The Core of the Next Mariners Playoff Team: Infield

One thing I have been thinking about lately is how it is possible that the majority of the players that will be on the next Mariners team to make the playoffs are already in the organization, and most of them are at, or near Major League ready. It’s a little bit ridiculous sounding, given that this team just lost 101 games, but unlike 2008′s collapse, I think there’s reason to believe that this won’t be a five year re-build from 2010, as I think the rebuild has been in progress since Jack Zduriencik’s hire. Let’s break things down positionally.

Catcher

2011: Miguel Olivo, Adam Moore

Catcher is perhaps the most uncertain position in the Mariners infield. While Miguel Olivo should be an improvement over what we’ve seen in 2009 and 2010 out of the position, Olivo’s deal is only for two years, and as a 31-year-old free agent signing, he is pretty clearly not being relied upon to be the long-term answer. The Mariners would like Moore to be that guy, but Moore will be 26 in May and just came off a god-awful .224 wOBA in 2010. 2011 is a make-or-break year for Moore if he’s looking to be the future starter in Seattle.

Verdict: No core players

First Base

2011: Justin Smoak

When you’re looking for core players on a playoff team, you look for incredible talent, and polish at a young age. Justin Smoak fits all of these categories. He is an incredible talent, drafted 11th overall in 2008. Before 2010, Baseball America rated him as the game’s 13th best prospect. He has polish, as evidenced by his advanced understanding of the strike zone, leading to a 11.6% walk rate in his 100-game 2010 debut. He is young; he will spend 2011 as a 24-year old. He could still flop, as any player could, but Smoak is what you want when you think of a core player.

Verdict: Core player on 25-man roster

Second Base

2011: Brendan Ryan, Adam Kennedy, Dustin Ackley

I feel like this is one that can pretty much be glossed over. While Ryan or Kennedy will likely see time there while Ackley starts 2011 in Triple-A Tacoma for service time issues, second base is going to be Ackley’s job for the next seven years barring a ridiculously unexpected drop in skills or an injury.

Verdict: Core player on 40-man roster

Third Base

2011: Chone Figgins

Third base, to me, is a bit murkier. Chone Figgins certainly has talent, and had polish at a young age. Despite the fact that he is older now, he still has 3 WAR potential, which is enough to be a fixture at a position for multiple years. However, after his worst season in the past three years, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect Figgins to never produce at that 3-WAR level again. Personally, I don’t think he’s done. He’s still patient, hits the ball on a line, and is moving back to third base, where he has shown defensive excellence. This is borderline for me, and could change if Figgins’ numbers don’t improve this season.

Verdict: Core player on 25-man roster

Shortstop

2011: Jack Wilson, Brendan Ryan

You know the position has been bad when you’re hoping Brendan Ryan, who just came off a .256 wOBA season, will hold down the short stop position for a few years. Ryan is still relatively young (he’ll turn 28 in March) and has a great glove (11.4 UZR/150 games at SS) so he doesn’t really need to hit that well to be productive. He was worth 2.7 WAR as recently as 2009, and there’s reason to believe a wrist injury is why he hit so poorly in 2010. That being said, I don’t think he has the talent to start at shortstop for a good team long-term. Jack Wilson is 33-years-old and missed over half of 2010 dure to injury. I don’t think I need to say anything else about him.

The wildcard here for the Mariners is Nick Franklin. Keith Law’s 57th best prospect, the youngster hit 23 home runs as a 19-year-old in his professional debut. Franklin certainly has talent and age on his side, but he’s simply too young, with too little data gathered on him for us to know about his likelihood of living up to his potential.

Verdict: No core players

Three out of the five infield positions have players in the Mariners organization that could easily become part of the core of the next playoff Mariner team. Catcher and shortstop are scary black holes, but considering this team lost 101 games in 2010, feeling comfortable about the future of 60% of your infield is definitely a good thing.

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Tags: Adam Kennedy Adam Moore Brendan Ryan Chone Figgins Dustin Ackley Jack Wilson Justin Smoak Miguel Olivo Nick Franklin

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