The 2012 season is going to be exciting. With Jesus Montero now on the squad, the Seattle Mariners are in a position to surge back into the competitive frenzy that we've been missing in Seattle.
I'm excited to see what Montero can do at the plate. I'm excited to see if Chone Figgins can make something happen. I'm excited to see if Ichiro can hit 25 home runs.
I could go on (for really quite a while...), but hopefully you'll get that vibe as you progress through my take of what the 2012 Opening Day lineup will look like.
Enjoy and get pumped for the return of baseball!
The notion that Chone Figgins will lead off is becoming more and more accepted (or at least more widespread) among Mariners fans. Manager Eric Wedge publicly announced that he was probably going to switch up the batting order, moving Ichiro away from leadoff.
I see Figgins as the next best candidate for the leadoff spot, due to the fact that he hit phenomenally from the spot while he was with the LA Angels.
His ride through Seattle thus far has certainly been a bumpy one, but it's not too late for it to take an upward turn. Last year, when Figgins wasn't injured, he was being moved around the order and sporadically riding the bench in Wedge's failed attempt to shake him out of his slumping stupor.
However, Figgins was never given a shot at leadoff, where he spent 100 percent of his time with the Angels, so this move could finally have the intended effect; Figgins could pick his average up over .100 points and start generating some more runs.
If he gives us more of the same from last year during spring training, though, he'll be out of a job in an instant, with Alex Liddi and Kyle Seager waiting in the wings.
Dustin Ackley is the leader of the incoming wave of prospects and young players that is crashing onto the major league scene in Seattle. He came up in June of 2011 as a refreshing reinforcement to the crumbling Mariners offense.
Through a few months of pretty decent play, he solidified himself as the franchise second baseman for years to come. Since the majority of the 2012 team will be much closer in age to him than to, say, Ichiro, Ackley will be a key unifying force in the clubhouse.
I see him hitting second because he isn't a prototypical leadoff hitter, and he isn't a slugger, but he has huge potential as a hitter.
If Liddi or Seager starts the season at third, however, Figgins wouldn't be in the leadoff spot, and Ackley would be a decent Grady Sizemore-esque fit. Either way, he'll be at the top of the order.
Hitting Ichiro third would startle baseball fans around the league, which is in line with what the Mariners will be doing all year long.
Ichiro was the best leadoff hitter in the MLB of the 2000 to 2010 decade, so to displace him would seem silly, but given the current circumstances, it's the best move.
So if he didn't hit leadoff, where would he hit? I say third because even though scouts and fans have preached his power abilities, they aren't going to be cleanup caliber. I do see Wedge telling him to open up his swing a bit, though, to aim for the fences, so he'll fit better closer to the middle of the order.
That switch would have significant effects on Ichiro's numbers, but if they hover down around where they were last year, he'll most likely see less playing time. It would be awesome, though, if he started clubbing more extra-base hits.
As of this year, Justin Smoak will be the most developed power hitter on the team, so the cleanup spot should be reserved for him.
We all know what he went through last year, from injuries to his father's passing, so we can all give him some room to breathe.
By the time the Mariners' opening series against the Oakland Athletics in Japan kicks off, Smoak will have had an entire offseason and spring training to get back into the swing of things at full mental capacity.
We've yet to see Smoak at that capacity, so I'm excited to see what he can do, especially with stronger hitters surrounding him.
The acquisition of Jesus Montero was a brilliant move by Jack Zduriencik. If you aren't a fan yet because you miss Michael Pineda, I understand, but I also have faith that you will be converted as soon as Montero hits his stride.
Montero will be a cornerstone in the foundation that Jack Z is building. Since his hitting upside is power, he'll rest somewhere in the heart of the order, whether it's fourth, fifth or sixth.
He'll probably spend most of his time at DH since Miguel Olivo is currently a much better catcher defensively, and Jack Z added John Jaso to handle things from the left side of the plate. But I think the plan, ultimately, is to phase Montero in as the starting catcher since he does have the ability to play behind the plate, so he'll probably play a game or two per week as catcher.
It's sort of discouraging to see Mike Carp all the way down at sixth after his promising call-up last season, but there doesn't seem to be room anywhere else. That's not a problem we had last year—it's a good problem to have!
Of course, coming to the plate after Ackley, Ichiro, Smoak and Montero will rarely be a disappointment for Carp, so we can't feel too bad for him.
I definitely see him getting the start in left field though. After a "Quadruple-A" stint for a few years, Carp finally made a big enough impact last year to push him above the major-league threshold where he will stay.
However, even a minor slump from Carp could get him removed from the starting lineup, with players like Casper Wells, Michael Saunders, Trayvon Robinson and Chih-Hsien Chiang eager to play in left.
At the other end of the spectrum, even a short spurt of great hitting could bump Carp up in the order where he might be able to generate more runs.
Wedge will stick with Miguel Olivo as the starting catcher because of his experience and relationships with the pitching staff in Seattle. The pitcher-catcher dynamic is hugely important since a sizable component of pitching is mental, so it's important to have a veteran who knows the pitchers like Olivo in to start the season.
Offseason addition John Jaso will also see time at catcher in a platoon set-up, taking on lefty pitchers.
For a while last season, I felt distant and disconnected from Franklin Gutierrez. He was in a long battle with his stomach ailment, and apart from his always-stellar fielding, he wasn't playing up to par. I excluded him from future predictions about the Mariners, proposing they trade him away.
I'm happy to say that since then, I've swung around 180 degrees: bring back the Death to Flying Things! Gutierrez was part of a small contingent of players that Wedge invited to "offseason bonding," after which Wedge declared that “[Gutierrez] has added 15 pounds of muscle.”
That is incredibly promising, also considering Gutierrez has apparently gotten to the bottom of his previous ailment and has a plan worked out to keep it in check.
We'll expect the Gold Glove fielding that's typical of Gutierrez, but we might get the added treat of a great season at the plate.
With Gutierrez and Ichiro taking up two-thirds of the outfield, the slew of young pitchers in Seattle can relax a good deal.
Hopefully, we'll finally get out of Gutierrez what Jack Z sought back in 2008.
Brendan Ryan is one of the best defensive shortstops in the majors, making him an easy choice for the ninth spot in the batting order.
With offense as the main focus over the past few months, it would've been easy for Jack Z and Eric Wedge to disregard defense, but they've managed to keep together a team that will be growing and developing furiously while maintaining a respectable balance between skills handling the ball and the bat.
Honestly, Ryan is a pretty great option for the ninth spot. And after him, we're back to the top—opposing pitchers will never get a break.
Is there anyone you'd rather have on the mound on Opening Day?
Incidentally, Felix could also get the start in the Mariners' third game since they'll have a break after their first two in Japan. Doesn't that seem a little unfair to the A's?
Two days until pitchers report to the complex in Peoria, AZ! Baseball's back!