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A Look to the Future: Your 2013 Seattle Mariners

NEW YORK - JUNE 29: Franklin Gutierrez #21 of the Seattle Mariners hits an RBI single against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on June 29, 2010 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JUNE 29: Franklin Gutierrez #21 of the Seattle Mariners hits an RBI single against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on June 29, 2010 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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As a reminder for those of you who spent the last week living in a cave, the Mariners actually agreed to deal lefty ace Cliff Lee...   again. It was the third time that Lee had been traded in the past year, beginning with the July 31 deadline deal that sent Lee from Cleveland to Philadelphia in 2009. Following some postseason heroics that firmly established Lee as an ace, the Phillies included Lee in the odd series of transactions that ended with Lee in Seattle, Roy Halladay in Philadelphia, and prospects going all over the place. 

To say the least, the Mariners were the winners of that deal. Landing an ace on a reasonable one-year contract is difficult enough, so I'm guessing that Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik pretty much fell out of his chair (assuming that he was in fact sitting) upon hearing that the Phillies would take pitching prospects Phillippe Aumont and J.C. Ramirez along with Single-A outfielder Tyson Gillies in exchange for Lee. With the one-two punch of Felix Hernandez and Lee atop their rotation, the Mariners appeared to have a legitimate shot at the postseason even with an anemic offense. 

And, well, Seattle's pair of aces kept up their part of the bargain. It's just that the offense was far worse than anyone expected, and in a game where you keep 25 players on the roster, you just aren't going to win with two guys putting the team on their shoulders. So Jack Z did the sensible thing, and shopped Lee like a door-to-door salesman, hoping to finally bring that elusive big bat to the northwest. And regardless of whether you prefer Justin Smoak or Jesus Montero, the M's certainly had their choice of some impressive young hitters, so it's tough to argue that Seattle didn't come out of this Lee situation looking pretty good.

But what did that deal really do for Seattle's future? I suppose now would be a good time to take a look, as Seattle commits to competing another year, presumably next season. I'm not so impatient though, so I'll just take a look at 2013. 

As a healthy reminder, I'd just like to mention that these lineups DO NOT include any sort of speculated free agent, trade or draft acquisitions that could happen before the 2013 season, and one could almost be guaranteed that by the time that 2013 comes, each team will have acquired some new players through free agency, trades and/or the draft. That being said, these are still exceptionally useful looks at how the teams will look by 2013, so we can have a better idea of what kind of players each organization is lacking in, and which players they'll be more likely to target through free agency. Like, as commenter backtocali noted on Baltimore's post, the Orioles could possibly look to sign a Prince Fielder-type to make the 1B/DH situation a bit easier to deal with, as he'd be an obvious upgrade on Snyder/Reimold and with so many young players presumably there should be a good amount of payroll flexibility, too. But for this exercise, we're sticking purely with players that are either in the organization already or have been drafted this year with a reasonable likeliness of signing (so yeah, there's no Zach Lee for the Dodgers. Sorry). Additionally, after the trade deadline I'll probably do a few posts covering how trades changed these outlooks, particularly on teams where impact prospects could be dealt or acquired.

Here are links to the previous installments on the 2013 Oriolesthe 2013 Piratesthe 2013 Astros and the 2013 Indians, if you missed 'em. And thanks for reading, comments and questions are always welcomed in the comments below.

The Starting Lineup.

Catcher: Adam Moore, Opening Day 2013 Age: 28, Current level: Triple-A

Catching prospects were reportedly a primary target for the Mariners in any Lee discussions. The Mariners didn't end up landing a catching prospect, but they may end up with a solid everyday catcher anyways in the 26-year-old Moore. Ranked by John Sickels as Seattle's 11th-best prospect coming into the season, there isn't really a lot of star potential here, but Moore has a good shot of becoming a useful MLB catcher.

At 26, Moore is all but MLB-ready, but he's struggled greatly in two stints with the big league club and has spent most of the past two years in Triple-A Tacoma. After putting up a combined .288/.352/.425 line between Double-A and Triple-A last season, Moore struggled in 24 PA with Seattle, but he still made the 2010 Opening Day roster out of Spring Training. 

Moore didn't last very long in Seattle, though, batting just .193/.220/.298 before going to the disabled list with a leg injury. Once he returned from the DL, he had lost his job as Rob Johnson's back-up, and was optioned to Triple-A. Moore apparently didn't like that, because he's been killing the ball to the tune of a .372/.395/.500 line in 81 PA since returning to the minors in late June. 

His power potential is limited, his plate discipline is just alright, and his defense could still use some refining, particularly with receiving. But he's a solid defensive catcher with some hitting ability, and it shouldn't be surprising to anyone if he emerges as Seattle's everyday catcher in somewhat short order.

First Base: Justin Smoak, Opening Day 2013 Age: 26, Current level: MLB

Definitely one of the easier selections for Seattle, as Smoak is essentially the reason that Cliff Lee ended up in the Texas heat. The Mariners apparently prefer Smoak to Jesus Montero, the Yankees' top prospect and the headliner of their offer for Lee, and there are a lot of understandable reasons for that.

Smoak has been regarded as one of the best 1B prospects in baseball since being drafted with the 11th overall pick in 2008, and for good reason. A switch-hitter with good raw power and hitting ability along with an impressive grasp of the strike zone, Smoak thrived at every level on his way to Arlington before the Lee deal. After mashing in Double-A in his full-season debut last year, he saw his BABIP drop from .380 to .297 after being promoted to Triple-A, and his numbers plummeted along with that. 

But he came back with a vengeance in 2010, batting .300/.470/.540 in 66 plate appearnces that were enough to convince Rangers management that Smoak was the best first baseman in the organization. He's struggled in the majors so far, but there are a lot of reasons for optimism in his stat line, particularly the solid BB/K numbers and the unsustainably low BABIP. 

When the Mariners targeted Smoak, they presumably saw a talented switch-hitter with plus raw power that's willing to work the count and find his pitch, all the while developing into a well above-average defender at first base. And in a place like Safeco Field that absolutely kills right-handed hitters, having someone who can hit from the left side is a big plus. When you deal an ace, you presumably want to get a potential star in return, generally speaking. I think that the M's definitely did that by acquiring Smoak.

Second Base: Dustin Ackley, Opening Day 2013 Age: 24, Current level: Double-A

Ackley is another one of those guys where it's not so much about whether he'll be on the team or not, it's simply a question of where he'll end up playing. But the Mariners seem to be pretty committed to turning the former No. 2 overall pick into a second baseman, where his bat will presumably play much better than if he has to move to the outfield.

A gifted contact hitter with an impressive understanding of the strike zone, Ackley profiles as the quintessential leadoff hitter. With on-base skills as his strongest asset and his speed as a definite plus, Ackley would seem to be in line for a long career at the top of the batting order. His .263/.389/.384 line in Double-A certainly leaves something to be desired, but his 55/41 BB/K ratio is unreal and he's played far better after a truly brutal April (.147/.289/.227). His power is the biggest question mark, and it's likely to be below average, but even if he ends up with only good gap power, he'll still be a huge asset on offense.

Whether he'll ever become more than adequate defensively at second base remains to be seen, but he could presumably move to center field if things never work out there. Ackley likely wouldn't make it to the majors in center, though, given the presence of Franklin Gutierrez.

Some alternatives here could be Carlos Triunfel and Gabriel Noriega, although neither one is playing particularly well in the minors right now. In that case, Ackley would presumably move to left field, given that his glove will likely never match that of Gutierrez, who's signed long-term.

Third Base: Chone Figgins, Opening Day 2013 Age: 35, Current level: MLB

Given the way that Figgins has played so far this year, I'm guessing that some M's fans are scared to think of what a 35-year-old Figgins will even look like. But the Mariners do in fact have Figgins locked up through 2013, and I'm guessing that they won't want to bench him while he's making $8.5M.

Now, Figgins certainly isn't as bad as his .296 wOBA or 0.1 WAR on the season would indicate, but it does seem pretty clear that he'll likely never return to his 2009 level of performance. A very good contact hitter who depends on strong on-base skills, excellent baserunning and defensive versatility to provide value, Figgins has always had minimal power.

But he's seen the rest of his game fall apart this season, too. He's currently batting just .235/.332/.276, with the worst contact rates of his career coupled with a career-low BABIP as well. The .332 OBP is still alright, and he's 24-for-28 on steals this season as well, but that doesn't remotely make up for his lack of value in every other facet of the game. 

And that includes defense, as he's currently putting up a -12.7 UZR/150 at second base. This comes after a two-year span at third base where his UZR/150 sat at +17.8. That's a nearly 30-run swing in defensive value, and positional adjustments only do a little to make that number seem smaller. That's why I project Figgins to return to third base at some point, as he clearly appears to be more comfortable there. 

With all of that said, though, Figgins' contract is going to be an albatross for its duration unless he manages to bounce back offensively. Plus, his presence blocks the potential rise of top 3B prospects like Triunfel, Alex Liddi and Mario Martinez. It's not looking like Zduriencik's first major free agent addition is going to work out particularly well.

Shortstop: Nick Franklin, 2013 Opening Day Age: 22, Current level: Single-A

Only a few months older than me, Franklin has raised his stock more this season than anyone could've expected. A 2009 first-round pick out of a Florida high school, Franklin wasn't considered a first-round talent by most evaluators. But he's quickly vindicated Seattle's decision to draft him with a fantastic full-season debut in Single-A Clinton.

His short-season debut in 2009 was enough to get a B- ranking from John Sickels, who placed him as the No. 6 prospect in Seattle's farm system. But it remained to be seen how Franklin would adjust to full-season ball. And frankly, I'm not sure how many people saw his .283/.342/.508 line coming, particularly the impressive power. Given his swing he's likely to hit for less power down the road, but he has above-average bat speed and could maintain this kind of power with improved swing mechanics.

There are a lot of splits to pick apart with Franklin, but most of them can be attributed primarily to inconsistencies with his results on balls in play, as you can see here:

vs. RH: .920 OPS, .352 BABIP

vs. LH: .626 OPS, .231 BABIP

And it's the same with his home/road splits as well:

Home: .911 OPS, .358 BABIP

Away: .788 OPS, .287 BABIP

Now, I'm not saying that Franklin's splits don't matter, but his are clearly fueled as least as much by luck as by his actual skills.

It's still not clear what kind of defender Franklin can end up being at shortstop, but the Mariners seem quite confident that he can stick at the position long-term. He's currently splitting time between shortstop and second base with Gabriel Noriega, Franklin's primary challenger as Seattle's shortstop-of-the-future, but according to Jason Churchill of Prospect Insider, most scouts and people in Seattle's player development staff still believe that Franklin can be an above-average defender at shortstop, even though he's somewhat error-prone right now.

With all of that said, and apologies to those who wanted a shorter blurb than this (I get a little caught up sometimes, clearly), Franklin is clearly one of the better shortstop prospects in the game right now. I mean, pretty much anyone could be considered an upgrade when you've been giving Yuniesky Betancourt nearly 700 PA year-in, year-out, but the Mariners have a shot at a legitimately above-average shortstop in Franklin.

Left field: Greg Halman, 2013 Opening Day Age: 25, Current level: Triple-A

I'm on some pretty shaky ground with this choice, but Halman's performance in Triple-A has been enough to put him over guys like Dennis Raben, James Jones, Johermyn Chavez, Julio Morban and Carlos Peguero.

Halman has always been one of those guys where you look at him and think, "If he ever figures out how to actually play baseball, I'd probably go pay to watch him."

He's an absolute beast with huge raw power and a strong set of all-around tools, but he's always been held back by some truly awful plate discipline and pitch recognition, along with very poor contact skills. But it appears that he's actually made some improvement this season, and it's coming through in his results. Halman still has a lot of improvement ahead of him in terms of his approach as a hitter, but he's really someone worth getting excited about if he ever puts it together.

Coming into 2010, Halman had hit 20+ homers in each of the past three seasons, but those homers were accompanied with absolutely brutal strikeout rates and OBP's closer to .300 than .350. This season, Halman is on pace to shatter his previous career-high in home runs, as he's already got 19 on the year, but more importantly he's flashing a .255/.340/.588 line at the highest level of the minors.

Not only has he improved as the season has wore on, but he's doing it without defined platoon or home/road splits, indicating that there does seem to be some legitimate improvement from Halman. It remains to be seen whether this is just a hot streak from Halman or if he's actually turning himself into a patient hitter, albeit a low-contact one, but few hitters in the minors can match his power potential. And at 22, I think that Halman is definitely a guy worth keeping his eye on.

Center field: Franklin Gutierrez, Opening Day 2013 Age: 30, Current level: MLB

One of Zduriencik's first brilliant moves came when he dealt J.J. Putz, Jeremy Reed and Sean Green for a seven-player package headlined by Gutierrez back in December of 2008. Putz was the key name in the deal at the time as he was just one year removed from being one of the game's best closers, but Gutierrez has emerged as by far the most important player to change teams in that trade.

Gutierrez came up as a 23-year-old in 2006 but spent the next three years playing part-time with the Indians. His glove was always his most valuable asset, but with Grady Sizemore in center field, he was blocked from playing that position, and his offense didn't play nearly as well with a move to right field. He was still one of Cleveland's better players in 2008 despite mediocre offensive numbers thanks to some elite defensive numbers, which Seattle apparently bought into.

So the Mariners took advantage of the situation, one in which Gutierrez's best talents were being somewhat wasted with the Indians, and handed him the everyday job in center field coming into 2010. To put it lightly, Gutierrez exploded. He finished the year with a solid .338 wOBA, but he also put up an unheard of +31 UZR in center field. He finished 2009 with 6.1 WAR, putting to shame other AL center fielders as Torii Hunter and Ryan Sweeney put up matching 3.8 WAR marks to tie for second-place. 

The Mariners clearly bought into Gutierrez's 2009, as they signed him to a four-year deal worth slightly more than $20M before this season, which will keep him around through 2013 even if they decline his 2014 club option. And while Gutierrez has regressed like one would expect, it still appears that Seattle made a very sound investment. He may only be a roughly league average hitter, and his UZR marks will probably sit closer to +10 or +15 rather than +25 or +30, but that still makes him a well above-average center fielder and well worth their investment.

Right field: Michael Saunders, 2013 Opening Day Age: 26, Current level: MLB

It's a tad weird to see a Mariners lineup that doesn't include Ichiro, but his current contract runs up in 2012 so Seattle may be looking for a replacement by 2013. Not that they could actually replace one of the most unique players in history, but Saunders could be the man put up to task. 

Rated by Baseball America as one of the game's 30 best prospects coming into 2010 after placing in the top-65 the year before, Saunders probably doesn't hold that lofty place with evaluators and scouts now. An 11th round pick in 2004 out of Canada, Saunders hit well at essentially every stop before sputtering upon reaching Triple-A in 2008. 

He managed to get over his Triple-A struggles in 2009, though, and he got into 46 games with the Mariners last season. The results were ugly, as his .221/.258/.279 line brought absolutely nothing to the table, and he struck out nearly a third of the time. By most accounts, he was regarded as MLB-ready, particularly after showing an improved K rate. He routinely sat in the 26-32% range with for the first three years of his career, but he cut that down to 19.4% in 2009 in Triple-A. 

At the beginning of this season, Saunders failed to make the team out of spring training, and continued to struggle in Triple-A. But with the season falling apart and a need to figure out exactly what they have in Saunders, management has been giving Saunders significant playing time with Seattle once again the past few weeks. His .216/.292/.410 line is still pretty ugly, but the substantial improvements in walk rate and isolated power are really good signs along with the fact that his BABIP is 60 points lower with the Mariners this season compared to last.

As John Sickels noted, he may not project as a star so much anymore, but there are a ton of reasons to believe that he can be an above average regular long-term. 

Designated Hitter: Alex Liddi, 2013 Opening Day Age: 24, Current level: Double-A

Honestly, it's not too easy to project a prospect to become a DH by 24, and I don't think that the Mariners will give up on Liddi as a defender by the time that he's 24 either. But somebody had to fill this spot, and of all the guys left on the board I prefer Liddi's bat to the others. 

The main competition comes in the form of previously mentioned outfielders (Raben, Jones, Chavez, Morban, Peguero) and infielders (Triunfel, Martinez), along with 1B/DH types that went unmentioned like Mike Carp and Rich Poythress. 

I like some of these guys a lot, but Liddi's performance in Double-A has me leaning towards him in terms of progress as a hitter. Raben, Chavez and Poythress are all hitting great, but they're doing it with big home/road splits in High Desert (a notoriously high-scoring ballpark), and Liddi's actually younger than Raben and Poythress. The other guys are all struggling offensively (see Triunfel, Martinez, Peguero after a huge April) or they're really raw (see Morban and Martinez).

So here we are with Alex Liddi, the first Italian-born player to ever play baseball professionally in the United States. And there's a chance that he could make a name for himself as something far more important than just that. Like some of the previously mentioned guys, Liddi absolutely tore up High Desert last season, which firmly got the attention of scouts and prospect evaluators alike. But most of the talk with Liddi was about how he'd adjust to Double-A, where the run environment is lower-scoring in general and the competition is much stiffer.

And while his .265/.338/.425 line is somewhat underwhelming, he is showing solid gap power along with solid BB/K numbers. The biggest red flag in his numbers is the huge platoon split, which can only be partially explained by BABIP. But he doesn't turn 22 until near the end of August, and his numbers were actually much better before a rough patch this July.

I mean, I love Raben's numbers so far, but I'm skeptical when they come from a 22-year-old in High Desert. Don't be surprised if this ends up being filled externally in the end.

The Starting Rotation.

No. 1: RHP Felix Hernandez, 2013 Opening Day Age: 26, Current level: MLB

No. 2: RHP Michael Pineda, 2013 Opening Day Age: 24, Current level: Triple-A

No. 3: LHP Daniel Cortes, 2013 Opening Day Age: 26, Current level: Triple-A

No. 4: LHP Mauricio Robles, 2013 Opening Day Age: 24, Current level: Double-A

No. 5: RHP Blake Beavan, 2013 Opening Day Age: 24, Current level: Double-A

I think there are a few quick things to take away from this rotation. Number one, the fact that Felix will only be 26 on Opening Day 2013 is freaking insane. Number two, the Mariners' young pitching behind King Felix is really subpar at the major league level. Number three, the M's do have some help on the way, but they could use some high-level pitching talent beyond Pineda. 

With King Felix, I'm not sure that it's really worth going into much detail. He's currently in the first year of a five-year, $78M contract that lasts through 2014. King Felix came up at age 19 and immediately established himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball. The Mariners brought him along somewhat slowly in the majors, limiting his stuff and inning pitched, but from 2006-2008 he established himself as a roughly 4-win pitcher. In 2009, he finally took that step forward towards ace-dom, improving his contact and whiff rates. After putting up a 7-win season in 2009, Hernandez is actually on pace to essentially repeat that this season, making him easily one of the best pitchers in baseball. And the Mariners clearly view him in a similar light, as he'll be making over $20M by the time that 2013 rolls around.

Right now, who isn't excited about Michael Pineda? The flame-throwing right-hander has absolutely shot up prospect charts this season with some absolutely dominating stuff and performance alike. Considered a good, but not elite, prospect coming into the season, Pineda has quickly changed that perspective with his dominance of Double-A and Triple-A hitters. His placements on the mid-season Top-25 lists (Piliere: No. 17, Law: No. 25, BA: No. 11) reflects this pretty well. He's currently putting up some awesome numbers (9.4 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 44% GB rate, 2.64 FIP) and he's doing it with scouting reports that are almost equally as impressive. I can all but promise you that the Mariners don't miss Phillippe Aumont and J.C Ramirez too much now.

The 23-year-old Cortes came over to Seattle in the...  uh....  er...    the Yuniesky Betancort trade. Seriously. The Royals acquired Cortes along with Tyler Lumsden in the July 2006 Mike MacDougal deal, and he dominated Advanced Single-A in 2007 before hitting Double-A in 2008. Sadly, Cortes hasn't left that level yet. Over the three seasons, Cortes has shown minimal improvement (2008-2010 FIPs: 4.38, 4.36 and 4.31) outside of his groundball rate. The stuff is still definitely there with Cortes, as his fastball can touch the mid-90's and his curve often flashes plus. But the team continues to wait for Cortes to improve his command and develop a quality third offering, as Cortes continues to struggle with handing out free passes. He's only 23 and there's a lot of upside, but the Mariners probably won't continue to be so patient with him.

Another impressive low-key addition by Zduriencik, the left-handed Robles was acquired from the Detroit Tigers last season in exchange for Jarrod Washburn. A power-throwing lefty armed with a curveball that flashes plus, there are a lot of concerns about whether Robles can stick in the rotation, but he's thriving there in Double-A at the moment. Scouts worry about his build (he's short and stocky), shaky command and lack of a third pitch, but he's been doing fine in Double-A. He's currently got a 3.83 FIP in 91 innings while striking out more than a batter per inning. The walk rate isn't great, but it is worth noting that he's only walked one batter in his last 13 innings, so maybe he's finally improving some in that area. And even if he turns into a good reliever or a back-of-the-rotation starter, that's still a steal for the Mariners.

Beavan came over to Seattle along with Smoak in the Lee deal, and while he doesn't have Smoak's star potential, he could still end up being a very useful player for the Mariners long-term. Beavan's a big guy that projects as a potential innings-eater given his build. His best pitch is easily his fastball, which sits 88-91 but plays up because of the heavy movement on it. His offspeed stuff is seriously lacking, as he doesn't have a single pitch that's presently average outside of his fastball, and it's not clear that he has any offspeed or breaking offering that projects as above-average. With all of that said, he could still emerge as a solid starter with a good fastball, a couple of decent offspeed pitches, solid command and good durability. His stuff could end up playing up out of the bullpen, but it's obviously not worth moving him there until he proves that he won't succeed in the rotation. And given his numbers in Double-A this season (3.23 FIP, 5.3 K/9, 0.9 BB/9, 49% GB rate), there's reason to believe that he can make it in the rotation. For a more detailed scouting report on him, along with the other non-Smoak prospects in the Lee deal, click here.

Closer: Joshua Fields, Opening Day 2013 Age: 27, Current level: Double-A

Taken with the 20th overall pick in the 2008 draft in what ended up being one of the final moves during former GM Bill Bavasi's reign of terror, a good deal of Fields' value was supposed to come from his proximity to the big leagues. But he's still tooling his trade in Double-A after failing to sign with Seattle until February of 2009. Fields generally uses a power fastball and a killer curveball as his primary two-pitch mix out the 'pen. But like most prospects who are immediately relegated to future closer status, Fields has no third pitch and his command comes and goes. He's done a good job of missing bats and inducing groundballs in Double-A the past two years, but he's also walked 5.57 guys per 9 innings, which is pretty much unacceptable. There have also been some concerns about his fastball being too straight, but he should be okay given his velocity. Fields may be a big shining logo of Bavasi's failure to draft well during his tenure, but those days are gone, and Seattle still might end up getting a pretty good closer out it.