Aug 31, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners left fielder Dustin Ackley (13) hits a three-run homer against the Washington Nationals during the fifth inning at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Outfield (plus DH):
Nelson Cruz. The Mariners signed the 33-year old Dominican slugger to a four-year, $68 million contract this offseason to be their primary designated hitter. A slugger in the purest form, Cruz’s career slugging percentage is .501, and he averages 33 home runs per 162 games.
The Mariners paid this guy big bucks to be the powerful right-handed hitter smooshed between Cano and Seager in their lineup. Even though he is on the wrong side of 30, he hit an AL-best 40 home runs in 2014. In my 2015 prediction for Cruz, I pegged him for 30 home runs and 88 RBI to go with a .258 batting average.
With those sort of numbers, it’s no shocked he’ll be the Opening Day DH, and it’s no surprise the Mariners paid the man in free agency.
Dustin Ackley. The Mariners have made upgrades up and down their roster this offseason, though none of those additions seem destined or prepared to play left field. Much like the beginning of Spring Training in 2014, manager Lloyd McClendon is declaring the starting spot Ackley’s, letting his confident and focus grow exponentially.
Ackley has had little stability since being drafted 2nd overall in the 2011 draft. He was a first baseman in college, drafted as an outfielder, immediately moved to second base in the minors, was replaced by Nick Franklin at second base and moved to center field, moved to left field, and finally in 2014 was given just the one position to focus on.
If Ackley can hit like he did in the 2nd halves of the last two seasons for the entire 2015 season, the Mariners will have a very productive left fielder who also carries a great glove. Barring injury or some bizarre decision to trade for Alex Gordon (that’s a joke), Dustin Ackley will start in left field for the Mariners.
Austin Jackson. McClendon has thrown his confidence behind a 2015 resurgence for the 28-year old centerfielder. His .256/.308/.347 triple slash in 2014 was by far the worst of his career. Jackson’s defense is stellar in centerfield, and McClendon worked with him when he was the hitting coach in Detroit, so he knows Jackson’s capabilities.
Even with the 2014 slump, there’s no legitimate threat on the roster to take Jackson’s spot. James Jones could in theory, with his unreal speed both in the field and on the basepaths. But his lack of power and a poor contact rate could necessitate more time in the minor leagues.
Also something else to remember: 2015 is Austin Jackson‘s contract season, so expect even better numbers because that’ just what MLB players do when their next paycheck isn’t guaranteed.
Seth Smith. Not to be confused with Sam Smith. Seth was picked up in a trade with the San Diego Padres this offseason. With a very cost controlled, team-friendly contract ($6 million in 2015, 6.75 in 2016, and a 7 million team option in 2017) Smith has the opportunity to be one of the most valuable members of the Mariners roster.
Yes, the Mariners also traded for right fielder Justin Ruggiano, but Smith’s history of consistent hitting, especially against righties, has him winning the starting job. The two will likely platoon in right field, with Justin Ruggiano also spelling Ackley in left from time to time when the lineup needs more right-handed bats.
Smith has a career .347 OBP, so don’t be surprised when McClendon throws him in the 2-hole ahead of Cano in the lineup. Deeper now from top to bottom, the Mariners lineup will be more potent and powerful than it has been in quite some time.
Here’s how the positional starters will shake out:
Sep 27, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners center fielder Austin Jackson (16) reacts after striking out to end the eighth inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Austin Jackson 8
Nelson Cruz DH
Kyle Seager 5
Dustin Ackley 7
Looking at this potential Mariners lineup, one can’t not be excited (aka you should be excited). The middle of the order is potent, the top of the order is dependable (if Jackson gets back in his groove). And the bottom of the lineup has power potential and some serious upside.
Ackley could find his way into the 2-hole as the season progresses, and Zunino could leapfrog LoMo to provide a better lefty-righty balance in the middle of the order.
Either way, the Mariners have a shot at being one of the better offensive teams in 2015.
Not to mention what should be another stellar year from the Mariners’ pitching staff…