Hope Springs Eternal

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After a 14-year hiatus, FOX relaunched The X-Files last Sunday night to strong ratings and good reviews, followed by a second episode last Monday night that was equally well-received. This weekend, the Mariners look to revive their playoff hopes coming off their own 14-year hiatus from the postseason with the 18th annual Mariners FanFest at Safeco Field.

The two-day affair is being promoted by the team as an opportunity for fans to experience Safeco Field in non-traditional ways: Ride a zipline across the outfield, throw in the bullpen, take a picture on the mound and dream of being the next Felix, to name a few. But the headlining attraction of the fanfest is always the players, and this year is (?) no different.

The M’s have trotted out eight “current stars” and four “future stars”. The problem with the labeling is that it can be argued that of the twelve players, only one is an established star and the remaining eleven are not worthy of the description.

Current Stars

There is no arguing that Kyle Seager is a star, although he struggled after an All-Star campaign in 2014. Seager is not a superstar by any stretch of the imagination, and arguably not worthy of a $100 million contract, but that’s a debate for another post. Of the remaining seven, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton and Leonys Martin have the best chance to blossom into stars. Although each has offered tantalyzing glimpses of their potential, none have produced a truly impactful full season.  However, the potential for these three to shine remains as Paxton is only 27, Martin celebrates his 28th birthday in March and Walker will turn a mere 24 years old in August.

While Steve Cishek and Charlie Furbush are integral pieces in the bullpen, neither is a star nor flash any signs of being one. Over a 162-game season, both pitchers average 60+ appearances, 68 innings pitched and Walks plus Hits per Inning Pitched (WHIP) right around 1.20. Both pitchers are also 30 years old, with Cishek logging six years of service and Furbush five years in the big leagues. At this point in their careers both pitchers can be counted on to deliver solid, dependable relief, but to expect lights-out dominance would be foolhardy.

Finally, the lights shine on Chris Iannetta and Steve Clevenger. Two career backup catchers battling it out for the starting gig, due to Mike Zunino’s inability to develop thanks to the previous regime rushing him to the big leagues and Jesus Sucre’s inability to hit major-league pitching (and broken leg suffered in winter ball). The loser of the competition will still see starts probably 2-3 times a week. Both players seemingly fit the mold of Mariners’ catchers throughout the franchises’ history: no hit, all glove backstops. Iannetta has power; even in a lost season last year due to injury, he hit 10 homeruns in 272 at-bats. But he managed only 41 other hits in the remaining 262 at-bats, resulting in an average of .188. Recall that in 2015 Mike Zunino hit .174 with 11 homeruns in 350 at-bats. Technically an upgrade, although certainly not awe-inspiring.  For his part, Steve Clevenger hit .287 with 2 homeruns, but was limited to 30 games and 101 at-bats due to a finger injury and being in Triple-A Norfolk for the majority of the year. Clevenger has never played more than 69 games in a season.

Future stars

Potential: it means so much, and yet so little. It means one can, it means one could, it means one currently isn’t.

Each of the four players listed above are 23 years old and younger, but Powell is the only one to play higher than at Single-A level and the only one to be invited to spring training this year. None of the four can be counted on in 2016 and it’s reasonable to assume that 2018 may be the first year any of them impact the big-league club. Given the M’s history of being unable to consistently develop any players into major contributors, it is possible that none of the four will blossom in Seattle.

There are only so many references to 1995 that a Mariners fan can endure. The franchise’s inability to remain relevant past Memorial Day for the last 13 seasons has proven beyond frustrating to Seattleites, as there is three months until Seahawks training camp from that point. After watching other also-rans such as the Royals, Rays, and Astros develop into American League powers, the excuses must begin to dissipate. One cannot but hope that this is finally the year that the monkey gets off Seattle’s back and that July and August is good for more than Seahawks training camp, Seafair and barbecues.

Alexander Pope’s “An Essay on Man” introduced the world to the beauty that”hope springs eternal”. While Pope was discussing God’s relationship to man, it can be argued that his descriptor is not limited to such a comparison.Optimism always awakens pre-spring training in 30 cities across North America, especially in a city who’s fans are thirsty for more than a mere postseason dalliance in October. Pitchers and catchers report February 19, but for Mariners fans, the 2016 season begins now.

Fanfest

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