Getting To Know The 2015 Seattle Mariners: Infield


This is the eighth in a series of posts previewing the 2015 AL West. Previous posts: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Houston Astros, Oakland Athletics, Texas RangersSeattle Mariners rotation, Seattle Mariners bullpenSeattle Mariners outfield. Next up: baseball games that actually count in the standings.

This is the last one of these you’re going to see this year. No more big season previews, just games from here on out. Baseball tomorrow. Felix Hernandez vs. Jered Weaver, tomorrow, 12:10 in the afternoon, at Safeco Field. Maybe you’ll be there, maybe you won’t. But everyone’s going to be tuned in to this one, because who wouldn’t be?? It’s Felix Day. Hasn’t been one of these in a while.

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You know who you’re going to see at opening day? The Seattle Mariners infielders, that’s who. Haven’t met ’em yet? Well, then you’ve come to the right place. Also, what the hell, how don’t you know about these guys? Some of the best Mariners are Mariners infielders, you know. Some of the best players in baseball are Mariners infielders.

This is the position group that already has high-end talent, with a few youngsters who could soon be players of that same kind of caliber. Even at the weakest infield position (first base) there’s still tons of interesting depth in the high minors, and even a top prospect or two on the way. The infield is strong, and that’s exciting since this is honest-to-goodness the Seattle Mariners we’re talking about.

Willie Bloomquist

Mar 28, 2015; Peoria, AZ, USA; Seattle Mariners infielder Willie Bloomquist (8) during a spring training game against the San Francisco Giants at Peoria Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

All that gushing about the M’s star power in the infield up there put me in a real Willie Bloomquist kind of mood. Bloomquist does it all! What he doesn’t do is anything particularly well. He’s the prototypical 25th man, often to a fault, and we’ll be graced by his presence again this year.

Seriously though, Bloomquist can’t play anything above adequate defense anywhere, can’t really hit for anything more than a hollow average, and has even been below-average running the bases in recent years. He’s no good, but he’s all smiles and somehow he’s a Seattle institution. I say “somehow” as if any of us don’t know why – fans of a losing team love a great smile. Willie’s our living reminder of 2008. Cool.

Jesus Sucre

Mar 8, 2015; Goodyear, AZ, USA; Seattle Mariners catcher Jesus Sucre (2) in the dugout in between innings against the Cincinnati Reds during a spring training baseball game at Goodyear Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The Mariners put some pressure on Sucre this spring by bringing in a few other potentially passable backup catcher options. He ultimately won the job despite only getting three Cactus League hits, which just goes to show how the M’s value his defense. Some have argued that Sucre’s impact behind the plate is overstated, but most numbers (and the all-important eye test) seem to indicate he’s fine, if not significantly above average.

Sucre’s also got a career major league wRC+ of 24. Reminder: wRC+ weighs all total offensive contributions on a scale where 100 is league average. The very worst regular players any given year usually are no lower than 50. Sucre’s been twice as bad at the plate as the worst-hitting MLB regulars. He’s in pitcher territory, and smooth hands can only take you so far. The job is his to keep as long as he hits twice as much as he has. Should be… easy.

Mike Zunino

Mar 24, 2015; Peoria, AZ, USA; Seattle Mariners catcher Mike Zunino (3) reacts after missing a pitch during a spring training game against the San Diego Padres at Peoria Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

Sucre and his 26 wRC+ had Zunino and his 86 beat in one area last season – batting average. The former #3 overall pick hit .199 in his first full season in the majors, an ugly indication of his very real strikeout problem. If his average (and OBP) were that bad, then how did he end up as merely a below average hitter instead of the terrible one he so often looked like? The answer is easy: power.

Zunino has a hell of a lot of power in his bat, as evidenced by his .205 isolated slugging. That’s well-above average, and explains how he manged 22 home runs. His offensive game is so lopsided that it almost seems like he has to hit more balls in play. Oh yeah, and his BABIP last year was .248 – unusually low for a guy who so often made such strong contact.

There’s still a lot of figuring out to do for Zunino, who was rushed to the bigs and never really got to experience the minors. That being said, if this guy can get his OBP up even to .290, he’s a star. Think Evan Gattis but with all-world defense behind the plate. Because that’s what Zunino does back there – he frames, he blocks, he does it all. He’s one of the best defensive catchers around, and he mashes, and he’s only 24. You don’t have to squint to see how Zunino could soon be a star.

Logan Morrison

Mar 17, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Seattle Mariners infielder Logan Morrison against the Chicago White Sox at Camelback Ranch. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

LoMo was an above-average hitter last season, which would have seemed impossible if you stopped watching after the first half. Maybe some did, since we’re all a bunch of Mariners fans. We’re used to tuning out – plenty of people probably just instinctively turned their TVs off last summer, not realizing the Mariners were good. Those who did missed the apparent emergence of Logan Morrison. It all happened so fast.

After a dismal month of July, Morrison exploded with a hot August and a completely ridiculous September. His second half wRC+ of 127 had everyone drooling and wondering out loud if this was the “real” Morrison. He did start striking out less and finding more holes with his batted balls, not to mention hitting the ball harder. Many feel like this indicates he’s reached a new level.

So is it a hot streak or is it a revelation? Personally I find this a hard debate to take a side on since a) we have no way of knowing at this time, and b) as fans, we have a vested emotional interest in one outcome. We want LoMo to succeed, and last time we saw him, he succeeded. He might not be the player he was in the second half, but he might be. Either way he sure as hell isn’t Justin Smoak.

Robinson Cano

Mar 30, 2015; Peoria, AZ, USA; Seattle Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano (22) salutes fans after hitting a home run against the Los Angeles Angels at Peoria Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Over a year later and it’s still weird to type the name “Robinson Cano” so often. He was the best player on the most storied team, and now he’s on the Mariners, and he’s going to be on the Mariners forever, more or less. He came to Seattle in exchange for unfathomable money, and then was worth it. That’s incredible. He was so good last year!

Cano’s not going to be a superstar forever, unless he is. That’s unlikely, of course, and so right now we’re in the position of waiting for a decline phase. It’s a morbid position, and one that perhaps isn’t entirely fair. Cano’s never been bad before. Why worry? So what if he’s getting older? Bartolo Colon is getting older, too, you know.

Robinson Cano was almost certainly underrated by defensive metrics last year. He was steady and spectacular at the plate, and has emerged as a vocal leader in the M’s clubhouse. He’s done it all, and there’s no reason to think he won’t do it again this year. Maybe he’ll even swat thirty homers. Because you know he probably still could.

Brad Miller

Mar 30, 2015; Peoria, AZ, USA; Seattle Mariners shortstop Brad Miller (5) leads off of first base against the Los Angeles Angels at Peoria Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

My gut tells me this was going to be Chris Taylor‘s job out the gate, until he broke his wrist in a spring training game. Stupid spring training games. Why bother with them? All they do is rob us of players we like. Fortunately for the M’s, they were in position to lose one young shortstop and still have another. And there’s reason to believe Miller’s the better of the two.

Evaluating Brad Miller comes down to what you make of his offensive profile versus the hitter he was last year. His early-season struggles were comically pronounced, but all along he’s had that steady power stroke. The upside is undeniable in his bat, and in 2013 we even got to see him do a little hitting. His defense at short is easily above-average, which makes him a player worth rostering in and of itself. That’s a wonderful foundation for a young player to start from.

But what if the bat finally takes off? Miller with above average offensive production is probably one of the best shortstops in the league. His potential as a hitter is high enough that when combined with his defense he could be an easy star. And Taylor is good enough to have been the slight favorite over Miller for this job. The M’s are set up the middle, and that’s without even getting to Ketel Marte and Tyler Smith.

Kyle Seager

Mar 22, 2015; Peoria, AZ, USA; Seattle Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager (15) looks on during the game against the Texas Rangers at Peoria Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

For years the shtick with the M’s was that they’d turn all their stud prospects into below-average MLB players. It’s based in reality, and for a while it seemed there would never be another homegrown position player star in Seattle. Thank you, Kyle Seager. Thank you for showing us the light.

Seager’s a $100 million man now, and deservingly so. He hits like a star, fields the hot corner like a star, and is under team control for almost as long as Cano now. He’s the best young position player the M’s have drafted and developed in a long, long time.

Never mind the huge gains that Seager made last year; he was a cornerstone even before he upped his offensive and defensive game to incredible new heights. Now he’s no less than one of the best players in the game. He’s also Seattle’s youngest star player, meaning he’s the most likely to stay this good for a while. Hang your hopes on Kyle Seager. He’s the real deal.


Mar 28, 2015; Peoria, AZ, USA; Seattle Mariners infielder Willie Bloomquist (8) during a spring training game against the San Francisco Giants at Peoria Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

The Mariners have the best second baseman in baseball, and they’ve flanked him with some seriously good players. Seager is close to being the best third baseman in the league. Both Miller and Zunino are nothing more than a little OBP away from being stars. Morrison may have already begun blossoming into a quality first baseman, and Willie Bloomquist looks like he’ll play less than ever. Encouraging signs everywhere.

The outfield is so high-variance, but the infield is steady. Note that Miller and Zunino were real contributors last year even amidst their struggles at the plate. Cano and Seager are coming off five-plus win seasons. Sucre can only get better, one would hope. The major leaguers here are real, bonafide major leaguers, and they’re poised to lead this Mariners team as far as they can go.

This is the most encouraging group of players the Mariners have had in a really long time. They’re a popular pick among fans, scouts, executives, and the general public, and for good reason. It’s easier to see this team panning out than it is to see them flopping. That’s amazing. Baseball starts tomorrow.