From Boeing-Sized to Bandbox, Will Pitchers Adjust?
Collectively, Seattle supporters must be growing a little tired of waiting. The team has floundered season after season, with little to bring out the crowds other than Felix Hernandez every fifth day. The glory days of Johnson, Griffey, Buhner and company now feel like a very distant memory, and a recent move to shorten the outfield porches to improve offense might smell a little like desperation.
But GM Jack Zduriencik has never deceived his backers; he's asked for patience from the get-go. When he took over, the team had little hope for the future, and most knew it. Despite a solid fan base and a big budget, the Mariners had one of the weakest farm systems in baseball. Zduriencik wasn't shy about admitting that it would take three or four years to really turn the team around. Well, his fifth year on the job starts this spring, and it's already clear that he's taken the job very seriously indeed: today the Mariner farm is definitely one of the best (if not the best) in baseball.
Zduriencik, who knows what a team needs to succeed, has been drafting, signing and developing pitching talent for most of his tenure, while trading away his excess in order to pick up bats whenever possible. The organization now has the best minor league pitching in all of baseball, without question. In the absence of disaster, the M's should be able to trot out one of the Major League's best rotations sometime in 2014 or 2015. In fact, the team has so much pitching in the pipeline, they're widely-expected to trade some of it for offensive help, even after already flipping AJ Cole back to the Nationals for Michael Morse.
There's no shortage of pitching remaining. Much has already been written about phenom arms Taijuan Walker and Danny Hultzen, and deservedly so, but casual fans may be surprised to know that those two are only the tip of a talent iceberg. They're joined by more young pitchers than any one rotation can handle, including James Paxton, Brandon Maurer, Tyler Pike and Victor Sanchez.
Perhaps even more promisingly, the Mariners now have a pair of possible future closers who look very close to MLB-ready in Carter Capps and Stephen Pryor, both of whom have already shown they can succeed at the highest level of play. For a team that's suffered through some horrendous bullpen letdowns in recent years, it's nice to see such promise so close to fruition.
While the pitching is kicking at the door, the team has been active in the free agent market, looking to add veteran bats to their existing core of young hitters. Coaches are expecting that core (led by Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero) to take a step forward in 2013 while the team waits for the rest of the lineup to reach MLB.
While onetime 'sure thing' prospect Justin Smoak might be running out of time to impress fans, he should be given at least one more chance to become the third pillar of the young offense, and this time the team finally has some fallbacks to lean on should he stumble, including surprise breakout Kyle Seager, already in the majors, and young veteran Mike Morse, back under Mariner team control.
Soon, they'll be joined by other bats. Catcher Mike Zunino, drafted just last season, has exceeded every expectation to date, and should be up soon to spell Jesus Montero, or at least give him an occasional bump to DH or first base. Meanwhile, infielders Nick Franklin and Brad Miller are superior young hitters who have already shown they can handle advanced pitching.
If the Mariners time things right, these three and others could arrive in the same timeframe, giving the MLB ballclub a huge injection of young talent. It's quite possible the Mariners of 2014 could boast seven or eight young, solid everyday players who are all under team control for the long-term. Add in a couple of steady veteran bats, perhaps attracted by the aforementioned short-porched ballpark, and you may just have the makings of (dare we say it?) a viable contender in Seattle.
Here's a quick look at some of the talent that's coming (soon!) from the Seattle farm system.
The usual disclaimer: Scouting Book's Prospect Rankings change very often, to reflect the latest and most promising prospects and situations. These listings recalculate every day as we include new input, correct errors (thanks for letting us know, helpful readers) and adjust to evolving MLB situations. For more information on our system, read this blog posting.
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