Seattle Mariners pitchers and catchers, who have been in spring training for a week, will be joined by the club’s position players Friday. Seattle’s projected batting order includes one notable newcomer, Jesus Montero, one glaring absentee, Chone Figgins, and not a whole lot of promise of offensive pop.
With a full cast assembled, the Mariners will hold daily workouts until March 2, when they play their spring training opener against the Oakland Athletics at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. The Mariners will play an exhibition game at the Peoria Sports Complex the next afternoon, March 3.
The Mariners, who have not finished higher than third in the AL West since 2007, are coming off four consecutive seasons of terrible offensive production. The Mariners scored a franchise-low 513 runs two years ago, and came back last season with 556 (second-worst in club history) in 2011, when they ranked 14th (last) in the AL runs scored, team batting average (.233), on-base percentage (.292), slugging percentage (.348) and OPS (.640).
The Mariners also ranked between 11th and 13th in every other offensive category and finished first in just one — striking out (1,280).
In an attempt to help boost the Mariners out of such doldrums, the club traded No. 2 starter Michael Pineda to the New York Yankees for 21-year-old C Jesus Montero, who hit .328 in 18 late-season major league games after batting .288 in 109 contests for AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre of the International League.
Manager Eric Wedge also decided, at least for now, that he has no everyday position to offer Figgins, based on two consecutive lame seasons since signing a four-year, $36 million contract. With Figgins batting just .188 in 81 games last season, he will be given a chance to regain a role as a utility player.
Regardless of who bats where, the Mariners don’t have much offensively, which means Wedge will be hoping for dramatic improvement from younger hitters, especially Ackley, Mike Carp and Justin Smoak, a rebound year from Ichiro (hit. .272 last season), and a return to form from Franklin Gutierrez, who played in only 92 games in 2011 while battling stomach and digestive issues and a strained oblique that wiped out his September.
This is MLB.com’s projected batting order, by the hitter’s 2011 statistics:
1. 2B Dustin Ackley: .273 BA, .348 OBP, .417 SLG, 6 HR, 36 RBIs
Ackley recorded 91 hits in 90 games, becoming just the fifth Mariners rookie to produce more than a hit per game. Ackley spent most of 2011 hitting out of the No. 3 hole, making 71 starts at that spot, most on the team. Among AL rookies (made his major league debut June 17), Ackley ranked first in walks (40), second in triples (7), second in on-base percentage (.238) and fifth in batting average (.273).In order to become an effective leadoff hitter, Ackley needs to boost his on-base percentage. In Ichiro’s best years, he reached base about 40 percent of the time.
2. RF Ichiro Suzuki: .272 BA, .310 OBP, .335 SLG, 5 HR, 47 RBIs
Relative to his performances during the first 10 years of his major league career, Ichiro flopped in 2011. His age and several metrics suggest that if he has a bounce-back year, the bounce won’t be high. Sabermetrics further suggest Ichiro is an irreversible decline. Wedge has talked about taking him out of the leadoff spot, and if fails to respond adequately, he may not play every day for the first time in his career.
3. LF Mike Carp: .276 BA, .326 OBP, .466 SLG, 12 HR, 46 RBIs
Carp appeared in 79 games for the Mariners and also saw action in 66 with the Tacoma Rainiers. He showed enough at the major league level — 80 hits in 79 games — that the Mariners are confident he can become a significant run producer. Carp had a 5-for-5 afternoon at Minnesota Sept. 20, and was named AL Rookie of the Month for August, when he produced 25 RBIs, tying a Mariners rookie record (also Danny Tartabull). He also had a 20-game hitting streak.
4. DH Jesus Montero: .328 BA, .406 OBP, .590 SLG, 4 HR, 12 RBIs
Acquired from the Yankees in the Pineda trade, Montero has been one of baseball’s top-hitting prospects for the past few years. Now he’ll get a chance to show what he can do on an every-day basis in the heart of Seattle’s lineup. He can also spell Miguel Olivo behind the plate.
5. 1B Justin Smoak: .234 BA, .323 OBP, .396 SLG, 15 HR, 55 RBIs
When the Mariners acquired Smoak in the middle of the 2010 season (in the Cliff Lee trade), they thought they had the makings of an All-Star power hitter. But Smoak hasn’t been able to put it together at the plate. In 153 games with Seattle (2010-11), Smoak hit just .235 with a .398 slugging percentage. Ichiro’s career slugging percentage is .421. In Smoak’s defense, he had injury issues in 2011 and had to deal with the death of his father. The Mariners have reported that Smoak added strength over the offseason.
6. CF Franklin Gutierrez: .224 BA, .261 OBP, .273 SLG, 1 HR, 19 RBIs
Gutierrez will enter the 2012 season holding the American League record with 786 consecutive errorless chances in the outfield (he has not made an error since Aug. 20, 2009, a span of 284 consecutive games). If Gutierrez can get his hitting back to where it was in 2009, when he batted .283, the Mariners will have added some significant offense.
7. C Miguel Olivo: .224 BA, .253 OBP, .388 SLG, 19 HR, 62 RBIs
Olivo led the Mariners in home runs last year with 19, the lowest total to lead the team since Pat Putnam also hit 19 in 1983. Olivo’s 19 tied the club record for homers by a catcher, and he also became only the fourth catcher in the expansion era (since 1961) to lead a team in homers and RBIs, joining John Romano (Cleveland, 1962), Lance Parrish (Detroit, 1983, 1984) and Victor Martinez (Cleveland, 2007). But his lapses make him a liability on defense — he led AL catchers in passed balls.
8. 3B Kyle Seager: .258 BA, .312 OBP, .379 SLG, 3 HR, 13 RBIs
The 23-year-old rookie saw action in 23 games for Seattle in 2011, and probably wouldn’t seen any action at all if Figgins hadn’t hit .188. With the Mariners unable to count on Figgins, Seager, who hit .258 last year, will probably get the nod at third.
9. SS Brendan Ryan: .248 BA, .313 OBP, .326 SLG, 3 HR, 39 RBs
Ryan played in 123 games for the Mariners in 2011, and did a lot more with his glove than his bat. According to the Fielding Bible, Ryan led all major league shortstops with 18 defensive runs saved. Next closest in the AL was Texas’ Elvis Andrus with 12.
Here are three more who will bear watching:
C John Jaso: Looking to add to his depth behind the plate, GM Jack Zduriencik added Jaso in a December trade with the Rays for reliever Josh Lueke. Jaso is regarded as a good, left-handed hitter and could make the team as a third catcher.
1B/SS: Carlos Guillen: Guillen had three All-Star seasons after leaving the Mariners in 2003, but is 36 years old now and suffered enough injuries last year that he was able to play in only 28 games. The Mariners signed him to a minor league contract.
SS: Munenori Kawasaki: He’s a 30-year-old, eight-time All-Star (2004-11) and a two-time Golden Glove winner with Fukuoka in the Japan Pacific League. In 11 seasons in Japan, he hit .294 (1343×4573) with 631 runs scored, 65 triples and 262 stolen bases in 1,145 games. Last season, he batted .267 (161×603) in 144 games and helped lead the Softbank Hawks to their first Japan Series championship in eight years.