Seattle Mariners: Ranking 10 Players Who’ll Have Much-Improved Seasons in 2011

Alex CarsonCorrespondent IIIJanuary 18, 2011

Seattle Mariners: Ranking 10 Players Who’ll Have Much-Improved Seasons in 2011

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    SEATTLE - SEPTEMBER 19:  Justin Smoak #17 of the Seattle Mariners bats against the Texas Rangers at Safeco Field on September 19, 2010 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Hey, did you hear? The Mariners were lousy in 2010. Terrible. Awful. Dreadful.

    Ah, heck. I'll just link you so you can see all the synonyms for "bad."

    That poor, poor dead horse.

    Much has been ballyhooed about the shortcomings of the most recent episode of Mariners' baseball. Especially due to the predicted success placed on them entering the season. No one had delusions of an express lane to the division title, but it was widely thought they could duke it out and hang in there in a weak AL West.

    A knockout in round one is hardly hanging in there.

    So, let's all agree to officially move on. We'll start by focusing on the immediate future to see how we can expect some of those let downs to turn around, becoming 2011 success stories.

    When your baseline is so low, a relative term like "much" doesn't seem so far-fetched, right?

    However, I believe the improvement from certain players next season will unquestionably be seen as a large step forward.

Dustin Ackley

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    PEORIA, AZ - MARCH 05:  Dustin Ackley #75 of the Seattle Mariners at bat during a Spring Training game against the San Diego Padres on March 5, 2010 in Peoria, Arizona.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
    Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

    Ackley wasn't on the Mariners' big league roster last season, but he's a huge part of their future.

    He started the season with some expected struggles. Considering the switch to wood plus learning a new position, no one was really worried when he came out of the gates slow in the first half.

    In the second half of the season, and then in the Arizona Fall League where he was the MVP, Ackley started to turn things around. He walked more than he struck out. He got on base at a clip that people expected and he continued to show improvement learning second base.

    I've predicted that Ackley will seriously contend for an OBP title in his first full season in the majors. That likely won't be this year as he'll probably start the season at AAA Tacoma for a month or so.

    He will come up this year, though. While we may see initial struggles that most rookies go through, I think we can expect to see a breakout rookie performance in the second half of the season.

    He's not going to be a big bopper, so don't expect Rookie of the Year considerations, but do expect a much improved season and hope for the future.

Adam Moore

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    TORONTO - SEPTEMBER 23:   Adam Moore #10 of the Seattle Mariners bats against the Toronto Blue Jays during the game on September 23, 2010 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Blue Jays defeated the Mariners 1-0. (Photo by Brad White/Getty Ima
    Brad White/Getty Images

    Moore struggled in his first shot at a major league everyday job. Hitting .195 in a bad lineup only exasperates your struggles.

    This season, I'd look for Moore to head back down to Tacoma after the signing of Miguel Olivo. It doesn't make sense to have Moore ride the pine, which would hurt his development.

    While Moore isn't ever expected to be a Buster Posey type catching prospect, there's plenty of reason to hope he can be a useful piece to a solid roster.

    I believe he'll be able to work on his defense more in in the minors, which is the cause for catchers taking so long to fully develop. Once he has a better grip on that, he should be able to focus full time on improving his bat, which is capable of playing well at Safeco.

    Josh Bard has re-signed with the Mariners, so look for Adam Moore to improve his game at the minor league level and find his way back in Seattle as a better all around catcher.

    As much as we would rather see Moore start than Olivio, this may be for the best.

Erik Bedard

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    OAKLAND, CA - MAY 27:  Erik Bedard #45 of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the Oakland Athletics at the Oakland Coliseum on May 27, 2009 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Be warned: Erik Bedard might not pitch in 2011, which will make you loathe him even more.

    Okay, that's not much of a new flash. At this point, we should all not count on Bedard to give us anything other than an uncomfortable interview and sarcastic smile.

    Should he make it through spring training healthy, though, and stand on a Mariners mound, he's immediately made a huge improvement over 2010.

    As I pointed out in a previous piece, Bedard had a lot of expectations on him when he came over in the trade, and he's made a lot of money not doing much for the Mariners. He could have bailed, though. There's no reason to think 29 other teams wouldn't hand him the same non-guaranteed contract the Mariners did, since it comes with no risk and tons of upside (as unlikely as it may be).

    When Bedard is healthy and pitching, he's shown to be one of the best in the game. How that will translate having another year in age and another surgery on the arm is a question we can't answer.

    If he does make it to the mound, though, and can be effective for the first half of the season, the Mariners may be able to spin him for an interesting prospect or two.

Milton Bradley

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    SEATTLE - JULY 10:  Milton Bradley #15 of the Seattle Mariners bats against the New York Yankees at Safeco Field on July 10, 2010 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Here's the thing about Milton getting better in 2011.

    It might not be with the Mariners.

    He was with the M's last season, though, so I'll include him on this list. Even by Milton's standards, I don't know that things can get worse. He had career lows across the board. He left the team in the middle of the game. It was an absolute train wreck , which has come to be expected.

    After finally getting some professional help, though, a perhaps humbled Bradley was well behaved. Things possibly could have been worse, but he did end the season on Santa's somewhat-good list.

    If Milton can stave off the demons and stay healthy, he can be a force in your lineup. Again, I think it'll end up being in someone else's lineup, but I do think Milton will find a way to be productive and useful for someone.

    UPDATE: Reports have just come out that Milton was arrested in Los Angeles on a felony. There aren't many details out yet, but it appears to be pretty serious. I don't know if Milton will play for anyone now, let alone the Mariners.

Justin Smoak

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    SEATTLE - JULY 24:  Justin Smoak #17 of the Seattle Mariners watches a deep fly ball out against the Boston Red Sox at Safeco Field on July 24, 2010 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    A lot of pressure is placed on big league rookies.

    Now, try being a big league rookie who is struggling and then gets sent away as the centerpiece of a Cliff Lee trade.

    That was the task handed to Smoak. Lot many rookies, even top prospects as he was, he struggled in his first trip to the majors. After being sent to Seattle, he stayed in the show for a bit longer until it was obvious he needed a chance to relax.

    After bient down to AAA Tacoma, Smoak hit .271/.377/.859 with seven homers and 25 RBI in 35 games. While not as mind blowing as you'd hope from your top hitting prospect, the numbers were respectable considering he was way below the Mendoza line between Texas and Seattle.

    Smoak was called back up to Seattle for the final 14 games of the season. He had a hit in 12 of those games, including the final 10. During that streak he had four multi-hit games, three homers, six extra base hits and nine RBI. Seven of the 14 games (five during the hist streak) were against playoff teams.

    So, we've seen that Smoak has real talent to put together impressive streaks. He showed it in the minors, and he finally showed it in the majors. Sure, it was a small sample but progress is progress.

    Don't lose faith in the kid. He's going to impress you in 2011.

Chone Figgins

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    ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 29:  Chone Figgins #9 of the Seattle Mariners at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on September 29, 2010 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Chone Figgins had a miserable 2010. No one doubts that. What some people may doubt however, is his ability to reclaim some of that lost value.

    Don't doubt him.

    Figgins will move back to his best position, third base, so there should be less on his mind. He's a plus defender at the hot corner, and as some confidence re-emerges with the accolades he's sure to get with the glove, he may be able to get more comofortable in the batter's box.

    There aren't metrics on how those two things relate, and I don't know that we can prove it. I like to remember that this are still people, though. When I am confident and happy in one area of life, it makes other aspects easier to deal with an encourages me to try harder and do better.

    This isn't an indictment of Figgins, but rather a hope that normal human nature held him back a little in 2010, and perhaps that same human nature will allow him to excel as comfort and confidence take over.

    There is still the issue of having to hit behind Ichiro. The ideal situation, in my opinion, would be Figgins leading off and Ichiro hitting third, or Figgins hitting ninth. Neither of those will happen, though. So, hopefully as the struggles fade, we'll start to see more of the theorized one-two attack and chaos on the basepaths.

    Finally, Figgins had a down year, plain and simple. Should we expect his 2009 form? Probably not. We shouldn't expect 2010 again either, though, because he's just can't be that bad again.

Franklin Gutierrez

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    OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 06:  Franklin Gutierrez #21 of the Seattle Mariners bats against the Oakland Athletics at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on September 6, 2010 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Dubbed "Death to Flying Things" by the late Dave Niehaus, we've come to expect great things from Franklin Gutierrez in the outfield.

    That won't change. He'll still provide perhaps the best center field defense in the game. What we hope to see, though, is improvement with the bat.

    After hitting .283 with with 18 homers, along with one of the best defensive seasons for any position in history, in 2009, Guti regressed a bit in 2010. The average and home runs dipped. Strikeouts jumped.

    He did fight a bad stomach illness during the season where reports say he lost a lot of weight. Understandably, that may have had an effect on endurance, strength and other needed skills to play baseball.

    Expect DTFT to bounce back and have a solid season at the plate. His defense? Well, we know that will be excellent.

Brandon League

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    ST PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 26: Pitcher Brandon League #43 of the Seattle Mariners delivers a pitch against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on September 26, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images)
    Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images

    This is a tough one to predict, because I'm not sure where the blame for League's 2010 falls. We don't know if the decision was Brandon's, the catcher's, or the coaching staff's. We do know that, whoever is to blame, it was a bad idea.

    We're of course talking about the significant drop in how often he threw his split finger, which was the most swung-at-and-missed pitch in baseball in 2009.

    Entering 2010, you could easily point out that pitchers, especially the relief variety, are wildly inconsistent from year to year and that you have to be careful about how much stock you put into a change from the norm.

    So, when we look at how high League's swinging strike rate rose (8% to 14%) in 2009, you have to be cautious about expecting those results to continue. However, when the frequency of the pitch that caused that jump reduces, you also have to wonder if there may have been something to it.

    So, with all that said, League did say in an interview last year that he viewed his split as a last resort, and that he didn't want to expose hitters to it anymore than need be. So, he recognizes that this is a knock out pitch, but he wants to preserve its effectiveness.

    Well, I believe that someone is going to convince him otherwise. I believe Eric Wedge and Carl Willis will have a better working relationship with the front office. They have experience working with a GM that isn't afraid of sabermetrics, and I have to think this information will trickle down to Wedge in a way that he can pass it on the League.

    Finally, I expect League's numbers to better because before the end of the season he will replace David Aardsma as the closer, likely after a trade.

David Aardsma

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    SEATTLE - SEPTEMBER 19:  Closing pitcher David Aardsma #53 of the Seattle Mariners reacts after defeating the Texas Rangers 2-1 at Safeco Field on September 19, 2010 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    David Aardsma had an up and down year in 2010.

    When you look at the numbers overall, he saved only four games less than he did in 2009, while pitching in 20 less games. So, it's not like 2010 was a disaster.

    He did battle injury, though, and some of his other numbers regressed a bit. The 3.44 ERA also wasn't a killer, but the 4.05 FIP, which is a whole run higher than 2009, is enough to make you worry.

    Toss in the need for off-season hip surgery which put a brake on trade talks, and we're not totally sure how effective the first player listed in the baseball almanac will be next season.

    Remember, though. Pitchers generally have the advantage early on in the season as batters are still trying to shake off the rust and build their timing. I expect Aardsma to get off to a good start, and build his trade value.

    So long as he doesn't miss more than the first couple weeks of the season, if he misses any time at all, I think we can expect Aardsma to have a bounce back season and perhaps even surpass his 2009 totals.

Ichiro

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    ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 29:  Ichiro Suzuki #51 of the Seattle Mariners at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on September 29, 2010 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Ichiro is a robot. Sent from outter space to test us unworthy earthlings. To steal our baseball records. To make us wonder how he can keep doing it. Okay, not really. Ichiro is mortal. I think. While it seems like the only rationale behind Ichiro getting better in 2011 is a joke, I don't think we can rule it out.

    Hitters with Ichiro's skill set historically age much better than power hitters. Now, that doesn't translate into a never ending career without regression, but it means that we have every reason to think that Ichiro could have his best year yet. Even at age 37.

    Ichiro's stats are fun to look at. His hits, average, steals and OBP have bounced up and down during his first 10 big league seasons. If you're the type that likes advanced metrics, you'll see the same trend with his wOBA, WAR and others.

    While the numbers have stayed above the marks we've come to know (.300 BA, 200 hits), they have fluctuated. That, combined with the early struggles he generally shows in April have always lead people to claim he's done. Yet, every summer, Ichiro turns it on like only Ichiro can, and he gets to his goals.

    So, while I admit that I plum ran out of Mariners to put on a top 10 list, I'm confident Ichiro will continue to make us shake our heads in amazement.

    In 2011, Ichiro will hit .343/.381/.445. He'll rack up 221 hits. He'll swipe 38 bags, only being caught seven times. He'll provide some funny quotes, some from his dog, and he'll be the best player on the team.

    Oh, and if just by sheer no-way-that-happens-again, Ichiro will lead the league in hits and not score fewer runs than the hitter in the National League with the fewest hits amongst eligible players for the batting title.

    Yeah, I'm reaching here, and that may be more of an indication that the team isn't so lousy at driving him in, but I'll take improvement where ever I can get it.