Mariners Spring Training Stock Watch: Which Players Are on Fire and Slumping
I don't want to jinx anything, but have you noticed that the Seattle Mariners are on a roll?
Not only have they won 10 games in a row so far this spring, but they've knocked the cover off the ball each day as well.
This is all the more impressive when you consider the fact that just about everyone both young and old, prospects, bench-warmers, to potential starters are all getting in on the act.
It all seems crazy, but is this a desert mirage or are we getting our first taste of something truly special this season?
Today I consider myself a cautious optimist, but I still need to see this power surge translate to games that count before I can consider myself among the ranks of the believers; nevertheless at least it's nice to see this lineup mashing the ball.
At the same time are there any players who are struggling?
Granted the team has played only 11 games, but let's take a quick look up and down the M's roster and see who is on fire and who is slumping thus far.
Justin Smoak: Scorching
If we're going to talk about players on fire, let's not dance around what is perhaps the biggest surprise thus far of spring training, first baseman Justin Smoak.
Is this for real?
Just last week, Sports Illustrated's Jay Jaffe's offered the following take on Smoak's chances this season and already it seems woefully outdated:
This one feels like kicking a man when he’s already down, but the idea that Smoak’s September showing (.341/.426/.580 with five homers in 101 PA) indicates that he’s finally turned the corner is a flimsy one. A 2008 first-round pick who ranked as a can’t-miss top 25 prospect in 2009 and 2010, Smoak has hit a dreadful .223/.306/.377 in 1,421 PA overall, a sizable sample. While some of that owes to Safeco Field (.210/.296/.343 with 14 homers in 561 PA), his career road numbers (.237/.308/.408) indicate that his problems run much deeper. His pitch-recognition skills, particularly against quality secondary offerings, have long been an issue, and it should take more than one month of improved performance to convince anyone otherwise. Now 26 years old, Smoak is about to feel the squeeze when it comes to playing time, because sometime this year, top catching prospect Mike Zunino is likely cut into the Jesus Montero experiment behind the plate, bumping the latter to DH and Kendrys Morales to first base. Unless Smoak can show radical improvement, he could soon be out of a job.
I think it's safe to say that Justin Smoak got the message.
Based on what we've seen through a half dozen games, the numbers are indeed radical; however these numbers will come back to Earth, right?
Throughout his time in Seattle, Smoak has pieced together a few solid stretches, but has failed to perform with any consistency.
I will be curious to see how he holds up the rest of this month; nevertheless I'm glad to see that he's going to put up a fight.
Alex Liddi: Ice Cold
If we look at the other end of the spectrum, it seems that Alex Liddi isn't doing himself any favors based on his performances thus far.
Yes, he's homered, but who hasn't?
Fortunately for Liddi, he will soon get the chance to play for Italy in the World Baseball Classic.
Perhaps the pressure and excitement of the tournament will get him in gear?
Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez: Fossil Fueled
Who knows how much Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez have left in the tank, but let's just hope they don't burn through it all before the end of March.
So far both have hit with authority while looking like they've shaved years off their lives.
Nice to think that at the very least the potential is there for the two of them to platoon?
Jeremy Bonderman: Frozen Solid
As for the "experienced" pitchers the Mariners invited to camp, so far the results have been mixed.
While Jon Garland appears to be making a solid case for a spot in the rotation after his first two outings, Jeremy Bonderman looks like he might need a little more time to defrost in the desert sun.
Danny Hultzen: Lukewarm
Meanwhile on the opposite end of the age spectrum, hot prospect Danny Hultzen has looked impressive thus far this spring, but will need to rest with a hip flexor strain.
As The Tacoma News Tribune's Ryan Divish reported on Monday:
There isn’t much to worry about if he does what the Mariners medical staff tells him to do.
“It’s just mild,” Griffin said. “We are just being overly cautious. It’s on his right leg which is a good thing. If it was on his left leg, he’d have to be able to push off. But because it’s on his right leg it should make the recovery a little quicker.”
The Mariners won’t give an exact timetable for his return. But the hope is that Hultzen will be able to return to action in about a week.
“After the next three or four days, we’ll have a better idea,” trainer Rick Griffin said.
Right now I'd prefer that Hultzen takes his time rather than rush.
Could the M's use him this season?
Of course, but for the moment they don't need him back and would instead prefer to see if several other candidates are capable of nailing down a spot in the rotation.
Franklin Gutierrez: Toasty
Speaking of injuries, I'm almost afraid to say anything about Franklin Gutierrez.
I won't go into too many details for fear of jinxing him, but as you can see from looking at his stats, so far so good.
If the rest of the Mariners weren't hitting so many home runs this spring, the story about Guti would probably be a bigger deal at the moment.
Carlos Peguero: Hot
As for another player I don't want to jinx, can you believe Carlos Peguero is giving Justin Smoak a run for his money as perhaps the biggest surprise at spring training thus far?
Right now Peguero is tied with Franklin Gutierrez for the team lead with three home runs this spring, but even beyond that he has managed to hit more than just a handful of long balls while maintaining a solid OBP.
While I'm skeptical this hot streak will last, I feel that we owe it to the big guy at this point to see him through even if he can't seem to hit a fastball according to the good folks at USS Mariner.
Kameron Loe and D.J. Mitchell: Warm
After putting together a list of fringe players looking to make the M's roster last week, I realized that I failed to include pitchers Kameron Loe and D.J. Mitchell.
While it's debatable that either will make the final cut, so far both have looked solid enough to remind me of my error as Loe has managed to notch a handful of strikeouts over four innings, while Mitchell has yet to surrender a hit across three outings.
It's not much, but it's certainly better than anything the next guy on the list has managed to do thus far...
Hector Noesi: Frozen Stiff
What can anyone say that hasn't already been said of Hector Noesi?
Noesi in three outings is 0-1 while giving up 11 hits and eight runs with a 14.73 ERA as opponents are hitting .500 while facing him.
Think about that for a minute.
Basically hitters have made good against Noesi 50 percent of the time.
One can only hope things get better. After all you never know, one day you're frozen stiff, the next you can break out of your slump.
Just ask the next guy...
Casper Wells: Hot and Cold?
After homering in his first game this spring against the Padres, Casper Wells and the Mariners basically went in two different directions.
While the Mariners have managed to hit more home runs than any other team this spring, Wells prior to Monday's game against the Rockies had only one single hit during the five games he played between the opener and the Colorado game.
Then all of the sudden Wells went 3-for-4, falling just a homer short of the cycle while driving in five Mariners.
It just goes to show that anyone on this list can go from hero to goat and back in the span of one afternoon out in the desert.
So as much as we want to get excited or upset at what we're seeing so far, it's hard to put too much stock in the situation given we've only seen these players perform across a handful of innings and at bats.
Moving forward though the players worth keeping the closest eye on are probably Smoak and Gutierrez, along with the battle between Bay and Wells for the final outfield spot.
Can Smoak keep hitting?
Can Guti stay healthy?
Will the gap between Bay and Wells narrow over the next few weeks?
That's what I'm keeping an eye on for now, but you never know how things could change.
Regardless of what happens, let's just hope the Mariners continue to stay hot and build up some confidence/momentum to take with them back to Seattle to start the regular season in a few weeks time.