This morning, at 3 AM Seattle Mariners time, the M's laughed in the faces of doubters, silenced the critics, and Dustin Ackley and Ichiro blasted Seattle past the Oakland A's and into first place in the division. What's the point of even playing the next 161 games?
Clearly, the Mariners are in a class of their own so let's hoist up the trophy in the Pacific Northwest and call it a season, okay? Please? PRETTY PLEASE!!!??? Okay fine, I guess we can play the rest of the year, but kind of a formality, no? Or maybe it's just that the M's won a baseball game, and it took 11 innings, and Felix is the King while the A's are the A's.
I will try to write this as objectively as possible. The M's are indeed my heart and soul but there are some clear holes in their game this year that will most likely prevent them from making the postseason for another year, though the crop of young talent is as good as it's been in a decade and a half.... overall, it might be the best ever.
We've already got one game of data (!!) although it came in a stadium that Seattle will only play in one more time all season and it was at 3 o'clock in the morning, and we can't expect Ichiro to bat .800 this year. (Or can we?) Let's take a look at what to watch for in terms of fantasy baseball on the 2012 Seattle Mariners:
Best Hitter: Dustin Ackley
No power? Ack-Attack is on pace for 162 home runs this year, which would be 156 more than he hit last season in 90 games! I've been a firm defender of Dustin since he was drafted and during his slumps that would last for a single month and bring the haters out in full droves to call him overrated. He always answers his critics and during his 90 game trial with Seattle last year he put up 2.7 WAR, which led all M's hitters.
Dustin hit .273/.348/.417 in 376 PAs with 6 HR, 36 RBI, 39 R, 6 SB, 10.6 BB%, 21 K%, .144 ISO on a .339 BABIP. I firmly believe that his walks will go up, his strikeouts will go down, even if his power might be about right in the .150 ISO range. That gives me an estimate of .290/.375/.450 with 15 HR, 70 RBI, 80 R, 15 SB at 2B, which isn't bad at all.
I give him the positional eligibility edge over Justin Smoak, who I think is ready for a breakout and Ichiro, who I think is going to have a bounce-back.
The only player who he wouldn't have that edge over is Jesus Montero, but I'm not ready to anoint the rookie over the "experienced vet" Ackley just yet. I really believe that Ackley is on his way to a very special career.
Best Pitcher: Felix Hernandez
Sorry, but do people appreciate The King enough? Besides the fact that his nickname implies that he is greater and more powerful than all, of course. Do people around the country agree that he's one of the top five pitchers in the world, or is it hard to grasp when he pitches in Seattle and outside of the playoffs for the entirety of his career?
Since 2005, only Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia, Dan Haren, and Cliff Lee have accumulated more WAR than Felix and you have to remember that in 2005 Hernandez was only 18 and pitched half a season. For his career, he's posted a 3.24 ERA/3.38 FIP/3.31 xFIP and induced 55.2% groundballs which isn't usual for guys that also strike out more than 8 (or even 7) per 9 innings.
Last night, the King pitched 8 innings, gave up 5 hits, 1 R, 0 BB and struck out 6 but as per usual, didn't pick up the win because the runs didn't come soon enough. Don't hate him because his offense hasn't supported him enough throughout his career. Hate him cause he's The King. (Don't hate him actually, he's awesome.)
Potential Breakout: Justin Smoak and Mike Carp
Smoak had stretches where he was really good last year and then he had stretches where he was really bad, but those stretches coincided with injuries and the loss of his dad. I'm prone to believe that if he's shown in the past that he can hit a baseball (and hit it far) that he'll do that again when he's healthy on the inside and out. .260/.360/.460 with 25 HR and 90 RBI sounds good to me.
Carp wasn't supposed to really turn into this kind of hitter but clearly he's improved since being another part of the package from the Mets in the J.J. Putz trade. He hit .276/.326/.466 with 12 HR in 79 games last year but after his second call-up he hit .286/.325/.494 with 12 HR, 46 RBI in 64 games.
I also like Hector Noesi to be a good number three starter.
Potential Disappointment: Jesus Montero
Well, there was that time in Seattle that we all thought we had Montero and then we didn't, we actually had Justin Smoak. Now we have both and that's pretty amazing. I'll miss Michael Pineda, but this was a great deal for us, as Seattle needs hitters and he might be the best "HITTING" prospect in baseball, let's not discuss defense.
Montero has been a top six prospect per BA in each of the last three years and now he's full-time in the show. How good will he be though, nobody knows, and this season will certainly not be the season to test your faith with a good draft pick on the young catcher/DH. Of course, plenty of rookies come in and mash right away (like when Montero hit .328/.406/.590 for the Yankees last year in 69 PAs) but it's not common and it's especially uncommon in Safeco Field.
I love Montero but let's be honest: It's never even a certainty that these guys won't find out they need more time in AAA by May.
Prospect Watch: Per BA
Well, we've talked about Montero. Some of these other guys are certainly interesting as well, but there are a lot of question marks after the top five. That top five is pretty damn good though.
The Mariners didn't have a first round pick in the 2010 draft, but they still somehow managed to get one of the top five prospects out of it: Taijuan Walker. Last season, at age 18, he struck out 113 and walked 39 in 96.2 single-A innings with a 2.89 ERA. He'll spearhead the incredible SP triumvirate at AA this year and could be in the rotation to start 2013.
Hultzen was the number two pick last year out of Virginia and will join Walker in AA. I expect Danny Hulzten to dominate minor league hitters because of how polished and precise he is. He seems very advanced and I expect him to be in Seattle by July, though he may struggle with major league hitters at first.
Paxton was another steal of the 2010 draft, going in the fourth round but so far flashing the first round ability that prompted the Blue Jays to draft him 37th overall in 2009. But luckily he didn't sign and now he's a Mariner. Last season he struck out 131 and walked 43 in 95 innings. Amazingly, he'll be the "number three starter" in AA. I won't be surprised to see him up before Hultzen though, and he might struggle at first but shouldn't have a problem racking up strikeouts.
Nick Franklin dealt with injuries last year and had a bizarro line at High Desert but I think he'll be just fine this year and by 2013 he should be taking over for Brendan Ryan and turn into a switch-hitting SS with power and speed.
Wilhelmsen picked up the win in relief last night and Ruffin should be in the bullpen with him soon. But they are only relievers (Wilhelmsen as a starter down the line, maybe.)
Francisco Martinez was acquired in the Doug Fister trade. He's still pretty raw and he only walked 23 times in 124 games last year but he could be the third baseman by 2014. Or not.
Phillips Castillo (along with Martin Peguero or Guillermo Pimental) isn't a name I'd worry about for another two or three years.
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