This season began with hope and marginal expectations. Maybe a .500 finish, or better. Perhaps a shot at a wild-card spot. Certainty at the positions occupied by the young, up-and-coming talent.
But so far this season there have been more frustrating questions than reassuring answers. Among the biggest of those questions is the future of the Mariners middle infield, which has been particularly troublesome so far this season.
A quick recap:
- Robert Andino, the ‘super utility infielder’ from Baltimore, was supposed to be a backup at shortstop, 2nd and 3rd base. He was supposed to hit with a little bit of power and allow the Mariners to carry a few to many outfielders. That didn’t pan out, because he hit .184/.253/.237 in 29 games for the Mariners. He is now down at AAA Tacoma.
- Brendan Ryan, arguably the greatest defensive shortstop in baseball, struggled mightily into May offensively. After the Mariners 6-1 victory over the Athletics on May 12, Ryan was batting .122/.320/.122. He has since been hitting well in the 9 hole, but he is still only up to .211/.264/.279 on the season
- Dustin Ackley, the 2nd overall pick in the 2009 draft, was recently sent down to AAA Tacoma because he was batting .205/.266/.250. He was playing great 2B defensively (no errors on the season) but his timing and confidence at the plate were seriously lacking.
- Summary: the three professional Major League Baseball players the Mariners paid to perform this season haven’t so far. One is gone forever, one indefinitely, and the only one left is on a hot streak and earns his paycheck on the defensive side of things.
All of this begs the question: what is the future of the Mariners middle infield? I want to break it down into three parts: 1. From now until the All-Star Break. 2. From the All-Star Break through the end of the 2013 season. 3. Opening Day 2014.
1: From now until the All-Star Break:
Since Nick Franklin was called up from AAA Tacoma, the middle infield has been Ryan, Franklin, and Carlos Triunfel. In 5 games since being called up, Triunfel is 0-13 with no walks and three strikeouts. In 6 games for Franklin, he is 4-17 with 4 BBs to 2 SOs, with two solo-home runs for 2 RBIs.
Franklin looks promising. But Triunfel looks slated to be a perennial AAA player, who was at one time a top prospect in the Mariners organization.
So what happens over the next month and a half?
Triunfel is going to be sent down, and Dustin Ackley will be called back up to the Major League team. And this move will not be a ‘this is our only option’ type of move. Because in 6 games for AAA Tacoma, Ackley has batted .407/.500/.593 with 5 BBs to 2 SOs, 1 home run, four RBIs, and 3 xBH.
I think this move will either happen at the beginning or in the middle of the Mariners series against the Yankees from June 6-9.
Once the move is made, I think Wedge and Z should put Ackley back at 2B as the starter. This would not only be a vote of confidence in him, but would also allow Nick Franklin to be the middle infield backup, getting reps at 2B and shortstop until the All-Star Break.
This move does two important things for the Mariners organization: it restores faith and confidence in Ackley, while improving the stock and skills of Franklin in the middle infield. And if Ryan goes into another hitting-your-body-weight slump, Franklin can slip into the everyday shortstop role, his natural position.
2. From the All-Star Break until the end of the season:
The answer to this question looks much like the answer to the first. Ackley and Ryan as the starting middle infielders, with Franklin in backup duty gaining valuable Major League experience.
And come September when the rosters expand, Brad Miller will get his shot to play shortstop for the Mariners.
Miller in recent months has been touted as the Mariners shortstop of the future. In AAA Tacoma Miller is batting .314/.405/.571 with 2 HRs and 12 RBIs in 9 games. He will get playing time in September- assuming the Mariners are out of the postseason hunt- and will assert himself as a future Major League starter.
3. Opening Day 2014:
This question is hard to answer for a number of obvious reasons. There is no telling how this season plays out, and it is impossible to know what moves the Mariners will make this offseason.
But my gut and my analysis brings me the following middle infield: 2B – Dustin Ackley; SS – Brad Miller; Backup – Nick Franklin.
Ackley is too good of a contact hitter and 2B defender not to figure it all out. Miller looks so promising at short that he is going to get the nod in Spring Training next year. It is still too soon to determine Franklin’s natural position, but next season will give him a chance for playing time at both.
Obviously this is all speculative. It is so difficult to predict Ackley’s hitting or the development of Miller and Franklin.
Though I am fairly certain Ryan will not be with the ball club next year. There are too many potential hitters in the middle infield to keep him around next season. Although, it is possible he stays on as a backup, though that seems unlikely.
But I do want to ask you, the fans, to vote on who you think will be starting in the middle infield for the Seattle Mariners next year. Feel free to your comments below:
Opening Day Middle Infield, Seattle Mariners 2014:
1) 2B Ackley, SS Miller, Backup Franklin
2) 2B Franklin, SS Miller, Backup Ryan
3) 2B Franklin, SS Ryan, Backup Romero
4) 2B Ackley, SS Miller, Backup Romero