Under two weeks remain until the Seattle Mariners open the season at Safeco Field against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Expectations are high in Seattle for what feels like the best Mariners team in quite some time. The Mariners missed the playoffs by just one game last season and improved on some of their biggest weaknesses during the offseason without losing much.
Falling short of breaking the franchise’s 14 year playoff drought could be considered nothing but a disappointment for the 2015 Mariners. Fortunately, there are plenty of reasons for Seattle fans to be optimistic about this team.
Hernandez starts have been must-watch television throughout his career in Seattle. Coming off of a 15-6 season with a 2.14 ERA (2.56 FIP) and a strikeout rate of 27.2 percent, Hernandez enters 2015 as the favorite to win the AL Cy Young Award. The chance to see Hernandez pitch in front of the King’s Court in critical pennant race or playoff games should excite anybody in Seattle.
Cano endeared himself quickly to Seattle fans with a spectacular debut season with the Mariners. With more talent around him in the lineup, Cano has a great chance to put up some huge numbers in 2015.
Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager aren’t quite on the level of those two, but are both stars in their own right. Seager in particular is starting to get the national recognition he deserves as one of the top third basemen in the entire game.
Carried by those four, the Mariners will be both entertaining and a difficult team to beat.
Young players poised to breakout
A few of Seattle’s younger players have shown flashes of stardom at the major league level. This could be the year that some of them take the next step forward.
The organization has to feel good about the dominant spring training campaign that Taijuan Walker has put together. Walker also pitched very well in his final outing of the 2014 season and looks ready to tap into his limitless pitching potential at only 22 years old.
Mike Zunino should only get better with more experience after he was rushed to the majors in 2013. Zunino is already an excellent defensive catcher and pitch framer with plenty of power. With a bit of improvement in on-base percentage, Zunino will be a very valuable piece.
Finally, the Mariners should be excited about the second half Brad Miller put together in 2014 and his potential moving forward. If Miller is again inconsistent, he will quickly lose the starting shortstop job to Chris Taylor, and intriguing young player in his own right.
More prospects on the way
Seattle won’t be the only source of excitement this year: There are a few prospects worth keeping an eye on in Tacoma and Jackson, some of whom may be able to help the team later this season.
D.J. Peterson and Patrick Kivlehan were both successful and Double-A last season and look ready to move up to Tacoma to start the year. Both are transitioning to first base from third and could get some at-bats in the majors in 2015 if Logan Morrison struggles or goes down with injury.
In the lower levels, top overall prospect Alex Jackson should start to work his way up towards the majors. Jackson is universally labeled by scouts as a cant-miss bat and already has an impressive home run this spring.
Most of Seattle pitching prospects have graduated to the majors, but it will be interesting to see if Danny Hultzen can regain his form after recovering from major shoulder surgery for nearly two years.
The Mariners struggles during the extended playoff drought have largely been due to a consistent lack of offense. That’s not only led to a lot of losing, it’s frustrated fans who want to see a bit more excitement out of the team.
This year has the potential to be much different, at least on paper. Lloyd McClendon has set the goal at 700 runs scored, a number the Mariners have not reached since 2007.
With additions like Cruz and Seth Smith joining the rock-solid Cano and Seager, it’s certainly a possible threshold. Some things will have to go right for the Mariners to be a really good hitting team – Austin Jackson has to bounce back the most important among them – but they should at least be better offensively than the last several editions.
First legitimate contender in years
This is the most preseason hype the Mariners have received since the ill-fated 2010 team. Of course, the 2010 Mariners were a major dud, but a lot more would have to go wrong for this squad to fall so far.
Most importantly, Seattle is set up to contend both now and in the future. The cornerstones of Cano, Seager and Hernandez are all locked up for the long term, giving the Mariners a World Series window lasting multiple seasons.
There are some concerns – most noticeably first base and depth – but no real glaring black holes in the staring lineup, which cannot be said about any Seattle roster for the past few years. The Mariners should be a Wild Card contender at the worst and have the upside to reach much loftier heights.
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