The Mariners have made great strides on offense this season and -- as I projected may back on New Year's Eve -- they are on pace to score better than 100 runs more than they did in 2011. But that doesn't mean that the offensive question marks are behind them. This club still doesn't have a player that is knocking on the door of 25 home runs in the lineup, nor do they have someone that is a lock to draw 75-plus walks. Power and patience are keys to any lineup. Make the pitcher work, and make the pitcher pay.
SeattleClubhouse digs through the Mariners organization and highlights the six prospects with the best package of power and patience in the Mariners organization below.
Denny Almonte – OF, Bats: B, Throws: R
MiLB BEST HR RATE: 4.5% ('11)
MiLB BEST BB RATE: 11.1% ('12)
Center fielder Denny Almonte has always shown a lot of power in his six seasons in the Mariners organization, but the real advance in his game happened just this season when he started to draw walks at a better-than-average rate. His 49 walks this season outpace his previous single season high by 20 and there is still almost a month of baseball left. A switch-hitter with good natural loft and backspin, his home run rate has fallen off this year, but he is strong and has hit 22 and 24 HR in the previous two seasons, showing legitimate HR power.
Jabari Blash – OF, Bats: R, Throws: R
MiLB BEST HR RATE: 3.9% ('10)
MiLB BEST BB RATE: 16.9% ('11)
Too patient and selective at times, Jabari Blash has big time power to all fields, with the easy ability to leave the yard on pitches low and away, up and in, and everywhere in between. He led the Northwest League in Slugging Percentage in 2011 and leads the LumberKings in HR and BB in 2012. His focus and dedication have come into question at times, but there is no denying his raw ability. The question is whether or not the 23-year-old still in Low-A can get something to click and make that leap forward in his progression to turn into a legitimate prospect.
James Jones - OF, Bats: L, Throws: L
MiLB BEST HR RATE: 2.8% ('12)
MiLB BEST BB RATE: 11.6% ('11)
James Jones was primarily a pitcher in college at Long Island University, but the Mariners liked his athleticism and left-handed swing and drafted him as an outfielder. The tools are easy to like, and while he hasn't developed 20+ HR power to this point in the minors, he has the swing and bat speed that say he could. He needs to get his contact issues under control first, however. But he is walking in over 11% of his plate appearances for his career and has 13 HR for the 2nd consecutive season right now.
Rich Poythress – 1B, Bats: R, Throws: R
MiLB BEST HR RATE: 5.7% ('10)
MiLB BEST BB RATE: 15.7% ('12)
Drafted in the 2nd round by Seattle back in '09, Rich Poythress was thought to have some of the best power of any college bat in that draft. But the Georgia Bulldog has only shown power as a pro in one of his four seasons to date, and that was in the California League and Adelanto. His BB rate is huge this year and his strikeout rate is tiny, but without home run power, Poythress has little chance of becoming a true prospect as a first baseman with no speed that hits singles and doubles.
Dennis Raben - 1B, Bats: L, Throws: L
MiLB BEST HR RATE: 5.6% ('10)
MiLB BEST BB RATE: 17.0% ('08)
Our own Frankie Piliere trumpets the power of Dennis Raben whenever anyone asks. He still thinks it is a 70-grade tool and that Raben could still be a 30 HR guy at the big league level. Raben is again walking this year at a much better rate than he has the previous 2 years. But the 2008 draftee has played all of 234 games in parts of four minor league seasons and now is toiling as a 25-year-old that still hasn't made it past High-A. Can he keep the walk rate up? Can he earn a spot on the 40-man roster this offseason? Can he stay on the field? Raben has ability, but he may be a player that has just been ruined beyond the point of salvation by the injuries.
Mike Zunino – C, Bats: R, Throws: R
MiLB BEST HR RATE: 7.0% ('12)
MiLB BEST BB RATE: 14.0% ('12)
And then we have Mike Zunino. Zunino, the 3rd overall selection in this year's draft, was touted as a player "without great strengths but with no glaring weaknesses". And while his best asset may still be his lack of drawbacks, Zunino is showing more power than a lot of people expected early. The Northwest League probably isn't the best measuring stick for a player of his caliber, but 10 HR in 110 at bats at any seemingly age-appropriate level shouldn't be completely discounted. And Mike has shown enough patience to go along with that power to draw 20 walks in his first 32 pro games. Double-A should be more challenging for him, but I'm feeling confident that by the end of this year the opinion on Zunino's future will be more colorfully talked about than just "no glaring weaknesses". He is the one guy on this list with the best shot to have a future of hitting 25-plus home runs AND drawing 75-plus walks in an MLB season for Seattle.
Those are the Mariners big six when it comes to power and patience combo. Not super impressive. In fact, it may be more of a deep six -- or deep five, at least. Poythress and Raben are looking like organizational guys at this point in their careers, and Blash is looking like someone who just probably will never translate all of the tools into on-field ability. Almonte and Jones have potential to be fringe starting outfielders or good backups and Zunino, of course, is the latest and greatest M's prospect being fast-tracked to the big leagues.
The Mariners just don't have a lot of power in the system, and most of it comes in the form of all-or-nothing type hitters, a la Carlos Peguero. But as Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus quickly pointed out to me, "not a lot of teams do" have a plethora of power bats in the system. Power -- usable power that comes with enough plate discipline to let it play -- is becoming the rarest of the tools in baseball.