Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Dustin, Justin and Jesús - ready to explode?

What happens when you trade a big chip for a can't miss prospect, a can't miss prospect for another can't miss prospect, and draft a guy first round and put all these hot prospects all in one lineup? Well, if you are the Seattle Mariners and their fans, you watched all three collectively flop in 2012. We, of course, are talking about Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak and Jesús Montero.  None of the three topped the .300 mark in on-base percentage. And Smoak and Montéro finished below ground in the fWAR department. Can the trio reverse their fortunes in 2013?

Spring Training is such an illusion. The games don't count. Pitchers of every stripe are thrown out there to either get experience or just work on some pitches. Plus, a large number of teams, including the Mariners, now train in Arizona where the ball just sails through the hot, dry air making the offensive numbers dubious at best.

All those disclaimers aside, it is very encouraging to see what Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak and Jesús Montéro are doing this spring. Smoak and Montéro are both batting .500 with half of their hits being of the extra base variety. Ackley is batting .400. Certainly, spring training is no predictor about regular season success. But success sometimes builds on itself and there is something to the group dynamic where success is contagious. Maybe we have something here.

Consider also that Safeco Field is going to have new dimensions this year that could favor Smoak and Montero specifically and Ackley occasionally. Montéro hit .295 on the road last season and .227. Smoak hit 197 at home in 2012 and .235 on the road. Ackley had ten homers on the road and only two at home. Safeco definitely got into these players' heads. The differences in the dimensions are not drastically different. But they will be different enough to change the mindset.

Another thing to look at is BABIP. Dustin Ackley had a BABIP of .265 in 2012. Justin Smoak's BABIP was an insanely low .242. Even Montéro's .292 was a bit on the low side. Perhaps some of that is bad contact. But perhaps some of that is bad luck and bad approaches too. If all three just have league average BABIPs, there is will be vast improvement.

Dustin Ackley is a former first round draft pick. In his minor league career, he showed a far higher walk percentage and lower strikeout percentage than last year's numbers. He has good plate discipline and only swung at 24% of pitches outside the strike zone last season. His walk totals will improve and the strikeouts will come down. Knowing where he was drafted, Ackley will have every chance to turn things around.

Montéro was the big chip in the trade with the Yankees that cost them one of their best young arms. He will get every opportunity to turn things around too. With John Jaso gone, Montéro is being depended on to catch, which is still quite the dicey proposition. But the gut here says that he is going to explode offensively a year removed from the shock of switching coastlines and leaving the only organization he had known.

Justin Smoak is probably on his last "Get Out of Jail Free" card and will need to either start showing what he can do or fade away into the sunset. He is only 25 and can still turn it around. If this spring is any indication, he looks like he's figured some things out.

Time will tell on these three. But, without being overly analytic here, all three could jell this season and make this a much more fun season for the long-suffering Mariner fans.

No comments: