Seattle Mariners 2017 Season Preview

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PEORIA, AZ - MARCH 05: Felix Hernandez #34 of the Seattle Mariners delivers a pitch in the first inning of the spring training game against the Oakland Athletics at Peoria Stadium on March 5, 2017 in Peoria, Arizona. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

The Seattle Mariners have spent the past few months gearing up for a run in 2017. Seattle finished 2016 with an 86-76 record. They were competitive all season but finished three games behind Baltimore and Toronto in the AL Wild Card race. The Mariners are returning a solid core of star players from last season, but there is no question that the team will need more players to perform better in 2017.

Seattle Mariners 2017 Season Preview

Can King Felix bounce back?

Felix Hernandez has been the heart and soul of the Mariners rotation since he came into the league. He has won one Cy Young Award, finished in the top-three twice, won two ERA titles, and compiled 154 wins with the Mariners. Hernandez is the staff ace and posted 200 innings pitched and 30 starts each season from 2008 to 2015. Unfortunately, he may be showing signs of slowing down. He suffered a calf injury that would lead to some missed time in 2016.

Hernandez recorded his lowest totals in starts (25), innings pitched (153.1) and strikeouts (122) since his debut season in 2005. His 3.82 ERA was a result of issuing walks and allowing home runs at a career-high rate. He did show that he can still be effective at times, but there is no denying he must pitch better. Hopefully a healthy Hernandez will anchor Seattle’s rotation all season long.

Can Zunino finally reach his potential?

Catcher Mike Zunino is an intriguing case. The former third overall draft pick always hit well in the minor leagues. In 185 minor league games, Zunino slashed .288/.369/.552 with a .921 OPS and 44 home runs. His strikeout-to-walk ratio of 176-to-75 was also very manageable. His first full season in 2014 showed promise. Zunino hit 22 home runs that year, a franchise record for a catcher. The problem is that Zunino joined this exclusive list of players to hit 20+ home runs while posting a batting average below .200.

Zunino has now played parts of four seasons. He has 350 games under his belt with just a .195 batting average and .632 OPS. His strikeout and walk numbers at the MLB level are a big reason for his struggles. He has struck out 404 times in just over 1,200 plate appearances while only drawing 75 walks. That is the same number of walks he amassed in essentially half as many minor league games. The good news is that Zunino is tearing up spring training. Zunino finally achieving his true offensive potential could turn the Mariners line up into a legitimate contender.

Who will help contribute alongside the Big Three?

The Mariners have arguably the best middle of the lineup in all of baseball. Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager are a formidable trio and easily the best three players Seattle has to offer. Unfortunately, there was very little production beyond these three for the Mariners. This trio accounted for 292 runs scored and 307 runs driven in for a team that scored 768 runs on the season. The same trio also hit half of Seattle’s home runs (112 of 223). The Mariners narrowly missed the playoffs with essentially three solid performers.

Seattle gave up Taijuan Walker this offseason to acquire Jean Segura. Segura should add a boost to the lineup after hitting .319/.368/.499 with a .867 OPS, 203 hits, 20 home runs, and 33 steals in 2016. There is some concern that Segura will regress slightly as his 2016 numbers set career-highs well above his past performances. Mitch Haniger is another young player that Seattle is hoping can make an impact in 2017. Haniger made his debut with Arizona last season. He produced mixed results at the major league level, but his minor league stats point to a promising future. He posted a slash line of .321/.419/.581 with a .999 OPS, 25 home runs, 79 runs scored and 266 total bases in 129 games in the minors last season. Haniger will get an opportunity to play in Seattle to begin 2017. Hopefully he can provide a boost to a lineup that needs another bat.

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