Originally written on NorthWest Sports Beat  |  Last updated 1/31/13
To the infield Headline: Prospects have turned into veterans quickly for Seattle, but will that be a strength or weakness going forward? The infield has less new faces than the outfield heading into Spring Training, but change is still brewing in Seattle. Led by 3B Kyle Seager and 2B Dustin Ackley, the future of the Mariners groundball specialists is especially bright. SS Brendan Ryan is the presumed starter as the defensive captain, but newcomer Robert Andino will be taking some reps alongside Ryan at short to give manager Eric Wedge more options when needed. The biggest question comes at 1B, Wedge could potentially play Justin Smoak, Michael Morse, Kendrys Morales, or even Ackley at first (as he did last year to spell Smoak). After the departure of our beloved John Jaso, Jesus Montero has been given the keys to the catcher spot; let’s hope he treats it well. 3 Positives Defense It’s put up or shut up time for Dustin Ackley in 2013 (Photo: zimbio.com) Ryan and Ackley were the most efficient double play tandem in baseball a year ago. No matter how poorly Ryan is swinging the bat, his defense is one of the best in the league, and Ackley has transitioned to second base incredibly well since switching just before his rookie year. Seager is great on the hot corner, and say what you will about Smoak (I know I have), but his defense is the best of the 1B options and he does make others better. Experience It always takes time to get acclimated into the majors. Ackley, Smoak, and Ryan have all taken their bumps, and it is time for them to put up or shut up. This is the year Ackley takes the leap from starting 2B to All-Star candidate second baseman. The risk of learning on the job will reward Mariners fans with Ackley’s productivity in 2013. If Ryan fails to produce and his defense sputters, Seager, Andino and Nick Franklin will be ready to go-especially if Franklin proves worthy in the minor leagues. The Heart Morse will be a difference maker this season, Morales will also excel in a contract year in an attempt to cash in with next year’s mediocre free agent class. But every Mariner fan knows the heart of this team offensively falls on Montero and Seager. With power and average showing great signs a year ago, these two, and Ackley, could bring the future of baseball back to Seattle for the first time since A-Rod and The Kid. 3 Negatives The Trade Smiles may not be the norm if Justin Smoak can’t get it together Brendan Ryan is great, and his mustache will live forever whether it is on his face or not. But Seattle has traded top-notch defense for an abysmal batting average, no power, and a lot of sacrifice bunts. Let’s face reality; this team needed a veteran leader the last two years to make the defense what it has become. Without Ryan, it is hard to think what this team would have done with so many rookies, but it might be time to look elsewhere. If it is, then that is indeed good news for Seattle. First-base debate I am annoyed with this already. Imagine this season when one of the 3-4 players playing 1B is struggling. The media and fans will be calling for another guy day in and day out. It will be Justin Smoak on April 1, but one month in there will be a switch (my guess is Morse), and that will be the end of it. If Smoak somehow revives his career and grabs the job without letting go, then Seattle is set at first for a while. I doubt it. Room The days of Luis Rodriguez getting clutch hits for the Mariners are gone, Seattle has depth for the first time since Jack Zduriencik has taken over. This is because of his good ability to draft and increasing strength in finding key free agents that can contribute. Andino was a solid player both offensively and defensively for Baltimore a season ago, I expect him to make some starts throughout the year, perhaps even taking a job from someone. Alex Liddi might make the team, and he may see time as well. The future is now cramping up at the top level, I didn’t even bring up Mike Carp. The future is here, it’s time for players to make their position their own, and not let go. CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT THE MARINERS BLOG IN OUR CLUBHOUSE TODAY AT NWSB!
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