Going into the 2013 season, the Seattle Mariners lineup had the potential to be significantly better. Even if Raul Ibanez, Jason Bay, Mike Morse, and Kendrys Morales were known quantities ranging from "bad" to "not that bad", the Mariners had five regulars that are 26 or younger. All of whom were, with the possible exception of Kyle Seager, supposed to be really damn good hitters at one point.
At least with Seager, not living up to expectations has been a good thing.
Nobody would argue that the M's were going to become a good hitting team this year (Spring Training stats at it again!) but better would have been a fair assessment. It would be pretty hard to not do better than what the Mariners have been doing for the last few years:
2012 - .234/.296/.369
2011 - .233/.292/.348
2010 - .236/.298/.339
Those consistently drop Seattle into the bottom three in the majors in hitting, but fans were just waiting for the young prospects to get to the majors and then adjust. Many of the hitting prospects are up, they've had time to adjust, we're still waiting for the results however.
2013 - .218/.285/.346
Improvement has been almost non-existent from 2010-2012, though expectations of improvement were always high for some reason. This year, it was different though because Ibanez and Bay couldn't erase the fact that there were a number of players that seemed poised to get better this season, because just like the team as a whole, "getting worse" didn't seem possible. The 2013 Seattle Mariners: Believe in the impossible!
Justin Smoak, 26
2012 - .217/.290/.364, 20.7% K, 9.2% BB, .147 ISO, .288 wOBA
2013 - .188/.282/.203, 24.4% K, 10.3% BB, .014 ISO, .233 wOBA
I was ready to believe in Smoak after he returned from AAA Tacoma last season to hit .288/.375/.475 in 42 games to end the year. Our expectations of the prospect that was once "worth" Cliff Lee from Texas were already gone, but at this point we would take Sean Casey. Smoak has struck out in eight of his last 15 at-bats. He has one extra-base hit; a double. His BABIP is .260, which does nothing to suggest an impending improvement.
Smoak's next plate appearance will be hit 1,500th in the majors. It will be a strikeout.
Dustin Ackley, 25
2012 - .226/.294/.328, 18.6% K, 8.8% BB, .102 ISO, .274 wOBA
2013 - .161/.200/.177, 17.9% K, 3% BB, .016 ISO, .174 wOBA
Don't forget just how dominant Ackley's plate discipline was in the minor leagues. Even if some people didn't think he could must 10 home runs in a season, or a whole lot of stolen bases, he'd be a really difficult out at the plate. There was never talk that it would be his defense that would be saving his offense, but right now second base is his best hope.
He posted a walk rate of 15.7% in 82 AA games in 2010, and then 16.6% in 66 AAA games the next year. It's all the ways down to 3% in 67 plate appearances this year. His contact rates aren't as impressive as they were a couple weeks ago, his BABIP sits at .200. Ackley has struck out nine times since his last walk.
Jesus Montero, 23
2012 - .260/.298/.386, 17.9% K, 5.2% BB, .126 ISO, .292 wOBA
2013 - .217/.250/.239, 14.6% K, 4.2% BB, .022 ISO, .221 wOBA
If I held out additional, irrational hope for Montero, it's that he was a 22-year-old catcher that hit 15 home runs for the Seattle Mariners! That's one way to look at it. The other way is that he's not really a catcher and he was really not that good at the plate. But being 22 is certainly significant and they moved the fences in at Safeco so we're all good right?
Well now he's 23, worse, and losing at-bats to Kelly Shoppach. To be fair, didn't the brochure on Montero when the Mariners trade Michael Pineda for him say, "Will one day to lose at-bats to Kelly Shoppach!" It must have been in the fine print.
What to do now?
Obviously, none of these three have any business on a fantasy roster right now. If there is hope for any of them, maybe it's Ackley. Why is that? Perhaps because he's had some major league success before, perhaps it's because he was always deemed as a "high floor" prospect, but right now it's hard to see Ackley having any value in a standard league. Does it seem feasible to see him hit .300/.400/.450 with 20 SB at this point? No, it really doesn't.
As for the Mariners and their fans, it's back to crossing fingers for prospects like Mike Zunino, Nick Franklin, and Brad Miller. Given the track record of hitting prospects for Seattle in the last 15 years, "generation next" is just starting to feel like a hopeless proposition.