The 2010 Mariners Outfield
Continuing the series from yesterday, but looking at the outfield this time.
Left Field: Wladimir Balentien, Michael Saunders, Gregory Halman
It’s a veritable tools fest, but lots of questions remain. Balentien can hit a fastball, has no idea what to do with a breaking ball, and didn’t make the necessary adjustments as the season went on. Of course, his real talent level is way better than his ’08 performance, and his numbers will get better even if he doesn’t improve all that much. But as a right-handed pull power guy, Safeco’s going to be rough on him, and he’s not going to add a lot of defensive value. He has to hit to be a regular, and whether the bat is a good enough fit for the park, and whether he can learn how to hit breaking balls, make him a question mark.
Thankfully, there’s a couple of talented outfielders on the way. Saunders is a much more rounded player than Balentien, not having a standout tool but adding defensive value and baserunning value as well as his offensive potential. He also bats left-handed, which is a plus, and has shown some willingness to take a walk in the minors. I’ve referred to him as Shin-Soo Choo without the accent several times, and that’s a pretty decent comparison in terms of skills, but the more I look at him, the more I see Randy Winn. He’s something of a tweener, with a bat that could be very good in CF and a glove that would be very good in a corner. For 2010, he’s probably a better fit than Balentien for what the club needs, and should probably be considered the front runner.
If both of those guys fail to develop, there’s one more option – Gregory Halman, a fascinating kid with remarkable power and a hilariously horrible concept of the strike zone. He regularly runs strikeout rates about five times higher than his walk rates, as he chases pitches out of the zone and gets himself out by swinging at pitches he can’t hit. But oh, the power/speed combination is just so enticing, and Halman was able to hold his own while getting pushed aggressively to Double-A as a 20-year-old this year. In a perfect world, he becomes Alfonso Soriano, but Juan Encarnacion is more likely. Whether he can make enough strides to be ready by 2010 is questionable, but the possibility is there. As a fallback option, he’s not a bad one.
Center Field: Jeremy Reed, Ichiro, Michael Saunders, Gregory Halman
The lack of development of Reed’s bat has been a big blow to the club – instead of having a high on base guy who can cover some ground, he’s evolved into a fourth outfielder, a guy who shouldn’t be more than a defensive replacement or pinch runner on a good team. At 27, he’s running out of shots to earn a full time job, and if he doesn’t hit .320 or something next year, he’s probably out of the picture. 2009 represents his last chance.
The team could consider moving Ichiro back to center field, but while I know that there’s a lot of sentiment in favor of that because his skillset looks more like that of a CF, I don’t think it really matters one way or another. His defense isn’t somehow exponentially more valuable in CF than in RF – the difference in opportunities equates to a couple of runs per season. And while it’s true that it’s easier to find a power hitting corner OF than a power hitting CF, the focus on needing specific player types is just wrong – the M’s don’t need to make room for a slugger, they need to get more good players. Good players come in all shapes and sizes, and the team shouldn’t avoid a terrific defensive CF just because they’re trying to put Ichiro where most players who look like him play.
Halman is more likely to get the nod in CF than Saunders, of the two kids we’ve already talked about, as he’s just a better athlete. He still needs to get better reads and jumps to be an asset in CF with the glove, but he’s got a shot to stick there. Saunders is more of a stretch.
Right Field: Ichiro
He’s not getting traded unless he asks for one, and really, a 2010 Mariners team that doensn’t have Ichiro on it is pretty unlikely to be a winner. He’s still better than everyone realizes, and the people who think he’s what’s wrong with the team don’t really know how to build a baseball team.