With Opening Day just a week away, we really don't know where the Mariners' ceiling is for 2012. They could play up to their potential and go .500, or they could play like everyone outside of Seattle expects them to and lose 90 games for the third straight season. Nobody can really tell at this point, and Spring Training ultimately comes up short as an indicator. But guesswork is what we do best here at Way Out in Left Field, and so I'll try and pinpoint three guys who could help the M's in a big way this year and three I foresee potentially struggling to live up to expectations. (Note - I could pick Dustin Ackley as a breakout candidate and Chone Figgins as a flopper, but that would be too obvious. I'm trying to delve a little deeper here. Anyway, keep reading).
Three Breakout Candidates
1. Hector Noesi - As the under-the-radar half of the haul from the Michael Pineda trade, Noesi could really make some noise in 2012 (get it? Noise? Noesi? They're acronyms! OK, keep reading please). He didn't show a whole lot of promise last year in 28 relief appearances and two starts (2-2, 4.47 ERA, 1.51 WHIP), but those were his first big league appearances under the big lights of the Big Apple. I'll give him a pass for last year, especially since he has looked so good this spring. He had allowed just one run in five innings of work before Sunday, where he allowed just two runs over four innings in a game that finished early due to a rain delay. While Sunday's number won't wow anyone (he was in a huge jam in the fifth when rain stopped the game), Noesi has a great chance to make the Mariner rotation or bullpen out of camp. At the very least, he'll get a chance to show off his stuff in Tacoma before getting his call up to the bigs. If Noesi gets a full season, I could see him posting numbers in a similar fashion to Michael Pineda last season, except slightly worse and not all-star caliber. He could really give the M's a boost this season as they try to at least post a respectable record.
Update: Hector Noesi will Join Felix, Vargas, Beavan, and Millwood in the M's 2012 rotation. Good for him.
2. Munenori Kawasaki - I'll admit that I knew nothing about Kawasaki (who needs an Eric Wedge nickname sooner rather than later) going into spring training, and at this point no somewhere from very little to some about him. I know he plays shortstop well, which currently is one of the Mariners' weakest positions. Brendan Ryan's health has dipped ever since he got hurt in August, so Kawasaki could see plenty of time for the M's there in 2012. I also know that he's hitting .367 with nine RBIs this spring in just 30 at bats. Small sample size, but good numbers. Kawasaki could swing from Seattle to Tacoma all year, providing a utility infielder role when the M's need him. Or he could win the starting job at short in April and help the Mariners with solid hitting from the bottom of the order, or if Chone Figgins struggles, the leadoff spot. I'm not sure which of these scenarios will come true, but I'm leaning closer to the second one at this moment based on Kawasaki's recent success and Brendan Ryan's injury issues.
3. Carlos Peguero - Whoa, what? Carlos Peguero? But he strikes out more than he gets on base! I know, I'm surprised I'm writing this too. But Peguero has been killing the ball this Spring. He said going into camp that this was his time to shine and he felt like he could transform himself into a mid-order masher. Maybe that's a bit of a stretch, but I think Peguero will improve significantly over last season. The guy probably will never hit more than .250 anyway, but he crushes frozen ropes to left field on a regular basis (which he has done in Arizona, with four jacks), that won't matter as much. The guy hit six in 143 ABs in 2011. He had 28 hits and struck out 54 times. He hit .194. Yes, that sucks. A lot. But maybe Peguero can finally make good on his word and crush 25 dingers if the M's give him a chance to do so. They need power, and Carlos has the power.
Three Potential Flops
1. Mike Carp - It pains me to write this. But lets face it, Carp went bonkers last year. He had a 20-game hitting streak. That job usually belongs to Ichiro, not a guy who hadn't managed to string together a successful major league stint in three previous tries with the M's. Last year, Carp played a ton in the second half for the M's, and hit .276 in 290 at bats. Great numbers for a middle of the order guy who also drove in 46 runs in a little under half a season (100 RBIs, anyone?). The question is, was this incredible season an aberration or turning point for Carp. I hope to God it was the latter. But realistically, Carp will probably take a step back in 2011. I can't see him hitting .300 for as long as he did last year and I can't envision more than 70 or so RBIs, as much as I'd like to. Carp might surprise us all and tear it up again, but in all likelihood, .250 with 15 homers and 70 RBIs sounds just about right for a full season of Carp (for perspective last year, he would have hit about 25 home runs over a full season).
2. Jason Vargas - Another one of my favorites. Vargas has looked great at times over his last three years with the Mariners, but never once has he posted a winning record or held his ERA under 3.75. Now, he's expected to take the number two starter role by storm. I like Vargas, but that sounds like a bit too much pressure for him. However, I still had a lot of faith in him until Monday rolled around. Vargas started against the Cubs, and couldn't escape the first inning. Vargas gave up seven runs and eight hits and got just two outs. Eight hits, two outs. That's an .800 BAA. Everything about that sucks. And just a week after I preached consistency as the key to Vargas' season, he showed his wild inconsistency. While Spring Training has to be taken with a grain of salt, seven run first innings at any level by a number two starter are causes for alarm. I have some faith that Vargas will turn it around, but in terms of breakout versus flop, Vargas is a safer bet for the latter.
3. Casper Wells - I'm not sure about Casper Wells quite yet. He looked great in July and early August, until Brandon Morrow broke Wells' four straight games with a homer streak by beaning him in the face (I hate him so much). After the beaning, Wells struggled immensely, claiming he had "balance issues." I assume balance is important for major league baseball players, so that probably is a legitimate claim. A good spring would have helped Wells get back into the good graces of Mariner Nation (it does exist). That hasn't happened for Wells, who has posted a .167 average so far in Arizona. If that's his average against a mix of major in minor league pitchers, I don't want to see how he'll hit in the big leagues this year. Again, spring training can prove completely useless by May, but it's also our best indication of potential success in 2012, and Wells hasn't convinced anyone he's ready to start in left field or even platoon with Mike Carp. I hope Wells can prove me wrong.
Any other breakout candidates and flops that I missed? Feel free to leave a comment. One week! Go M's.