Well, here we go – the area of the most concern for the Mariners, as far as minor league depth goes. The second base and shortstop positions are clearly the area where the Mariners organization is weakest at the upper levels of the system.
This was more than evident last year, when the Rainiers often had players playing out-of-position up the middle, and the lack of infield depth forced the front office to make mid-season acquisitions of guys like Alex Cintron and Josh Wilson.
Even third base was a problem. Once Matt Tuiasosopo hit the disabled list, the Rainiers were forced to ask 29-year-old Chris Shelton to learn to play third base on the fly.
Shelton did the best he could, but nobody ever planned for him to be the everyday third baseman in Triple-A.
This winter the Mariners have made some acquisitions to provide depth up the middle.
Specifically, the club brought back minor league free agents Chris Woodward and Josh Wilson. Both are above-average defenders at the Triple-A level, and both can play second, third, and shortstop.
Matt Tuiasosopo is on the 40-man roster and has an option year remaining. He plays second and third base.
While all three infielders have been invited to major league spring training, it’s difficult to see how any would make the Mariners opening day roster without a rash of injuries.
The Mariners acquired Chone Figgins as a free agent, effectively blocking Tuiasosopo. It doesn’t matter if Figgins plays third or Jose Lopez plays third; Tuiasosopo is the odd-man out.
The Mariners will carry a utility infielder, but most of the sportswriters and bloggers feel that Jack Hanahan has this spot locked up.
So, barring injury, it looks like it will be Tuiasosopo, Woodward, and Josh Wilson in the Tacoma infield on April 8.
The potential problem with this is the same as it was last year: what if injuries occur?
There are no players from Class-AA who are ready to be promoted after last year, except possibly third baseman Matt Mangini.
In fact, last year the West Tenn club had the same problem as the Rainiers in the middle infield, and the organization had to add infielders from independent leagues just t0 fill the Class-AA roster at mid-season.
Here’s a scary thought: the best hitting middle infielder at West Tenn last year was Oswaldo Navarro.
Injuries were part of the problem at West Tenn last year, too. Top prospect Carlos Triunfel broke his leg in the second game of the season; he’s likely to spend the majority of this season back in AA.
At any rate, the Mariners need infield depth at the Double-A and Triple-A levels. Three of the players who provided that depth last year left the organization as free agents: Navarro signed with the Houston Astros, Cintron signed with the Mets, and Callix Crabbe inked a deal with Toronto.
Look for the Mariners to quietly bring in a couple of experienced AA/AAA infielders when minor league spring training camp opens March 7.