Let’s be clear. This is the Seattle Mariners we are talking about. But happily, this is a Mariners team we can talk about without feeling shame. Without wincing and crying for the days of yore. There’s a few reasons why I’ll be watching the Mariners this season.
Jesus Montero bringing the lumber
I’ve heard it expressed by various local sports outlets. We need to “win” trades by unloading garbage and getting talent. Sadly my Carlos Peguero for Prince Fielder trade remains fantasy. Until that happens for real, I think the Mariners will have a good chance to win the Michael Pineda trade.
Jesus Montero was a top New York Yankee prospect for a several years and the hype was always there. His name featured heavily in possible Felix Hernandez trade discussions so it’s clear he’s thought of highly. And Joe Mauer in Minnesota showed that there can be great value for an élite hitting catcher. The Mariners have lacked a solid hitter behind the plate since Dan Wilson, and Miguel Olivo is a disaster defensively. Oh, and the power. Montero finished the season in New York. In his 18 games, he smashed 20 hits. That includes eight extra base hits. So far this season he’s hitting .282, and is a threat every time he steps up to the dish. What’s not to love about a young player who can hit the ball all over the yard and be a stabilizing force behind the plate? Follow his play, I think you’ll be impressed.
King Felix. Cy Young award winner. The savior on the hill. The big guy. Whatever you call him, he’s the biggest reason Seattle has a shot every fifth game. His pitch velocity is down and he hasn’t looked dominant in his outings. I’m excited to see him bounce back to his award-winning form.
Having a dominant Felix Hernandez is great on its own. But the reason I want to see him do well is the young hitting. He can keep the club in games if he’s successful and as the Mariners keep developing the talent, I could see this team competing for relevancy. I don’t expect a winning record, I don’t even think a .500 record is happening. But if Felix can lead a young pitching staff (particularly) as the season goes on, I can see this team mixing it up late and maybe messing up someone’s playoff hopes. That’s more than we’ve had to look forward to for years, and I’ll be rooting for this team to succeed.
There will be a lot of youth on display this season. In any sport I love seeing younger guys explode on the scene. I mentioned Montero earlier, but there’s three others that I’m looking forward to seeing on the field.
Justin Smoak was the crown jewel of the Cliff Lee trade a few years ago. Expectations were sky high and fans expected immediate results. A switch hitting first basemen with power that the Mariners could build around. But his first year in Seattle he looked like a kid swinging a club, and last year his efforts were hampered by on field injuries. Smoak lost his father last year and he made no secret of its effect on his game. He’s looked good this year so far and as he approaches 1000 big league at bats I expect him to produce.
Dustin Ackley was the consolation prize of the Steven Strasbourg sweepstakes. The Mariners were so close to getting another once-in-a-generation pitcher. Unfortunately, Kenji Johjima got hot at the worst moment and the Mariners got saddled with Ackley. A left-handed infielder who happens to be a remarkably consistent player. He played pretty well when he got the call up last year. If he can put together a full season he could be a fringe all-star, and that’s not bad.
The wildcard is Kyle Seager. For the amount of time he’s spent in the big leagues (very little), he’s essentially a rookie. Don’t misunderstand, this guy can hit. He led all minor league players in hitting last season, and that includes a rapid ascent from Double-A all the way to the big league. He has a good glove and has infield versatility. Look for him at short or third base.
All in all, there’s a lot to look forward to this season. As Seattle Sports Nuts we are blessed to have one of the premier stadiums in the Major Leagues. Get out and enjoy Safeco Field. Cheer and enjoy a beer. Go Mariners, and I’ll see you guys at the Safe.