The competition to be the leadoff batter in the Mariners’ order will be a stiff one. Earlier, I had written that Brad Miller, who was leading off in most of his games last year, needs to step up in order for the Mariners to make some noise in the AL West this year. It looks like it could be someone other than Miller in that spot after all.
I still believe he is the man for the job but manager Lloyd McClendon listed several players that will be challenging for first in the batting order. Miller was left off that list. As Greg Johns tweeted, McClendon was just saying a few names off the top of his head.
With McClendon starting this competition I’d say that the leadoff position will be a rotating role, probably going with whoever is hot at the time. As a team without a standout leadoff man that could work in their favor, although it is sometimes difficult when a streak is ending and when one is beginning.
Regardless of it being an unofficial list I thought we took take a look at the players McClendon named to see to see what the race is shaping up to be like.
Let’s start with the man who was leading off in the first spring game, Abraham Almonte. Almonte did well in his time with Seattle last year, but it’s important to remember it was a small sample size. One concerning stat from last year was a high strikeout rate at 25.6%.
If Almonte cuts down on his swings and misses he would fit in well at leadoff. Cutting those strikeouts could lead to a higher on-base percentage, which should be the main goal of every leadoff hitter.
Next we have Nick Franklin. It seems clear that the question mark tied to Franklin is whether or not he remains with the team. There have been reports that the Mets and Rays are both interested in making a trade for him. If Mariners hold on to Franklin he will have to win the shortstop battle with Miller.
Franklin showed he could hit at the top of the order last year but struggled in the second half. He struck out at a worse rate than Almonte but drew walks at a higher rate which helped his OBP.
After Franklin there is Michael Saunders who posted the best OBP of any of the other players named by McClendon. Saunders has been a streaky player the last couple years. There are times when he is on fire and others when he seemingly can’t buy a hit. If they rotate with whoever is hottest, Saunders will be one to watch to ride his streak while it lasts.
Dustin Ackley has a chance to win the spot again. Ackley leadoff briefly after his rookie when he put up good numbers but eventually lost the spot after poor hitting since. Last year he spent some time at Tacoma and upon his return to the majors as an outfielder he began hitting much better.
Ackley doesn’t strikeout too much and walks at a decent rate. If we see the bat we saw his rookie year Ackley would be the perfect fit but even a good spring would leave me skeptical, he needs to prove it in season.
And finally Xavier Avery I see as the odd man out in this group. While I believe he will get his fair chance I see more potential and clearly more experience in the others.
It’s shaping up to be a fun spring of position wars among all the players. Hopefully it leads to a fun season as well.