Seattle Mariners need young guns in order to hit playoff target

Brent Atkinson | Evergreen columnist

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There has been ample excitement surrounding the Seattle Mariners this offseason with the M’s making the biggest free agent acquisition of any team this offseason by signing second baseman slugger Robinson Cano to a monster contract. 

Expectations are high for the veteran slugger, and rightfully so given the amount of money Seattle will be dishing out to him during the next decade.  Although it makes sense that Seattle’s road to their first playoff return since 2001 rests on the shoulders of Cano, the fact is that it is up to his supporting cast in the lineup whether the Mariners will still be playing in October or watching the playoffs from home once again.

In basketball a player may have the ability to almost single handedly take his team to the postseason. A player such as LeBron James or Kevin Durant can get on a hot streak and take over a game all on his own. However, in baseball one player’s play-to-play impact is much smaller, which means winning is much more of a collective effort when on the diamond.

The Mariners first order of business in assisting their super star will be protecting him in the lineup.  If there is one player in a team’s lineup hitting lights-out but no one else producing, it is very easy for teams to pitch around this one player. Teams can simply walk him, ultimately taking the bat out of the hands of a team’s best hitter. 

This has been a recurring theme for Seattle lineups during the last few years. Teams can afford to simply walk a player such as Kendrys Morales, Kyle Seager, and Raul Ibanez and not worry about them scoring because the rest of the lineup’s sub .240 batting average and lack of power will most likely not drive them home.

The Mariners desperately need players such as first baseman Justin Smoak and left fielder Logan Morrison to produce power and run production at the plate and keep Cano swinging.  These two players are both young, supposedly loaded with potential, and have the ability to hit 20-plus home runs in a season if they can be consistent at the plate.  They have been highly touted in the past as solid hitting prospects with raw power, and it is time for both of them to step up and realize their potential if they want to compete in the American League west.

Catcher Mike Zunino and shortstop Brad Miller are younger prospects who made their major league debuts in 2013. Both players showed flashes of greatness last year as well as struggled at times, which is to be expected from rookies. 

In their second year as big leaguers, expectations should be tempered. However, if Seattle wants to compete for a playoff spot they will need production from these two down the stretch, and especially from Zunino who is said to have the ability to be one of the best hitting catchers in the league someday. Zunino will likely be hitting somewhere between the fifth and seventh spots in the lineup, which means the Mariners expect power production from the young catcher.

Miller struggled defensively at times last year, but hopefully working with a gold glove second baseman on the other side of second in Cano will rub off on the young shortstop.  Judging by how he was utilized last season, it appears Seattle wants Miller to hit near the top of the lineup, either leadoff or in the second spot. However, if he struggles early he will likely be moved to either eighth or ninth.

The one player who could make a monumental difference if he turned into the player people expect as a prospect is Dustin Ackley. Ackley has struggled mightily since his impressive rookie season and has nearly been written off by Mariner faithful. If Ackley could come in and hit .280, draw walks, and improve in the outfield, he could be just the player they need at the top of the lineup.  If he doesn’t produce, this could very likely be his last season in Seattle.

A dark horse producer could be the man the Mariners gave up Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero. Since getting busted for PEDs last year, Montero has been almost completely written off by the club, and some expect him to be gone by midseason. If Montero can regain the mojo that made him the nation’s No. 1 catching prospect just a few seasons ago, his opposite field power could be a huge difference maker for the Mariners in the designated hitter spot.