The Next NatsPosted: April 18, 2013
Since the Seattle Mariners hired Jack Zduriencik as G.M. before the 2009 season, the former scout has taken a patient approach to building a potential winner. In this week’s Sports Illustrated, Ben Reiter profiles the team that could become baseball’s next juggernaut.
The Mariners currently field four position players under 26—Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley, Michael Saunders and Justin Smoak—who have in the past four years been ranked in the upper third of Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects. However, they and their teammates have not yet performed to their billing, as the Mariner’s have finished last in AL runs scored each of the past four seasons. Many observers, including Zduriencik, think the lack of offense was due in large part to the deep outfield at Seattle’s Safeco Park. Zduriencik says: “When you start altering your swing, trying to overcompensate, hit the ball farther, harder, then you get into bad habits.” (PAGE 48)
After a study commissioned by Zduriencik found that Safeco’s dimensions from 2009-2011 suppressed home runs to left center and centerfield by nearly 50%, the team decided to move the walls in this past winter in such a way that they now expect 30 to 40 more homers to be hit per season. Reiter says “With the physical barriers moved in, and the psychological barriers perhaps removed, the Mariners’ virtually unmatched young talent is expected to blossom.” (PAGES 48-49)
The young Mariners are led by 27-year old ace Felix Hernandez, a former Cy Young award winner who signed a seven-year, $175 million extension in the offseason. To boost the lineup, the Mariners reacquired one of the league’s most powerful sluggers in outfielder Michael Morse. The former National, who has hit six home runs in his first ten games, believes his new team feels a lot like his old team.
Morse says: “It’s the same kind of feel we had in Washington. A lot of guys with a lot of talent, but we weren’t too sure of ourselves. Then we put it all together, and look at them now. They know they’re good. I think that’s the same kind of feel we’ve got going here. I think this team could be the next Nats, for sure.” (PAGE 49)
Similar to the Nats rebuild under G.M. Mike Rizzo, the Mariners scouted very well and hit on their high picks of pitchers, like 2011 No. 2 overall pick Danny Hultzen (Baseball America’s 29th best prospect) and 2010 second round pick Taijuan Walker (No. 18 on B.A.’s list); and on their lower picks, like 2010 fourth round lefty James Paxton (No. 87 on B.A.’s List). In addition, they have two more hitting prospects in Triple-A, catcher Mike Zunino (No. 9) and middle infielder Nick Franklin (No. 79) on the vaunted Baseball America prospect list. Reiter says:
“Like the Mariners now, the Nationals then were coming off a string of losing seasons but were stockpiling prospects who would form the core of a team that won 98 games last season and is a World Series favorite this year.” (PAGE 49)
Reiter says that the patient G.M., like Rizzo, will look to add payroll and trade prospects to improve his club in the future. Zduriencik says: “I would be foolish to say, This is when [we’re] going to arrive. The only thing you can do as general manager is to try to accumulate as much talent as you can, let the coaching staff and minor league staff do their thing and let it jell.” (PAGE 50)