Mariners RHP Erasmo Ramirez
The Seattle Mariners roster is full of unknowns with spring training just over a month away. The front office has done little to address the team's biggest positional needs (outfield and pitching) and the fact that it has an interesting blend of youth and experience.
There are several intriguing position battles and storylines to watch for this spring. What will the outfield depth chart look like? Who will be in the starting rotation? Who will be starting at catcher? Those questions and more are addressed in the following slides, as I broke down key position battles and discussed players who need to make a case to earn a roster spot on Opening Day.
*All stats and info were obtained via ESPN.com, Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com.
Brad Miller did well as Seattle's shortstop last year and eventually won the starting job from Brendan Ryan. With the additions of Robinson Cano and Willie Bloomquist and Nick Franklin still on the roster, Miller may be the odd man out of the middle infield.
Cano will start at second, and Franklin could easily move over to short. Bloomquist figures to be the primary backup for both of them, so keeping Miller on would eliminate a roster spot that could be used elsewhere.
Infielder Carlos Triunfel will also be competing, but Miller is clearly the favorite to win a possible fourth middle infield job.
Both Logan Morrison and Justin Smoak could make the Opening Day roster, but the first-base/designated-hitter position is packed with Corey Hart and Jesus Montero also in the mix.
Hart will be a regular in the lineup at either first or DH, which realistically leaves one more spot open for a rotating player to fulfill the same role.
Smoak probably has the slight edge right now, but Morrison may be kept on to pinch hit and occasionally play outfield while platooning at first and DH with Smoak and Hart.
Mariners OF Abraham Almonte
Seattle's outfield depth chart is a big question mark. Michael Saunders, Franklin Gutierrez and Dustin Ackley can be safely penciled in as starters, but other than that, the depth is unknown.
As mentioned earlier, Hart and Morrison can be dispensed as outfielders, but it should be done so sparingly because they aren't good defensively. Bloomquist can still play some outfield, but he's been used primarily as an infielder over the last couple seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Abraham Almonte, Xavier Avery and Stefen Romero all have a chance to make the Opening Day squad, but there will likely only be one backup outfield position available.
Almonte played in 25 games last season. He was unimpressive at the plate and made four errors in 38 chances. Almonte is only 24 and hit .314 with 11 homers in 94 games for Triple-A Tacoma last season, so his outlook is promising. Another stint in the minors leagues wouldn't hurt, though.
Avery came over in the trade with the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for Michael Morse last season.
The former second-round pick has seen action in 32 big-league games and is very raw offensively, but he has speed and put up an excellent zone rating of 11.904 in 216 innings, which translated to a minus-1.4 UZR, per FanGraphs, due to poor arm strength. Avery is also 24 and was a superior base stealer in the minors, which would be helpful to a Mariners team that stole just 49 bases in 2013.
Romero hit .306/.357/.506 in 1,296 minor league at-bats (330 games) and displayed some power. Although he's never played in a major league game, based on stats alone he's the most ready to step into a reserve role. He's also changed positions several times, playing five different spots on defense in the minors.
Spring training will ultimately determine the fate of these three for at least the beginning of next season but don't be surprised if the outfield is a never-ending carousel.
The Mariners signing John Buck is a sign that Jesus Montero's roster spot isn't as secure as it has been in previous seasons. Montero's epic disaster of a year culminated with a 50-game suspension for his involvement with the Biogenesis scandal, opening the door wide-open for Mike Zunino and just about anybody else who can play catcher.
Zunino and Buck have the inside track at being the two catchers on the roster. Both can start, and Buck provides a veteran for Zunino to learn from. If Montero is kept on the 25-man roster, he should be used as a DH, but he proved his inability to hit or resemble anything close to a competent baserunner and will likely begin the season in the minor leagues (check out these GIFs and analysis by FanGraphs).
Montero has a lot to prove if he's going to get much playing time in a Mariners uniform this season.
Mariners RHP Brandon Maurer
Seattle's pitching staff is a jumbled up mess right now. There are few guys who can be called a "sure thing" for the rotation or the bullpen at this point, as Jack Zduriencik has done little to address the team's pitching needs.
Hector Noesi, Erasmo Ramirez, Blake Beavan and Brandon Maurer all have legitimate shots at making the rotation or being members of the bullpen. Each of them have experience with both, and all or none of them may be on the Opening Day roster.
Ramirez had the best 2013, although all four threw limited innings.
Ramirez has also been the most consistent of the four. In 2012 he pitched 59 innings and had an ERA of 3.36, WHIP of 1 and an ERA+ of 114. Last year his numbers were much more pedestrian but still tremendously better than any of the other three.
Beavan has the most experience and had two good seasons in 2011 and '12. He was used solely as a starter in both seasons, putting up a respectable ERA (4.27, 4.43) and ERA+ (88, 86) each year. Last year he was primarily used as a reliever and didn't fare nearly as well, ending the campaign with career lows in ERA (6.13), WHIP (1.361) and ERA+ (61).
The pitching staff is full of players who have bounced between the majors and minors, so the final pitching staff may largely be in question until Opening Day.