As we head into the offseason, the Mariners’ attempts to upgrade the roster will likely start in the outfield, but first base should not be far behind.
While Logan Morrison‘s scorching stretch run, which nearly lifted the M’s myopic offense to the postseason, is what most remember about the position from the past season, until the last month first base was a glaring weakness on the team.
Corey Hart could not stay on the field (or produce when healthy), and Morrison was so poor at the plate that he was demoted to AAA Tacoma. If not for Justin Smoak being the only other realistic option, the former Marlin may have spent the rest of 2014 making plate appearances at Cheney Stadium, not Safeco Field.
Jack Zduriencik would be a fool to rely wholly on Morrison to carry his September into Spring Training and beyond, but the good news for Seattle is that corner infield help may in the next year or two be on the way in the form of Daniel Paolini.
Seattle’s 10th round selection out of Siena in the 2011 Amateur Draft, Paolini made his way steadily through the lower levels of minor league ball in his first two and a half years as a professional, bypassing low-A Everett completely and hitting over .280 with 15-plus homers at both Clinton and High Desert.
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However, Paolini’s first misstep came in the later stages of 2013, when after first reaching AA Jackson he was woeful, posting a slash line of .165/.289/.233 in 103 at-bats.
Fortunately, Mariners’ management was patient, leaving their struggling prospect at AA to start 2014, and all signs point to that being the right decision.
Paolini entered the season a changed hitter, hitting safely in 14 of his first 19 games. His power still had not made the trip east from High Desert, but he had successfully adjusted to the higher level of pitching, and was day in and day out proving himself a competent hitter.
But even more impressive than his start to the season was his finish. He fought out of a pair of slumps in mid-June and late July, each time bringing his average back from as low as .251 to near .270, where he finished the campaign (.268 AVG). And August, in addition to being a great month average-wise, also brought with it Paolini’s best power numbers: he hit six out of the yard, nearly matching his total from the first four months of the season.
When should we expect to Paolini? Almost certainly not in 2015, as he will probably begin the year with the Generals again before making the jump to Tacoma mid-season if all goes well. The absolute best-case scenario would be a September debut for the M’s as a right-handed bench option, but 2016 is much more likely.
Logan Morrison may be the long-term solution at first. But if his tantalizing four weeks of prowess at the plate turns out to be a mirage, the Mariners do have some up-and-coming talent, and while Daniel Paolini may not be the next Jose Abreu, he could end up being a key finishing piece on a contending M’s team down the road.