Seattle Mariners: Realistic Expectations for Each Hitter in Starting Lineup
The season is several months away, but rosters are starting to take shape with winter meetings warming up and contracts being signed.
There's no team as unpredictable as the Seattle Mariners, and no general manager quite like Jack Zduriencik, who's seemingly willing to sign anybody with a pulse.
Based on Seattle's current roster, the following are realistic expectations for each Mariners hitter in the starting lineup this season.
All stats via espn.com and baseball-reference.com.
Next season is of the make-or-break variety for Justin Smoak. The former 11th overall pick has yet to develop into the hitter he was once touted to be and has been relegated to the minor leagues for parts of each of the last two seasons.
While the minor league stints have helped to improve Smoak's numbers on each occasion, Seattle's starting first baseman can't be making road trips to Tacoma, Wash., every summer to get his game right.
That being said, Smoak is getting better.
Last season he posted career highs in runs, hits, homers, walks, batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage and OPS. Encouraging, yes. But those career highs are still nothing to write home about. Smoak also struck out more last year than in any other season and drove in just 50 runs despite hitting 20 long balls.
An unfortunate but realistic expectation for Smoak is to further his progress slowly. Mariners fans hope that he doesn't suddenly hit .280 with 30 home runs and 100 RBI, only to be re-signed by GM Jack Zduriencik for twice what he's worth and enter a downward spiral until he's making fat stacks in the final years of his contract while riding the pine or pinch hitting for the New York Yankees. Also known as the downfall of Richie Sexson.
With rumors swirling in regards to the Mariners being major players in the Robinson Cano sweepstakes, Nick Franklin's future is a bit unclear. For now, however, it's fair to assume he's going to be Seattle's starting second baseman next season.
Franklin had an up and down rookie season which included a month of .296 hitting, a month with six home runs and a month of .107 hitting.
When Franklin makes contact he's an awesome hitter. Unfortunately, he struck out a ton and therefore was unable to showcase his natural ability once pitchers figured him out.
Second base is not historically a great offensive position. Franklin has proven that he has power and can field the position, so he should get a chance to be Seattle's second baseman of the future.
It's not fair to expect Franklin to play like an all-star in his second season, but a realistic expectation from him is to improve his plate discipline and hit between .250 and .270 with 15 homers and 65 RBI.
Kyle Seager is the best third baseman nobody knows about. He locks down the hot corner and would be in Gold Glove talks if not for Adrian Beltre and Manny Machado.
A realistic expectation for Seager is to be more consistent.
He was hitting right at a .300 clip at the beginning of August and saw his average plummet to .260 by season's end after consecutive months of hitting below the Mendoza Line.
Seager's a proven hitter who probably needs some better hitters around him to help his cause, but if he can gain some consistency he can be an all-star.
Rookie shortstop Brad Miller was the beneficiary of Brendan Ryan's atrociousness on offense but played well in 76 games, eventually becoming the everyday leadoff hitter and flashing a bit of leather at short.
As of right now, Miller's the leading candidate to hit at the top of the order for the M's next season based on his success there last year, recording all but two of his extra-base hits from the leadoff spot and hitting .317 when leading off an inning.
A realistic expectation for Miller next season is to refine his kills at shortstop and fully encompass the leadoff man role.
Miller has good plate discipline but needs to display more patience at the dish. Last season, he worked a full count just 22 times out of 335 plate appearances.
Ackley's season was Smoak-esque in terms of a post-minor league turnaround. He was hitting .205 when he was sent down in May and hit .285 the rest of the way after he was recalled a month later.
Ackley's career has been wildly inconsistent and disappointing after a promising rookie year. He really seemed to find his swing after spending some time in the minors, but the fact that it came to that is discouraging.
With a depleted outfield, Ackley will likely be Seattle's center fielder until further notice.
That being said, a realistic expectation for him is to fine tune his outfield skills and find some consistency with his bat. He has the potential to take the leadoff role from Miller if he does.
Michael Saunders appears to have all kinds of talent, we just haven't seen it yet.
Eric Wedge didn't utilize his speed nearly enough last season, but Saunders has the capability to tally 20-25 stolen bases. He's never hit for any kind of average and has streaky pop, so his expectations should be low. That way if he shows great improvements, it'll be a nice surprise.
At 27, Saunders is inching dangerously close to make-or-break territory and could find himself out of Seattle before next fall if he doesn't show manager Lloyd McClendon something new.
This picture pretty much says it all.
After a painful 29 games last season Montero was sent down to the minor leagues and suffered an injury a week later. Then to add insult to injury (quite literally), Major League Baseball slapped Montero with a 50-game suspension for his involvement with performance enhancing drugs.
So, what now?
Montero is a candidate for the team's designated hitter spot and should not be considered for the job of starting catcher.
The best to expect from Montero is for him to hit like he did in 2012, but this time without the juice. A .260 average with 15 home runs is very respectable and would be nice to get out of him.
Or, perhaps he can serve as a backup to Mike Zunino and take on reserve DH duties if his bat isn't worth a starting role.
Mike Zunino, the former third overall pick, has been fairly labeled as Seattle's catcher of the future.
Injuries kept him out of a lot of ballgames last year and he may not have been ready to be called up in the first place, but the Montero situation combined with numerous other injuries resulted in a catcher by committee system.
Zunino showcased his raw power in limited action but still has a long way to go. Best-case scenario for him is the team signs a veteran backstop who can tutor Zunino and fill in as a starter if necessary.
As with any young player, improvements will be looked for but he's still very inexperienced as a big leaguer.
In 65 games, Carlos Peguero has shown he's consistent with two things: swinging and missing a ton and hitting the ball a mile when he connects.
He likely won't be the Mariners' third starting outfielder when the season starts, but he gets the nod here based on the players currently listed on Seattle's roster.
If he does end up starting, we can expect 20-plus home runs and 100 or more strikeouts.