Predicting the Seattle Mariners 2015 Starting Lineup
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With a slow week in Seattle Mariners news, I started to think what effect the results of this offseason would have on the future of the Mariners.
Although General Manager Jack Zduriencik is reportedly still searching high and low for another bat for the current lineup, it would not surprise if the loyalest of M's fans if Seattle again comes up empty handed in their quest for power.
With that in mind, 2015 seemed like a good year to predict how the M's would look. Why 2015 you ask?
Well, in 2015, the Seattle Mariners very well could be starting a new TV deal as illustrated by the guys over at U.S.S Mariner. And as we've seen over the past two off-seasons, these new TV deals can really help teams find the extra money to bring in new players (Los Angeles Angels in 2011 and 2012, Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012).
This is also the year Felix Hernandez is no longer under his current contract with Seattle which means the Mariners roster could look drastically different than it does now. Whether the M's decided to extend, trade or fail to resign King Felix, 2015 will be a key year in the Seattle Mariner franchise.
Let's take a look.
Catcher: Mike Zunino
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In 2012 Zunino exceeded all expectations at every level he stopped at. He finished the regular season in Double-A Jackson after compiling a .360/.447/.689 with 13 homers and 43 RBI over 44 games in Single-A Everett and with the Generals.
This all came on the heels of his final season with the Florida Gators where he won the Golden Spikes Award as College Baseball's Top Player and led the Gators to a College World Series appearance.
It would not surprise anyone to see Zunino get his first cup of coffee in the big leagues by the end of the 2013 season. Additionally, it would probably not come as a shock if he was starting behind the dish in 2014.
There is really no reason to expect anyone else behind the plate for the Mariners for a very long time.
First Base: Dustin Ackley
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The first real shock of the slideshow comes with a defensive move for the Mariners. By 2015, Dustin Ackley will have made the permanent move over to first base.
The chances that Justin Smoak finally turns the corner this season took a large blow when the Mariners traded for Kendrys Morales earlier in the offseason. Morales, who has one year remaining on his current contract, also has Scott Boras as his agent. If Boras makes Morales too expensive for the Mariners, first base may be open come 2014.
This is where Dustin Ackley comes in.
Ackley spent almost his entire collegiate career at first base while playing for North Carolina and has already spent some time there with the Mariners starting back in April of 2012.
An in-house replacement at first base will make the most sense as Mariners ownership will look to spend it's available funds at other positions on the team.
Second Base: Stefen Romero
Courtesy of Chris Harris of MiLB.com
So Stefan Romero may not be the first name that would come to mind (Nick Franklin), but he will be the starting second basemen for Seattle in 2015.
Romero established himself as a top prospect in the Mariners system with a stellar 2012 campaign which included winning the Mariners Minor League Player of the Year. Romero batted .352 with 23 homers and 101 RBI over 116 games.
Romero originally started the season in the hitter-friendly California League as a member of the Single-A High Desert Mavericks. After posting an outrageous .357/.391/.581 stat line in 60 games, the organization decided to move Romero up to Double-A Jackson to see if his hitting would continue.
Needless to say, it did.
Although Romero isn't the strongest fielder yet, (13 errors in 107 games at second) his bat is too good to ignore and will be the reason he finds himself in a Mariners uniform sooner rather than later.
Shortstop: Brad Miller
Courtesy of collegebaseball360.com
With Brendan Ryan having one year remaining on his current contract, Seattle could be left with a hole at shortstop in 2014. Expect Seattle to either re-sign Ryan for one more year, or use a stop-gap player such as the recently acquired Robert Andino to fill the void until former Clemson Tiger Brad Miller is ready.
Miller, like fellow prospect Stefen Romero, started the 2012 season in High Desert. Miller, like Romero, tore the cover off the ball in the California League with a .339/.412/.524 stat line and earned a promotion to Double-A Jackson.
In Jackson, Miller continued to hit finishing the season with a .334 batting average with 15 homers and 68 RBI.
However, as much as Miller excelled at the plate, he struggled in the field.
In High Desert, Miller had an atrocious 31 errors in 97 games with a .936 fielding percentage. This performance raised questions to the guys at MLB.com as to whether or not he could remain at shortstop.
Miller did do much better in Jackson, only committing five errors in 37 games with a .969 fielding percentage. If Miller continues to improve with his glove, he could find himself in Seattle sooner than 2015.
Third Base: Kyle Seager
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Seager enjoyed a break out season in his first full year in the big leagues batting .259 with 20 homers and 86 RBI in 2012. He played solid defense at the hot corner and was one of the bright spots in an otherwise bleak Mariners offensive season.
If Seager follows up his 2012 campaign with a strong 2013, it wouldn't come as a surprise to many if GM Jack Zduriencik decides to lock up his third baseman before he becomes too expensive.
Look for Kyle Seager to be one of the first young Mariners to get an extension before 2015.
Left Field: Michael Saunders
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After finally breaking through last season, Michael Saunders earned his spot on the roster making him a key component for the Mariners moving forward.
Saunders batted .247 which was 51 points better than his career .196 average heading into the 2012 campaign. Saunders also proved to be a much needed power source for the Mariners with 19 homers and 31 doubles.
Saunders seemed to finally shed the label as a fourth outfielder and took a hold of the starting CF position in replace of an injured Franklin Gutierrez. He even made believers out of people like David Schoenfield of ESPN.
Don't expect Saunders in center come 2015 however, as the Mariners will go else where to fill that spot.
Center Field: Jacoby Ellsbury
In the 2013-2014 offseason, GM Jack Zduriencik will finally bring in his first big name free agent by signing Jacoby Ellsbury to a long term deal, and bringing him home to the Pacific Northwest.
Born in Madras, Oregon, Ellsbury played his college ball at Oregon State where he helped lead the Beavers to an appearance in the College World Series in 2005 for the first time since 1952.
Since then, Ellsbury has spent his entire career with the Boston Red Sox. Injuries have derailed Ellsbury over the years but has shown that when healthy, he is one of the best outfielders in the game.
In 2011, Jacoby batted .321 with 32 homers and 105 RBI, had 39 stolen bases, won a gold glove and finished 2nd in the American League MVP voting.
Unfortunately, Ellsbury is coming off another injury plagued season in 2012 which saw him play only 74 games.
Assuming Ellsbury comes back healthy and performs in 2013, he will be looking to cash in on a big pay day come the 2013-14 offseason. Expect Mariners ownership to finally open their wallet in 2014 to show King Felix that they are serious about improving the offense.
Right Field: Justin Upton
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Ahhhh, now you understand why Nick Franklin isn't starting for Seattle in 2015.
To be honest, this may seem like a bit of a dream scenario, but it isn't that far-fetched to see Justin Upton and Jacoby Ellsbury sharing the same outfield in Seattle come 2015.
With the Upton rumors continuing to swirl this offseason, GM Kevin Towers will finally give in and trade the outfielder to Seattle. Justin Upton, who at this point has to become tired of the rumors, will waive his no-trade clause to Seattle as soon as the Mariners give him a bigger extension.
Arizona will receive a package built around Nick Franklin, Danny Hultzen and another prospect or two, and Seattle will receive the franchise bat it has been looking for since the days of Ken Griffey Jr.
With the acquisition of Upton, it will be much easier to convince someone like Jacoby Ellsbury to come sign in Seattle in 2014, and much easier to convince the King to stay.
Designated Hitter: Jesus Montero
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By 2015 Jesus Montero will no longer be faced with carrying an anemic offense and will be flourishing in his role as the full time designated hitter.
Montero had his struggles in his first full season as a Mariner, especially against righties. Montero finished 2012 with a .260 batting average, 15 homers and 62 RBI. However, Montero batted .228 against right-handed pitching and often chased after high fastballs out of the zone.
By 2015, Montero will have had another two full years in the big leagues and will have progressed into the hitter Mariners ownership expected he would be when they traded Michael Pineda for him in January 2012.
Montero may have had his struggles in 2012, but he was only 22 for the entire campaign. Expect him to flourish with Justin Upton and Jacoby Ellsbury in the lineup and to produce the numbers Mariners fans were expecting.
Starting Pitcher: Felix Hernandez
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The King will still reign over Seattle as the Mariners will finally extend Felix Hernandez midway through the 2014 season; making him the first $200 million pitcher in baseball and a "Mariner for life".
With a new TV deal potentially in line at this point, and ticket sales increasing with the additions of Justin Upton and Jacoby Ellsbury, ownership will have all the money it will need to keep the King in the Emerald City for the rest of his career.
With the strong additions of Upton and Ellsbury and the development of the rest of the roster, Seattle will finally have an offense to compete with the likes of Texas and Los Angeles.
More importantly, with Felix back on board, the Mariners will have the ace they need to make a serious run at bringing a World Series title to Seattle for the first time in franchise history.