From a Fantasy Baseball perspective, the Mariners exceeded expectations last year. A 41-year-old Raul Ibanez led the team with 29 home runs and their starting rotation boasted two Cy Young candidates in perennial superstar Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. Iwakuma finished the year with a 138 ERA+, besting King Felix’s 121.
Seattle also has a young core of players who got the opportunity to back up their top-prospect status.
A pair of middle infielders, Brad Miller and Nick Franklin and catcher-of-the-future Mike Zunino, all made their major-league debuts in 2013.
Zunino was afforded the opportunity to catch at the major league level after former prospect Jesus Montero was a massive disappointment at the plate, as well as behind it. He sported an anemic .208/.264/.327 slash line before being demoted to Triple-A after just 29 games.
Projected 2014 Seattle Mariners “Go-To” Lineup
- Dustin Ackley, CF
- Kyle Seager, 3B
- Robinson Cano, 2B
- Corey Hart, DH
- Justin Smoak, 1B
- Logan Morrison, LF
- Michael Saunders, RF
- Mike Zunino, C
- Brad Miller, SS
- SP1 Felix Hernandez, RHP
- SP2 Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP
- SP3 Taijuan Walker, RHP
- SP4 Scott Baker, RHP
- SP5 James Paxton, LHP
- Others: Erasmo Ramirez, RHP; Charlie Furbush, LHP; Tom Wilhelmsen RHP
- SU Danny Farquhar, RHP
- SU Yoervis Medina, RHP
- CL Fernando Rodney, RHP
Fantasy Studs: Robinson Cano, Felix Hernandez
Cano is by far the best second baseman in Fantasy Baseball. The only thing that might depress his value is the move to Safeco Field. Ken Woolums from ESPN Stats & Information seems to think that Cano’s ability to change his approach based on where he is playing will enable him to hit well in Seattle. Also according to ESPN Stats & Information, every one of Cano’s home runs over the past three seasons would have been out of Safeco, so his power output should not be adversely affected.
Cano will be joining an offense that was about league average last year (OPS+ of 98), while leaving a Yankees offense that was that finished 13th in the American league with an OPS+ of 87. Granted, Ibanez, Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales have departed from the Mariners lineup, they’ve also added Corey Hart and Logan Morrison to bolster their supporting cast.
Felix Hernandez owners have long lamented the poor run support that the Mariners have given the King. Mariners fans and Felix owners alike are hoping the addition of their superstar second baseman will give Felix the run support he needs to move from a three-category stud to the coveted four-category ace.
Felix has logged 200-plus innings each of the past six seasons. Heading into the season last year, many were concerned with his loss of velocity. He showed that he has evolved from just relying on his stuff, to becoming a great all-around pitcher. His 26.3% strikeout rate and 5.6% walk rate in 2013 were both the best of his career.
Breakout Candidates: Kyle Seager, Brad Miller
Kyle Seager has posted back to back solid seasons at third base for the Mariners. His 3.4 fWAR was seventh-best among third basemen. He’s slated to hit right ahead of Cano, so I expect he’ll see better pitches and his runs scored will improve. This summer will be Seager’s age 26 season, so he’s on the cusp of his offensive prime where players typically see improvements in their offensive performance.
Another player poised to breakout is shortstop Brad Miller. In his 76 games as a rookie in 2013, Miller hit eight home runs and stole five bases. Put those stats on top of his minor-league numbers and he hit a total of 20 homers and stole 11 bases. His batting average (.265) and on-base percentage (.318) took a major hit when he was called up to the big leagues. His minor-league track record points to both the ability to hit for average (.334 in three minor-league seasons) and get on base at a high clip (.409 in three minor-league seasons). Look for Miller to make adjustments to his approach and raise his AVG and OBP this season.
Sleeper Candidates: Corey Hart, Erasmo Ramirez, Fernando Rodney
Hart is coming off microfracture surgery to his right knee that caused him to miss all of the 2013 season. When healthy Hart, has raked – he has just struggled to stay on the field. Moving to the AL where he can reduce some of the wear and tear on his body by spending time as the Mariners DH will benefit him greatly. Although Safeco is still very pitcher-friendly, the alterations they made to the ballpark prior to last season benefit right-handed power hitters. He’s also going to be hitting behind Cano, so his RBI opportunities should be plentiful.
On the mound, 23-year-old Erasmo Ramírez has a chance to make the rotation. In 2013 he had some arm issues that caused him to miss about half of the season. When he finally joined the team, his first six appearances were pretty rough. He followed that up with eight starts where he posted a 3.56 ERA. He didn’t set the world on fire, but I expect him to hold down a rotation spot for much of the year and I think he’s capable of posting a 3.80 ERA with a 1.20 WHIP this season.
Not exactly a sleeper, but definitely a potential value play, Fernando Rodney was a recent signee with the 2014 Seattle Mariners, bringing a proven closer to the Northwest. The question is whether or not the 37-year-old can continue to deliver as he ages.
Rodney’s big problem has always been giving up walks. His All-Star 2012 season stands as the outlier over his career. In 2012, his WHIP was 0.777 while his career WHIP is 1.358. Last season, he fell back to Earth, and therefore didn’t earn back his Draft Day value. Before the signing, Rodney’s ADP among relief pitchers was 30th. Some of that is due to not having a team. Even though he now has a team, he’s likely to still have a depressed value based on his 2013 stats and age.
Bust Candidate: Mike Zunino
No question about it, Zunino was rushed to the majors. He only had 364 minor-league plate appearances before making his major-league debut. This rush job was why the young backstop was only able to manage a .214/.290/.329 slashline over his 52 games with the Mariners last season. He is still a very well thought of hitter, but he just hasn’t had time to adapt to professional baseball. Just two years ago, he was preparing for his final season at the University of Florida.
Rotowire.com projects Zunino for 56 R, 15 HR, 51 RBI, 0 SB and a .232 AVG. I’ll take the under on all of them (knowing I’ll push on SB). He’ll be 23 when the season starts and as a catcher and he has many other responsibilities besides acclimating with the bat. He also has an able backup who could easily step in if there is a need to send Zunino back to the minors for some seasoning.
Top Rookie: Taijuan Walker
I get giddy when I think about watching Taijuan Walker pitch. He has a monster four-seam fastball that comes in at 95 mph, a strong cutter and a curveball that I think is underrated. He doesn’t command the strike zone very well, so his WHIP will be inflated, but he’ll deliver solid strikeouts.
One thing to keep in mind is that his highest innings total came last year with 156.1 IP over three levels. To expect more than 165-170 IP this season would be foolhardy. Even with the light innings total, he is likely to net you 175-plus Ks.
What Should We Know?
I’m not sure if the Mariners have arrived quite yet. They do have a growing number of Fantasy relevant players on the club. First and foremost is Cano. He elevates the ballclub merely by his presence. I don’t think he’ll necessarily rub off on any player in any way, but he brings a top bat to an offense that has lacked a consistent power stick for a long time.
They’re also a very young team, with the average age in the starting lineup is 26.5 years old. Some of that young talent will succeed and blossom, and the rest will wither away. I like the Mariners’ chances with consistent contributors in Seager and Cano, but can’t help but worry about the logjam at 1B and DH with Justin Smoak, Hart and Logan Morrison.
Looking at the 2014 Seattle Mariners’ starting rotation, I really like the top three in Felix, Iwakuma, and Taijuan Walker. After that it’s a total crapshoot. James Paxton might be a solid back-end lefty or he may turn out to be a LOOGY out of the pen. With free-agent signing Scott Baker and 2013 starters Brandon Maurer and Blake Beavan waiting at Triple-A, the Mariners actually have some decent starting pitching depth.
Kendall Guillemette is the founder and editor of Vigilante Baseball. He grew up in Chicago, but now calls Portland, Oregon, home. You can get analysis from Kendall and his writers in your inbox by signing up for their free baseball newsletter.
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