In addition to being one of the main writers for Baseball Nation, Jeff Sullivan has been talking Mariners' baseball at Lookout Landing for over 6 years now. We sent him over some questions about the state of the Mariners, and Jeff was kind enough to take the time to respond for us.
On the Draft:
MLBDD: The team's top pick, Danny Hultzen, was a bit of a surprise at #2. Was there a player you would have rather seen the team take there, or are you pretty happy with the the selection and contract?
JS: Obviously, Hultzen came as a pretty big surprise to everybody, including Hultzen himself. I didn't see a single person out there who expected the M's to go the way they did. So it was a complete shock, and it was initially off-putting. Over time, though, I've come around on it. I trust the Mariners' scouting department a hell of a lot more than I trust myself or various other people on the internet, and they have a track record of making good decisions when it comes to things like this.
No, I don't think I would take Hultzen if I were in charge. Statistically, hitters are better bets than pitchers, and I would've had to see something real glaring in Rendon's medicals to pass him over. But while Hultzen wouldn't have been my first choice, he was close enough, and he was the Mariners' first choice, which is meaningful. I trust them to draft, so I trust them on Hultzen. I don't care about his contract. It's fine. It's a lot like Dustin Ackley's.
My Thoughts: Hultzen really emerged as the college season progressed, and had a great year at the right time. I agree that it was a bit of a surprise that they passed on Rendon, but clearly the team's scouting department saw something they didn't like, enough so to move him Hultzen past him on their board. They've done well of late in drafting (Taijuan Walker, Dustin Ackley, and Kyle Seager were all draftees under the Jack Z. management team), so I'm inclined to agree that they know what they were doing.
Read Jeff's answers about the team's group of great young rookies, a pair of Mariners' prospects, and his thoughts on the Mariners' offense after the jump...
On the Farm:
MLBDD: The team has graduated a lot of prospects to the Majors this year, but the system still has a lot of solid prospects. Is there one prospect who has really emerged in your mind, and one who you feel has really taken a step back this season?
JS: Of all the prospects in the system to take a step forward this year, I think my favorite is James Paxton. Paxton didn't really throw a year ago for contractual reasons, but he got going this season, and between single-A and double-A, he threw 95 innings, with 43 walks and 131 strikeouts. He's a collegiate power arm with proven strikeout stuff, and he's put himself on the fast track. We could see him in Seattle by next June or July.
As for the opposite side of the coin, I'll go with Johermyn Chavez. Chavez was the third part of the Brandon Morrow/Brandon League trade, and he impressed in advanced-A last season as a 21-year-old. He's been terrible in double-A this season, though, with 13 homers and a .667 OPS. He's still young so he still has time, but his stock has fallen further than anyone else's that comes to mind.
My Thoughts: Those are some crazy numbers out of Paxton, and the player I had been hearing the most about out of the Mariners system is last year's top pick, Taijuan Walker. Paxton could be in Seattle before the end of next season though, and could add another power arm to the already killer 1-2 combo at the top. Another player I thought would be high on the list was SS prospect Nick Franklin, who failed to follow up the power he showed in 2010 in the MIdwest League. He was slugging .411 in the hitter-friendly California League when he was called up to AA Jackson. It will be interesting to see if he shows the power he did in 2010, or if 2011 is closer to his real level.
On Promoting the Youngsters:
MLBDD: The team has brought up a lot of players from the minors this season, most notably Michael Pineda and Dustin Ackley. How happy have you been with the performance of the graduates from the system thus far?
JS: Oh man. There have been so many. Generally happy with Pineda, with few complaints. Generally happy with Ackley, with few complaints. Generally happy with Mike Carp, with few complaints. Behind them you get this whole horde of guys who have been varying degrees of mediocre. Trayvon Robinson, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke, Carlos Peguero, Greg Halman, Kyle Seager, Tom Wilhelmsen...I think what's important is that the two guys who are supposed to be a part of the core - Pineda and Ackley - have succeeded. They've established themselves quite nicely. Carp, too, although he's not really a core asset. There are lesser expectations of the other players, so the fact that they haven't been as good is less of a concern.
My Thoughts: I didn't realize just how great of a rookie season Ackley has been having until I started researching this post. Both Baseball Reference and Fangraphs have him right around 2.3-2.4 WAR despite playing in only 52 games. I've been a big believer in Pineda since his 2009 season, and I'm extremely excited to see how he can follow up this great year in 2012. He looked amazing at the All-Star game, and I wish they'd done a better job of promoting him during that game.
On the Mariners' Anemic Offense:
MLBDD: The team is on pace to finish last in the league in runs scored, and near the bottom of the standings in a majority of the offensive statistics. This is after finishing near the bottom in most of those categories last year. What do you think the team will need next season to stop this trend of offense?
JS: That isn't an easy question to answer. At least not if I want to be concise. Obviously a number of players have contributed to this season's offensive misery, but the complete collapses by Ichiro and Franklin Gutierrez have been among the biggest problems, both now and when trying to project the future. Without knowing what they're going to be in 2012, it's hard to say whether things will be good, okay, or somehow worse. What should help, though, is that the team will have a DH in Mike Carp. It will have a first baseman in Justin Smoak, who is better than his stats. It will have a second baseman in Dustin Ackley. It will have a left fielder in Casper Wells. All of these guys should be at least average hitters, and Brendan Ryan isn't bad for a shortstop. Miguel Olivo might be okay for a catcher.
Next season's offense probably isn't going to be great, but there's reason to hope, so long as Gutierrez and Ichiro turn it around a little bit. If they don't, uh oh. The organization traded for about 27 outfielders this season, but those would be big holes.
Of course, a trade or a few trades could change everything. It would be nice to have a third baseman. Like pretty much any third baseman.
My Thoughts: There is hope with this team, as Ackley has turned into a top-flight hitter. Unfortunately, I'm really wondering if we've seen the last of the .330+ hitting Ichiro, and that this year's version is the new norm for him. I really hope not, as I'd love to see him get to 3000 hits here in the States. I do think that Gutierrez should rebound with a full offseason of rest, as he had some unusual health problems this season.
On the Personnel:
MLBDD: The team has been saddled unfortunately with the poor performance of Chone Figgins and his 4 year, $36 Million contract. At this point, do you want to see the team keep him and try to improve his value, or would you rather just see him moved for anything at this point?
JS: I see no reason to keep Figgins and give him significant playing time. I'm not opposed to the idea of trying him out as a utility guy, so long as he isn't opposed to it, either, just on the off chance that he re-discovers how to get on base. But if the Mariners dealt him for another bad contract, that would be fine, and if the Mariners cut him tomorrow and ate the rest of his salary, that would be fine, too. The Chone-Figgins-as-productive-regular-player ship has sailed. It sailed a long time ago.
My Thoughts: I'm inclined to agree at this point. I don't know what exactly happened in the time between when Figgins left Anaheim and when he signed with the Mariners, but clearly it hasn't worked out very well. The team will owe him just $17 million of that $36 million total after this season, but the vesting option for 2014 ($9 Million with 600 PA in 2013) could scare a lot of teams from trading for him even if they Mariners take on most of the money.
Just for Fun:
MLBDD: What film best represents the 2011 Mariners? I'll go with Paul Blart: Mall Cop. I didn't expect much, but wow. ;)
JS: Leap Year. There's a handful of interesting actors and actresses, but those who have watched it should actively discourage their friends from doing the same.
My Thoughts: I can't say I've seen that one, but I don't recall hearing too many things about it that made me want to see it either. Which is probably a pretty good analogy for the Mariners season.
Thanks to Jeff for taking to the time to answer our questions in what has been a bit of a difficult season for Mariners' fans. You can find his writings both at Baseball Nation and of course at Lookout Landing.