The Yankees take on the Mariners for a weekend series in the Bronx. Some guy is going to make his season debut on Sunday. To get us ready for the series, I asked my long time Internet baseball buddy Scott Weber some questions about his beloved Seattle Mariners. Scott and I go way back thanks to this forum, where I got my start in Internet baseball way back in 2005-2006. Scott’s answers to my questions are after the jump:
1. Jesus Montero had remarkably high expectations here in the NY area with regards to his bat. What have your early impressions been of Montero on offense? On defense? Has his defense been what you expected? Better? Worse?
—— It’s clear Montero has a tremendous offensive ceiling. He’s a strong, strong man. He’s had a good amount of success as a rookie, and the most impressive thing is that it comes with a bad process. Montero’s approach at the plate has been suspect at best, he is overly aggressive at the dish, seeing very few pitches and hacking at the first pitch too often. He’s hardly ever walking and has bailed pitchers out with weak at-bats. I do think that will improve, I’m not sure if he’s pressing because of the expectations but it’s a concern. His defense has been much, much better than advertised. To be honest, expectations are low in Seattle after watching Miguel Olivo all of last year, but Montero seems to handle himself behind the dish at a respectable level. He’s never going to be confused for a great talent back there, and his release is certainly slow, but it seems to me a lot of the “he’ll never stick at catcher” stuff is typical scouting report snowballing (one commonly held belief held on for years at a time and repeated by many without re-evaluating themselves). It’s worth noting that Eric Wedge, a former catcher himself, has put a great deal of trust in Montero behind the dish so early in his career. You can tell he still needs work calling a game and communicating with the pitcher, but all in all – better than advertised, which isn’t that hard considering how ridiculously low the expectations had gotten.
2. As I write this, Justin Smoak is “hitting” .173/.229/.264 with a .223 wOBA and a 39 wRC+. What is he doing wrong and do the Mariners have a plan on getting him right? Is there a possibility that he’s injured?
Smoak is a mess at the plate. Everything about him looks off. His swing looks longer than it’s ever looked and his bat speed is weak. He’s worthless hitting from the right side. Even when he’s hitting line drives, they aren’t coming off his bat with any authority. It may be a timing issue or it could be injury, but I also think it might be conditioning. Without any other way to say it, Smoak is soft. He looks out of shape and it shows at the plate and on the basepaths. At this point, the Mariners have to be considering other options. This is a guy who was once the #13 overall prospect in baseball, so you don’t want to just give up, you want to give the guy a long leash. But he’s gotten a long look and this is his last year where he can go to AAA – I think it might be a good idea at this point, if for nothing else but to re-establish some confidence. He’s spiraling at the plate and you can see the frustration. It would also allow Alex Liddi to get into the lineup a little bit more, or they could give fellow whiff king Carlos Peguero another look.
3. Youngsters Kyle Seager and Alex Liddi have gotten significant playing time this year. Tell us a bit about them and some other Seattle prospects we should keep an eye out for.
Kyle Seager is blowing almost everyone away. We knew that he had a very good hit tool, but the power he’s demonstrated has been incredible. He’s got an amazing swing and excellent plate coverage, slicing line drives all over the plate and jacking a few homers. His natural position is at 2nd base, but he’s forced his way into the lineup every day at 3B, where he is just fine. Seager is barely walking, but his hit tool has been so elite that it hasn’t really shown. I think the general mindset around Seattle is that he’s here to say. It’s kind of remarkable that he’s blowing away his college teammate Dustin Ackley so far, who’s off to a poor start and is a worse defender at 2nd base, in my opinion. It’s going to be interesting how that plays out over the next few years, though I think Ackley isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Alex Liddi is an interesting player. I’ve been notoriously down on Liddi over the years, he suffered from absolutely dismal contact rates through the minors and horrible strikeout rates. I generally have a hard time believing in minor league players who can’t make contact at a consistent rate in the minors – but Liddi, in his limited time, has improved his contact rate at the MLB level, and that’s not something that’s fluky. He has very impressive pop, effortless pop when he makes contact. I think he’ll get a nice look this year to see if he can keep it up. I don’t think he has star potential, and 3B/1B is a position where the M’s have plenty of candidates over the next few years. I still remain a Liddi skeptic, but he’s improved on everything I could possibly ask of him.
When it comes to prospects, obviously the big three are getting all the attention – Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, and James Paxton. These guys are all pitching at AA Jackson and keep turning heads, the future of the Seattle rotation is bright. I do think eventually one of them will be traded for a bat, probably Paxton who is the oldest and most likely to turn into an Erik Bedard type – tons of Ks but high pitch counts, struggles with walks and possibly injuries. But most people know about these guys and their numbers speak for themselves. My favorite dark horse Mariner prospect is Vinnie Catricala, a relatively unheralded draft pick out of Hawaii who, up until this season, annihilated every minor league level he played at. He destroyed AA last year, which is a no joke league for hitters – there are major questions about his defense, but I have hopes his bat will play enough to force him into the lineup. He’s got a pure, calm swing and major gap power, a confident approach at the plate. He’s off to a miserable start in his first go around at AAA, which is unfortunate but I do think he’ll recover. Another guy to keep an eye on is Stephen Pryor, a flamethrowing reliever who just got promoted to AAA – this is probably the Mariners closer of the future. There’s also a trio of shortstops, Brad Miller (2011 2nd round pick), Nick Franklin (2010 1st round pick), and Carlos Triunfel (former top prospect who is finally starting to hit at AAA) that are all worth keeping an eye on. Franklin, a switch hitter, is the odds on favorite to be the shortstop of the future, but the other two are worth paying attention to as well, especially Triunfel – one of those toolsy hitters scouts love who could never put it together until now, when everyone forgot about him. He’s not turning heads quite yet, but putting together a solid offensive season for the first time in his career and he’s still just 22.
4. Ichiro’s contract is up after this year. What does the Seattle fanbase want the organization to do in this situation? Is it a “sign him at any cost” scenario, or are there those willing to let him walk away?
Ichiro is a real tricky subject around Seattle. There’s two pretty clear sides to the issue. It’s a hot button issue, but I can only speak for myself – I want the M’s to let him walk. I think it’s time to move on. While he’s enjoying a moderately nice bounce back year, he is certainly in decline – even at his age he is not immune to decreased production. For a team that has struggled so badly to score runs over the last few years, they are employing a slap hitter at a power position – corner outfield. Since they are getting no power from the other big power position (1B), they have to get it somewhere else, and those spots are mainly slap hitters too. It’s really hard to say because I honestly have no idea what kind of contract Ichiro would get if he were re-upped. Less? Same? How many years? It’s impossible to read because there are other factors at play. There’s a pretty popular school of thought that says Ichiro is a big ticket item, that he sells seats and merchandise, brings revenue to the team. Revenue that the M’s have spent where? Attendance is at an all-time low, offense is embarrassing, and payroll keeps decreasing. It isn’t working. The only surefire way to get Seattle fans to come out to the park is to win games. Seattle is bandwagon when it comes to the Mariners. They’re die hard for the Seahawks, Sounders, UW Huskies, but very fair-weather for the Mariners. I think the organization needs to fully commit to the re-build and move on, try and fill that position with some power. Ichiro may still be a productive player past this year, but at the money he may get – and again I have zero idea what it will be – the idea of it all just makes me squirmy. I am probably in the minority among Seattle fans myself, over the past few years I’ve grown weary of Ichiro and his idiosyncrasies – last year he bunted with 2 outs and RISP twice and I about lost it – but that’s really neither here nor there. I think it’s in the best interest of this franchise to move on and open up that spot. A Seattle legend and I forever wish him the best.
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