As the 2013 MLB season grows closer every day, the Seattle Mariners find themselves with an interesting predicament in the outfield. In the previous 3 to 4 years, the Mariners have struggled tremendously to find 3 competent outfielders to place on the field at one time. Circumstances are different this year. For the first time in years, the M’s starting outfield could be one of the most well rounded groups in the MLB. Admittedly, Spring Training can be deceptive and even the most outstanding performances must be taken with a grain of salt, but there seems to be a completely new energy emanating from the Seattle clubhouse, particularly in the outfield. With a mixture of newfound power, gold glove caliber fielding, and veteran leadership, this outfield could be one of the most formidable in the American League.
Here is a profile of the starting outfielders for the Mariners this year:
In 2009, the Mariners traded a young and raw project of a player who was in-between positions and had no real identity in the MLB. Almost 4 years later, the prodigal son has returned; however, now the Mariners have a 6”5, 245 pound behemoth with a powerful swing and an already impressive MLB resume. The return of Morse could not have been better timing for Seattle. With legitimate 30+ HR potential, Morse will be a breath of fresh air for the once anemic Seattle lineup. Do not consider him as simply a ‘home run hitter’ though. Morse’s overall hitting should not be overlooked. In the last 3 years with the Nationals, Morse never hit under .289. Mariners’ fans should not be concerned from a defensive aspect either. It’s true that Morse is not extremely adept in the field, but he can handle left field without being a complete liability. Not to mention, there is a Gold Glove winning centerfielder to his left that will take a tremendous amount of slack off of him. Morse has been quoted multiple times stating that he has unfinished business to take care of in Seattle. He is expected to be an anchor in the M’s lineup and an equally valuable leader for this club. Barring injuries, Morse is just what the doctor ordered for the Mariners.
Franklin Gutierrez very well may be the unluckiest player in Major League Baseball and in no way is that an overstatement. Gutierrez was brought to the Mariners prior to the 2009 season for relief man JJ Putz. This was one of the first moves that the Mariners GM Jack Z had made. The reason for this trade became evident as Gutierrez hit a respectable .283 with 18 bombs, as well as playing a dazzling center field. Things have gone drastically downhill since then. Time after time, he has been plagued with injuries that range from crashing into outfield walls, to being hit in the head on a pick attempt, and everything in between. Gutierrez has played a combined 132 games in the previous two years for this club. This doesn’t mean there are not reasons for optimism. Despite all of these freak injuries, Guti comes into this spring with a clean bill of health. He has been tearing the cover off the ball this spring, hitting at a .368 clip. Granted he only has 19 AB’s so far, but within those at bats, Gutierrez has already smash three HR and driven in 10. It would be foolish for Mariners fans to have 100% confidence in him; you must stay healthy in order to earn that kind of trust. But there is no denying the talent is there. The health of Gutierrez would do absolute wonders for this ball club and as of right now, it is all systems go for the Gold Glover.
At his time last year, if you would have told me Michael Saunders had the chance to be a 20-20 outfielder, I would have laughed at you. “The Condor” has had a long and tenuous road since being drafted by the Mariners in 2005. Saunders can likely drive the I-5 route from Tacoma to Seattle blindfolded. From 2009 to 2011 he simply could not find his way in the major leagues. Saunders would flourish in his time spent in AAA but whenever he was called up, he looked undeniably lost at the plate. During that 3 year span, all Mariners fans heard about was his ‘untapped potential’, but no one was buying that, considering he didn’t hit his weight in any of those years. Saunders knew that something had to change. Give him credit for being proactive in the offseason following 2011. In the spring of 2012, Saunders came into camp a changed man. He made modifications to his swing and more importantly became significantly more aggressive on first pitch fastballs. He blasted 19 bombs and stole 21 bases in 139 games played last year. Other teams in the AL West should be worried, because it appears he has just scratched the surface. Saunders has just returned from the World Baseball Classic, where he made a joke out of his pool, going 8-11 with 3 2B’s, 7 RBI and a bomb. Those are video game numbers. Saunders will be the first to admit that he has much room to grow and many facets in his game that must be worked on, but for the first time in his MLB career, he has production that he can build on. All signs point to Saunders making more strides this year and solidifying himself as a force to be reckoned with.
It is tough to make an accurate projection about this trio, due to the fact that the MLB season is excessively long and unpredictable. But one thing is safe to say: the Mariners outfield will be head and shoulders above their caliber last year. All three of these players are poised to contribute to a club that desperately needs their help. This group is somewhat of a secret weapon, considering they have received little to no hype from any national media outlet. This the first time in many years that all three outfielders have a chance to each hit 20+ HR. If the Seattle Mariners want to make noise in the AL West this year, outfield play will be the lynchpin of the plan.
Peter Reed is on Twitter. Follow him at @preed1124