With one of the deepest minor league systems in all of baseball, the Seattle Mariners have a slew of players who could see time at the major league level as soon as this season. The Mariners roster is by no means perfect, and may soon start to see some turnover, especially if current players on the roster can't perform.
Seattle has already shown it is not against remaking the roster, most notably by acquiring Aaron Harang from the Colorado Rockies in order to move Blake Beavan out of the starting rotation into the bullpen.
But of the Mariners' highly regarded prospects, which ones will most likely see time at the major league level this season?
Let's start off with the most obvious candidate.
Danny Hultzen is the most likely of this group to make it to Seattle, most notably because of the lack of people standing in his way. The Mariners may have gone out and gotten Aaron Harang last week, but by no means does that mean he will be the answer to the questions in the rotation.
Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Joe Saunders stand at the top of the rotation with an almost zero percent chance of losing their roles, but the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation have been iffy at best so far this season.
Rookie Brandon Maurer had two very rough starts to begin his young professional career, and Blake Beavan has already been demoted to the bullpen in favor of the recently acquired Harang.
Now Maurer could finally settle down after a solid performance his last time out against the Texas Rangers, but one needs to remember that Maurer has only thrown more than 100 innings once in his career, and that was last season.
With that in mind, it would be a shock to see the Mariners allow Maurer to throw more than 150 innings this season, even if it means shutting him down sometime in August or September.
With the possibility of Maurer facing an innings limit and Aaron Harang serving as nothing but a stopgap for this season, the door is open for Hultzen to make his debut a some point this season.
Hultzen is off to a strong start at Triple-A Tacoma, going 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA and a 5:1 K/BB ratio, which has helped silence the critics after his difficulties with his control at the end of last season. If Hultzen can continue to perform at this level, expect his promotion to be sooner rather than later.
Nick Franklin may have come up through the Mariners' farm system as a shortstop, but it is becoming more evident that the Mariners may be preparing him to play second base as well.
With Dustin Ackley continuing to struggle at the major league level, you have to wonder just how much longer manager Eric Wedge will feel comfortable with Ackley in the starting lineup every day. To make matters worse, his current backup is currently Robert Andino, who isn't necessarily striking fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers either.
While this is going on, Nick Franklin continues to do what he does best down at Tacoma: hitting the daylights out of the ball, batting .350 (7-20) with two RBI through five games. Though this may be a small sample now, the cries for Franklin to get the call will only get louder if Dustin Ackley can't get his bat back on track. Expect Franklin's call to be a little later in the season, especially if the Mariners find themselves out of the playoff race early.
There may not have been a hotter hitter at any level to start the season this year than Mike Zunino. In fact, Zunino was starting to get attention from just about everyone in the industry, most notably ESPN's Buster Olney (subscription required).
Through eight games, Zunino is batting .303 with four home runs, 18 RBI and a slugging percentage of .818. Not only is Zunino crushing the ball at the plate, but he is earning rave reviews about his maturity, which he put on full display during his time with the Mariners in spring training.
To make even more of a case for Zunino, Jesus Montero has gotten off to a very cold start for the Mariners, and it can be argued that backup Kelly Shoppach has been the better option behind the plate so far this season. The one thing Montero can not afford to do is struggle with the bat, especially with his shortcomings on defense.
If Zunino keeps this pace, the Mariners will be stuck with a very difficult decision with what to do in regard to Zunino and Montero.
The DH role is currently entrenched with a rotation of Raul Ibanez, Kendrys Morales, Mike Morse and Jason Bay—and first base isn't an option for Montero either, with Justin Smoak and Morales serving as better options there as well.
At this point, it is no longer a question of "if" Zunino shows up, but when.
Liddi may not be considered a prospect anymore, but that doesn't mean we won't be seeing the minor leaguer up with the Mariners again this season.
If the Mariners decide that Franklin isn't ready to make the jump to the big leagues, the Mariners could theoretically make a move in which they move Kyle Seager over to second base if Dustin Ackley continues to struggle, opening the door for the return of Alex Liddi.
Liddi has been off to a strong start this season in Tacoma, batting .295 with three home runs and eight RBI through 11 games. If Liddi can keep it up, the Mariners may be left with no choice but to see what they have in the young Italian third baseman.
Eric Thames and Carlos Peguero
Finally, we reach two candidates who started the season in the minors, but will most likely be seeing time at the big league level, especially if the Mariners can't stay healthy in the outfield.
After two weeks, the Mariners have already seen Michael Saunders placed on the DL, Mike Morse breaking a pinky and Franklin Gutierrez needing time off to rest his legs. Needless to say, this isn't the start Seattle was looking for.
Be it through injury or lack of performance, expect to see Thames or Peguero up with the Mariners at some point this season. Both players spent time in Seattle last season and would serve as the most likely in-house candidates to fill in if the Mariners can't avoid the injury bug moving forward.
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