Mariners fans have seen an influx of young players come through the organization at both the minor league and Major League level since Jack Zduriencik took over as General Manager four years ago. Zduriencik, along with Manager Eric Wedge have been working to set a foundation, to not only let these players know what it means to be a Seattle Mariners player, but to show them.
The 2012 season saw several players take steps in the right direction. Kyle Seager became a consistent producer at the plate, leading the team with 20 home runs, and outfielder Michael Saunders took a major step forward as he established himself as an everyday player.
While the team has improved offensively each of the last two seasons, Zduriencik and the rest of the organization is focused on adding proven run producers to the mix. In December, the team acquired first baseman/designated hitter Kendrys Morales from the Angels. Morales has hit .281 (455x1620) with 79 home runs and 265 RBI across six Major League seasons (2006-2010, 2012). In 2012, the Cuban native batted .273 (132x484) with 26 doubles, 22 home runs and 73 RBI in 134 games.
The team also added veteran players Raul Ibañez and Jason Bay to help lead the young players on the team. Wedge has been laying the foundation and setting expectations since he arrived in Seattle and now the players, including ace Felix Hernandez, will lead the way.
“They understand what we expect from them on a day-to-day basis,” said Wedge. “The responsibility that they feel, the accountability that they live by is going to help them be a championship-caliber team. We’re looking for people that that have proven that they're going to be a part of this, that want to be a part of this and understand what this is.”
The organization has gone through its ups and downs in recent years but there are signs both on and off the field of the sustained success to come.
"Our players are still very young but they're tough,” continued Wedge. “You know what? Talent and toughness wins championships. The talent’s coming; the toughness I feel like is there, it’s going to keep coming. When I look into their eyes and they know what's around the corner because they know how good they can be and they know how good we can be, that's what I hope the fans are excited about."
Zduriencik has been working all offseason to add offense to a club that has shown positive signs over the last two years and that led him to the acquisition or Morales. The club will be looking for the continued development of its core that includes Seager, Saunders, Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak.
While the players at the Major League level are already producing and becoming part of a championship core, more quality players are on their way. Baseball America’s Jim Callis recently revealed that he rated the Mariners minor league system as the second best in baseball, a group led by Taijuan Walker, Mike Zunino, Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Nick Franklin.
The team is definitely young, but all are gaining experience that will help them be championship players.
“I think we’re well on our way to doing that,” said Zduriencik. “I think our minor league system has been very strong, we had a phenomenal year last year in the minor leagues. I think at the Big League level you got to see a lot of these young kids play their first full season. We broke spring training (in 2012) we had thirteen players with less than a year of Major League experience.”
The Mariners organization may be on the upswing, but that doesn’t mean that it is a finished product. The goal all offseason has been to add to a nucleus that is already here and to augment it with players who fit the winning culture.
“Ideally I’d like for us to be able to go out and get a veteran bat,” said Wedge. “Not only somebody that can be in the middle of our line-up, but somebody who also has a presence in the clubhouse. What another player can do for a player is so much more than any manager or coach can do for a player.”
The pieces are coming together and once the puzzle is complete, fans will see that it was all worth the wait.
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