The Seattle Mariners did not have a picture-perfect 2010 season. After a surprise 85-77 campaign in 2009, the Mariners lost 101 games last season, matching their 2008 low.
Ace starter Cliff Lee—their main acquisition a year ago—was traded to a division rival, and the Mariners finished the year with the worst record in the American League for the second time in three years.
As bad as 2010 was, there is hope in Seattle. The Mariners locked up Felix Hernandez early in the season and their 24-year-old top starter won his first Cy Young award with a 2.27 ERA and 232 strikeouts.
At the same time, the Mariners minor-league system had a fine season. The Cliff Lee trade netted three prospects and the Mariners top minor-league arm had a breakout season.
What Mariners prospects might make an impact with the 2011 club? Here are 10.
Though somewhat raw, 23-year-old outfield Carlos Peguero is one of the most talented players in the Mariners system. A powerful corner outfielder with strong defensive skill and a solid approach at the plate, Peguero could start 2011 in AAA.
Peguero's biggest problem is with strikeouts. Last season, he struck out 178 times, six more than in 2009. Still, Peguero doesn't have a bad eye (he walked 56 times last year, more than 10 percent of the time) and his .827 career minor-league OPS indicates that, strikeouts or not, he can be a very effective offensive player.
Peguero should spend most of the 2011 season in AAA, working on his offensive skills and trying to make more contact. He is 23 though, and if he hits well early in the year, he could see a late call-up.
Halman probably has more raw ability than any other position player in the system. With tremendous power and speed and an above average glove in centerfield, Halman could be a superstar in the this league... if only he could hit.
Rated the No. 57 prospect in baseball by Baseball America entering 2009, Halman's offensive struggles the past few years have torpedoed his prospect status and left him somewhat of an afterthought in a so-so minor league system.
As bad as Halman's bat has been, his potential is still too great to ignore. Last season, at 22 years old, Halman played 121 games at AAA Tacoma. Though he hit just .243, his .854 OPS paired with his above-average defense at a crucial position made for a solid all-around season. Halman also took a few more walks and struck out a bit less. Of his 103 hits, more than half went for extra bases. Thirty-three of them were homers, 21 were doubles, and four were triples.
Greg Halman will be just 23-years-old entering 2011, and given his offensive struggles, I would not be shocked too see him spend most, if not all, of the season in AAA. However, if he gets off to a hot start, the Mariners could bring him up late in the year. Long term, I like Halman's potential.
Traded to the Mariners as part of the Cliff Lee deal, Beavan is a massive 6'7" right hander with elite control but a relatively low ceiling.
Beavan's greatest asset is obviously his ability to throw strikes. In 453 innings over the past three years, Beavan has walked just 70 batters. He also rarely gives up home runs.
On the flip side, Beavan lacks the ability to miss bats. In those same 453 innings, Beavan has just 259 strikeouts. His career 3.7 K/BB rate is very impressive, but a guy who can't strikeout six per nine in the minor leagues is going to have a tough time getting guys out in the big leagues.
Beavan struggled a bit after a promotion to AAA, and he's still pretty young, so don't expect a call-up right away. But given his advanced command and how close he already is to the majors, he could end the season in the Mariners starting rotation.
Though Liddi failed to repeat his tremendous 2009 season, he hit well at AA West Tennessee in 2010 and should start 2011 in AAA.
The strong-armed third baseman hit .281 last year with a .353 OBP. While he hit just 15 homers, he also chipped in 37 doubles and eight triples, giving him an OPS of .829.
While Liddi's defense at third base is a work in progress, his strong arm makes him a good candidate to stick at third in the big leagues.
Liddi is still really young and he wont turn 23 until August. He should start 2011 in AAA, and he may very well stay there for the rest of the season. But if he can get on a roll offensively, the Mariners could bring him up late in the season, especially if either Jose Lopez or Chone Figgins is traded.
An undersized 21-year-old lefty, Robles spent his 2010 season between AA and AAA, making 27 starts for West Tennessee and Tacoma.
The biggest concern with Robles is his size. At 5'10", 205 lbs he doesn't fit the lefty-starter mold. Despite his small stature, Robles can get his fastball into the upper 90s with a curveball most scouts project as an out pitch.
Given his size and stuff, many project Robles as a bullpen arm, and he will likely break into the major leagues in this role. Robles threw just 28 innings at AAA last season, so unless the Mariners desperately need a bullpen arm to start off the season, he will likely begin the year at AAA.
Expect Robles to be called up if the Mariners need an emergency starter or a long reliever at some point this summer.
The second member of that Cliff Lee trade to appear on this list, Lueke is a power right-handed reliever who, despite off-the-field trouble, is very close to helping the Mariners out in a big way.
At 25 years old, Lueke spent 2010 between AA and AAA with Texas and Seattle. In 63 innings, Lueke saved 17 games with a 1.86 ERA, 94 strikeouts and just 15 walks.
Lueke will turn 26 this December and the Mariners, no doubt, want to see him in the big leagues ASAP. With elite size (he's 6'5", 220 lbs), stuff, and command, Lueke could be a major asset and the Mariners closer of the future.
A highly-touted prospect with the Kansas City Royals, Cortes was traded to the Mariners in 2009 and made a transition to the bullpen last season, leading to better control, improved stuff, and a short stint with the big-league club.
Cortes is big (6'6" lbs, 230) and throws very hard. Coming out of the bullpen last season, his fastball hit the triple digits, sitting in the mid-to-high 90s.
In 96 innings between the rotation and bullpen, Cortes struck out a batter an inning.
While Cortes has struggled with control and repeating his delivery over his minor-league career, his stuff has always given him a ton of potential and the bullpen may be where he shows it off in the long run. In the short run, expect Cortes to spend a good portion of 2011 in the Mariners bullpen.
Easily the top arm in the Mariners system, Michael Pineda had somewhat of a breakout year in 2010. The 21-year-old righty dominated the AA Southern League before a mid-season promotion to AAA, showing top-of-the-rotation potential and advanced command of the strike-zone.
Making 25 starts between AA and AAA, Pineda went 11-4 with a 3.36 ERA, 154 strikeouts and just 34 walks in 139 innings last season. After going 8-1 with a 2.22 ERA for West Tennessee, Pineda struggled a bit with Tacoma, going 3-3 with a 4.76 ERA. Still, he struck out 11 batters per nine innings, walking just 2.5 for a K/BB rate of 4.47.
Pineda is a tall (6'5"), powerful, right-hander with a mid-90s fastball and elite command of the strike-zone to go along with a put-away slider. Despite his strike-throwing mentality, Pineda misses plenty of bats. In his minor-league career, he's struck out 396 batters in 404 innings.
Pineda will probably start the season in AAA, where he struggled a bit last season. But given his advanced command and ace potential, Pineda wont spend long in the minor leagues.
Rated the No. 11 prospect in baseball by Baseball America entering the 2010 season, Dustin Ackley's talent has yet to translate into the on-the-field success many expected after his stellar career at UNC.
Drafted second overall in the 2009 draft, Ackley is a versatile defender and an athlete. A first baseman and outfielder at UNC, he played 121 games at second for Tacoma and West Tennessee. Ackley was considered arguably the best contact hitter in the 2009 draft, and brings a sweet swing and advanced plate approach to the table. Ackley showed impressive power at UNC and he is also capable of stealing bases at an impressive rate.
Despite his talent and advanced approach, Ackley has struggled since making the transition to wooden bats. In 134 games between AA and AAA in his first pro season, Ackley hit just .267 with seven home runs and 10 stolen bases.
On the plus side, Ackley did show an advanced approach at the plate, walking nearly 13 percent of the time and rarely picking up a strikeout. In fact, at two levels in 2010, Ackley walked 75 times and struck out 79 times. He was also learning a new position and he made strides at second base over the course of the season.
After a so-so first professional season, Ackley capped off his year with an impressive stint in the Arizona Fall League, winning the league MVP by hitting .424/.581/.758, with four homers, five steals and 28 runs scored.
Ackley's ultimate potential will be determined by how his power develops over the next few seasons. But after finishing off his 2010 season in AAA and dominating the AFL, Ackley could compete for a job this spring. Given his advanced approach, Ackley can make a difference from Day 1.
Smoak technically exhausted his prospect status last season, playing in 100 games between Texas and Seattle. But Smoak spent part of his 2010 season in the minor leagues and still has yet to establish himself as an everyday major-league player.
Quite possibly the top college bat in the 2008 draft class, Smoak was described as a Mark Teixeira clone, an above-average defensive first baseman who could hit .300 with monster power and a great approach at the plate. At South Carolina, Smoak set a school record with 62 career home runs, also setting records in RBI and walks.
Smoak was an early first-round pick by the Rangers, and entered his first full pro season as the No. 23 prospect in baseball according to Baseball America. Smoak was ranked No. 13 in all of baseball entering last season.
The incredible power he showed at South Carolina has yet to translate to professional baseball, as Smoak hit just 24 home runs in 170 minor league games. Smoak has hit .288 with a .404 OBP in his minor league career. But in his first 100 major league games, Smoak hit .218 with a .307 OBP and just 13 home runs.
While Smoak may no longer be looked at as the future superstar he seemed to be in 2008, he's shown he can make contact and take a walk at the major-league level. He can play good defense at first, and his power is at least above average.
Smoak will almost certainly make an impact in the big leagues in 2011. Likely the Mariners starting first baseman on Opening Day, he may never turn into Mark Teixeira, but if he can continue to take walks and turns balls in play into hits, the Mariners will have a good player on their hands. At 24, it's time for Smoak to show us what he can do.