Mariners Can Expect Strong Youth Movement in 2011 After Summer of Disappointment

Mariners Can Expect Strong Youth Movement in 2011 After Summer of Disappointment Heading into the 2010 season, many analysts predicted the Seattle Mariners would be a strong candidate to dethrone the Angels as champions in the AL West.

Unfortunately for fans in Seattle, the exact opposite has happened. The M's are 55-88 and in last place in the AL West, mainly because the team simply cannot hit. Seattle ranks dead last in the league in runs scored, batting average and OPS.

Former AL Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee was brought in from Philadelphia to pair with ace Felix Hernandez as the most dynamic pitching duo in baseball. However, due to the Mariners' struggles, the club traded Lee to the Texas Rangers on July 9.

The future looks bright for M's fans as Griffin Cooper from Sodo Mojo tells us the team may have some quality young players coming up in the next few years.

NESN.com: Justin Smoak was sent down to Triple-A Tacoma less than a month after being the centerpiece of the other side of the Cliff Lee deal. Now that the rosters have been expanded, Smoak still has not been called back up. Does this concern you?

Griffin Cooper: First off, the reason that Smoak — as well as several other players — haven’t been called up, is that the organization made the decision a couple weeks back to hold off on bringing anyone up until the Rainiers’ playoff run is over. So the fact that he’s still down in Triple-A is nothing to be concerned about — his numbers, however, are a little bit worrisome. He was absolutely awful during his brief stint with the big league club, and while he is posting a solid .859 OPS in Tacoma, his K percentage is higher than it’s ever been in the minor leagues. I think that in the long run he’ll be just fine, but I’m not so sure he’s going to have the fantastic 2011 that a lot of people are probably expecting.

NESN.com: Should Felix Hernandez get legitimate Cy Young consideration, even though he has a paltry 11-10 record?

G.C.: Should he be in consideration? Absolutely. Should he win it? Maybe, maybe not. In reality, a win-loss record is such a flawed stat that it shouldn’t even be considered in Cy Young voting, and where it counts, guys like Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee, and Francisco Liriano look a lot better than guys like CC Sabathia and David Price, despite significantly lower win totals. In the AL, those three pitchers are 1-2-3 in WAR and xFIP, while Felix and Liriano are both Top 4 in strikeouts. If the voters do end up going with CC solely because of the wins, it’s going to be a major disappointment — especially after the progress they made in 2009, when they gave the awards to Tim Lincecum and Zack Greinke, despite their low win totals.

NESN.com: Luke French has pitched very well in a majority of his starts since the beginning of August, but he’s also looked shaky in a few. What can we expect from the tall lefty in 2011?

G.C.: Once in a while, Luke French will have a really good outing or two, and we’ll start to think that maybe he’s finally figured it out. Then he’ll go out five days later and give up four runs to the A’s, or walk five guys in five innings. That’s just who Luke French is — he’ll probably never be a good, consistent starter, as he just doesn’t have the stuff. His best chance at long-term success is to figure out a way to cut down on the walks. If he can do that, he should at least be able to find a spot at the back of someone’s rotation, whether or not it’s the Mariners’.

NESN.com: Chone Figgins has been absolutely horrible in the first year of his four-year, $36 million contract. Do you think he will turn it around next year, or is he still secretly working for the L.A. Angels?

G.C.: Back on Aug. 14, I wrote a blog post about how well Chone Figgins had been hitting since the beginning of July, and how he appeared to be pretty much back to his career norms. Since Aug. 14, he’s posted a line of .230/.291/.240, with one extra-base hit. His defense has also been atrocious – his UZR at third base is negative-9.0. At this point, I’m really not sure what to expect from him going forward – I’d really like to think that moving him back to third base will make a big difference, but it’s impossible to know how much truth to that there actually is. I would love nothing more than for Chone Figgins to spring back to his Angels form and give us a great 2011 season, but I just can’t honestly say that I see it happening.

NESN.com: Adrian Beltre will play against his former club again this week. Why do you think Beltre, whose two best seasons came one year before and one year after his stint with the M’s, struggled in Seattle?

G.C.: The biggest reason that Beltre struggled offensively in Seattle is pretty clear: ballpark dimensions. It’s common knowledge that Safeco Field is murder on right-handed power hitters and Adrian was one of its greatest victims. I, as well as many others in the Mariners community, predicted a huge offensive season as soon as news broke that he had inked a deal with the Sox. Fenway’s dimensions are such a dramatic opposite of Safeco’s — it’s no surprise that his power numbers are back up.

NESN.com: What Mariners prospects are on the horizon, namely ones that could make a significant impact in 2011?

G.C.: There are a few big ones in the Mariners system poised to break onto the scene in 2011, namely Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, and Michael Pineda. Smoak, as you know, is a big switch-hitting first baseman, Ackley, who was the Mariners’ first-round pick in the 2009 amateur draft, is a lefty hitting second baseman with an excellent bat and above-average gap power. Pineda is a right-handed pitcher from the Dominican Republic with some insane stuff. All three of these guys have legitimate shots at starting jobs out of Spring Training next year, and they should collectively make a huge impact. One more name worth remembering is Josh Lueke, also known as the fourth piece of the Cliff Lee trade. He’s a right handed reliever who’s looked absolutely brilliant all year — he could be a big part of the Mariners’ relief corps in 2011.

Thanks again to Griffin Cooper from Sodo Mojo for his contribution to this article.

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