Scouting the 2004 Mariners: The Infield Starters

In part three of this four-part series we will review the new-look infield for the Mariners. Using statistical analysis, we will look for trends to project their 2004 numbers. Included are both Dan Wilson and Ben Davis at catcher, since they will split time.

With two new faces on the left side of the infield and a change in playing time at catcher, the infield should be improved over last season. With each new face comes some risk but also a lot of potential. In the projections for the 2004 season, I have left out RBI and runs scored. These numbers are completely dependent on the number of chances, which are determined by the batting order.

Ben Davis (269 PA, 246 AB, .236/.284/.382, 6 HR, 42 RBI, 25 R)
Davis was expected to get the majority of the playing time in 2003 but started only 66 games. Prior to the All-Star game he was hitting .294, making the most out of his playing time. However, after the game his playing time and numbers took a dive, hitting just .140. His arm is his best asset. He threw out 44 percent of would-be basestealers in 2003 and is at 35 percent for his career.

Davis has shown two extremes in his two seasons with Seattle. Combining the first half of 2002 and the second half of 2003, Davis hit just .192/.271/.241 in 219 AB. He hit .294/.330/.528 in his other 255 AB. These splits appear directly related to his aggressiveness at the plate. Surprisingly, it is the opposite of what you might think. He has 67 K to just 15 BB during his better halves and 52 K to 23 BB during his worse. On top of that, he is a much better hitter early in the count. He hit roughly .340 when swinging at the first pitch.

Davis needs to get more playing time in 2004. He should be catching roughly 75% of the games in order to keep his bat strong. He has a great deal of upside and with more playing time, he can become one of the best catchers in the AL West.

Projected 2004 line: 525 PA, 480 AB, .270/.325/.430, 13 HR

Dan Wilson (337 PA, 316 AB, .241/.272/.339, 4 HR, 43 RBI, 32 R)
Wilson received more playing time in 2003 than he was expected to get. Ben Davis began the year as the primary backstop but Wilson ended up with more games played. Wilson's defense and game-calling abilities have allowed him to stick around this long. However, in 2004 Wilson will most likely serve as Jamie Moyer's personal catcher.

Wilson's bat is quickly deteriorating. He went from 31 extra base hits in 2001 to just 21 last year. He never walked much and had a fairly high strikeout rate. In 2003, he struck out much less than in 2002 but his AVG also declined. He hit just .288 on balls put in play in 2003. He hit .381 the year before. When he put the ball in play he generally hit it weakly, creating many easy outs.

Wilson's defense should continue to give him enough value to serve as the back-up catcher. However, as he gets older and his bat slows down, his offensive numbers will continue to decline. It is most likely that 2004 is Wilson's last with the Mariners and possibly his last in baseball.

Projected 2004 line: 160 PA, 140 AB, .240/.270/.310, 2 HR

John Olerud (634 PA, 539 AB, .269/.372/.390, 10 HR, 83 RBI, 64 R)
Olerud would like to forget most of 2003. He set career lows in SLG and OPS and had not had an AVG or OBP lower since 1991. His offensive troubles did not carry over to the defensive side. Olerud won his third gold glove and was a vacuum at first base, picking countless throws and helping the numbers of everyone on the infield.

Olerud's 2003 season was very strange statistically. His strikeouts increased and his walks decreased. However, both were very slight changes and possibly just caused by chance. His power ability appears to be on the decline after posting just 45 XBH. Olerud had a similar season in 1996, hitting .274/.382/.472. The only true difference is the power, which could be attributed to age. Following his 1996 season he responded by hitting .294/.400/.489.

It is unlikely that Olerud's numbers will continue to decline in 2004. His power may not return to the 2003 level but his AVG and OBP should bounce back. Olerud has said that 2004 will most likely be his last in baseball and it would be nice to go out on a good note.

Projected 2004 lime: 650 PA, 550 AB, .285/.390/.455, 15 HR

Bret Boone (705 PA, 622 AB, .294/.366/.535, 35 HR, 117 RBI, 111 R, 16 SB)
Look back to when Boone was signed. Did anyone expect him to perform like an MVP candidate for the next three years? If anyone did, it was obviously the M's front office. Whether they saw this coming or just struck gold, they deserve all the credit. Boone is an all-around threat combining power, speed, average, and gold glove defense.

Boone began 2003 on a tear, hitting .313/.373/.591 before the break. If he kept it up he would have eclipsed his breakout year in 2001. However, as the entire M's team did, Boone fell off in the second half. He ended up rebounding late in September but by then it was too late for the M's. Boone showed improved plate discipline, posting 68 walks, 15 more than his second-highest single-season total. On the whole, he had an outstanding year. It was easily the second best of his career.

If Boone can maintain his improved plate discipline in 2004, he can easily have another MVP-type year. He has yet to show any signs of declining. In fact, he may be getting better, having improved his SB totals. Boone will continue to be the rock in the middle of the M's lineup and could also pick up another Gold Glove in 2004.

Projected 2004 line: 710 PA, 630 AB, .305/.365/.550, 32 HR, 20 SB

Scott Spiezio (581 PA, 521 AB, .265/.326/.453, 16 HR, 83 RBI, 69 R, 6 SB)
Spiezio has always been a solid all around player. He has the ability to play 1B, 3B, the OF corners, and 2B if necessary. He has primarily been at 1B in recent years where he's been one of the top fielders in the league. Coming up through the minors, he was known as a very solid defensive 3B and given a full-time opportunity there this year, he can have a strong defensive showing. He is a similar hitter from both sides of the plate with more power as a lefty, perfectly suited for Safeco.

Spiezio's power took a step forward in 2003. He improved his HR by 4 and his overall XBH by 11. Even though his AVG dropped 20 points, his SLG climbed by 17 points. He rarely strikes out but does not walk a great amount either. He appeared to have corrected his walk rate in 2002, walking in 12 percent of his plate appearances. In 2003, however, that number went back down to 8 percent.

Spiezio is the Mariner most likely to breakout in 2004 as he finally gets the opportunity to play the same position every day. If he continues increasing his overall XBH, just a few doubles need to turn into HR and he could easily hit 25. Also, if he can return to his 2002 walk rate, his OBP can be high enough to allow his OPS to top .900. If he doesn't have the breakout year, he'll still be a very solid player and will add depth to the lineup.

Projected 2004 line: 685 PA, 600 AB, .290/.365/.480, 5 SB, 22 HR

Rich Aurilia (545 PA, 505 AB, .277/.325/.410, 13 HR, 58 RBI, 65 R)
Aurilia is basically Carlos Guillen with more AB, although he had his share of injuries in 2003. The appendectomy he underwent last year shouldn't be a problem again, since humans have just one appendix. He's a good fastball hitter and plays solid defense. He is a fiery player who will play his hardest throughout the year, something the M's can definitely use.

Aurilia hasn't been the same since he moved from the No. 2 spot in front of Bonds after 2001. He went from an outstanding 79 XBH that year down to 40 in 2003. Surprisingly, his walk rate has remained steady although not great. Moving to Safeco won't have much effect on him as he played his home games in a similar park over the past few years, SBC Park (formerly known as Pac Bell).

Since he's coming into this year healthy, Aurilia should improve on his numbers from last season. He is just signed for this year so he's playing for his 2005 contract. He should prove to be a good signing for the M's, especially at his $3.5 million price tag. If Aurilia ends up in the second spot in the order in front of Boone, he has a lot of offensive potential.

Projected 2004 line: 650 PA, 600 AB, .285/.330/.440, 17 HR

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