Some musings on the Mariners

  • By Kirby Arnold / Herald writer
  • Saturday, June 10, 2006 9:00pm
  • Sports

Random opinions from a season of random results by the Mariners:

* Fans should be encouraged by the 5-2 homestand that gave the Mariners six victories in eight games.

But, as manager Mike Hargrove says whenever someone asks if the Mariners have turned the corner, hold the euphoria. The Mariners played one nice week and beat up on the Royals and Twins, two teams with worse records than their own.

Hargrove says baseball is a six-month process and he’ll wait until the end of the season to judge whether any corners were turned.

That may be true, but Mariners fans need to see tangible evidence soon that this team is competitive. That’s what makes the current stretch of games, against the Angels and A’s, so important even though it’s still early in the season.

The Mariners not only need to beat those teams to jump back in the division race, they must prove they can win on the road and win within their division. They were just 9-17 in road games and 7-12 against division opponents entering Friday.

Yes, it’s early June. But both the Angels and A’s have injury issues and they’ll only get better when they’re healthy.

The Mariners are at full strength, and it’s their time to make a move.

If they don’t, then the excitement over that good stretch against the Royals and Twins was just a mirage.

* If the baseball draft process always led to perfect world, then Brandon Morrow will anchor the Mariners’ starting rotation by 2011.

The Mariners are willing to be patient with their first-round pick in last week’s draft, knowing it takes time in the minor leagues for young arms to develop the consistency needed to succeed in the majors.

“It’ll be five years before you can analyze the whole thing,” said Bob Fontaine, the Mariners’ scouting director.

So, in five years will Mariners fans be watching their first five picks of the 2006 draft – Morrow, Chris Tillman, Tony Butler, Ricky Orta and Nathan Adcock – on the mound at Safeco Field?

There’s hardly a chance of that.

Developing prospects into pros is more inexact in baseball than any other sport. Injuries, ineffectiveness and plain-old bad judgment come into play more than anyone would like.

Take the Mariners’ draft five years ago, for example. Nobody from that draft has seen more than limited duty in the major leagues, and only nine of the 52 players the M’s took in 2001 remain with the organization.

Shortstop Michael Garciaparra, a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds, finally is having a solid year with Class AAA Tacoma after five difficult minor league seasons.

Catcher Rene Rivera, taken in the second round, is a seldom-used backup with the M’s, but his future with the club seems bleak with Kenji Johjima locked up for three years and highly regarded prospects Jeff Clement and Rob Johnson in the minor leagues.

Left-handed pitcher Bobby Livingston was up for a while this season, but has returned to Tacoma.

* The Mariners wouldn’t dare say it, but size apparently did matter in the case of Washington pitcher Tim Lincecum.

The Mariners took Brandon Morrow of California with the fifth overall pick, setting themselves up for the expected criticism from local fans who’ve seen Lincecum put up better numbers in his college career.

The Mariners weren’t the only team to pass on Lincecum, who went 10th overall to the Giants even though he led the nation with 199 strikeouts and, later in the week, was named one of four finalists for the Roger Clemens Award as college baseball’s top pitcher.

The numbers that may have meant most were Morrow’s size – 6 feet 3 inches and 190 pounds – compared with Lincecum’s 6-0, 165.

It was a topic of conversation among major league scouts at Safeco Field last week. The common thinking was that small right-handers are a risk, and that the bigger the righty, the better chance he has of holding up physically to becoming a power pitcher in the majors.

Lincecum has a strong arm, with a fastball in the mid-90 mph range, but a slender frame to fling it. That made teams nervous.

The fun part of the debate is that we can compare the two every step of the way through the minors and see who got the better pitcher, the Mariners with Morrow or the Giants with Lincecum.

Asked what he would say to fans disappointed that the Mariners took him over Lincecum, Morrow was diplomatic.

“I think the Giants fans (in the Bay Area) might be saying the same thing,” he said. “It’s like we swapped areas. Hopefully, they’ll be my fans, too.”

* Going by the theory that it takes five years to evaluate a draft, the Twins deserve a gold star. That Joe Mauer kid, baseball’s No. 1 pick in 2001, may be a decent catcher for awhile.

All he did was bat .750 in the Twins’ three games against the Mariners last week, raising his league-leading average to .379.

That series, in fact, featured one of the best two-man performances you’ll see.

The Mariners’ Ichiro Suzuki went 11-for-16 and Mauer 9-for-12, and the contrast in their offensive styles was engaging.

Suzuki had 10 singles, four of them infield hits, and a home run.

Mauer had four singles and five doubles, driving the ball to both gaps and down each baseline almost at will. He reached base in 13 of 15 plate appearances.

Kirby Arnold covers major league baseball for The Herald

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