by Rob Leibowitz
The Mariners have struggled to generate offensive production and third base in particular has been a vacuum given the failure of Chone Figgins (.476 OPS in close to 300 plate appearances) and the need to utilize Adam Kennedy there in his stead. Enter Kyle Seager, the Mariners' top third base prospect who was called up recently and will be given a chance to claim the job as his own.
Seager was a third-round pick by the Mariners in the 2009 draft out of the University of North Carolina. He has never been a high ceiling prospect, but a polished, fundamentally sound player drafted for his productivity, just like we saw in many similar instances in the first few rounds of the 2011 amateur draft. This season he has played at Double-A and Triple-A, compiling a combined .336/.401/.495 line. He is not a pure power hitter but is an excellent doubles hitter (29 already) who can drive the occasional home run (6). His strength is his plate discipline and bat speed that allow him to hit line drives. However, he has below average speed and that aspect of his game could preclude him from developing into a consistent .300-hitting threat. His defense at third is adequate and because of his limited ceiling, he could be passed over in the long run. For now, he is the type of player who could transition well to the majors quickly because of his swing and contact-making skills, but to expect much more than a .280 batting average and high single-digit to mid-teens home runs per season is probably asking too much. While he may not be exciting he still has value, and in AL-only leagues I would expect to bid in excess of $20 FAAB to acquire him, if not quite a bit more depending on the available free agent pool of deeper AL-only leagues. Kennedy and Figgins owners should be in on him given their status now as utility players.
Bedard: trade bait, opportunity
Now originally in my impact prospects for 2011, I felt Alex Liddi would get the call first to give the hot corner a try given his above average power (17 home runs for Triple-A Tacoma). However, I have also noted in the past that his defense made him best suited for a first base or DH role and that his strikeout rates combined with being right-handed might make him a wrong side of the platoon split player in the long run. A 32% strikeout rate in Triple-A (a strikeout rate that has been trending in the wrong direction with each promotion to a new level of the minors), however, makes it look like that is exactly where he is headed. Though he is still young, he may be headed on an organizational player career path now given the lack of available openings in the Mariners' lineup. In other words, if you own him in a keeper league, it will not kill you to cut him if you have other available farm options or an opportunity to upgrade your minor league roster.
Seager was not the only recent call-up of the Mariners, who have been fairly comfortable promoting prospects this season as Dustin Ackley, Greg Halman and Carlos Peguero can all attest. Blake Beavan got the nod most recently and had a respectable major league debut, going seven innings strong and allowing just one earned run. While I consider him a viable big league starter, he is not front-line material. His best skill is his ability to throw strikes. He has yet to post a BB/9 of above 2.0 at any minor league stop, though he was close (1.9) over 16 starts for Tacoma this season. As you would expect of an extreme strike-thrower who works with a sinker to generate ground-balls (Over 50% at Double-A Frisco last year, though not quite as dominant in that area since moving to the Mariners organization). He concentrates mostly on generating contact and using his defense to generate outs and as such, a 6.0 K/9 may be his ceiling and a sub-6.0 K/9 is a more likely outcome. If he can keep his BB/9 under 2.0 and his K/9 above 5.0 while showing more consistency to induce ground balls, he could stick and succeed as a No. 4 starter. Regardless, I see him as a 4.00-plus ERA pitcher in the long run given his array of stuff and skills. Keep in mind though that Beavan is up for a cup of coffee at the moment with Erik Bedard slated to return immediately following the All-Star break. However, he is a prime candidate to receive a call-up and get a more extended look should the Mariners deal veterans around the trade deadline. Bedard, for example, given a small contract, a likely salary upgrade coming to him in 2012 and a solid season, could be an attractive commodity for the Mariners to deal.
In other Mariners minor league news, Mike Carp and Mike Wilson could get additional opportunities to play given the struggles of Peguero and Jack Cust. Both players have been up with the big club this season and have produced well in the minors. While neither player screams everyday big leaguer, they are two journeymen who have at least been producing and have some power and OBP skills at their disposal. Beyond them, however, there is not much left at Triple-A Tacoma to get too excited about. Josh Lueke is perhaps the most interesting and the most likely to get recalled reliever on the staff. He is a big right-hander with a mid to upper 90s fastball and enough depth in his slider and split-finger fastball to handle righties and lefties alike. In 35 innings he has a 8.0 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9. He could fill setup man duties down the road and could end up a closer candidate as well. Originally, I expected Daniel Cortes to be atop the heap for that honor, but he has struggled greatly with his control and has a 6+ BB/9 to go along with his 11+ K/9 this year.
Meanwhile, in Double-A Jackson we find the recently promoted Nicholas Franklin. Given that he was going to start the season in A+ ball, I did not place him on my 2011 Impact Prospects list, but he could still get a September cup of coffee and will be on my 2012 list. A switch-hitter, Franklin had a solid, but far from earth-shattering .275/.356/.411 line, especially when you consider he was playing at one of the best hitter's parks in all of professional baseball (High Desert). He was walking 11% of the time while not making contact around one-fifth of the time and has 6 home runs and 14 steals on the season. However, I am not going to get down on him as a prospect given his age and how far he has come. He was a 20-20 hitter as a 19-year-old in low-A ball, turned 20 this past March and has already made it to Double-A. So right now, I applaud him for holding his own at these levels of play. He would now benefit, however, from staying in Double-A the rest of the season and perhaps starting at this level again in 2012 to improve his plate discipline skills. Long-term, his position is unclear though he will likely stay in the middle infield. For now, he remains at shortstop though he could ultimately move to second base, which could in turn push Ackley to the outfield. One side note - Franklin is currently on the minor league DL with concussion symptoms after being hit in the jaw with a bat.
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