Michael Pineda: The Seattle Mariners' Greatest Prospect Since Ken Griffey Jr.?
Michael Pineda has created quite a splash thus far in 2011, posting a 3-1 record with 21 strikeouts and nine walks through 25.1 innings—not to mention a 1.78 ERA.
In doing so, he has already inveigled us into Rookie of the Year talk, as we approach the end of opening month.
Any baseball fan can admit that he's had an impressive start, especially when we examine the conditions under which he's pitched so far.
When we also take into account that he's had several tough matchups early against hard-hitting teams like the Rangers and Royals (ranked fourth and fifth, respectively, in team batting average), his wicked talent becomes increasingly apparent.
I've just hyped him up, but is he really the best prospect that Seattle has seen since Ken Griffey Jr. stepped up in 1987?
Here's a chronologically ordered look at some of the guys who have generated buzz in Everett, West Tennessee, Tacoma, and eventually the majors over the past two decades:
Ken Griffey Jr., OF
Griffey Jr. was and still is the most loved Mariners player ever. He brought life to the game and fans to the stadium.
It was always thrilling to see him play at the Kingdome; his vibrant, animated play style won over millions of fans, and not just those supporting the Mariners.
He currently sits at fifth on the all-time home runs list (630), having twice hit 56 in a single season (1997 and 1998).
If we toss aside players associated with cheating in some way (Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, A-Rod) and ancient sluggers (Maris, Ruth, Foxx, Greenberg), we see that Ken Griffey Jr. is one of the top three sluggers of the modern era.
He had a memorable career that will surely earn him a spot in the Hall of Fame soon. We'll miss you, Ken Griffey Jr.
Bret Boone, 2B
Boone was raised in Seattle's farm team during 1992 and 1993, and then was traded around the league throughout the later '90s—only to return to Seattle in 2001.
He played an integral part in the Mariners' 2001 "Magical Season," and had a couple of good years after that, hitting above .250 and 25+ homers.
However, he began to fade in 2004 and finally reached a point of athletic dotage in 2008.
Boone or Pineda?
Pineda. Boone's exciting performance can be attributed largely to his teammates; the team-based stats (runs and RBI) were some of his strongest categories.
Pineda has shown that he can make a difference even without a whole lot of support.
Alex Rodriguez, SS
A-Roid also grew up in the Mariners' minor league system. By 1996, he was judged ready for a full season with the major league team, and in retrospect, this was certainly a good decision. Rodriguez played five brilliant years for the M's before he marched off to Texas in search of a "contender."
He's been one of the most solid players in the majors since his debut, but how much of that can be attributed to his admitted steroid use?
Rodriguez or Pineda?
In terms of value to the Mariners: Pineda. Rodriguez has led a very successful career, but almost entirely away from the Mariners. In fact, on numerous occasions, Rodriguez has beat up on his old team.
We can't be sure Pineda will remain with the Mariners, but he's guaranteed a spot in their young, dangerous rotation, which is undoubtedly a nice commodity.
Jason Varitek, C
Varitek, probably most well-known as one of the "Idiots" of the 2004 Red Sox, actually started off with the Mariners organization.
Playing just over two years in the minors for the Mariners, Varitek began to create a stir. Unfortunately for the Mariners, he was whisked away to Pawtucket and the Red Sox during his third year.
Varitek proved to be an invaluable leader for the Red Sox over the next 13 years, and remains their captain, even today.
One can only make guesses as to how he'd have performed as a Mariner, but Varitek's strongest quality is leadership, closely followed by his aptness behind the plate.
Varitek or Pineda?
Pineda. Varitek defines himself with leadership, but we've seen Pineda's ability to put the team on his back in an equally effective manner. In addition, Pineda has promising skill, where Varitek is lacking.
Ryan Anderson, P
Anderson was Seattle's first pick in the 1997 amateur draft at 19th overall. Over the next few years, apocryphal rumors were unleashed announcing that he was the next Randy Johnson.
For all we know, he could have been, but injuries kept him back; his career ended in 2005 without a major league appearance.
Anderson or Pineda?
Pineda. Anderson's misfortune was his biggest fault. He never had a shot.
Ichiro Suzuki, RF
Ok, we can hardly call Ichiro a prospect: his talent was proven in Japan. Ichiro played nine seasons with the Orix Blue Wave before coming to America at age 27.
He won AL MVP, AL Rookie of the Year, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, and posted ridiculous numbers for a rookie en route a 116-win season for the Mariners (the MLB record for wins in a season), all in 2001. The rest is history for the Sultan of Slap.
Ichiro or Pineda?
Well, Ichiro, but as I've mentioned, he isn't really a prospect. I had to include him, though. What would a slideshow about the Mariners be without the greatest contact hitter of all time?
Rafael Soriano, P
This outfielder-turned-pitcher showed serious promise in his minor league years. The Mariners called him up for his first full season in 2006 and he paid off: a 2.25 ERA and 65 strikeouts through 60 IP.
After being traded to the Braves in 2007, Soriano has jumped around a little, usually providing a steady inning or two of relief for starters who burned out early.
He did his job and continues to be an above-average reliever, but he hasn't had the type of stats you hope to see out of your No. 1 prospect.
Soriano or Pineda?
These guys are actually very similar in their pitching styles, but Pineda's ability to start games and last for up to 100 pitches (without a loss of consistency) proves that he is of greater value to any ball club.
Jones didn't stay with the Mariners long after being called up, even after four years in their farm system. He's currently playing out a tenure with the Orioles, hitting pretty well through his fourth season.
He would've provided a nice force for the Mariners' hitting over the past few years, but we got Erik Bedard for him—what a prize.
Jones or Pineda?
Pineda. This boils down to value for the Mariners again. While Jones is having an above-average career as an outfielder in Baltimore, it looks like Pineda will be a greater asset for the M's.
This is one of the tougher decisions, due to the Mariners' hitting predicament, but I think that Pineda's superior talent outweighs his less opportunistic position.
Felix Hernandez, P
The Mariners' international scouts did a great job with Felix, finding him in the heart of Venezuela at age 17.
Hernandez has since obtained the title of King on the Mariners and won a Cy Young. He and his high heat are feared by batters around the league.
Since his major league career began, he's averaged about six strikeouts and two walks per start with a 3.20 ERA. We should continue to see great pitching out King Felix as he becomes one of the league's most prominent aces.
Hernandez or Pineda?
Wow, what a question. Hernandez has already proven himself in the league over the past few years, but Pineda shows tremendous potential. I'll choose later...
Brandon Morrow, P
Morrow has put together a decent major league career with a wicked K/9 rate, although he no longer pitches for Seattle.
He has converted to a starter for the Jays with reasonable success: a high ERA but lots of K's and a respectable win-loss spread. He could continue to improve with experience.
Morrow or Pineda?
Morrow showed similar promise at the beginning of his career with the Mariners, but that was pitching in relief. Pineda has taken on a much heavier load as a starter and run with it. Pineda is the better once-prospect.
Jeff Clement, C
Clement played three years at USC before joining the minor league system of the Mariners. Since 2005, he has played in 129 major league games and has hit .229 during that stretch, pretty disappointing given he was a Top 50 prospect in 2008.
He's moved on to a better place though—the Pirates, where hitters go to do, you know, whatever.
Clement or Pineda?
Pineda. No explanation needed.
Dustin Ackley, 2B
Now that Pineda has moved up, Ackley is Seattle's top prospect. He is ranked as the 11th best prospect in the majors this year, just two years after going to the Mainers second, overall, in the 2009 draft.
He came from UNC, where he racked up lots of home runs, stolen bases, and a .410 average. Some think he'll come up to the big leagues by June, but without any current experience in the majors, we can't really compare him to Pineda.
Ackley or Pineda?
It's too early to judge since both guys are so young. Let's hope both have outstanding careers!
Remembering these players brings back a feeling of nostalgia and reminds us of the better days. Back when the Mariners had a winning record, back when they scored more runs than they allowed, back when September meant a final push for the playoffs.
Now we're in a rebuilding phase, and it could last several more years, but Michael Pineda could help us out of that. With just one month under his belt, he has already shown that he can be the pitcher we need him to be.
It may be too early to compare him to previous great prospects like A-Rod, Griffey or King Felix, but I think he has the capability to outshine them all.
Where A-Rod failed in loyalty and honesty, Pineda has been solid. A-Rod left without much grace and has since been exposed as a cheater. Pineda has shown dedication to the team and a will to win.
We'll let the stats play themselves out, but I can't imagine A-Rod ends up with significantly better numbers when all's said and done.
A more direct comparison can be seen between the fellow pitchers, Hernandez and Pineda. They have been treated to the same awful run support, but Pineda has amassed three wins and a sub-two ERA while Felix has just two and an over-three ERA.
Although that isn't necessarily a testament to their pitching abilities, it does illustrate their values to the team. Look for Pineda to stay in Seattle for an extended tenure, even if Felix does get traded.
A final way to think about it: would you trade Pineda for any of these guys (excluding Ichiro)? I know I wouldn't.
Verdict: Michael Pineda is the greatest prospect the Mariners have had since Ken Griffey Jr.