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2011 Fantasy outlooks: Seattle Mariners

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The Mariners turned back the clock to 1984 in 2010 and tried to win with speed and defense. Well, they got that speed and defense, ranking fourth in the AL in stolen bases and sixth in fielding percentage. Unfortunately, the wins were in short supply.

It got so bad for the Mariners that by mid-July, they had to trade Cliff Lee, their prize acquisition that offseason, to the Rangers for rookie Justin Smoak, signaling a clear shift in focus from today to tomorrow.

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Clearly, the Mariners still value defense -- the acquisition of Brendan Ryan to play second base tells you everything you need to know there -- but at least now they don't view themselves as contenders. That resignation should make them an interesting team to watch this summer, when Dustin Ackley, the player drafted after Stephen Strasburg in 2009, makes his much-anticipated debut. Together, he and Smoak should give the Mariners an elite right side of the infield for years to come.

And Ackley isn't the organization's only cause for enthusiasm. Michael Pineda and his high-90s heat should also debut sometime this season, teaming with AL Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez to give the Mariners a pair of aces and turn a rotation of retreads into a legitimate asset.

Of course, reaching the majors and reaching full potential are two separate accomplishments, as Smoak proved last year. For now, retreads still litter the landscape, making players like Franklin Gutierrez, Jack Cust and Michael Saunders the offense's best hope of improving.

That's not to say the Mariners won't factor in Fantasy. Hernandez is probably the best pitcher other than Roy Halladay, and David Aardsma, like any closer, has value if he can bounce back from hip surgery. Ichiro Suzuki continues to put up elite numbers, and Chone Figgins remains a high-end source of stolen bases, if nothing else.

But right now, this team is in waiting mode, biding its time until the real talent arrives.

Sleeper ... Justin Smoak, 1B

Yeah, it looked bad, but Smoak's rookie season wasn't a total loss. The 24-year-old made measurable progress over the course of the season. It probably didn't stand out because his numbers were so bad already, but in September, after the Mariners called him back up from the minors, he hit .340 with three homers in 50 at-bats, showing the combination of power and patience that made him such an enticing prospect to begin with. Scouts have compared him to Mark Teixeira in the past, and though he'll have a harder time meeting that potential in Seattle than he would have in Texas, talent is talent. Most likely, Smoak is following in the footsteps of Justin Morneau, Adrian Gonzalez and countless others who struggled in their major-league debuts before turning the corner later, only we've already seen signs of him turning the corner. And the best part is you can get him for next to nothing on Draft Day.

Bust ... Ichiro Suzuki, OF

Not much momentum for this pick, really, but you can't deny the lack of regression is starting to feel more than a little unnatural. A 37-year-old in the early rounds? That shouldn't happen. It doesn't happen in the post-PED days, which means Ichiro's run is nearing an end. Better to anticipate the changes before they actually happen, right? Last year, Ichiro's slugging percentage was under .400 for only the second time in his career, both coming in the last three seasons. Couple that with his career-high 86 strikeouts, and you get the impression his impeccably controlled bat is slowing down. So are his legs. He rebounded last year, but he stole just 26 bases in 2009, a development that should continue in his late 30s. Ichiro has a long way to fall and probably won't do it all at once, but as a player who needs to hit .330-.350 to justify his price tag, he's on a slippery slope.

Can't-miss prospect ... Dustin Ackley, 2B

Yeah, the Mariners acquired Brendan Ryan to play second base, but no one really buys that as a long-term solution, right? It's a classic stopgap scenario, which means soon enough, whether in April, May or June, Ackley is taking over. And when he does, Fantasy owners will want him on their rosters. He was the best hitter in a draft class headed by Stephen Strasburg, which should tell you everything you need to know about his upside. Some question his power, especially coming off an uninspiring minor-league debut, but he more or less put an end to those doubts by hitting .424 with four homers and a 1.338 OPS in the Arizona Fall League, setting a record for on-base percentage and capturing MVP honors. This from a middle infielder. Even if Ackley isn't a 20-homer guy right away, his incredible batting eye should help him succeed right away, perhaps making him another Dustin Pedroia. That's talent worth stashing.

Seattle Mariners Fantasy Outlook
Projected Lineup Pos. Projected Rotation
1 Ichiro Suzuki RF 1 Felix Hernandez RH
2 Chone Figgins 3B 2 Jason Vargas LH
3 Franklin Gutierrez CF 3 Doug Fister RH
4 Jack Cust DH 4 Erik Bedard LH
5 Justin Smoak 1B 5 Luke French LH
6 Michael Saunders LF Alt David Pauley RH
7 Miguel Olivo C
Bullpen Breakdown
8 Jack Wilson SS CL David Aardsma RH
9 Brendan Ryan 2B SU Brandon League RH
Top bench options RP Garrett Olson LH
R Milton Bradley OF RP Shawn Kelley RH
R Matt Tuiasosopo UTL RP Danny Cortes RH
Rookies/Prospects Age Pos. 2010 high Destination
1 Dustin Ackley 23 2B Triple-A Triple-A
Arizona Fall League MVP a natural hitter with good batting eye. Should arrive in 2011 even if power lags.
2 Michael Pineda 22 SP Triple-A Triple-A
Hard thrower would be projected ace if not for King Felix. Could begin in Triple-A, but debut coming.
3 Nick Franklin 20 SS Double-A Double-A
Smallish SS became legit last year with 20-20 season. A projected starter if he keeps hitting for power.
4 Alex Liddi 22 3B Double-A Triple-A
Remained productive with promotion out of hitter's league. Not a stud, but looks like 3B of the future.
5 Greg Halman 23 OF Majors Triple-A
Serious power thwarted by seriously bad plate discipline. Close, but still working out kinks in minors.
Best of the rest: Danny Cortes, RP; Mauricio Robles, SP; Guillermo Pimentel, OF; Taijuan Walker, SP; Johermyn Chavez, OF; Josh Lueke, RP; Jose Flores, RP; Marcus Littlewood, SS; Kyle Seager, 3B; James Jones, OF; Blake Beavan, SP; Carlos Triunfel, SS; and Gabriel Noriega, SS.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter . You can e-mail us your Fantasy Baseball questions to DMFantasyBaseball@cbs.com . Be sure to put Team outlooks in the subject field. Please include your full name, hometown and state.

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Player News
Phillies' Cliff Lee to begin full throwing program in November
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(12:16 pm ET) The Phillies announced Wednesday starting pitcher Cliff Lee had an MRI on his left elbow Friday. The MRI showed Lee's flexor tendon is healing well.

Lee, who missed the final two months of the season due to a Grade 2 flexor pronator strain, will begin a full throwing program in November and is expected to be ready for spring training.


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(12:12 pm ET) The Phillies announced Wednesday outfielder Ben Revere had surgery Tuesday to remove screws from his right ankle. Revere will be in a walking boot for about two weeks, but he is expected to be ready for the start of spring training.

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(12:10 pm ET) The Phillies announced Wednesday catcher Carlos Ruiz underwent minor arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder Monday. Ruiz will begin rehabbing the injury immediately and will return to Philadelphia in November for a follow-up exam.

The Phillies are expecting Ruiz to be ready for the start of spring training.


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by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:31 am ET) Mariners outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, who spent the 2014 season on the restricted list due to health reasons, has expressed interest in returning in 2015, according to MLB.com.

"He’s in Florida, working out. He has some interest in coming back next year. We’re going to talk to him and we’ll see what happens," general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "He left in a good frame of mind. We’ll have to see where it’s at, but he’s spoken to our guys more than once about his desire in coming back next year. It would be as a non-roster player."


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(10:24 am ET) Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said starting pitcher James Paxton will not throw competitively during the offseason, according to MLB.com. Paxton was limited to 13 starts this season due to a lat injury.

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by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:21 am ET) Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said starting pitcher Taijuan Walker will throw a few times in the Arizona Fall League, according to MLB.com. Walker split time between the minors and majors in 2014, going 2-3 with a 2.61 ERA in eight appearances (five starts) for Seattle.

Mariners SP Roenis Elias moves past elbow soreness
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(10:12 am ET) Mariners starting pitcher Roenis Elias is doing well after being shut down late in the season due to elbow soreness, according to MLB.com. Elias intends to spend the offseason at his home in Texas and resume his normal throwing program before he reports to camp in the spring.

Mariners' Dustin Ackley to undergo further evaluation for ankle issue
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:11 am ET) Mariners outfielder Dustin Ackley is expected to visit with a specialist to determine a course of action he might take to deal with a nagging left ankle injury, according to MLB.com.

Mariners SP Danny Hultzen expected to have no restrictions this spring
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:07 am ET) Mariners starting pitcher prospect Danny Hultzen, who missed the 2014 season due to rotator cuff surgery on his left shoulder, will be shut down until spring training after throwing three times in the Instructional League, according to MLB.com. Hultzen threw 25 pitches in his last outing Tuesday.

"They said it was really impressive," general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "He feels really good and is now shut down. He’s finished for the fall. He showed an average fastball, really good curve and changeup. He was confident and his delivery is sound. So he’ll go home and come back in January and be ready for spring training."

Hultzen is expected to have no restrictions during the spring.

"We were real cautious. There was some talk of putting him in the Fall League, but we’re going to back off a little," Zduriencik said. "This kid has been through a lot this year. The fact he’s been on the mound in Instructional League is enough. There’ll be a challenge for him next year regardless of how he reports physically, where is he going to be innings-wise after missing a whole year like this."


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"He kind of pulled his thumb back on the jersey on the play at the plate, and after that it kept getting worse and worse," manager Bob Melvin said. "Certainly as a catcher you need your thumb, especially when Jon Lester is throwing cutters."


 
 
 
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