Mariners: Outfield is a Fight, who will be Top Dog?

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(Lachlan Cunningham / Getty Images)
(Lachlan Cunningham / Getty Images)

The Seattle Mariners new General Manager Jerry Dipoto has instilled a new philosophy: Control the Zone (CTZ). In this new paradigm, farm hands and veterans are charged with incorporating the CTZ dogma into each at bat.

Ultimately, some will succeed and some will fail. Looking at Spring Training there are some Outfielders who have embraced the theology and some who are struggling.  Who is the Top Dog, and who has a chance to become the leader of the pack?

Alpha Male

Fastballs fear Nelson Cruz (www.zimbio.com)

This is the best outfielder and undisputed king of the position.

Nelson Cruz RF/DH

Cruz is the Alpha and has the resume to prove it. With 4 All-Star appearances and a career best 44 home runs last year, Cruz has been the best offensive player the Mariners have had in a decade, so a job is guaranteed.

Cruz is a mediocre Right Fielder defensively, but he really seems to enjoy playing there, making for a difficult managerial decision. Undoubtedly, GM Jerry Dipoto and Manager Scott Servias will try and appease Cruz and have him split time at RF and DH. Oddly enough, Cruz’s offensive output is rather ordinary as a DH.

A curious note: Cruz has gone 3-29 this spring for a .103 average. The hope is that he is taking Spring off and will produce as usual during the season. The concern is that the CTZ philosophy is a problem for the 35 year old.

Junkyard Dogs

The guy can straight up “ball,” can Aoki stay healthy? (www.covechatter.net)

These are the warriors on this team; steady performers who you can rely on.

Nori Aoki LF

Aoki is the hands-on favorite to win the left field position. Aoki is 34 and has an injury history. When Aoki is healthy he is a a solid defender and contributor. While he doesn’t scream “Superstar” he does everything at an above average level.

This spring we have seen Aoki with 9 hits over 36 at bats. Unlike Cruz, this is similar to his past spring training performance. Unless there is an injury, we can expect Aoki to lock down the LF position this year with steady performance and at a productive level (.273 career average).

Seth Smith RF/LF

Seth Smith (Wikipedia.com)

The former backup to Eli Manning at Ole Miss has made a career being a solid outfielder. Eerily similar to Aoki in his prowess, there is no real weakness in the 33 year old’s game. Again there is not a “Superstar” quality to his game, but he is immensely reliable. We should see Smith appear as Cruz’s replacement in RF and spelling Aoki in LF.

Smith appears to have incorporated the CTZ into his approach and it has paid off in spades. With 13 hits in 24 at bats, Smith is on fire this Spring. M’s fans salivate at the prospect of Smith being the every day contributor that he should have been in 2015.

Lone Wolf

Guiti gets a special classification for himself; he is one of a kind on this team.

Franklin Gutierrez

Guiti gets a high-5 (sodomojo.com)

A former All-World defensive specialist, Guiti had his career interrupted by an odd intestinal disorder. The 33 year old would not say “quit” and battled back from his injury/sickness history and fought to earn a position with the M’s on the Major league roster after nearly 2 years of being out of baseball. Guiti has been on fire in spring training with a .389 average. Though he isn’t the speedster he once was, he can adeptly play each of the outfield positions and will see time in the field as the 4th outfielder.

Mutts

These guys have yet to prove themselves, but the M’s management is taking a good had look at each of them.

Leonys Martin CF

A+ defender C- offensively, Leonys Martin (mynorthwest.com)

Acquired via trade in the off-season, Martin is an exceptional defender in center field. Offense is a major concern though as in Texas he hit .219 on the year.  And this spring, he only has 7 hits on 38 at bats. It seems he may be awarded the Center field position by default and that concerns a lot of M’s fans.

Stefen Romero OF/1B

Another Oregon State Beaver appears on this list, but Stefen is the one with the best chance of making the bigs on opening day. Romero is vying for a spot and not just as an extra outfielder, but also as a 1st baseman.  With a .412 average this spring, he is forcing management to make a hard choice.

Daniel Robertson LF

Robertson was not supposed to be on this list. The 30 year old  has bounced around the minors his entire career. Claimed off waivers by the Mariners, an eye popping .412 average in Spring Training has management taking notice.  Will begin in the minors, but do not be surprised to see a mid-season call up from the former Oregon State Beaver.

Shawn O’Malley OF

Shawn O’Malley (www.seattletimes.com)

O’Malley is hitting .471 this spring and has had success at the major league level.  The 28 year old from Kennewick, WA knows that opportunities to break into the bigs are becoming fewer.  Though he may start in Triple-A Tacoma, don’t be surprised to see him in blue sooner rather than later.

Runts

By no means is this a pejorative. I mean the runts can never make a name for themselves.  In Game of Thrones, Tyrion is the runt of the Lannisters and he by far the coolest character in GOT.  And in horse racing, Seabiscuit was a runt and became on the the most famous horses of all time.

Tyler O’Neil RF

O’Neil played very well in Single-A Everett when he got the chance. In 28 games, he hit .310.  And in limited time in Spring, Tyler has hit .333.  Only 19, expect to see this kid someday on the big roster.

Boog Powell Jr. CF

Boog Powell Jr (www.milb.com)

The 23 year old was traded for by Jerry Dipoto (for Brad Miller and Logan Morrison).  Highly coveted, Boog has a knack for getting on base and can effectively play all three outfield positions.  Expect to see him targeted to take the Centerfield position from Martin sooner rather than later.

Dario Pizzano OF

The 24 year old has scraped, clawed, and scratched his way up the ranks of the M”s system. This spring, Pizzano has showed some ability.  Expect to see Dario give Boog and Tyler a run for their money at Tacoma.

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