The Mariners probably can’t believe their luck with the embarrassment of riches they have in terms of young, exciting talent. Kyle Seager is already a bona fide star, Nick Franklin and Brad Miller continue to settle into their respective middle infield roles earlier than expected and Mike Zunino has showed well in a limited stint with the big boys. The future cornerstones of the team also include the highly heralded “Big Three” pitchers Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton. The current season, while leaving much to be desired from a win-loss standpoint, has yielded the M’s a group of potentially useful relievers such as Yoervis Medina, Danny Farquhar and Brandon Maurer, the latter of whom could still be a major league starter down the road.
What’s missing, you’ll notice, is the mention of any outfield player. The questions surrounding the current group, even those in AAA, are numerous. Can Dustin Ackley establish himself as an outfielder both offensively and defensively? Does either Endy Chavez (35) or Raul Ibanez (41) have anything left in the tank after the conclusion of next season? Can Michael Saunders hit above .250? Can Carlos Peguero hit for contact? Will Franklin Gutierrez play 140 games in a season ever again? Or even 100?
These questions would be all right if the M’s had a handful of outfield prospects waiting in the wings. They don’t. DJ Peterson, the M’s most recent first-round pick, might be moved there to avoid being blocked by Seager, and while his bat will be strong in the outfield; he will never be Ichiro Suzuki. Austin Wilson, another recent draft pick, shows promise defensively in the outfield but is still, like Peterson, in his first season professionally. Not to mention they are both at High A Everett.
The Mariners’ biggest question is who will be in that outfield in the future? Potentially Chavez and Ibanez could be gone come next Opening Day. The alternatives are to make multiple trades for outfielders or sign replacement players on similar contracts to the previously mentioned trio.
Seattle needs to start finding itself an outfield that works now and later. Best case scenario, the team would probably like to see Guti return to the form he showed in his earlier days in Seattle and patrol center field. Next to him in right would probably be Saunders, showing the promise he has flashed numerous times. Over in left, for the short term, would probably be Ibanez, should he continue to hit home runs. Long term, Ackley or Stefan Romero could all be options if they can hit well enough to stay in the lineup.
The most likely case scenario will probably play out somewhat like it has this season. The M’s will tinker and mix and match with a group of low-risk, high-reward veterans on short contracts while they wait for prospects to come to the big club. Whether those be players like Peterson and Wilson or prospects acquired in a trade, the M’s future out field is a long ways away.