5 Struggling Seattle Mariners You Should Reserve Judgment on

Thomas HolmesCorrespondent IIIApril 2, 2012

5 Struggling Seattle Mariners You Should Reserve Judgment on

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    Following their trip to Japan, the Mariners will pick up where they left off in Arizona before heading to Oakland to start the season on the mainland later this week. 

    It's been quite an adventure for the M's so far, and one that will probably take some time to recover from.

    To fly to Tokyo from the U.S. and back is brutal, no matter where you're taking off from.  It's a journey that I've completed more times than I care to admit and can assure you that having to do anything more than the simplest of tasks can prove challenging for at least a few days.

    Imagine trying to hit a fastball, if you could barely even brush your teeth?

    At the same time, no one wants to hear excuses following a jet-setting overseas boondoggle, especially when the competition, the Oakland A's, faced the same exact issues/challenges and somehow managed to look a little more...up to speed, coherent, lively...feel free to choose or pencil in your own answer.

    In short, the trip to Japan for the Mariners, at least on the field, proved to be a disappointment.   

    While the team did manage to split the two-game series with Oakland, it was more that the team seemed to pick up where it left off last season, as the team's anemic hitting failed to support solid outings from its starting pitchers.

    Still, let's keep in mind that two games does not make a season and that passing judgement at this juncture could be a bit premature. 

    So rather than make light of the situation, I figured it might be of greater value to take a few minutes to examine the performance of a few players who may have struggled thus far, but could ultimately help contribute before all is said and done.

Hisashi Iwakuma: Pitcher

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    This past offseason, the Mariners only made a few moves. The signing of pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma looked to be one of the biggest prior to the Michael Pineda-Jesus Montero trade.

    Iwakuma, the former Sawamura Award Winner (Cy Young) from the Rakuten Eagles signed a one- year deal with the Mariners for a fraction of the offer supposedly made to him by the Oakland A's just one year prior. 

    On the surface, following shoulder problems and a drop in velocity, it seemed strange that Iwakuma would agree to such a deal with the bulk of the money coming through performance incentives.

    Still, by the start of spring training, everyone figured he would earn a spot somewhere in the starting rotation, especially with Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas the only consistent starters returning from last year. 

    Unfortunately for Iwakuma, following an uneven spring, it didn't quite work out that way. Eric Wedge made his decision before the Japan trip, saying: "He is going to serve as our long guy, as well as middle relief and, quite frankly, I think that's the best way to transition him this year.'

    Making matters worse, Iwakuma didn't do himself any favors after getting hammered by the Yomiuri Giants in the Mariners' second exhibition game in Tokyo.

    So what's next?

    Beyond Felix and Vargas, the starting rotation remains a work in progress, with Blake Beavan, Hector Noesi and Kevin Millwood in the rotation, while the M's wait for the likes of Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker to mature. 

    While it would be almost too easy to give up on Iwakuma, I still think he can contribute by initially making a name for himself in middle relief, then filling in for either Beavan, Noesi or Millwood, if any one of them falters.

Franklin Gutierrez: Outfield

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    One of the bigger questions in 2012 for the Mariners is whether Franklin Gutierrez returns to form as a potential Gold Glove outfielder who can make an impact swinging the bat.

    Personally, I've gone back and forth on this question highlighting the positives and negatives over the past few weeks.

    I remain undecided; hence the reason he's on the list. 

    At age 29, Gutierrez is hardly washed up. But after more than a year's worth of injuries, it remains to be seen whether he will ever make a meaningful contribution in Seattle. 

    We will just have to wait and see.

Chone Figgins: Utility

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    At this point, what can be said of Figgins that hasn't already been said?

    This spring manager Eric Wedge has put Figgins at the top of the order and all over the field in one last attempt to get some value out of the much-maligned player.

    To this point, the results have been mixed at best, and that could be considered generous.

    With the start of the irregular season in Tokyo, there was some hope Figgins could get off to a solid start.  Unfortunately, against Oakland he managed only one hit in eight at-bats and struck out twice.

    It was the kind of performance Mariner fans have grown to expect, but continue to grow weary of with the passage of time. 

    Will Figgins improve upon his Mendozian start? 

    Probably, but by how much is going to determine whether he stays in the lineup. 

    For at least the next few weeks we will have to wait and see. 

Casper Wells: Outfield

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    Honestly, I'm not sold on Wells' long-term prospects, especially after an abysmal spring in which he hit .167 with no extra-base hits. 

    For someone who managed to show a little bit of pop upon his arrival late last summer, it's been disappointing to see him end up a spare part on a roster that seems to be filled with them, especially in the outfield.

    Yet, with both Mike Carp and Franklin Gutierrez sidelined for a little bit due to injuries, could Wells get a few more chances to play?

    Much of that depends on what Carlos Peguero manages to do after his addition to the M's roster in Mike Carp's place. 

    Either way, I think Wells deserves a shot, given the lack of options.  

    Also, at some point, the Mariners are going to need right-handed batters, beyond Jesus Montero, who are capable of pushing the ball out of the infield.

Jesus Montero: DH/Catcher

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    Speaking of Montero...why is he on this list?

    Admit it...weren't you just a little disappointed to see the much-heralded rookie only get one hit during the Oakland series?

    While it's certainly unfair to judge just about anyone at this point, with both Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak going deep, it seemed like Montero missed a golden opportunity to join the trio of prized youngsters as a sign of brighter days ahead.

    Perhaps I'm reading into things a bit too much?

    Let's face facts. Justin Smoak could have just as easily been on this list if not for his Game 2 bomb, along with at least a half dozen other players who managed to only reach base once or twice thus far. 

    It just goes to show that for now we need to be patient. Everyone from top to bottom is going to need time to adjust to the remaining 160-game schedule, not to mention at least a few days of jet lag.

    Keep faith and let's hope this crew gets back on track before the end of the week.