Mar 19, 2013; Peoria, AZ, USA; Seattle Mariners shortstop Brad Miller (77) throws out San Francisco Giants right fielder Hunter Pence (not pictured) during the fourth inning at Peoria Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Mariners Future May Be Brighter Than We Think


Jun 17, 2013; Anaheim, CA, USA; Seattle Mariners second baseman Nick Franklin (20) celebrates after hitting a two-run against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

After a disappointing two-gamer with the Pirates — preceded by three months of similar inefficacy — it seems the morale of the fan base is hitting an all time low. If you don’t hate the players, you hate Eric Wedge. If you don’t hate Wedge, you hate Jack Zduriencik. And if you don’t hate Jack, you hate the ownership. The M’s clearly don’t discriminate.

And all that is understandable. The team is bad, and has been for ten years. There are those who feel that whenever the team gets a good player, they either ruin him or trade him away. While that is a little overblown, I can see why people feel that way at times. It seems like nothing ever goes right.

Right now, that feeling is stronger than ever, which you can hear if you listen to any radio show in which they discuss the Mariners. But when you really get down to it, this organization has more going for it than meets the eye. And because I know most of you are on the verge of giving up, I decided to write this post that will hopefully lift some spirits.

So what is it that makes the M’s future so bright?

The fact that, if everything goes as planned — I know, I know, when is the last time that happened — they could have the hardest positions to fill filled for the future.

Those positions being catcher, third base, shortstop, second base and center field — everything but first base and the corners. For a team that has so many holes on the roster, they sure don’t have many holes.

Now, again remember that this is all hypothetical, and based on their potential.

At catcher, there is Mike Zunino. He may have been rushed after struggling in Triple-A, but he was very highly thought of before the season started, being called either the best or the second best catching prospect in the league.

He mashed at every level before reaching Tacoma, where strikeout problems started to hamper his production. He still showed very good power (.265 ISO) but he had trouble making much contact on breaking balls, leading to a 28.4% K rate, and a .238 average.

He pretty clearly wasn’t ready, but Jack rushed him anyway, presumably to save himself. But hopefully Zunino has enough talent — both physically and mentally — to work through his problems and become the player we know he can be.

Second base looks to be set for the future by rookie phenom — yes, he has been that good — Nick Franklin. So far this year, he is hitting .287/.357/.475 on the season after being called up at the end of May. Unlike Zunino, he was crushing the ball for Tacoma, and very much earned the call.

His success has forced Dustin Ackley off of second and into the outfield, at least for the time being. Franklin came on that strong, and he looks like he is ingrained at second for the future.

His up the middle partner figures to be Brad Miller, who continues to hit at every level, and almost gets better as he goes. He currently holds a .350/.424/.570 line for Tacoma, and could be the next prospect we see called up.

There are some concerns about his defense because he has a tendency to boot should-be easy plays, but it seems he should be able to work that out, and end up sticking at short.

Finally, we have the biggest question mark in my theory. Dustin Ackley, future center fielder. He has been converted to the outfield, as mentioned earlier. And he absolutely mashed in his time with Tacoma, leading some to believe he may have worked out whatever was holding him back.

While I am not ready to go that far, I do appreciate the progress, and have never lost faith in him. I do not believe he will be the perennial .300 hitter we once thought he would be, but I do not think it is out of the question for him to become an above average hitter.

Now, we don’t even know if he can hack it in center field. Reports on his short time out there have been positive, but most of those reports have come from coaches. And coaches aren’t going to talk about how bad Dustin Ackley’s routes are.

Yes, it takes some imagination, and wishful thinking. But there is a decent chance that all of the above happens within the next year or so. That is an extremely solid foundation on which to build a contending team. And it doesn’t even touch on the phenomenal pitching that the M’s also figure to have in the coming months.

It is depressingly depressing right now to watch this team, and the fact that it has been that way for years only adds insult to injury. I get that.

But I also “get” the fact that there is an abundance of young talent in the organization right now, most of which play valuable positions. The farm isn’t full of first base/DH guys like the current roster is. It is stacked with versatile, promising players that are all arriving at the same time.

I know, I know. Why will this crop be any better than the last?

Well, I can’t guarantee it will. But I would venture to guess it is very rare — even for the M’s — to have  something like eight or nine highly rated prospects all fail within three to four years. It just does not seem like something that can or will happen, no matter how poorly the organization is run.

This is a farm lined with talent from top to bottom. It is one thing to have three or four B+ or better specs followed by a bunch of org-fillers. It is another to keep regenerating those top guys, year after year. There are guys like Chris Taylor, Victor Sanchez and Tyler Pike who are all having success, but you may not know anything about them yet.

Major league success is a whole different animal, one that stacking the minors isn’t guaranteed to handle. But it should, and I think it will for the Mariners. If a team has even three middle-of-the-diamond spots filled with cheap, productive, talented players, then it will be much easier to find success.

Anyone can do grab a .780 OPS right fielder. But very few teams have the luxury of filling the five hardest positions to fill. Fortunately for all of us, the Mariners might be one of them.

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