Ackley‘s shadow as a prospect, Seager has panned out while his fellow North Carolina-product has had trouble finding stability in the M’s lineup. Seager earned his first All-Star bid in 2014 when he batted .268 with 25 home runs and 96 RBI’s and led the team in the latter two categories. Oh yeah, he also won a Gold Glove. In other words, it’s safe to say that we know what we’re going to get from third base.
Again, the winner of the utility-man battle will back up Seager on his occasional off-days (though he’s only missed 12 games the past three seasons).
Depth chart: Dustin Ackley, Rickie Weeks, Stephen Romero
Speaking of Ackley, he is penciled in as the starting left fielder in 2015. However, McClendon has openly stated that left field will be a platoon job with Ackley and Weeks, meaning Ackley would start against right-handed pitchers and Weeks would start against left-handed pitchers. Once the second overall pick in the MLB Draft, Ackley has largely been a disappointment to the organization. He batted .245 last season while hitting 14 home runs and 65 RBI’s. However, his second half (.269, 10, 36) was much better than his first half (.225, 4, 29), and that was encouraging to many Mariner fans.
He can be a solid second-hitter in this lineup, especially if he continues where he left off in 2014. But if Ackley fails to deliver, Weeks is a good option and is capable of being a quality starter.
Romero has seen time in the big leagues but doesn’t belong on this roster at the beginning of the year.
Depth chart: Austin Jackson, Justin Ruggiano, James Jones
Jackson is arguably the most vital player to Seattle success this season. After coming over from Detroit last year, Jackson had terrible offensive production, only batting .229 with an on-base percentage (OBP) of .267. That’s not good enough for a leadoff hitter. McClendon, who was Jackson’s hitting coach for a while in Detroit, has stated that Jackson is plenty capable of hitting .275 with a .340 OBP, which he did in both 2012 and 2013. If he can put up those numbers, this offense is going to score a lot of runs because of the quality bats behind him.
This is also a contract year for Jackson, so that should serve as extra motivation. Hopefully he can put up the numbers he had in 2012 and 2013.
Ruggiano, an offseason addition, will occasionally get a start or two in center field. James Jones and his incredible speed make him valuable to have on the team, but probably not at the beginning of the year. He will be up and down from Tacoma this season.
A guy not on this list who may factor into the outfield mix is Endy Chavez, who was signed to a minor league contract this offseason with an invitation to spring training. Chavez is getting up there in age, but can still be a productive backup if need be.
Depth chart: Seth Smith, Justin Ruggiano, Nelson Cruz
This is another platoon position for the Mariners. Smith, another offseason addition, is an experienced veteran with a solid bat. He’s hit .265 over his eight year career in Colorado, Oakland, and, San Diego. If Ackley fails to live up to the hype as a 2-hitter, Smith will be a good option to bat behind Jackson in the lineup. Hopefully that isn’t the case, and he will bat around 7th in the lineup.
Ruggiano came over from Chicago this offseason. While he’s never been an every-day player like Smith, he absolutely destroys left-handed pitching, so he will prove valuable as a right-handed bat in the outfield. He also has some solid power, so that will also be helpful. Ruggiano is basically the perfect platoon player, and a combination of him and Smith should equate to a slightly above-average right fielder.
Cruz, the biggest splash of the offseason, will play right field when the Mariners travel to National League stadiums and there is no designated hitter.
Depth chart: Nelson Cruz, Rickie Weeks, Jesus Montero
Oh how sweet it is to finally have a steady right-handed power bat in the lineup. Cruz was the prized addition of the Mariners’ offseason, and for good reason. He led the majors with 40 home runs in 2014 in his lone year in Baltimore. He also batted .271 with 108 RBI’s. The definition of a clean-up designated hitter, Cruz will be the perfect piece to plug in between Cano and Seager in the lineup. His power threat will also provide protection for Cano and opposing pitchers won’t be able to pitch around him anymore. As a domino effect, this will lead to better production from the top of the lineup and to more runs for this offense.
Weeks will get a few days at DH as well, and Montero may be in the mix at some point in 2015.
And so concludes the position preview of the 2015 Seattle Mariners. Words can’t describe how excited I am for this season to begin, and this next month will be one of the longest of the year. Expect a preview of the pitching rotation and bullpen in the coming days.
I’ll leave you with this thought…how neat would it be to have postseason baseball in Seattle? For now, there’s this.