First of all, a big thanks to Todd Dybas, Don Ruiz and T.J. Cotterill for filling in last week while I was "off" from work. It's never a fun thing, but it's necessary and something we adjust to.
During that week, I still watched a lot of baseball, either on TV or in the stands.
One thing I did take the chance to do is to watch the Tacoma Rainiers play in person twice. I feel like if I'm going to have an opinion about prospects then I should at least see them play and talk to a few scouts in attendance. What made me more interested was to check on the progress of Dustin Ackley, who is trying to re-find his swing and revamp his stroke with the Rainiers.
In the two games I watched Ackley play, I think he had six hits, including a homer and a double, along with a few walks. Right now, he is hitting .408 (20-for-49) in 11 games with two homers, three doubles and 10 walks for a .508 on-base percentage and a .592 slugging percentage
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But forget about the numbers, because the Mariners' management isn't focusing on numbers. Ackley is good enough to put up number at the Triple A level no matter what. What they want to see is an improved approach that includes staying on the ball, not giving up on outside fastballs for strikes and learning how to hit them effectively.
Obviously, I'm not a scout. But it's easy to tell that Ackley's approach is slowly evolving. He's still not up there blindly hacking at every pitch, as evidenced by the walk total. He is starting to hit that outside pitch. More importantly, he's hitting it hard. There had been a tendency for Ackley's front side to leak out away from the plate on swings. It looked as if he was pulling off on pitches. One thing that has been better is also Ackley's front foot. He's always started with the stance open. However, that front foot would often glide forward and away from the plate. Mariners manager Eric Wedge calls him a "front foot, glide guy." Ackley has been much more decisive with the front foot, getting it down sooner which makes the swing that much better and on time on fastballs.
The video above shows a pretty good example. Ackley gets that front down and even to the plate (not away from it), and then stays on the ball - a 95 mph tailing fastball on the outside corner - driving it right field for a RBI double off of Mets top prospect Zack Wheeler, who is being called up this week to join the rotation. It's a sign that things are getting better.
Here's some more video
It's not going to happen overnight and I really have no idea what the timetable is for his return. It will take more swings like that to expedite the process.
Stefen Romero was definitely impressive. The kid hits. And he kind of has the Wedge mentality of really looking for and trying to hit fastballs. That's his approach. He did get in the habit of swinging at the first pitch - no matter where it was pitched - but the kid can hit a fastball. He doubled and single on a 95 mph fastball and a 96 mph fastball off of Wheeler. But he's far from a finished product. I watched David Aardsma throw 92 mph fastball by Romero and then elevate the next two fastballs a little more with each pitch to strike him out.
Romero is also converting to left field. It's been a bit of an adventure as expected. But I first watched him play left field about a month ago and watching him last week, it's not even comparable. Some of his routes to fly balls are a little meandering and his footwork is a little rough, but he's much more confident out there. He will probably never be a gold glove level defender, but he certainly is a good enough athlete and a diligent enough worker to become better than average out there.
Mike Zunino had a couple of hits on Friday. It was his first multi-hit game at Cheney. How crazy is that? One of those hits came on breaking ball that he went down and got. Teams are really throwing him a lot of breaking stuff and fastballs just out of the zone. At the Triple A level, pitchers can and will throw offspeed in any count. It's something Zunino is slowly adjusting to. Still there are times where he looks a little lost at the plate. But I will say, he has looked solid behind the plate. Great at blocking pitches, strong receiver and outstanding communication and leadership skills.
Erasmo Ramirez thinks his pitch count will get pushed up to 100 pitches in his next start - Thursday in Las Vegas. He said he feels fully healthy.
Danny Hultzen threw a simulated game in Arizona so he could be getting closer to starting some rehab starts.
As for the big club, the offense is anemic. Michael Saunders is still scuffling. You can see the frustration level. They are getting him out the pitches away, and when he is fighting those off, they come right in with fastballs under his hands.
If the Mariners had any sort of depth in the minor leagues, they'd send Saunders to Triple A. But with Franklin Gutierrez on the 60-day (eligible to come off on June 22), they really have no other options in center field other than Endy Chavez.
We've seen in the recent days why you can't play Kendrys Morales as an every day first baseman. Dave Cameron wrote about keeping Morales around for another year in this excellent blog post. If he does hit the open market as a free agent, I think Scott Boras will be asking for - but won't get - $15 to 20 million a year. Dave's plan seems very logical, then again that's if Morales is even with the team the whole season.
There is a chance that Morales, Michael Morse, Brendan Ryan and Oliver Perez could all be dealt at the trade deadline if this slide continues.