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|TOP 10 PROSPECTS|
|1. Alex Jackson, of|
|2. D.J. Peterson, 3b|
|3. Ketel Marte, ss/2b|
|4. Patrick Kivlehan, 3b/1b|
|5. Austin Wilson, of|
|6. Edwin Diaz, rhp|
|7. Gabby Guerrero, of|
|8. Luiz Gohara, rhp|
|9. Ryan Yarbrough, lhp|
|10. Carson Smith, rhp|
The Mariners experienced success in failure in 2014.
After a busy offseason in which they landed Robinson Cano, Seattle remained in the hunt for a playoff spot until the end. Needing a win and an Athletics loss on the final day of the season to force a one-game tie-breaker, the Mariners defeated the Angels 4-1 but watched Oakland shut out the Rangers to clinch the final American League wild card spot.
It was a disappointing end to the most compelling season that Seattle has seen in years. For the first time in Felix Hernandez’s 10-year big league career, the Mariners played September games that mattered.
The club’s battle for a playoff spot also paid off for the front office. General manager Jack Zduriencik signed a multi-year contract extension in August. He now is the club’s longest-tenured GM since Woody Woodward held the job from 1988-99.
Now the Mariners face an equally compelling question: Can they keep up in the AL West, one of the most competitive divisions in baseball? For the first time in a while, the answer could be yes.
Seattle has holes to fill in the lineup in what should a busy offseason, but those holes are at positions that are theoretically the easiest to fill. For example, getting any sort of production out of the DH spot was the Mariners’ biggest problem in 2014. Corey Hart, Kendrys Morales and a host of others produced an unfathomable .190/.266/.301 batting line from the DH spot.
Center field also was a problem. Rookie James Jones swiped 27 bases in 28 tries but recorded a .278 on-base percentage. A midseason trade for the Tigers’ Austin Jackson was supposed to fix the problem, but he didn’t hit either. Altogether, Seattle center fielders hit .235/.271/.285.
But the Mariners also have an enviable core of both established veterans and young talent. Hernandez and Cano give the Mariners a pair of cornerstone players who are under team control for the rest of the decade. Third baseman Kyle Seager is nearly as valuable, and he’s signed through 2018.
Just as importantly, Seattle has produced a wave of young pitchers to join Hernandez in the rotation. Lefthanders Roenis Elias and James Paxton both stepped into the rotation in 2014, while righthander Taijuan Walker should join them in 2015 after an impressive September stint.
Even if the pitchers aren’t as effective in 2015 as they were the year before, Seattle should be competitive if they get a little more production from the lineup in home games.
After producing Elias, Paxton and Walker, the farm system is virtually exhausted of starting-pitcher prospects. But part of that is by design. The Mariners have drafted position players in the first and second rounds of the past three drafts.
On the horizon, 21-year-old shortstop Ketel Marte will be playing at Triple-A Tacoma, while third baseman D.J. Peterson and left fielder Patrick Kivlehan could be ready to help the lineup at some point in 2015. Plus, 2014 first-rounder Alex Jackson should be one of the fastest movers from his high school draft class.
Success in the long term can be measured only by reaching the playoffs—not merely getting close—but the outlook in Seattle is brighter today than it’s been in a long time.