The 2012 season provided both highs and lows, yet other than a few brilliant weeks following the All-Star break, it's hard to judge whether the team actually improved beyond wins and losses.
For a brief moment, rather than doing a postmortem exam on what went wrong, I figured it might be better to take a positive approach to next season before delving into the more thorny issues.
So with the power of positive thinking in mind, here are five top prospects that fans should keep an eye on in 2013.
I know that Brendan Ryan has a lot of fans based largely on his defensive play, but I still have a hard time seeing him stick around with the M's long-term.
Ryan finished the season with a stat line that is simply unacceptable for a major league player with five years of experience.
Now I'm sure someone will point me in the direction of some statistical analysis that proves Ryan's value cannot be measured by only offensive numbers.
Unfortunately it's 2012, not 1912. All glove and no stick won't cut it.
Fortunately, Nick Franklin, by all indications, seems capable of hitting a baseball.
This season split between AA Jackson and AAA Tacoma, Franklin pieced together some decent numbers.
Could he be ready to make the roster next spring?
My biggest concern is something I mentioned back in August when I ranked Franklin fourth on the Mariners' prospect list: his lack of plate discipline. Hopefully a trip to the Arizona Fall League can help?
Either way, assuming that Brendan Ryan is back, he will likely get one more chance— albeit on a very short leash if either Franklin or September call-up Carlos Triunfel can distinguish themselves in spring training.
Odds are though, that Franklin starts 2013 back at Tacoma to get a little more seasoning. Still, don't be surprised to see him playing with the big club sometime before the All-Star Break if he's both ready and needed.
Joining Franklin in Arizona this fall will be starting pitcher James Paxton.
For Mariner fans, he's the third member of the promising "Big Three" with Danny Hultzen and Taijuan Walker. Paxton is a big lefty who pitched his entire season at AA Jackson while posting a 9-4 record and averaging a strikeout per inning on the year.
Paxton's future in Seattle depends on which direction the M's intend to go this winter.
Seattle Times writer Geoff Baker shared his thoughts earlier this week along with some quotes from general manager Jack Zduriencik...
"In a playbook borrowed from small-market teams everywhere, the Mariners keep hinting they will spend when the time is 'right.' And yet, there is no definition given as to what that entails."
'I don't think it's a secret that if there was a bat that we were able to pursue that would be a good fit for us, we would pursue it,' Zduriencik said this week."
"But at the same time, he added, 'the free-agent market looks weak and might require teams "to get creative" in seeking upgrades.'"
Translation: Expect Jack Z to seek out or at least consider another Jesus Montero / Michael Pineda swap.
If we take this idea a little further, I'd imagine that Paxton is the kind of player that rival general managers will be asking about this winter on a short list of Mariner prospects.
However, if he stays, expect him to join a potential logjam of starting pitchers at spring training that beyond Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas, could also include Hisashi Iwakuma, Blake Beavan and Erasmo Ramirez.
Oh and two other guys on this list...
It was a tale of two seasons for pitcher Danny Hultzen, who struggled to finish his season at AAA Tacoma following a solid first half at AA Jackson.
Statistically, Hultzen really had a hard time the last few weeks of the season if you examine each individual outing.
Could he be tired?
Perhaps as a result of his finish, Hultzen will not be going to the Arizona Fall League to join the likes of the aforementioned Nick Franklin and James Paxton.
Either way, Hultzen still looks like a keeper who simply needs a little more time to mature.
Expect to see him at spring training next March, but I'd be happier to see him work out his issues at Tacoma through the first half of the season.
Once again, it depends on whether the Mariners make any major moves this winter.
Taijuan Walker is arguably the Mariners' top prospect, and in my opinion, the one with the highest ceiling.
With a final record of 7-10 and an ERA of 4.69, some might say that Walker didn't have a great season.
Similar to Danny Hultzen though, Walker seemed to run out of gas during the season's second half.
Will we see him at spring training?
Probably, but will he make the starting rotation?
I have my doubts, but I see no rush in getting Walker to Seattle. If he's good enough, the right time will come for him to contribute.
On the surface it seems ridiculous, but in short time since being drafted this past spring, Zunino has hit the cover off the ball no matter where the Mariners have sent him.
Up next, the Arizona Fall League...
Like a lot of Mariner fans, I'd imagine people will continue to keep a close eye on his development during this time, and yet, it would probably take a lot to see him make the ballclub next spring.
Will he some day become the Mariners starting catcher?
We can only hope.
Understand, this isn't a knock on Jesus Montero; rather, it's a sincere hope that the organization eventually finds a position that better suits his abilities. Until then, I'm fine with the M's giving him a shot to prove himself behind the plate.
Going back to Zunino, I'm not expecting a Mike Trout performance if and when he reaches the majors, but something comparable would certainly be nice to help the Mariners turn the corner with a ball player that fans beyond the Pacific Northwest could get excited about.
It's a long shot, but it's all about having hope...
Fingers crossed these five prospects have what it takes to help the Mariners take the next step in the rebuilding process.