When the Seattle Mariners and manager Eric Wedge decided today that Brendan Ryan was going to be benched as the team's starting shortstop, it moved Robert Andino into the starting role for the club. Andino is younger than Ryan and is himself a solid defender at the shortstop position, having graded out among the best defenders at short in baseball by UZR ratings (5.5 UZR and 14.1 UZR/150) back in 2009 when he saw his most extensive action at the position (478 1/3 innings), but he isn't on Ryan's level with the glove. It is interesting to note, though, that for his career Andino has actually been a worse hitter (.233/.294/.321 slash, .276 wOBA and 67 OPS+ in 1,415 PAs entering play today) than Ryan (.241/.303/.322, .281 wOBA and 73 OPS+ in 2,359 PAs). Andino does possess more pop than Ryan and perhaps giving him the nod here early in the season can motivate one player or the other to perform better going forward. But clearly Robert Andino is not the long-term solution for the Mariners at the position. And from this move it should also be clear that Brendan Ryan's stay on the team is unlikely to stretch past this season.
So without an answer at the big league level now, who are the players in the system that could end up staking claim to a position that is seemingly up for grabs in 2013 for the M's? They are actually some of the club's best prospects and most recognizable names in the organization to prospect followers. Following is a breakdown of each prospect ending with a look at their Minor League Equivalent stats from their time at the highest level of minor leagues that they've reached courtesy of the Minor League Equivalency Calculator.
.276/.319/.378 hitter in 2,606 career MiLB PAs
Triunfel was touted as the next great player for the Mariners when he signed back in 2006 as he was said to boast five-tool potential. But injuries, conditioning and attitude questions experienced along the way have diminished his shine as a prospect significantly in the time since and his ceiling as a hitter is seen as much lower now. On the flip side, many have started to come around on his defense and his ability to adequately handle the shortstop position. He has one of the strongest infield arms in the minors and easily the best in the Mariners system. The accuracy on his throws is getting better, as is his focus, footwork and overall understanding of playing the shortstop position. He and Franklin have been splitting time at second base and shortstop since Nick was promoted from Double-A last summer, but Triunfel is the more gifted defender out of the two.
Triunfel's approach at the plate and overall lack of plate discipline is still a significant hindrance, and one that will undoubtedly be exacerbated at the major league level, but he has been making adjustments and been becoming a better hitter with more power in his two-plus seasons in Tacoma as I pointed out on Twitter yesterday, with his extra base hit percentages increasing from 6.7%/26% in 2011 to 7.9%/33% in 2012 to 11.0%/37% so far here in 2013. He has power in his bat and is capable of reaching the gaps and the seats although most of his home run power is to his pull side. He also uses the whole field much better now than he did a few seasons ago and has enough power foul line to foul line to be more of an impact with the bat than either Ryan or Andino. He's an average runner when underway but not a threat on the bases.
Carlos has the most minor league experience and most upper-level minor league experience of any of the internal options that the Mariners have to replace those two. He even got a cup of coffee last September, so he's been in a big league game, which is something that certainly takes some getting used to. And Triunfel also has the added experience of playing second base extensively. And despite all of the bad pub that his defense has gotten over the past several seasons, he is the best defender at shortstop right now out of these three potential call-ups.
.284/.354/.459 in 1,629 career MiLB PAs
Franklin looked like he was going to be the offensive savior of the franchise after bursting onto the prospect scene after being what many thought was a head-scratcher of a first round pick. In 2010 he hit 23 home runs and totaled 52 extra base hits in his first full minor league season. But he, too, has battled injuries and position questions in the seasons since and struggled a bit in Tacoma last year after a mid-season promotion. He is also a switch-hitter that hasn't had a lot of success from the right-hand side, something that he spoke with us about back in January. But he came into 2013 with more weight on his frame and has hit very well (.325/.449/.500) in the early going while showing power, speed and patience.
Finally up to what should be a better playing weight this season (195 in camp), Franklin's power has come from his compact stroke, quick hands and strong wrists. His stride got long at times last season, particularly from the right side, and that is what caused his struggles with good velocity that led to high strikeout totals. But Nick appears to have corrected that through the spring and into the PCL season as he has more walks (8) at this point than strikeouts (7) and he's hitting from the right side. He's more quick than fast, but he's a smart baserunner and picks his spots well which has led to him being successful on 59 of 77 steal attempts to date including 15 of 19 in Triple-A. Although he hasn't come close to the 23 homers since 2010, he actually had a slightly higher XBH% in 2012 in Double-A and Triple-A (9.7%) than he did back in that campaign in Clinton (9.0%). He does have gap power to both alleys from both sides of the plate and he isn't afraid to battle with two strikes.
With a fringe average arm and range at short, Franklin is certainly better suited for second base defensively, but I have heard from several scouts that they think he can handle shortstop in the major leagues without being a hindrance because of the total package he brings. Unlike Triunfel, Franklin is not yet on the 40-man roster. But if the Mariners intend to make a move that they think will be a long-term solution at the position, one of the incumbents will be gone regardless. Franklin has seen more time in Triple-A now than he did in Double-A, and has certainly handled himself well and improved his game. He'll never be close to Brendan Ryan level defensively, but the Mariners already showed by the move to start Andino that they are willing to sacrifice a little defense for a little more offense. As one of the Top-10 prospects in the organization that has been on the radar for a while as a potential offensive contributor, the club may feel the need to pull the trigger on calling him up.
.335/.408/.512 in 779 career MiLB PAs
Miller had a similar profile among experts that provide prospect rankings to Franklin following his selection by Seattle in the 2011 draft. But he has been even more impressive with the bat than Nick in his short time in the organization. He earned an invite to big league camp this spring because of a very strong 2012 and was the last non-roster position player on the squad, traveling to the last spring training contest and playing regularly at shortstop, second and third base while showing a solid bat and great baseball instincts.
Miller can hit, and that will be his pushing tool. His 2012 was statistically very similar to the season that Kyle Seager put up in his last full season in the minor leagues back in 2010, and the two have some of the same tools as hitters. Like Seager, Miller has a discerning eye and great pitch recognition at the plate, uses all fields with a line drive approach but can muscle up for extra bases when needed. He uses great balance at the plate to stay on plane and on time through the zone with a compact swing and he has plus speed and good instincts on the bases. He made a ton of errors while at High Desert in those rough conditions, but he has plenty of arm and range and good enough hands to be a shortstop long term if he can shore up his throws.
Miller earns the reputation of being a great teammate, someone who always hustles and a "gamer" from everyone that watches him play, and that approach to the game unquestionably rubbed off on the Mariners current manager Eric Wedge during camp. Miller also isn't on the 40-man roster yet, and he hasn't been tested at the minor league's highest level of Triple-A to date, either. But he is certainly on the big league club's radar, and you can bet that if there is an opportunity and Miller is the guy that they want, they will not hesitate to skip him over that level, much like they did with pitcher Brandon Maurer. Miller may not end up being the first choice if/when the Mariners make a move to strengthen their infield in the first half of 2013, but as of today my bet is that he actually ends up being the long-term answer at the position in the near future.
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