Youth movement coming to a head
Even though we’re only one month into the season, 2013 already looks like another tough year for the Mariners.
As usual Seattle’s pitching is its biggest strength, but the AL West is just too tough this year. But if the M’s rotation is good now, it’s going to be downright dominant in the years to come.
Looking towards the 2014 season, we’re breaking down what to expect from Seattle’s rotation come opening day of next year.
1. Felix Hernandez
This winter King Felix inked a seven-year $175 million dollar extension with Seattle, so he will remain the ace of the staff for the foreseeable future—as it should be.
Hernandez pitched a perfect game last season, and is off to the best start of his career in 2013 (5-2, 1.53 ERA, 7.00 K/BB). As long as he’s the staff ace the M’s are in good hands.
2. Hisashi Iwakuma
The Mariner’s took a flyer on Iwakuma before the 2012 season, and so far it’s paid off. The Japanese import was 9-5 last year, and so far in 2013 he’s posting a 1.61 ERA, 0.761 WHIP and 5.25 K/BB in 44.2 innings pitched.
Signed through the 2015 season, Iwakuma is set to be a front line starter for the M’s next season.
3. Danny Hultzen
Hultzen is the most polished member of Seattle’s “Big Three,” and his time is coming.
The 23-year-old put up abysmal numbers after his Triple A callup last season, but he looks back on track in 2013. Through four starts the left-hander’s 3-1 with a 2.78 ERA and 4.17 K/BB.
Near the end of April Hultzen was placed on the DL with a rotator cuff strain, but he should return to action soon. As long as he’s healthy Hultzen will get his cup of coffee this season, and be a regular member of the Mariner’s rotation in 2014.
4. James Paxton
Paxton turned in the best numbers of any Big Three member last year, posting a 3.05 ERA in 106.1 innings pitched at Double A. He’s started 2013 off at Triple A, and is currently 2-2 with a 4.35 ERA through seven starts.
Paxton has some great stuff, but control remains an issue. He owns a career 4.3 BB/9 through four minor league seasons, and his WHIP currently sits at 1.516.
Even with his issues, it’s likely Paxton receives a callup at some point this season. Just like Hultzen, as long as that happens he should remain in the rotation for 2014.
5. Brandon Maurer / Erasmo Ramirez
Despite his impressive minor league stats, Brandon Maurer‘s rookie campaign is off to a rough start. Through six starts Maurer has posted a 6.07 ERA and 1.449 WHIP.
The issue with Maurer is his splits, since his slider has only been effective against righties. 16 of his 18 Ks have come against right-handed batters, while lefties are batting .358 against him with four home runs.
Given his struggles, it’s likely that at some point this season Maurer will be demoted to Triple A. At that point his replacement could very well be Erasmo Ramirez.
Ramirez enjoyed a strong rookie campaign last season, posting a 3.64 ERA and 5.13 K/BB as a starter. He’s started his 2013 on the DL with a triceps injury, and there’s no timetable for his return.
This fifth spot will come down to whoever pitches better from now to the start of the 2014 season. If Maurer turns things around, or Ramirez gets healthy, this spot could go either way.
Odd Man Out
Some of you may have noticed that two of the Big Three were included, but not the third—and most promising—prospect: Taijuan Walker.
While Walker has huge upside, he’s still only 20 years old. It’s likely Seattle takes its time.
The young right-hander is currently dominating Double A, posting a 1.54 ERA and 10.0 K/9 through six starts. But even if a callup to Triple A is right around the corner, he’s likely to face some growing pains at that level.
While Walker is bound to make his Major League debut at some point in 2014, chances are it won’t be as a regular member of the rotation nor as a player on the opening day roster.