The Seattle Mariners are heading for yet another season that will not result in playoff participation. You can almost hear the familiar groan from the Safeco Field faithful who must accept another summer of “wait until next year.”
That said, there have been some signs of a positive future in 2013. Kyle Seager, Nick Franklin, Justin Smoak, Mike Zunino and Brad Miller represent a core of young hitters who could contribute to a productive offense in the not-so-distant future.
Seattle still has Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and the promise of several exciting young arms, which fans hope will arrive soon and start producing. It has been a long time since fans were able to get truly exciting about their M’s, and 2014 may be a crucial year for GM Jack Zduriencik. Patience is starting to wear thin. As Geoff Baker of The Seattle Times said, "This winter, they need to get it right. Or this franchise will remain stuck in neutral when it comes to anything but making money off the field."
With that in mind, here are three prospects fans can (hopefully) get excited about for 2014.
Will there finally be a Taijuan Walker sighting at Safeco Field? Will fans get to see the crown jewel of the Seattle farm system? To suggest that Walker has been hyped would be an understatement, as there are high expectations for the 21-year-old right-hander.
Walker is at Triple-A Tacoma, so theoretically he could get called up in September 2013. However, conventional wisdom suggests the Mariners will be patient and cautious with their prized prospect.
Overall, Walker has been solid but unspectacular with the Rainiers this season. Walker is 3-3 with a 4.27 ERA. He has 49 strikeouts and 21 walks in 46.1 innings. Certainly not dominating numbers, but by next spring, management may decide it is time to start the Taijuan Walker era.
Romero is the type of player who could be a productive hitter for years to come. Through August 20, Romero is hitting .281 with seven home runs and 62 RBI. He has moved through the system fairly quickly, and the 24-year-old may be ready for some big league action.
The dilemma for the Mariners will be positioning. Seattle must decide how long they are going to stick with certain players, and who will return in 2014. Is Dustin Ackley a long-term solution in the outfield? What about Michael Saunders? Will the Mariners bring back Michael Morse or Raul Ibanez?
All of these dominoes may start with Kendrys Morales, who could be a priority free-agent target in the offseason. If Morales or any of the previously mentioned players do not return, this may open up a spot for someone like Romero.
When it comes to Seattle prospects, most of the attention in recent years has been focused on Nick Franklin, Mike Zunino, Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton. Still, it is hard to ignore numbers.
Enter Abraham Almonte, who has put together a very good all-around season. The 24-year-old outfielder from the Dominican Republic is hitting .304 with eight home runs and 37 RBI. He has also swiped 16 bases and provided a solid leadoff performance for the Rainiers in 2013.
There is the reality that these are minor league numbers. Many players hit over .300 in Triple-A and then hit .220 at the next level. Like Romero, there will need to be some movement for Almonte to find a spot on the roster with the big club.
There are exciting prospects who may come to the Seattle in 2014, but they will still need to stand out and make their presence known.