Seattle Mariners: 2011 MLB Season Preview
Last Year: 61-101, fourth in AL West
Manager: Eric Wedge
C- Miguel Olivio (R)
1B- Justin Smoak (S)
2B- Jack Wilson (R)
3B- Chone Figgins (S)
SS- Brendan Ryan(R)
LF- Milton Bradley (S)
CF- Franklin Gutierrez (R)
RF- Ichiro Suzuki (L)
DH- Jack Cust (L)
The Mariners' offense ranked last in AVG, OBP, and SLG in 2010.
One of the major problems came from the DH position, and GM Jack Zduriencik signed Jack Cust to bring some power and OBP to the lineup. Cust's power dropped in 2010, but his average did go up.
I expect his power and average to return to previous levels (25 home runs, .235/.370/.420).
Ichiro Suzuki remains the Mariners' best offensive weapon, and one of the most consistent hitters in baseball. Ichiro will get his 200-plus hits with 6-10 home runs, but it is tough to predict whether he will have one of his monster years because of his reliance on balls put into play.
Franklin Gutierrez has shown some offensive production in years past, but his main contributions come with the glove. He will swipe 20 bags, add 15 home runs, and put up a predictable line of .260/.320/.400.
Milton Bradley remains an enigma at the plate despite his natural ability. His injuries and fragile mindset don't keep him on the field that often, and I expect Michael Saunders to replace him in LF by the end of the year.
However, a solid year is not out of the question.
The infield production remains an even larger question mark for this club. Justin Smoak, the main piece in the Cliff Lee deal, showed some real holes in his swing during his time in the majors in 2010.
I think his power and OBP will be fine this season, but it may take a year or two for his average to really improve. I see him hitting 20 home runs with a .240/.340/.410 line.
Brendan Ryan won't provide much production at SS and Jack Wilson is the same type of player. I expect 12 to 15 home runs out of the three of them.
Chone Figgins had a rough first half at the plate in 2010. He was able to rebound to put up respectable numbers, and I think a switch to 3B might clear his head a bit. I see Figgins putting up a line of .280/.370/.350 and 40-plus stolen bases.
Miguel Olivo will hit approximately 15 home runs from the catcher position. However, Olivo does strike out in almost 30 percent of his ABs.
The Mariners had the 10th best defense (UZR) in 2010. Safeco Field has an expansive outfield, and the Mariners have the players to cover it.
Ichiro is considered one of the best right fielders in baseball, and Franklin Gutierrez is one of the best in CF. Milton Bradley is an adequate defender in LF.
Justin Smoak anchors the infield, providing above-average defense at first. The Mariners are sure up the middle with Brendan Ryan with Brendan Ryan at SS. I'm surprised they made the switch with WIlson and Ryan so late in spring training, but it is the right move for the organization to make. Chone Figgins will move from 2B to his stronger defensive position at 3B.
At catcher, Miguel Olivo has one of the best arms behind the plate, but he struggles with his receiving.
OF- Michael Saunders (L) or Ryan Langerhans (L)
IF- Brendan Ryan (R) or Adam Kennedy (L)
1B/OF- Mike Carp (L)
C- Adam Moore (R)
RHP- Felix Hernandez
LHP- Jason Vargas
RHP- Doug Fister
LHP- Erik Bedard
RHP- Michael Pineda
Felix Hernandez, an injury-rattled former All-Star, two soft-tossers and a rookie make up the Mariners' rotation.
Hernandez, the 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner, anchors the staff. He throws two fastballs that average 94.6 MPH, a change-up that acts like a splitter and two very good breaking balls.
He has the whole package, and the only question is whether the offense will score enough for him to have a winning record.
Jason Vargas is a soft-tossing lefty who uses a lot of change-ups to keep hitters off balance. He's a fly-ball pitcher who benefits from pitcher-friendly Safeco Field.
Doug Fister is the right-handed version of Vargas, and is expected to put up similar numbers. Both should average around 5 K/9 and 2 BB/9 and have an ERA in the mid-4's. Fister and Vargas would be fine at the back of the rotation, but they shouldn't be counted on to anchor the middle of the staff.
I don't think anyone knows what to expect from Erik Bedard this season.
He missed all of 2010, and only made 15 starts in 2008 and 2009. Bedard has said he feels like his old self.
If he pitches like his old self, Seattle could get some very good prospects during the year if they decide to trade him. Bedard throws a low-90s fastball, but he can strike out a hitter per inning with his devastating curveball.
Michael Pineda will be the fifth starter for the club, and I detail his season later in the preview.
RHP- David Aardsma (2010 Closer; uncertain when he will return from hip surgery)
RHP- Brandon League (Closer)
RHP- Chris Ray
RHP- Dan Cortes
LHP- Aaron Laffey
RHP- Josh Leuke
RHP- Jamey Wright
LHP- Luke French
David Aardsma had hip surgery in the offseason, and it's unclear when he will be ready to pitch for the big league club. Brandon League will take over the closer spot, and might hang onto it if he pitches well.
Aardsma was the talk of trade rumors in the offseason, so if he comes back strong, he will be a candidate to be dealt during the summer.
League throws a hard two-seamer at 95.6 MPH with a good slider and splitter. He should average 7 K/9 innings, and a mid-3's ERA. Dan Cortes, who throws in the mid-90s, will get a shot to be the primary set-up man for League.
Aaron Laffey will be the primary lefty coming out of the pen. Laffey relies on his 87 MPH fastball and good slider to get lefties out, but he doesn't have spectacular numbers against them.
Chris Ray was signed on a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training. Ray still throws hard, but his 5 K/9 rate was very underwhelming.
Josh Lueke may get a shot to join the bullpen in his rookie season with the club.
Jamey Wright has a terrible career K/BB ratio, and will probably get mop-up work in the beginning of the season. Luke French will be the long reliever to start the year.
NOTABLE NON-ROSTER INVITEES
RHP- Chris Ray
RHP- Manny Delcarmen
RHP- Jamey Wright
RHP- Denny Bautista
RHP- Justin Miller
LHP- Nate Robertson
C- Josh Bard
IF- Adam Kennedy (L)
IF- Luis Rodriguez (S)
OF- Gabe Gross (L)
OF- Ryan Langerhans (L)
PROSPECTS TO WATCH
2B Dustin Ackley (L)
I don't see anyone from this group having a breakout season, so I'll mention two prospects who should have an impact.
Baseball America ranks Ackley as the best prospect in the Mariners organization. He isn't great defensively at 2B, but many are impressed with his plate discipline. His power hasn't come along yet, but the Mariners hope that will develop this year.
He should be in the majors by the end of the year.
The 22-year-old Pineda is battling for a spot in the rotation right now, but it makes sense for him to start the season in AAA. Pineda is considered the Mariners' top prospect, and he could use a little more seasoning in the minors.
His best pitch is a mid-90s sinking fastball, and he mixes it in with an improving slider and inconsistent changeup. The change makes him vulnerable to left-handed hitters, but I think he will impress in his starts to begin the season.
PROJECTED FINISH – 4th in AL West
Seattle isn't going to contend this year, but 2011 will not be as terrible as 2010. The offense should be slightly improved, and the bullpen might have some bright spots.
GM Jack Zduriencik needs Erik Bedard to bounce back in order to get some more prospects and to help the rotation early on. While there is some upside to this club, the Mariners will probably finish with about 90 losses.
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