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November 6, 2013

Fantasy Team Preview

Seattle Mariners

by Ben Carsley and Bret Sayre


The Mariners have some financial flexibility and are expected to add to their offense this offseason. Maybe that means writing Jacoby Ellsbury a blank check. Maybe it means settling for another year of Raul Ibanez. Maybe we’ll see some middle ground with Curtis Granderson or Nelson Cruz.

But, as this lineup stands on November 6, there’s not a ton of reason for fantasy optimism. And, given Safeco’s depressing offensive environment and the lack of talent in this lineup, and counting stats will be even harder to come by.

Instead, fantasy owners will need to look to starting pitchers—and a few diamonds in the rough that is their lineup—to find some salvation in Seattle.

Mariners’ Top 10 Prospects List

Projected Lineup

  1. SS Brad Miller
  2. 2B Nick Franklin
  3. 3B Kyle Seager
  4. DH Kendrys Morales
  5. 1B Justin Smoak
  6. C Mike Zunino
  7. RF Michael Saunders
  8. LF Abraham Almonte
  9. CF Dustin Ackley

There are some intriguing names here, especially for those who follow prospects closely, but the overall picture isn’t pretty. Seager is an underrated fantasy asset, finishing as ESPN’s 12th-most-valuable third baseman this past season after ranking just one slot worse in 2012. Morales received a qualifying offer from Seattle, and as such is reasonably likely to return to the Great Northwest. He essentially produced a carbon copy of his 2012 season, and can be relied upon as a top-20 fantasy 1B. Zunino has a chance to play as a top-15 or -20 backstop, but don’t count on him as a starter yet. Franklin provides intriguing pop from a middle infielder, and Miller may do enough in every category to serve as an MI in deeper leagues. Other than that, there are slim pickings here, despite Almonte’s intriguing MiLB numbers and the dreams Ackley and Smoak used to inspire.

Projected Bench

Ouch. Odds are we’ll see some new names here too, and let’s hope that’s the case because there’s nothing of interest here for fantasy owners aside from Montero. Unfortunately, with Morales and Smoak in front of him and ineptitude and suspension behind him, there’s not a ton of reason for optimism. Peguero does have a modicum of pop and could be added to AL-only watch lists. Exciting!

Projected Rotation

The good news for fantasy owners is that Seattle’s rotation has the chance to be as fruitful as its lineup is barren. There’s not much I can tell you about King Felix that you don’t already know: he’s basically assured of being a top-15 starter and has some of the highest upside in the game. What you might not know is that Iwakuma was actually the slightly better fantasy arm this year, beating Hernandez in wins, ERA, and WHIP. FIP and BABIP tell us that some regression should be expected, but there’s still plenty to like about Iwakuma as he heads into his third MLB year.

After the big two, there’s a whole lot of upside in Walker and Paxton, though neither is guaranteed a spot in the rotation. Paxton has big strikeout potential but could kill your WHIP, while Walker carriers some of the same concerns but is widely considered to have the higher upside. He’ll be a popular “sleeper pick” heading into the season, but isn’t really a sleeper since everyone knows about him. Ramirez is coming off a poor 2013 campaign and should be viewed as a streamer only until we see signs of a turnaround.

Projected Closer Candidates

Does any player better exemplify the volatility and randomness of the closer position than Farquhar? On the one hand, advanced stats suggest his 4.20 ERA was way to high and he could enter 2014 as the Mariners’ closer. On the other hand, we don’t have a lot to suggest he’ll be a particularly strong MLB reliever, and there’s no reason to think he’ll have much job security in closing. Wilhelmsen’s strikeout rate fell off a cliff while his walk rate soared last season, which contributed to his losing the closer’s role halfway through the year. That being said, he still finished with a 4.12 ERA and 3.69 FIP, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get a shot again next season. Finally, Capps is perhaps the best bet to settle into a closing job in the long run, but his 2013 campaign was uninspiring. You’re probably safe just drafting Farquhar for now—although Seattle could sign someone to close and it wouldn’t be surprising—and keeping Wilhemsen and Capps on your watch lists. Yuck.

Positional Battles to Watch

Fourth/Fifth Starter: Taijuan Walker vs. James Paxton vs. Brandon Maurer
With the top two spots in the Seattle rotation on complete lockdown (Hernandez and Iwakuma), and Erasmo Ramirez in the driver’s seat for a third, three young pitchers will set out to battle for two rotation spots. Walker has the pedigree, but will only be 21 for the majority of the 2014 season. All things being equal, he should be the best performer out of this group, but the Mariners could choose to play it safe and keep him at Triple-A for a month or two. Paxton was incredible in September, but that level of performance was over his head. Though they’ve been at the same level in the minors at times, Paxton is nearly four years older than Walker—giving Seattle less of a reason to slow his ascension. Maurer, meanwhile, shouldn’t be dismissed. The 23-year old had a terrible 6.30 ERA in 90 major-league innings last year, but it’s not easy to keep giving up homers at that pace in Safeco (1.6 per nine) and he does still project as a starter in the long-run.

First Base: Justin Smoak vs. Jesus Montero
If you had told me three years ago that these two would be battling it out for a lineup spot in Seattle, I would have asked you if they were projected to win 120 games. Unfortunately it has been anything but smooth sailing for both young would-be sluggers. Smoak is coming off a career best .746 OPS, including 20 homers in just 131 games. Will his age-27 season finally be one that comes close to replicating what he projected to be as a prospect? On the other end is Montero, who was not only abysmal when he played, but had a major knee injury and a drug suspension to boot. With his days behind the plate over, he is going to have to prove that he can handle first base defensively before he gets a good chunk of playing time there.

Player to Target: Brad Miller
The new leadoff hitter in Seattle was a somewhat unheralded prospect despite hitting .334/.409/.516 in 219 career minor league games. With an offense behind him that is very likely to be in the lower half of the league in turns of runs scored, Miller may not score as many runs as he should from his lineup perch (think 90 or so), but he should contribute a little bit everywhere from a tough position. Even if the Mariners do make a run at Jacoby Ellsbury, Miller would likely just slide down to the two-spot and not lose any potential counting stats. The eight homers in less than a half-season in 2013 may be a little more pop than you should expect from him, but he should be able to hit 12 or so given a full course of at bats to go along with double-digit steals and an average that could play around .280.

Player to Avoid: Mike Zunino
The catcher position may not be great these days, but it is one thing: deep. With decent options that go 15-20 deep, including one on his own team who may rank ahead of him, Zunino just doesn’t draw a whole lot of excitement for the coming season. He still grades out as a potential above-average player behind the plate from an offensive perspective, but as we’ve seen with endless catching prospects before him, it just takes a while for them to develop as hitters at the major league level. Could Zunino explode this year and have a 75 percent of Buster Posey season? Sure, it’s not out of the realm of possibility, but the odds are strongest that he’ll be a middling option who ends up on and off the waiver wire throughout the season. A .260 average and 15 homers just isn’t that rare from a fantasy catcher—it’s essentially somewhere between what Ryan Doumit and Wilson Ramos did in 2013, and neither of them were top-15 catchers.

Deep Sleeper: Stefen Romero
I don’t want to create unrealistic expectations, so I’m going to preface this heavily: Romero could be a homeless man’s poor man’s Allen Craig. He’s a hitter first and everything else second, but in an organization where there are holes to be found, Romero could find himself getting real playing time this summer. Barring an injury, his best bet at extended playing time would be left field, where he played most of his games at Triple-A in 2013. And for fantasy purposes, his flexibility could bring additional eligibility—which could make him even more attractive in AL-only and very deep mixed formats. With a free swinging approach and some thunder in his bat, Romero could hit 10-12 homers and drive in more runs than you’d think if he could get 350-400 at bats.

Ben Carsley is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here
Bret Sayre is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bret's other articles. You can contact Bret by clicking here

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