At various points this season — including right now — this Mariner’s roster has looked like a shell of the team we saw to start the season. That is to be expected, at least to a certain extent. All teams go through these things — injuries, struggles, surges, etc. Add to that the fact that this team was not built to last (Duralast), and it was inevitable.
This team was built around guys who are old, or fragile, or both, and who all really belong at DH in a perfect world. Of course, I am talking about Kendrys Morales, Michael Morse, and Raul Ibanez. All three need to not play the field as often as possible, but that isn’t an option when they all play on the same team.
So while this was to be expected, most of the deterioration of the roster has not stemmed from those players. They have suffered some injuries, yes. Particularly Morse. But the biggest culprit to this point has been the failing of prospects, and injuries from other, less obvious people.
But it seems that some rebuilding may occur in the near future. Some of the guys that have either yet to make an appearance this year, or have been away for a while working on not being bad baseball players. Some members of that group are ready to try their hand, either again, or for the first time.
The first name that comes to mind is Erasmo Ramirez. Erasmo was in line to be the Mariner’s #3 starter to begin the season, but suffered an injury in spring training that kept him out until the tail end of May.
But he has been pitching well in the minors since then. He made his first appearance at AA Jackson, followed by four for Tacoma. And in those four games, he has posted a 1.69 ERA and 2.64 FIP, to go along with respectable K-and-BB-per-9′s of 7.76 and 1.69.
I would have to assume that the reason he is still down there is because they want to take their time, and make sure he is fully healthy. Because there is no other reason why he should still be there. There are two, or even three spots in the M’s rotation that Erasmo would have no trouble upgrading — that being the slots that currently belong to Aaron Harang, Jeremy Bonderman and Joe Saunders.
In 16 appearances last year, “E-Ram” posted a pitcher slash (ERA/FIP/xFIP) of 3.36/3.55/3.75, something that Harang and Bonderman can only dream about sustaining.
Anthony went over the back of the rotation here and here, so I won’t go into to much more depth. But yeah. If this front office has even the smallest shred of competence, they will call up Ramirez as soon as he is ready, and not a second later.
Next on the list is another pitcher, who is in a much different situation than Ramirez. I am talking about Danny Hultzen, who obviously has never pitched in the majors, but figures to do pretty well when he gets there. He was drafted 2nd overall a couple years ago, and was tabbed as a fast riser.
So far, he hasn’t risen quite as quickly as we had hoped, although he has pitched well overall. He had a rough go of it last year in Triple-A, but be bounced back this year before being dugouted (sidelined isn’t really an appropriate term for baseball) with an injury. In his 4 starts on the year, he has posted a 2.78 ERA, and an even better 2.49 FIP.
But perhaps the most reassuring aspect of his performance this year, short as it has been, is that he has kept his walks down at a level much closer to what we were hoping for. That was his achillies heel last year (7.95 BB/9 in AAA), but he seems to have ironed it out since, as he currently sits at a 2.38 mark.
Seeing as he is still on the DL, his call will likely not come for at least another few weeks to a month. The M’s seem to be conservative when it comes to returning guys from an injury, so that, coupled with the fact that he only made 4 starts prior to his ailment suggest that Hultzen is still a little ways off from joining the big club. But I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see him before August rolls around.
In terms of who he would replace, well that all depends on who gets the boot when Erasmo gets the call. Hultzen would likely move the remaining back-ender to either the pen, or the street.
It is probably also fitting to at least mention Brandon Maurer, who was arguably rushed to the majors after a fine showing in the spring. He hadn’t even seen time in AAA yet, so nostalgia likely got the best of Jack and Co. He looked ready at the time, but he clearly wasn’t (6.93/5.61/4.79), and so he was sent down.
He has looked much better in his short stint with the Rainiers, almost as good as Hultzen. If he keeps it up, he may get another look later in the year if Joe Saunders falls off a cliff and/or gets traded. But I think it will take a lot for the M’s to call him ready again, seeing as he was just awful earlier in the year.
From here we move to the offensive side of things, where there are a few guys making strong cases to see the bigs — also either again or for the first time.
This list starts with Dustin Ackley, who has raked since joining the Rainiers, to the tune of a .436 wOBA and 160 wRC+. He been a completely different hitter — or so it seems.
The problem with the statement above is in the the word “since.” There was almost no lapse prior to his offensive surge. And while that may sound good on the surface, the reality is it may not be.
Think about that for a second. He joined the Triple-A team, and immediately started hitting. Did he really make any mechanical changes in that short of time, with the effects showing themselves right away? Probably not, which suggests that his production has stemmed from the fact that he is facing much weaker competition than he was before.
That certainly isn’t a guarantee, but that seems to make the most sense. However, there has been some talk that suggests he has in fact made some mechanical changes that could be having a positive effect on his success at the plate. I asked Rick Randall of Scout.com and Lookout Landing if he had seen any changes of the like, and he said:
So in one (valuable) opinion, Ackley has improved upon what was his biggest problem in the past: staying closed, and not “stepping in the bucket.” Whether that can be attributed to his success, or if it going to remain for the long term remains to be seen.
That being said, if he keeps hitting like this, he will begin to force the issue, if he hasn’t already. I would venture to guess that the main reason he is still down there is because they are working him into the outfield, a spot where he played about 16 times in college despite popular belief that he has copious amounts of experience there. As soon as they feel he can hack it out there, he will likely get the call.
Last, we have shortstop Brad Miller, who has developed an allergy to making outs since being drafted. He started the year with Double-A Jackson, and posted a .386 wOBA in his 42 games there. But he has since gotten the call to Tacoma, and has been even better than he was for Jackson, with a .416 wOBA in his first 21 games.
Despite his unorthodox methods, I would say Miller is a pretty safe bet to keep hitting at an above average level. He has become an on base machine, and has developed some solid power — both to the gaps and over the fence — that should make for some much needed offensive production.
But Miller’s Achilles heel is always going to be his defense. I spoke more in depth about Miller here, but essentially, he makes a lot of errors. Errors can be a little misleading at times, but when you make over 30 in a season, there is a good chance that a decent percentage of them are legitimate mistakes.
If he can be passable (or hopefully better) at short though, I think he sticks there, with his bat carrying him to 2.5-3.5 WAR per year or better. In any event, if he keeps raking like he has been, we could see him getting reps with the big club even before the September call-up period, and especially if Brendan Ryan gets traded.
Those are just a few names who could be on the move in the coming months or weeks. The M’s are a team devoid of offense, and we have already seen them call up two other young hitters in Nick Franklin and Mike Zunino. I would not be surprised to see two of the guys I mentioned get promoted within the next couple weeks, and I think — barring injury — all of them will be up at some point before season’s end.
There are some exciting kids in this organization. We just have to hope they fare better than some of the others have.