“Joe Talkin’ To Me?!” AL West Manifest Destiny: Mariners, Taking The Torch?
The Seattle Mariners won 87 games in 2014 and that was good enough to fall one game short of the playoffs. The Mariners pitched with the best of them last season, but the offense left a lot to be desired. Although they were anchored by Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, Seattle lacked guys who could find their way on base and legitimately scary power. The Mariners added the 2014 MLB home run leader, Nelson Cruz, to go along with table setters Austin Jackson and Seth Smith. Will that be enough to snatch the AL West crown from the Angels in 2015? Let’s take a closer look…
1. Austin Jackson, CF
2. Seth Smith, RF
3. Robinson Cano, 2B
4. Nelson Cruz, DH
5. Kyle Seager, 3B
6 Logan Morrison, 1B
7. Mike Zunino, C
8. Dustin Ackley/Rickie Weeks, LF
9. Brad Miller, SS
Will Be Undervalued – Robinson Cano – This is a player that I always felt was overvalued in New York, but then Cano signed a huge contract in the before the 2014 season to play in Seattle. His numbers fell off a little bit hitting in spacious Safeco Field, leading some to claim Cano had a bad season. The numbers, however, suggest was just fine, batting .302 with a .833 OPS. A below-average supporting cast kept Cano’s counting stats at bay as he only mustered 72 runs and 82 RBI. Jackson and Smith have been added to hit in front of Cano and, while these guys are not superstars, they are a tremendous upgrade over guys like Dustin Ackley and Brad Miller that couldn’t even eclipse a .300 OBP. The big boon to those counting stats this season will be the addition of Nelson Cruz, a legitimate power bat in the four hole to protect him. I have seen Cano falling out of the second round and guys like Altuve and Rendon going ahead of him (more on this in mailbag). Cano screams undervalued this season.
Bust – Brad Miller – After a disappointing 2014 season where Miller slashed .235/.298/.366 he was poised to lose his job this season to Chris Taylor after Taylor came up and hit .287 with a .346 OBP. Alas, an injury to Taylor has opened the door for Miller to claim the starting SS job for himself and shift those incredible minor league stats over to The Show. I do not think he will have totally taken control of the job before Taylor comes back, leading to a platoon scenario at best.
Sleeper – Chris Taylor – Since being drafted in 2012, Taylor has hit .320 with a .409 OBP and a 38-steal season while breezing through the minor leagues. Taylor does not offer much power but the on-base/speed combo is ideal to have him hitting atop the order by the All-Star break, only after he takes over for Miller and Austin Jackson disappoints.
Infirmary – Chris Taylor, expected return mid to late April.
1. Felix Hernandez
2. Hisashi Iwakuma
3. James Paxton
4. Taijuan Walker
5. Roenis Elias
Sleeper – Taijuan Walker – At 6’4″ and 235 pounds, Walker has been one of baseballs top prospects for a couple of years. After posting a 9.7 K/9 over 453.2 minor league innings, Walker posted an 8.1 K/9 in 34 big league innings in 2014. After battling injuries last season, Walker is healthy and mowing down hitters in the Cactus League. With the stuff this guy possesses, he is the kind of guy who wins you a league when he breaks out and fulfills the potential at a late pick price. Think Clayton Kershaw circa 2009, who probably cost a 20th or later pick on draft day.
Value Pick – Felix Hernandez – Anytime you can get arguably the best player at their respective position in the second or even third round, you have gotten a bargain. Taking the best, or at worst second-best, pitcher in round two to anchor your rotation is a no-brainer. I mean who else are you going to take…Bryce Harper?
Infirmary – No notable injuries.
Closer – Fernando Rodney – After saving 48 games in 2014, Rodney keeps aging like a fine Dominican cigar. An improved offense should equal more leads which will equal even more saves in 2015.
Setup – Danny Farquhar – See Fernando Rodney and change saves to holds…that’s Farquhar. That and 81 K in 71 IP with a 2.66 ERA.
2015 Season Outlook
With the emergence of starters James Paxton and Taijuan Walker supplementing King Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma, the Mariners will trot out a tough starter almost every day. The improved top of the lineup and the enforcer Nelson Cruz will surely produce more runs in 2015. Better pitching + better hitting = more wins. A.L. West Prediction – 94-68 1st Place
@TomMcFeeley tweets, “What about Rendon?” in reference to my declaration that Jose Altuve is the number one second baseman. I have since moved Cano to the top of my list, but Altuve is still ahead of Rendon, so let me explain. For those who talk about how young Rendon is and that he is only getting better, you should know he is exactly one month younger than Altuve. That being said, Altuve has not peaked yet himself. Will he bat higher than the LEAGUE LEADING .341 (nearly 60 points higher than Rendon…YES, SIXTY!!!)? Probably not, but he is a career .327 minor league hitter. Will Altuve accumulate more than the LEAGUE LEADING 225 hits or LEAGUE LEADING 56 stolen bases he had last season? Maybe. Altuve only struck out 56 times in over 700 plate appearances…that is not a typo! And with a full season of George Springer and now Evan Gattis to drive him in, his counting stats should see a spike. In short, while Rendon is an excellent player with many awesome seasons ahead, Altuve is just a special type of talent with difference making abilities. By the end of the 2015 season, he will be established as the best leadoff hitter in baseball.
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