When Jack Zduriencik was hired as the general manager for the Seattle Mariners, it was considered a savvy baseball move.
Seattle was in the middle of an ongoing rebuilding process, and Zduriencik was known for his prospect scouting and talent evaluation. He was the perfect guy to try to repair the damage done by Bill Bavasi.
Two years later, the Mariners are still uncompetitive. They still posted at least 100 losses for the second time in three years.
But to get a true grasp on Jack Z's brilliance, you have to look beneath the major league roster and inspect the farm system and prospects who will be gracing the emerald expanses of the Emerald City's Safeco Field.
And let me tell you, folks, the future is very, very bright. The following players are big reasons why.
Justin Smoak was just one piece of the much-ballyhooed Cliff Lee trade.
Considered one of the best hitters in the minors, Smoak is a switch hitter with plus power and plus contact as well as good pitch recognition. He struggled in the majors, but all signs point to those struggles being growing pains.
Smoak's defense is adequate, at the very least, for a first baseman. His bat is a much-needed addition to the anemic Mariners offense. He will be the starting first baseman until the Mariners decide otherwise.
The Mariners' top pitching prospect is expected to make his major league debut in 2011.
At 6'5" and 180 pounds (and still filling out as a 22-year-old), Pineda is an intimidating presence on the mound.
He comes to the Seattle rotation with three plus pitches: fastball (95-100 mph, consistently 97-98), slider and changeup.
Rated as the No. 4 right-handed pitcher in all of baseball, Pineda has ace quality stuff for a team that already has ace right-hander Felix Hernandez. Together they could form one of the most lethal one-two punches in baseball (in a couple of years).
Ackley, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2009 MLB Draft, was considered the top hitting prospect in that draft.
He was drafted as an outfield/first baseman type, and was immediately switched to second by the Mariners, where he has begun to thrive in the minors.
Ackley is expected to compete for the Mariners' starting second base job in spring training, where he will use his excellent plate discipline and quick wrists to "wow" baseball fans in general and M's fans in particular.
Projected as a line drive-hitting, left-handed bat with plus-plus speed, he isn't expected to hit a ton of home runs, but the power could come, especially playing with Safeco's short right field porch. Ackley will hit for a high average and have a high on-base percentage, all while playing acceptable defense at second.
Nick Franklin was recently rated the No. 2 shortstop prospect in all of baseball.
"Why is this significant?" you might ask. The answer is simple. He was rated the No. 2 shortstop prospect in baseball, which means he is considered more likely than not to stay at shortstop.
Drafted out of high school, Franklin was a shortstop prospect but it was unknown if he would be able to stick at short as his body matured. Apparently, we have our answer. Franklin will not only be able to stick at short, but he's developed into a decent power hitter as well.
Franklin and Ackley will form a deadly middle infield for the Mariners in the years to come.
Carlos Triunfel is another shortstop prospect.
The chance that he actually sticks at short are about zero right now as he hasn't played the position on a consistent basis for a few years now.
His upside is probably as a third baseman because he has a strong arm. He's still young, and still developing. If he ever finds a power stroke, he would be a great third baseman to complete the M's infield.
Josh Lueke is a hard nut to crack.
He was another piece of the package that sent Cliff Lee to Texas, and he was the one that almost got Jack Z. into a bowl of scalding hot water.
A few years ago, in 2008, Lueke was charged with sexual assault and pled to a lesser charge. Be that as it may, his talent with a ball in his hand cannot be denied. He projects as a late-innings reliever with a live fastball. Mariners fans will probably see him in 2011.
He has been excluded from a lot of prospect lists in the media because they have been leaning towards the inclination that Seattle won't allow Lueke to suit up in Mariners teal. That idea went out the window when the M's had the perfect opportunity to get rid of Lueke and passed it by including him on the 40-man roster.
If they were inclined to not play him, the Mariners would have left him unprotected for the Rule 5 Draft, where some team would have picked him up and he would have been out of the Mariners' hair forever.
Johermyn Chavez was sent to the Mariners in the Brandon Morrow/Brandon League deal.
When he was acquired, he was an outfielder who seemed to have the tools but couldn't put them together, especially struggling with his contact.
After a year in the California League (and let's be honest here, it's the California League), he's shown that he has decent power after smashing 32 home runs and 30 doubles, and decent speed with seven triples. He finally got that contact thing down, batting .315.
Chavez will more than likely be a right fielder.
Other prospects who are a lot further off include:
If he can cut down his strikeout rates, he could be a special power hitter. Right now he's Richie Sexson in the outfield.
Toolsy outfielder from the Dominican Republic. Has lots of raw natural power and good hand-eye coordination. More than likely a few years away.
Signed during the International Free Agency period in 2010, Peguero was considered the top hitter in this year's international free-agent market. He was signed as a shortstop but as his body develops, Peguero will more than likely have to make the switch to third or second.
Also signed this season from the ranks of the international free agents, he could turn into one of the best hitters in the minors or he could fall flat on his face. I'm being optimistic. I do like the Mariners' recent history that shows they can develop international free agents pretty well. I think they should get Griffey to be a batting coach, though. Just in case.