2004 Rookie Analysis: The Hitters
Annually the weak link in the Mariner organization for the past half-decade, this past season quickly became the apex in mediocrity for the bats at Safeco Field.
With the retirement of Edgar Martinez, the mid-season departure of John Olerud and the pending re-structuring of the M's everyday lineup, the youth of the system finally got a chance to don Mariner blue and show what they were capable of at the major league level
The job of GM Bill Bavasi this winter, among many other objectives, is to decipher which of the rookie crop proved enough to warrant his confidence heading into spring training next February.
The power of Bucky Jacobsen and Justin Leone was a breath of fresh air this summer and the promise shown by shortstop Jose Lopez and center fielder Jeremy Reed was an exciting concept welcomed with open arms by veteran teammates and fans. But how does each rookie fit into the plans for next year's club? Does the pure stroke of defensive-minded third baseman Greg Dobbs find its way to Safeco Field for opening day?
CF- Jeremy Reed
Reed probably should have been brought up in July after he proved to be the best pure hitter on the Rainier roster in Triple-A, but the 23-year-old made the most of his limited time in the big leagues by hitting .397 in 18 games.
The constant for the SoCal Kid has always been his bat. Everywhere he has ever played Reed has produced at the plate and uses better-than-average speed to his advantage. After hitting over .400 in Double-A last season, the former second round pick of the Chicago White Sox hit .305 as a member of the Mariner organization in the Pacific Coast League, tallying 20 extra-base hits and 13 steals for Tacoma.
Reed spent most of his time with the big club hitting in the bottom of the order but his skills strongly advocate a move to the second spot in the lineup behind Ichiro. Combining good speed with the ability to make consistent contact and handle the bat per the situation, bode well for a left-handed hitter batting in the two-hole.
Reed could end up in left field if a proven center fielder is acquired before spring training, but otherwise will likely man the middle of Safeco's cavernous pasture. The 23-year-old certainly earned a chance to win a starting job on the squad in Peoria next spring and has the ability to play center field adequately should the need remain.
Mariner fans should probably get used hearing Jeremy Reed's name being penciled into the lineup every night. The kid can play.
DH- Bucky Jacobsen
"Git-R-Done", was the battle-cry for Bucky fans after the Oregon native made his major league debut after the all-star break in July. Not wanting to disappoint his fans, he complied more often than not.
Putting up solid numbers in his 42 games, Jacobsen may have left the biggest impression of all the rookies, both at the plate and at the box office.
With a cult-like following supported by a fan-created web site, Jacobsen brought an element to Safeco Field that the club has been missing since two guys named Griffey and AROD wore the navy blue costume.
Fans adore his demeanor as well as his Paul Bunyan-like build. The club likes the way he hits the baseball over the outfield fence. Sounds like a win-win-win situation for the fans, team and 270 pounds of a baseball killer in human form.
A 160 at-bat sample size isn't what you'd call hard evidence that a 29-year-old rookie is going to produce at a high level in the major leagues, but it's all the Mariners have to go on and his nine home runs and 28 runs driven in limited action might be too attractive to pass up on. Jacobsen's clubhouse value and payroll-friendly salary would allow the club to add much needed help in other areas.
Expect Bucky to be in the starting lineup as the first full-time designated hitter, not named Edgar Martinez, in nearly two decades.
SS- Jose Lopez
For the past three seasons Lopez has been the prize position prospect in the farm system and even at the fresh young age of 20, the Venezuelan shoved his way into the majors this past season after hitting .295 in Triple-A Tacoma.
Lopez hit just .232 in his stint with the big club but did hit five home runs and 13 doubles and displayed solid defensive skills at shortstop.
Of the most impressive attributes Lopez possesses, his advanced ability to make contact and stay away from the strikeout stick out as much as any. This plus characteristic will eventually allow the right-handed hitter to develop 25 home run power.
It's hard to imagine the Mariners '05 infield without Lopez manning shortstop or possibly third base. If the M's add a long term answer at short, Lopez could make an early move to the hot corner. Either way, Lopez should find his way onto the roster next season.
3B- Justin Leone
Seattle's reigning Minor League Player of the Year was improving on his 2003 Texas League MVP with another fine season in Triple-A when the M's came calling in early July.
Leone continued with the power stroke in the big leagues but found the going a lot tougher, hitting just .216 in 31 games. The former Saint Martin's College standout had a stretch of struggles in the field, making six throwing errors, an uncharacteristic trend of the former 13th-round draft pick.
When Leone's season ended with a broken wrist, the jury was still out on him offensively and defensively. Too many empty at-bats and a few too many mistakes in the field will probably keep him off of the "sure thing" list but his versatility and raw power could be enough to land the Las Vegas native on the roster in some fashion.
Leone's ability to play shortstop and the outfield as well as his primary position at third, make him a valued commodity with a rebuilding club. A strong spring showing would make it tough to leave the 27-year-old in minor league camp come the first week of April.
3B- Greg Dobbs
Dobbs is the anti-Justin Leone offensively. Batting left-handed, making a lot of contact, and lacking power, Dobbs does everything Leone doesn't and vice versa. In a perfect world the Mariners could mold the two together and get a power-hitting third baseman with better-than-average speed that bats from both sides of the dish.
In real life, Dobbs' probably doesn't possess the offensive abilities to be an everyday third baseman in the majors and the M's are better off taking their lumps with Leone or going outside the organization to accommodate the positional need.
Dobbs is solid defensively and reminds many of former Mariner Dave Magadan with the bat. With improved walk ratios and more experience, Dobbs could serve as a solid backup in the future. In the immediate future, the 26-year-old is probably slated for Triple-A in 2005.
In comparison to year's past, 2004 was a banner season for the club's young hitters. The fact that they found a way to give over 500 at-bats to four future 25-man roster members was a feat in itself.
Should the club add two impact bats this winter, the above group should have a full year of seasoning without being the focal point of the batting order. Keeping Jacobsen, Reed and Lopez off of page one of the opposing pitcher's game plan is essential for their progress in 2005.
While the M's certainly will not expect all-star seasons from any of the aforementioned youngsters, it would be a disappointment if Lopez, Reed and Jacobsen were unable to hold onto their starting jobs should they earn them in the spring.
Reed's showing this season gives Bavasi a backup plan in center field while Jacobsen and Lopez provide promise to the DH and shortstop positions.
The advantage of having three minimum salary options at three different positions is nothing shy of huge considering the financial strain that comes with rebuilding an aging roster.
GM Bill Bavasi must decide which pieces fit best and where, starting with the class of 2004.
Aren't you glad you don't have to make these decisions?
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