#2 ain’t so bad

Not many good things come your way as a franchise when you lose 100+ games.  Among the bad things are managers being fired and your once “genius” GM finally being questioned.  However, a very good result of being terrible is being able to draft one of the best young players in the world into your organization.

This year’s top crop of draft prospects is a bit different than that of the 2009 draft, when the Mariners had the #2 overall pick and selected 2B Dustin Ackley.  If you remember (and I’m sure you do), SP Stephen Strasburg was being heralded as one of the great pitching prospects of all time and a guy who could come into the league and be the #3 on any team’s pitching staff from day 1.  Almost 2 years and 1 Tommy John surgery later, the future still looks bright for The Stras but the disparity between Ackley and Strasburg isn’t as large as it once was.

As it pertains to the 2011 draft, where the Mariners again hold the #2 overall pick, the top eligible draftees are much closer in the eyes of the evaluators than that of two years prior.  What is similar to 2009 is the fact that we have one position player and one starting pitcher among the consensus top two prospects.  The position player is 3B Anthony Rendon from Rice, a right handed slugger whose offensive production often overshadows his quality caliber play on defense.  The pitcher is a player much more likely to end up on the Mariners.  His name is Gerrit Cole.  The tall, right handed UCLA product flashes everything you want to see when you pick a player within the first two picks of the draft.

In 2008, Cole became the first high school player drafted in the first round to attend UCLA.  The Yankees selected him 28th overall that year, but Cole and has family decided it was in his best interest to stay in school and hone his craft.  I give a lot of credit to him and his family, being that the Yankees are his favorite team and he has said that he models his game after Roger Clemens and Mariano Rivera.  They made the smart decision; Cole will undoubtedly be a top-3 draft pick and has used his 2+ years in college to become easily the best pitching prospect in the draft.

Cole has a traditional three-pitch mix with a fastball, slider, and change-up.  What I like most about Cole is the fact that he can throw any of those three pitches in any count. His sheer “stuff” is great, but his control on top of that electric stuff makes him that much of a better pitcher.  The fastball hovers in the mid-90’s and his slider is the go-to out pitch.  These two pitches, along with the above-average changeup, have led many to say that Cole has “the best pure stuff in the (2011) draft.”  Couldn’t agree more.

If Anthony Rendon does end up going #1 overall to the Pirates, I won’t be sad.  Should the Mariners select Cole (and they should), we’ll be getting a potential front of the line starter with terrific velocity, movement, and control of every pitch.  Better yet, he’s still improving with every start.  Six days ago, Cole faced the formidable Nebraska lineup and took a perfect game into the 7th inning, striking out 8, and ending up with 9 shutout innings allowing just 2 hits.  Look for him to continue those dominant outings all the way up to the 2011 draft.

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Nowhere to go but up, right?

Baseball season is right around the corner.

With only 3 weeks until opening day, I find myself more and more looking forward to the 2011 baseball season instead of looking back to the putrid 2010 that was.  However, I was reminded yesterday of the ineptitude that ensued at the plate for the ’10 Mariners and feel obligated to relive that experience with the purpose of making at least some sense of the misery.

The 2010 Seattle Mariners will go down in baseball history as one of the least productive offenses of all time.  All it took was a quick glance to the offensive rankings (or watching the Mariners at any point last year) to figure that one out.  The team ranked dead least of the 30 MLB clubs in runs scored, batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage.  With regards to former Mariners teams, the 2010 Mariners scored 56 fewer runs than the 1994 Mariners did in a 112 game season, almost a full 2 runs per game less.

Why did a team that had averaged over 650 runs per year from 2008-2009 suddenly drop off so violently?  Was the loss of superstars Adrian Beltre and Kenji Johjima just too much for this team to handle? (note the sarcasm)

I look at it as the antithesis of the 2001 Mariners.  Instead of every play having a career year, they instead had a career-worst year.  Free agent bust 2B Chone Figgins entered the season with a career .736 OPS (around league average), and still managed to have by far the worst full season of his career. Casey Kotchman, the man whom Mariners fans pegged to be the stabilizer at 1B after tumultuous years with Richie Sexson, started off the year with a career high 4 RBI in the season opener but had just 47 more the next 124 games.  Hell, even Ichiro had a relative “down year,” recording a career-high in strikeouts and batting 16 points below his career average.

If there’s one thing to take from all of this, it’s that there’s no way the 2011 Seattle Mariners will be as bad on offense as they were the year before.  Not every single player is going to have the worst offensive year of the careers.  At least, I hope not.  Replacing the sparkling 2010 trio of Adam Moore/Rob Johnson/Josh Bard behind the dish will be veteran Miguel Olivo, averaging 21 HR per 162 games.  Contrast that to Moore/Johnson/Bard who had just 9 in 160 games last year.  Add to that the newly signed DH Jack Cust, an improving 1B Justin Smoak, as well as the revitalization of core players like Guti and Figgins.

It can’t get any worse than last year. Take solace in that.

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