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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Seattle Mariners

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It's been an upbeat offseason for the Mariners considering the turbulence they endured in 2013. The team turned in its fourth straight losing season, which was capped off with a split between general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge that led to the skipper's departure. Signing this offseason's most coveted free agent, Robinson Cano, was a good way to drown out the negative vibe.

The Mariners kept the momentum going by wasting little time in filling the designated hitter and outfield spots vacated by free agents Kendrys Morales and Raul Ibanez, as they traded for former Marlins first baseman/outfielder Logan Morrison and signed ex-Brewers first baseman/outfielder Corey Hart. Cano, Morrison and Hart will complement an otherwise young roster that will try to pilot the Mariners to their first postseason bid since 2001.

2014 Fantasy Outlooks
A.L. East N.L. East
Orioles Braves
Red Sox Marlins
Yankees Mets
Rays Phillies
Blue Jays Nationals
A.L. Central N.L. Central
White Sox Cubs
Indians Reds
Tigers Brewers
Royals Pirates
Twins Cardinals
A.L. West N.L. West
Astros Diamondbacks
Angels Rockies
Athletics Dodgers
Mariners Padres
Rangers Giants

For the most part, new manager Lloyd McClendon won't have too many critical decisions to make coming out of spring training. Second-year catcher Mike Zunino is the clear starter, having been handed the job in midseason last year, and the infield is mostly set with Cano, Justin Smoak and Kyle Seager practically assured of starting roles. McClendon is likely to entrust Brad Miller with everyday shortstop duties, though Nick Franklin is still in the picture, at least for now. The rotation appears to be squared away with veterans Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma comprising a formidable one-two punch at the top, with up-and-coming Taijuan Walker, Erasmo Ramirez and James Paxton filling out the remaining spots.

It's the outfield, designated hitter and closer spots that have yet to be ironed out. Though Hart and Morrison have played both the outfield and first base, both have been plagued by knee injuries. With Smoak penciled in at first base, at least one will have to roam the outfield. They will be in the mix along with Dustin Ackley, Michael Saunders, Abraham Almonte and Franklin Gutierrez, each of whom could play either center field or a corner spot. Due to their history of health issues, either Morrison or Hart would be ideal for the DH spot, though any one of the outfield candidates could see time there as well. As for the closer's role, Danny Farquhar is the incumbent, but there are no guarantees that the Mariners won't seek to replace him before opening day.

For a team that hasn't had much recent success in the real baseball world, the Mariners offer several reliable Fantasy alternatives. Cano, Seager, Hernandez and Iwakuma should be close to universally owned, and Miller, Hart and Walker are all worth drafting in standard mixed leagues. They are part of a solid foundation upon which the Mariners can build a squad that can end their string of losing seasons, but the performance of unproven, high-upside types like Zunino, Ramirez, Paxton and Farquhar could make the difference not only for the M's, but for Fantasy owners as well.

Breakout ... Brad Miller, shortstop

2014 projected lineup
Player Name Position
1. Brad Miller SS
2. Kyle Seager 3B
3. Robinson Cano 2B
4. Corey Hart DH
5. Justin Smoak 1B
6. Logan Morrison RF
7. Michael Saunders LF
8. Mike Zunino C
9. Dustin Ackley CF
Bench Willie Bloomquist 2B
Bench Abraham Almonte OF

Last season, Fantasy owners got just a small taste of the potential that Miller showed as a prospect. With a .265 batting average, he was nowhere close to the .334 mark he posted in three seasons in the minors, but Miller did a decent job of making contact and hitting for power. Given that his home run production ramped up over the final quarter of the season (he hit six of his eight home runs over his last 38 games, as opposed to two during his first 38 games) and that he was more of a flyball hitter in the minors, Miller could emerge as one of the majors' bigger home run threats. While Miller got into more of a power groove late in his rookie season, he seemed to forget how to draw a walk, but that had been a strength of his both in the minors and in his early weeks in the majors. If Miller can maintain the power gains he achieved while rediscovering a more patient approach, he could emerge as one of the top eight shortstops. As it is, Miller's a fairly safe bet to finish among the top 12.

Bust ... Mike Zunino, catcher

Zunino's debut was one of the more highly-anticipated ones in 2013, but his performance -- both in the majors and at Triple-A -- didn't match up with the loftier expectations held for him. Zunino's Class A and Double-A stats were tantalizing, but they were comprised of only 190 plate appearances. After 422 trips to the plate between the majors and minors last season, Zunino's contact and power skills look far less imposing, especially in light of the fact that he did not put up good power numbers in either homer-neutral Tacoma or homer-squelching Seattle. Maybe if Zunino can boost a flyball rate that sagged at 35 percent, he can prove to be a breakout rather than a bust, but he will also need to chip away at a 28 percent strikeout per at-bat ratio. He has his work cut out for him, and he could easily become waiver wire flotsam in two-catcher leagues.

Impact prospect ... Taijuan Walker, starting pitcher

2014 rotation/bullpen
Player Name Throws
1. Felix Hernandez RHP
2. Hisashi Iwakuma RHP
3. Taijuan Walker RHP
4. Erasmo Ramirez RHP
5. James Paxton LHP
ALT Brandon Maurer RHP
Bullpen Breakdown
1. Danny Farquhar RHP
2. Tom Wilhelmsen RHP
3. Yoervis Medina RHP
4. Charlie Furbush LHP
5. Stephen Pryor RHP

Walker bounced back from a lackluster 2012 Double-A campaign, as he was far more dominant at both Double-A and Triple-A last year, earning a late August promotion to the Mariners. Though his 3.61 ERA and 1.41 WHIP at Tacoma don't look especially impressive, Walker did manage to get swinging strikes on 11 percent of his pitches (per StatCorner.com), racking up 64 strikeouts in 57 1/3 innings. Most notably, he accomplished most of this before his 21st birthday. Walker generally hasn't had major control issues, so his 27 walks at Tacoma could wind up being an outlier. Though he may go through his share of rookie struggles, Walker could be a Fantasy asset for his Ks alone, and he's worth targeting in the later rounds of standard mixed league drafts.

Prospects Report

Walker isn't the only prospect likely to break camp in the Mariners' rotation, as lefty James Paxton could be the team's No. 5 starter. Another potential contributor to the strikeout category, Paxton is worth taking in deeper mixed leagues ... Danny Hultzen is still worth hanging onto in dynasty formats, but he is likely to miss all of 2014 while recovering from rotator cuff surgery ... Starting pitchers Victor Sanchez, Tyler Pike and Edwin Diaz could all be two or more years away from the big leagues, but all are bona fide dynasty league farm options ... So is southpaw Luiz Gohara, even though he won't turn 18 until July ... Third baseman D.J. Peterson, shortstop Chris Taylor and outfielder Stefen Romero stand out among the Mariners' hitting prospects, but even though Taylor and Romero could get called up this season, they are strictly deep AL-only options. Peterson is a longer-term investment, but he is a worthy pickup for dynasty league owners.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al Melchior at @almelccbs .

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Player News
Eury Perez, Eric Young Jr. headline Braves' CF options
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(4:23 pm ET) The Braves have four candidates to replace the injured Melvin Upton Jr. in center field, the Atlanta Journal-Constition reports.

Eury Perez, Eric Young Jr., Todd Cunningham and Zoilo Almonte all have a chance to win the team's center field job this spring while Upton, who is expected to be sidelined until at least early May, recovers from a left foot injury.

"You’re kidding anybody if you don’t see it as an opportunity," Young said Saturday. "It’s an unfortunate situation. Melvin hopefully gets healthy soon and gets back to playing the game that he loves the way I know he can. But in the meantime, I came into camp with a bunch of gloves, ready for whatever situation or scenario they threw at me. And right now with my speed, we’ve got a void in center and I’ve got this opportunity and just got to go out there and make the most of it."

Perez may be the early favorite as the only natural center fielder of the bunch, but Young is the only player of the quartet with significant major-league experience. Cunningham is a career minor-leaguer and Almonte has limited experience in center field.

"I think the other three guys have played (center) more than Almonte, but we’ll see," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We’ll run them out there and watch. Even E.Y. Jr. has got, I think, 30-some games in center field in the big leagues. Perez is a natural center fielder. (Braves third-base coach) Bo (Porter) had him with the Nationals and he really likes him as a defender."


Yankees' Cashman to Didi Gregorius: Don't try to be Derek Jeter
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4:13 pm ET) Yankees general manager Brian Cashman isn't concerned about Didi Gregorius replacing Derek Jeter heading into the 2015 year, reports the New York Daily News.

"I personally can't worry about a shadow of Derek's somehow affecting the next guy," Cashman said. "All you can do is tell the next guy, 'You're not Derek, so don't even waste your time trying to be. Just be the best you can be.’ It’s going to fall short of anything Derek did, because he’s one of the greatest players of all-time."

The 25-year-old hit .226 with six home runs and 27 RBI in 270 plate appearances in 2014 and Cashman likes what's he's seeing.

"He's a developing guy," Cashman said. "He's definitely not a finished product. He's got a big ceiling. We'll see if we can together reach that ceiling."


Brewers' Jimmy Nelson (hamstring) has BP session moved again
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(3:53 pm ET) Brewers pitcher Jimmy Nelson didn't throw live batting practice as scheduled Saturday, with the team choosing to let his injured hamstring rest, MLB.com reports.

Manager Ron Roenicke reiterated Saturday that Nelson's hamstring injury is minor and that the pitcher is scheduled to throw Sunday. Roenicke added that he "would be surprised" if the pitcher was pushed back again.

Nelson saw his first significant action with the Brewers in 2014, going 2-9 with a 4.93 ERA and 57:19 K:BB ratio in 69 1/3 innings.


White Sox's Jared Mitchel pushing to make opening day roster
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3:52 pm ET) White Sox prospect Jared Mitchell was disappointed he didn't make it to the majors in 2014, but he's not letting that keep him from pushing to make it this spring, reports MLB.com.

"I took it as disappointment and then kind of like straight to, 'Now that's your motivation.' That helps prepare you for where you need to be," Mitchell said. "If you take it the right way, take it in stride and use it as motivation, it can springboard me into a really good year this year."

Mitchell, the team's top pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, has the ability, but needs to get more consistent, according to some in management.

"Mitch's issue is that he has a different feel every day," said White Sox assistant general manager Buddy Bell. "He's got to trust what he can do, but certainly athletically, there's nobody better. He's as athletic as anyone we have."


Astros' Brad Peacock throws pain-free bullpen session Saturday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(3:48 pm ET) Astros pitcher Brad Peacock threw 30 pitches in his third bullpen session of the spring Saturday and reported no pain in his hip, the Houston Chronicle reports.

"No pain," Peacock said. "I felt all right. My arm felt good. I was a little wild, but that’s normal. It was only my third bullpen, but no pain in the hip. I’ll take it."

Peacock is working his way back from offseason hip surgery. He'll take two days off and throw another bullpen Tuesday, when he hopes to increase his session to 35 pitches. If he continues to progrees, he hopes to throw his first live batting practice March 11.


Astros' Kevin Chapman trying to keep hitters guessing with changeup
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3:43 pm ET) Astros pitcher Kevin Chapman is figuring out quickly the need for a third pitch in his arsenal. He posted a 2-0 record with a 4.64 ERA in 21 1/3 innings pitched in 2014. 

"[The changeup is] something I sort of messed with last year when I was sent down and I was in Triple-A," Chapman said. "I thought while I was there I'd try to throw it and get another pitch. When I came back up, I didn't use it that much, but when I did, it was effective. That's something I really wanted to explore and see what it's got for me."

He wants to be able to keep hitters on their toes for this season.

"Last year, it wasn't like key situations or a full count or something like that, but any time I had an opportunity to use it in a situation that's not vital to one pitch, I used it and I was getting good results and getting it for strikes, and when guys were putting it in play, it was weak contact," he said.


Athletics SP Barry Zito to make first spring start Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(3:42 pm ET) Athletics starting pitcher Barry Zito is scheduled to make his first Cactus Leauge start Thursday against the Cubs, MLB.com reports.

The outing will be Zito's first game action since 2013. Manager Bob Melvin said earlier in February that Zito would get one shot in a Cactus League start to see whether he deserves a shot at a major-league comeback. If Thursday's start goes well, he could receive more chances with an eye on potentially making the team's rotation.

Zito won the AL Cy Young Award in 2002 as a member of the A's. He took the 2014 season off after the Giants declined his $18-million option.

"I have a fresh perspective," Zito said last week. "I've got my passion back, and I just want to continue to work hard and go out and enjoy competing. I guess you could say I'm competing against all these guys, but for me, it's more about competing against myself. If I can be as good as I know I can be every time out here, I know the rest will take care of itself."

Zito put together a 102-63 record in his time with Oakland as well as a 3.55 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 1,096 strikeouts in 1,430 1/3 innings over seven seasons. He then signed a big free-agent deal with the Giants, 63-80 with a 4.62 ERA, 1.44 WHIP and 787 strikeouts in 1,139 1/3 innings over seven seasons.


Angels 2B Alex Yarbrough working at multiple positions
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(3:32 pm ET) Angels second-base prospect Alex Yarbrough is working at first base and third base and in left field this spring, manager Mike Scioscia told MLB.com Saturday.

"Just to see if the versatility is there," Scioscia said.

Yarbrough has made all of his game appearances at second base since being selected in the fourth round of the 2012 draft. He hit 285/.321/.397 with five home runs, 77 RBI and six stolen bases in 544 at-bats.


Indians' Jason Kipnis (finger) making progress
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(3:25 pm ET) Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis is making progress in his return from a finger injury, the Cleveland Plain-Dealer reports.

Kipnis underwent surgery on the finger in December and could miss the first few Cactus League games as a precaution. He hit .240/.310/.330 with six home runs, 41 RBI and 22 stolen bases in 500 at-bats last season.


Brewers' Jim Henderson to face batters for first time since surgery
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3:02 pm ET) Brewers pitcher Jim Henderson is scheduled to throw to live batters Sunday for the first time in nearly a year. For Henderson, it's a long time coming.

"I'll be curious after live BP, because that's when hitters step in and the intensity picks up more," said Henderson. "We'll see how it feels after that, and then once the games start, I'll be curious for sure. Then I'll be able to see how far away we are. Right now, it feels good, it feels strong, it feels healthy, but I've always been a velocity guy, so [seeing those numbers] will tell me how far I need to go."

Henderson underwent shoulder surgery during early in 2014, forcing him to miss the majority of the season.

"I feel like I'd be in the low to mid-90s if I wanted to let one go right now, but I really have no idea," Henderson said. "It's hard to tell without a hitter. For me, even when we're in season, I'll throw my last warmup pitch and look at the radar gun and it says 91 [mph]. Then the first pitch to a hitter will be 95 [mph]. So it's hard to tell with me."


 
 
 
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