Spring training has been under way for a while now, with yesterday’s heated Mariners vs. Mariners tilt served as only the most recent reminder that real, meaningful baseball games are barely a month away. There’s a lot to be excited about this time of year – Ichiro’s messing around with a new stance, guys like Carlos Triunfel have us going “oh yeah, this guy,” guys like Taijuan Walker have us going “holy shit, this guy,” and we can pretty much nail down the 25-man roster that the M’s will be sending to Japan to open the MLB season. It’s not set in stone, but a majority of the 25 spots seem to be absolutely claimed. Have you forgotten who’s who on the Mariners? Does the name “Tom Wilhelmsen” still excite you like it did in September? Do you even remember how exciting Tom Wilhelmsen was in September? Have you forgotten the sensation of being excited about a reliever on a 97-loss team? Regardless, it’s time to review the roster, position by position.
RHP Felix Hernandez
LHP Jason Vargas
RHP Hisashi Iwakuma
RHP Hector Noesi
LHP Charlie Furbush
I’ll be the first to point out that the bottom two spots are not for sure. There’s two other names that could just as easily be pencilled into the rotation: veteran Kevin Millwood and youngster Blake Beavan. This is a tricky “battle” to predict because it’s likely that spring training performance will, for some reason, play a role in determining who gets to start in Seattle and who’s relegated to Tacoma acedom. It’s a decision for Eric Wedge and Jack Zduriencik to make in a couple weeks, not today. But assuming this season is truly about development, I see no reason not to call Noesi and Furbush the favorites for the last two rotation spots. Why? Upside.
Charlie Furbush gets pulled, and as a result gives up a lot of home runs. He had an ugly FIP last year and an even uglier ERA, but his raw abilities can not be denied. His major league 7.07 K/9 and 3.16 BB/9 are good, solid figures, and have been trending in the right direction over recent years as he climbed through the Tigers minor league system, improving at every level. He limits fly balls, too. He should get every chance to start in Seattle since he has a great shot of turning into quite the useful rotation piece.
The same applies to Hector Noesi. Statistically he and Furbush have been very similar pitchers, but Noesi is a year younger and throws harder. The Mariners essentially traded Jose Campos for him, and Jose Campos is a quite-good-but-not-great prospect. Noesi’s numbers last year are skewed by the Yankees decision to use him in the bullpen, but given his success as a starter in the minor leagues there’s really not much reason to worry that he’d struggle in the rotation. All indications tell us that Noesi could be an above-average starting pitcher in the majors right now. He more than deserves the opportunity to begin immediately.
Blake Beavan is a control freak, at the expense of a lot of strikeouts. He struck out 6.26 per nine in 73.1 high-A ball innings three years ago, and that’s the best rate he’s ever posted at any level. His passable performance over 97 big league innings is more of a testament to Safeco Field and an unsustainably low BABIP (.280) than to his future potential. Beavan’s no exceptional talent. He’s also the youngest of the bunch and couldn’t possibly be harmed by more AAA time. He’s not not ready, and did pitch 190 innings between Seattle and Tacoma last season. He just doesn’t appear to be one of the top five pitchers in the Mariners organization, and shouldn’t be treated as such.
As for Kevin Millwood, he is old. He is old and he is mediocre, making him the perfect candidate to hang out in Tacoma sharing secrets with Blake Beavan and jumping to action as soon as a major leaguer has to miss time with an injury. Incidentally, this is most likely the exact reason the team signed him. He’s a “veteran presence,” but so is Felix. So is Jason Vargas, I guess. Millwood to Tacoma seems only natural.
RHP Brandon League (CL)
RHP Shawn Kelley
RHP Tom Wilhelmsen
LHP George Sherrill
LHP Hong-Chih Kuo
RHP Shawn Camp
RHP Chance Ruffin
This is the bullpen the M’s will send to Japan, barring injury. Furbush and Noesi are often mentioned as candidates to start the season in the pen if they aren’t guaranteed starting spots, but I have them as rotation members and hopefully that’s the way it happens because, upside. Steve Delabar and Cesar Jimenez are often mentioned as other names who could presumably make the bullpen out of camp, but it just seems so unlikely; Delabar walks everybody and has 20 career innings above AA, where he has logged a total of 30.2 innings. All of this was last year. Oh, and he walks everybody. AAA! Jimenez could challenge for Ruffin’s spot, but he’d be redundant as the third lefty and Ruffin is probably the organization’s hottest high-level relief prospect and should see regular time in bullpen. Jimenez is probably next in line if one of those seven shoulders mentioned above decides to explode, which happens all the time, to everyone. Watch out! Your shoulder might be exploding right now!
EVERY DAY POSITION PLAYERS
1B SW Justin Smoak
2B LH Dustin Ackley
SS RH Brendan Ryan
3B SW Chone Figgins
DH/C RH Jesus Montero
CF RH Franklin Gutierrez
RF RH Ichiro Suzuki
Miguel Olivo is currently being touted by the team as the “#1 catcher,” but that doesn’t mean he’ll be playing every day. The guys mentioned above will most likely be in the lineup every single day, at least for the start of the season, with a bit of a rotation going on between catcher, left field and designated hitter so as to accommodate the roster as currently constructed. Mike Carp will be getting every opportunity to play this season, but he’s blocked all over the roster. He’s sharing left field with Casper Wells and DH with Jesus Montero, and is probably next on the depth chart behind Justin Smoak at first base. He’s in line to collect a lot of plate appearances this year, but I wouldn’t count on seeing him in the lineup day in and day out. Figgins and Ryan are old and break sometimes, but they won’t be platooning with anyone outright, especially in April.
NOT-QUITE EVERY DAY POSITION PLAYERS
LF/DH LH Mike Carp
LF RH Casper Wells
C RH Miguel Olivo
C LH John Jaso
These four, along with the seven listed above, are positioned to eat up most of the team’s plate appearances in 2012. Carp and Wells will be sharing a position and Wells is the far superior defender of the two, so DH duties will likely fall to Carp on days when Jesus Montero is allowed to catch. When Jesus Montero is not allowed to catch, which will happen too often, duties will be split between Olivo and Jaso, who are complete opposites of each other. Jaso has plate discipline, Olivo doesn’t. Jaso gets on base, Olivo doesn’t. The only thing they have in common is a lack of defensive value, and the fact that Olivo is an older, more established “veteran presence” who works well with the pitching staff. This will give him an edge playing time-wise, but as long as Montero is the more-or-less-regular DH there should be ample starts available for both guys. Still, Miguel Olivo. .253 OBP. He’s so much worse than people give him credit for.
THE BACK OF THE BENCH
IF SW Carlos Guillen
IF RH Munenori Kawasaki
With the outfield all but taken care of between Ichiro-Guti-Wells-Carp the last two spots on the bench are going to go to the backup infielders. Kyle Seager’s situation is sticky since he should be playing every day but, Figgins, so he might very well be headed back to Tacoma, where Alex Liddi and Francisco Martinez will attempt to scratch and claw playing time away from him. His defense isn’t really an issue, so perhaps the team sticks him at second base down there just to get his bat some time. I don’t know. It’s a weird situation they created by deciding to go through with the Chone Figgins Experiment, but there’s little doubt in anyone’s mind that Seager will be up in Seattle at some point this year, probably as an every day player. Guillen and Kawasaki, two old guys chock full of personality and leadership, are the favorites to win backup spots. As non-roster invitees they are easy to cut, though both are talented enough to fill in long-term if one of the regular infielders goes down with an injury. If either of them is injured Luis Rodriguez is waiting in the wings to come back to Seattle and do Luis Rodriguez things. The situation is fluid, as it should be on the bench.
It’s not yet March and we can already fill out the entire 25-man roster without having to do too much guesswork or gut-trusting. I’m not saying the rest of spring is going to be boring, but as far as position battles there might not be much going on. Of course, maybe someone like Trayvon Robinson bats .750 all March and is named the starting left fielder or something crazy like that. Unexpected things happen in baseball. But barring the unforeseen, the 25-man roster seems more or less set.
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