Getting to know the Mariners' trade acquisitions
The ballclub, heading for another year of brutal offensive production, desperately needs to click on at least a couple of them.
Seattle Times baseball reporter
In his Detroit debut, Doug Fister was "just as advertised," Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said on Friday.
Fister has a track record, and his first outing — two runs allowed over seven innings to defeat Texas — was right in line with his Seattle body of work. The Tigers acquired Fister, along with reliever David Pauley, precisely for the stability they offer for the stretch drive.
The players acquired by Seattle in that trade, and a subsequent one for Erik Bedard, are much more speculative. An offense-starved organization, the Mariners acquired three outfielders, all of whom had impressive minor-league stats (which doesn't always amount to a hill of Billy Beanes). Two of them — Casper Wells and Trayvon Robinson — are already in the majors getting an up-close look; while the third, Chih-Hsien Chiang, has been one of the most productive hitters in Class AA.
The Mariners also picked up a third baseman, Francisco Martinez, with the proverbial "high upside" — but at 20 years old, it might not be seen at Safeco Field for a while. They got a left-handed pitcher, Charlie Furbush, who won his first Seattle start on Wednesday. And in about 10 days, they'll reveal the additional "player to be named" they'll receive from Detroit. It is reputed to be one of the better pitching prospects in the Tigers' system, likely either right-hander Chance Ruffin, a supplemental first-round choice last year, or left-hander Drew Smyly, a second-rounder.
Let's take a closer look at the five players added last week by the Mariners, starting with the offensive players. The ballclub, heading for another year of brutal production, desperately needs to click on at least a couple of them.
Wells is an outgoing, confident sort who was primarily a pitcher throughout high school until becoming a designated hitter at Towson University, near Baltimore. The Tigers took him in the 14th round in 2005, and he has developed into a guy who can play all three outfield positions with good range and an outstanding arm. He has good size (6 feet 2, 210 pounds), good speed (as many as 27 steals in a season in the minors) and some power (62 homers in 2008-10). His most prominent hit so far may have been a grand slam off fledgling phenom Stephen Strasburg in the Arizona Fall League in 2009.
There are still scouts who believe Wells has holes in his swing and wonder if he is the classic "Four-A" type who projects as either a platoon player or fourth outfielder. The Mariners hope that last year's .323 average (with a .364 on-base percentage and .538 slugging percentage) in a 36-game stint with the Tigers, as well as his impressive showing in his first series with the Mariners, are signs of a frontliner on the verge of breaking out.
Dombrowski, in a phone interview, said that the Tigers' crowded outfield precluded them from giving Wells an extended look at the major-league level.
"We like Casper," he said. "He's a good all-around player with pop in his bat. He was a victim of circumstances. I said when we sent him out (in mid-July), he did nothing wrong. We just had an abundance of guys in that spot.
"He really does everything well. It's a matter of giving him a chance to play on a regular basis. We couldn't do that. I think he'll definitely be able to play on more than a platoon basis."
Robinson came to Seattle via the Dodgers, who become involved late to facilitate Bedard's trade to Boston. A product of Los Angeles's Crenshaw High School — the same school that produced Darryl Strawberry — Robinson is a switch-hitter who, like Wells, can play all three outfield positions. However, he may not have a strong-enough arm to remain in center, where he has mostly played since the Dodgers made him a 10th-round pick in 2005.
Robinson has tremendous speed, with 150 stolen bases in the minors, including 47 in 2009. Robinson's bat will dictate his career arc. He made a big jump in power this year, with 26 homers in 100 games for Class AAA Albuquerque before the trade, to go with a .293 average. It's a high-altitude ballpark, but his offensive numbers were spread almost evenly between home and road in the admittedly hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.
The red flag is his contact rate. Robinson struck out about once every 3.5 at-bats in the minors, including 126 times in 377 at-bats this year.
"He was playing very well here," Albuquerque manager Lorenzo Bundy said Friday in a phone interview. "Obviously, the one column, as far as stats go, was his strikeout total.
"I look at strikeouts as much as everyone else. I don't think they ever go away. There's only one guy I know where they went away, and that was Barry Bonds. You know how special a player he was. If you look at some of the guys with high strikeout totals in the minors, when they get to the big leagues and face better pitching, it's not going to go away. The question is, what's going to happen when he does put the ball in play? With Tray, heck, when he hit the ball, he was hitting .440. He did damage when he put the ball in play.
"We had numerous conversations about trying to put the ball in play with two strikes. His walks, from April to June and July, started improving. We were seeing improvement as far as his command of the strike zone. It's going to be interesting. I'm real excited to see how he does."
His stats with Boston's Class AA Portland Sea Dogs were staggering. In 88 games before the trade, Chiang had a .340 average, 18 homers and 76 runs batted in, with a .402 on-base percentage and a .648 slugging percentage. On Friday, he was named Eastern League Player of the Month for July after posting a .430 batting average with a .740 slugging percentage (five homers, 25 RBI) in 26 games.
Portland manager Kevin Boles said in a phone interview that Chiang, 23, a converted infielder, "was definitely the best hitter in the league when he left here."
The Taiwanese native, signed for a $375,000 bonus in 2006, had been a nondescript prospect until this year, when he made such a quantum leap that Peter Gammons reported the Mets were looking at Chiang as a key piece in a possible Carlos Beltran trade.
"I really believe he'll be a quality major-league player," said Boles, son of Mariners adviser John Boles, the former Marlins manager.
One key factor in Chiang's emergence this year was his ability to control the Type 1 diabetes that was diagnosed after he signed.
"I had heard that there used to be down times when his blood sugar would get low," Boles said. "They just found the right level. When he stayed at this level, things took off. He saw a bunch of experts and they got his diet in line. He said it was the first time he felt normal with his diet. It's never really been an issue this year."
Chiang, who throws right and hits left, is now with the Mariners' Class AA Jackson team in the Southern League.
The third baseman from Venezuela, who turns 21 on Sept. 1, was the fourth-rated Tigers prospect by Baseball America. Most scouts believe he's on track to be a major-league starter, and some see him as a potential star.
Martinez, who is 6-0, 180 pounds, has yet to develop the power expected of him. He has just 13 homers in 1,125 at-bats as a minor-leaguer, including seven this year for Class AA Erie before the trade. He was hitting .282 with 46 RBI in 91 games, and had committed 27 errors at third. But at 20, he was one of the youngest players in the Eastern League (just as he is now in the Southern League with Jackson).
"I think he has a chance to be at least an average third baseman, and perhaps an All-Star third baseman," Dombrowski said. "He's more than holding his own in Double-A at 20. He has a lot of errors, but as with a lot of young guys, it's misleading. He has tremendous defensive skills. We haven't seen the home-run numbers, but we will, because he has pop in his bat.
"We didn't want to move him, but it wasn't until we started talking about him that we moved the needle in the deal. We didn't want to give him up, but we felt we could because we had some depth behind him in (top prospect) Nick Castellanos. We had two premium third-base prospects."
The Mariners have already gotten an impressive glimpse of Furbush, who beat the A's in his first Seattle start. The lefty, who had been used mostly in relief by the Tigers — he was 1-2 with a 5.84 earned-run average in three starts — has finally regained his arm strength after Tommy John surgery in 2008.
Furbush is very tough on lefties, and his deceptive delivery makes it hard for hitters to pick up the ball. That's led to high strikeout rates (he fanned 183 last year, second among all minor-leaguers). He has a tendency to leave the ball up, however, and can be burned by the long ball. The first batter he faced as a Mariner, in fact, hit a home run.
"Again, it's a situation where we like him a lot and think he has a chance to be a big-league pitcher, either starter or reliever," Dombrowski said. "What he needs is the opportunity to get the ball and start, and we were not in position to do that and go with the ups and down associated with any young pitcher.
"He has a good mound presence. He throws strikes. He's about average (in velocity), or a tick above average, but the ball gets on you and hitters react in a different fashion because of his deceptive ability. They don't see him well, and he gets a lot of strikeouts. We didn't want to give him up, either. But that's the price of acquiring someone to help you win now."
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or email@example.com
About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.