Seattle Mariners 2012 Preview With Prospect Insider Jason Churchill

By Lars Hanson

SEATTLE — With the Seattle Mariners season less than a week away it’s the perfect time to get the clubs 2012 preview. Prospect Insider’s Jason Churchill runs through several major topics about the 2012 Mariners to include how newly acquired catcher Jesus Montero will perform and whether he believes the Mariners will trade ace Felix Hernandez.

Note: The Seattle Mariners are currently in Tokyo, Japan and will play a two game series against the Oakland Athletics Wednesday March 28th and Thursday March 29th.

Lars Hanson: What should fans expect from Jesus Montero this season in terms of productivity?

Jason Churchill: If he gets 600 plate appearances, 30 homers is not only possible, I’d be surprised if he didn’t get there. His opposite-field power is tremendous and he’ll walk enough to offset some of the strikeouts. I don’t see a .300 hitter just yet, but .270 isn’t too much to ask.

Lars Hanson: With Figgins back leading off and Ichiro hitting third which of the two will have the biggest impact this season?

Jason Churchill: Ichiro is far and away the better player and hitter, and I am not a big Ichiro fan. His new stance is helping him pull the ball more, which is where all of his power is, which should help him hit the gaps and reach extra bases more often than in the past. He’ll always make a lot of contact, so I expect around a .300 average again with a .340 on-base percentage. He’ll swipe 30-40 bases. He doesn’t belong hitting in the three-hole, but using him there eliminates the downside to using Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak or Montero in a role they aren’t ready for just yet.

Figgins… it’s difficult to believe he won’t improve on his 2011, but I can’t see him performing well enough to warrant batting leadoff for very long.

Lars Hanson:  Will Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton reach the majors at the same time or will the club spread out their call-ups and should fans expect out of the talented trio?

Jason Churchill: Barring injury, Hultzen will hit the big leagues first; he’s polished and has a feel for pitching that plays in the big leagues right now. Expect him to make his debut by early August, if not before. Paxton is probably a September call-up, if he hasn’t used up all of his innings by then, and Walker is a year from such considering. By 2014, they should be in the rotation with Felix. Hultzen, for me, is a solid, reliable No. 2 while Walker has ace potential. Paxton is the wildcard; he has No. 1 upside, but needs to improve his command and the consistency of his offspeed stuff to reach his ceiling.

Lars Hanson: With the majority of up-and-coming prospects like Montero, and arguably Smoak and Ackley where is the offensive power going to come from outside of those three?

Jason Churchill: There isn’t much outside those three, which is why it’s so critical for the club’s future that each of them pan out as average or better regulars. Mike Carp, whom I believe peaked last season, could hit .270/.330 with 20 homers in a full year’s worth of at-bats, but he’s a poor defender and won’t likely face lefties regularly while being replaced for defense late in games.

At some point, Vincent Catricala is likely to take over at third base, and he’s capable of 20-25 homers a year.

Lars Hanson: With the Mariners not likely to be contenders this season in a continued rebuilding process who are some players that will play in Tacoma (Rainiers, AAA affiliate)  that fans should go see that maybe they haven’t heard of yet?

Jason Churchill: At some point this season, Hultzen and Paxton both are likely to see Tacoma, but most fans know of both left-handers. Francisco Martinez, my No. 6 prospect in the club’s system, should hit Triple-A in 2012 and could be the team’s long-term answer at third base. Nick Franklin could also see Tacoma, as should right fielder Johermyn Chavez, who struggled last season but has a terrific swing and plus bat speed.

Lars Hanson:  Should the Mariners be out of contention by July should they trade Felix this season?

Jason Churchill: No. The only reasons the M’s should consider trading Felix Hernandez anytime in the next three years is if they are 1) convinced he will not re-sign with the club beyond 2014, the final year if his current contract, or 2) if they don’t feel they can contend without the package Hernandez would bring back in a trade. My bet is the M’s never trade Hernandez, and he re-ups to another long-term deal prior to the 2014 campaign.

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