Sports with Art Thiel
9:00 pm
Thu August 18, 2011

Mariners finally 'growing their own' talent

It's about time. That's what KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel says about all the young players the Mariners have acquired recently.

Art has said for years that the Mariners need to grow their own talent, rather than waste millions of dollars on veteran free agents who are often on the decline. And he says the fresh young faces are giving fans some excitement in an otherwise dismal season.

Rookies dominate lineup

On Monday night, the Mariners had eight rookies in the lineup – the first time that's happened since their inaugural year of 1977. The rookies who've been impressive recently include Dustin Ackley, Mike Carp, Casper Wells, Treyvon Robinson and pitchers Michael Pineda and Charlie Furbush.

"The first impressions of these young guys have been really solid. I think there's been a lot of excitement among the dwindling crowds at Safeco."

Wednesday night was the debut of the Mariners' newest trade acquisition: 22-year-old relief pitcher Chance Ruffin. He's the fourth player the Mariners got for pitchers Doug Fister and David Pauley in a trade last month with the Detroit Tigers.

Top draft picks exciting

Also on Wednesday night, the Mariners introduced fans to their top two picks from this year's amateur draft: 21-year-old pitching ace Danny Hultzen of the University of Virginia and 21-year-old shortstop Brad Miller of Clemson.

They threw out the ceremonial first pitches before Wednesday's game against the Blue Jays at Safeco Field. They're not on the roster yet, but Art thinks at least Hultzen will be next season.

Will rookies force changes for Ichiro?

The Mariners' roster keeps churning to give all of the rookies and new players a chance to show their stuff this season. That could force some changes for fan-favorite Ichiro Suzuki.  Art says Ichiro has lost speed on the bases and in the outfield, and hasn't been hitting well this season.

"I think it's time that the Mariners really addressed Ichiro in a meaningful way other than just let him do what he wants to do, which is hit first. This has really been a down year for Ichiro. (He's) in decline."

Art says it makes sense for Ichiro to move down in the lineup and be the designated hitter in a lot of games, to give some of the rookies a chance to show what they can do in right field. Next season will be the final year on Ichiro's contract, which pays him a guaranteed $18 million each year.

"There's going to have to be some hard conversation with Ichiro and the Mariners about his role next year. He's going to have to accept a diminished role, I think, unless he can prove in spring training that he's the player of old. And that's still a possibility but it's going to be a tough call because of how much money he makes."

Growing talent will pay off

The Mariners are getting some longevity out of their new young players – most are under contract for six years. Art says that allows them to grow and prosper with the team, like Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez did during their first years with the Mariners.

"You're much more able to judge their value to the franchise either as regular players or as trade bait. And that's very, very valuable. You're going to be able to coach them in a way that's going to be meaningful to your organization. I think most fans should be thrilled that the Mariners are going away from veteran free agents and trying to grow their own at home to make a big difference."

You can read more of Art's thoughts on this issue at Sportspress Northwest.