It is common baseball knowledge that Cano’s bat instantly and vastly improves Seattle’s infamously poor offense, but he could have the best season of his career and it still wouldn’t make any real impact improving the teams standing in the American League West. There are however, a few key players that have a real shot at making the Mariners just as threatening as any team in the scary good AL West. If only 2-3 of these players have good years, the team will more than likely suffer the same fate Mariners fans have grown frustratingly accustomed to, however if 5 or more can have a good season, the titans of American League West (Rangers, A’s, and if you’re feeling nice the Angels) are in for a rude awakening. Here in no specific order, are the 10 Mariners who have the opportunity to make Seattle a team to be feared by all. Note that Nick Franklin would be on this list if it wasn’t so likely for him to be traded as there is no way to keep him and Brad Miller without wasting talent.
1. Brad Miller, SS: He may only have 76 Major League games under his belt, but this young shortstop didn’t wait to show people what he can do. He hit for a .265 average and showed pop with 8 homers hitting two in one game on more than one occasion. In only 76 games he managed to rank 6th in the American League in Triples hitting 6 in almost half of the at bats as some of the other triples leaders. Combine that with a solid glove and ability to steal the occasional base, don’t be surprised if he improves on those numbers and opens some eyes as he gains more experience in his first full season.
2. Corey Hart, DH/1B/RF: Here is two time All-Star who has already proven himself at the Major League level and regularly hits around 30 home runs a season and maintains a good average batting .276 throughout his 9 year career. After missing the entire 2013 season with knee injuries, there are several question marks surrounding his ability to stay healthy or perform at that same high level after missing a season. One thing is for sure though, if he can stay healthy and put up numbers like he did for Milwaukee, Cano will be a whole lot more protected in that lineup.
3. Kyle Seager, 3B: Seager has a couple seasons under his belt and has shown his ability to a reliable everyday 3rd baseman with All-Star potential. After playing solid in his first full season, he improved on those numbers in 2013 batting .260 with 22 home runs. This is a young player who really has his mental game together and does things the right way, and because of that he started 160 games at 3rd base last season leading the American League. If he can replicate his 2013 performance the Mariners would should be pleased, but there is no reason he can’t become a top 3rd baseman in the league.
4. Dustin Ackley, LF: After being the second overall draft pick in 2009 and enjoying success at every level of the minors with a solid debut in the majors batting .273 in 90 games, Dustin Ackley had a rough sophomore slump hitting for a .226 average. However his 2013 season gets extremely interesting, in his the first half of the season he seemed to continue his sub par offense posting a .205 average but exploded after the all star break hitting .304 in the second half. In the month of August he had a .390 batting average and .420 on base percentage, in other words he has the ability be successful at this level. Hopefully being cemented in left field by manager Lloyd McClendon (after being moved all around in previous seasons) allows him to be in a comfortable position to find and stay in a groove.
5. Taijuan Walker, SP: Mariners fans have been long awaiting the Major League arrival of one of the top pitching prospects in the game and caught a glimpse when he started in 3 games towards the end of the 2013 season. He ended up striking out 12 and walking just 4 in the 15 total innings he pitched with a ERA of 3.60. This may be a small sample size but he came up and immediately showed he can handle the bats of major league lineups. Though he may miss a start due to some minor shoulder inflammation, if he can keep his ERA under or around 4.00 in his first full season he will have a huge impact on the Mariners starting rotation, especially if fellow pitching prospect James Paxton follows suit.
6. James Paxton, SP: Like Walker, Paxton is a top pitching prospect in the game and possibly even more important to the Mariners season being a much needed southpaw. The only other lefty starter with an realistic opportunity to make the starting rotation without a trade happening is Randy Wolf. The mariners were able to get Paxton some Major League experience at the end of the 2013 as well, and in his three starts he showed great stuff throwing for 24 innings with 21 strikeouts and an ERA of only 1.50! Can you imagine the Mariners rotation if Walker and Paxton can continue this success long term behind King Felix and Iwakuma.
7. Justin Smoak, 1B/DH: Smoak has always played great defense at 1st base and can hit 20 home runs a season as a switch hitter, but an average always below .240 leaves much to be desired from this former hitting prospect. Unlike a few other players on this list, lack of experience can no longer be used as excuse for this 26 year old with plenty of games under his belt. With Cano and McClendon showering him with confidence this spring, perhaps it’s time for a breakout year.
8. Abraham Almonte, OF: If there’s one thing the Mariners really lack, it’s a leadoff hitter who poses a real stolen base threat to the opposing team, something they lost with the departure of Ichiro. While Almonte will never be the hitter Ichiro is, his pure speed and hustle is very exciting to watch and if he can continue his short success of 2013 where he hit .264 with the club, he could have shot at filling the gap created by GM Jack Zduriencik’s power lust when it comes to acquiring talent.
9. Mike Zunino, C: Another top prospect with limited big league experience, Mike Zunino has an opportunity to blossom into one of the top catchers in baseball. He was called up in the 2013 season much earlier than most saw fit but showed all of the tools he was highly regarded for except for his bat which will no doubt improve as time goes on considering he still has less than 200 Major League plate appearances. His maturity is beyond his age and he could become a real leader for this ball club in future years. This season will be a good indicator as to weather or not the Mariners have found someone to fill the void at the catcher position left by fan favorite Dan Wilson as there really has not been a productive long term catcher for the Mariners since he departed after the 2005 season.
10. James Jones, OF: Like Abraham Almonte, Jones has incredible speed and hustle which Seattle has been lacking in recent years. He has always shown a good average throughout his minor league career and if he continues on his already hot spring, he has a great chance of making the club this year. It would be kind of funny to see a couple of unknown players like Almonte and Jones show the newly acquired Robinson Cano a thing or two about how important it is to hustle in the game of baseball.