Unfulfilled Promise: Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley Demoted as Mariners Turn Page

The next time Ackley (right) greets Montero after a home run, they’ll both be wearing the uniform of the Tacoma Rainiers. Image: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Mariners have seen enough.

This past Winter, Seattle’s brass moved the fences in at SafeCo Field in an effort to generate more offense. They then made a handful of moves aimed at supplementing a roster of promising young hitters with some veterans to help shoulder the load. Thus far in the 2013 season, those veterans have more than done their part as the Mariners are getting strong contributions from Kendrys Morales, Michael Morse, Raul Ibanez, and even Jason Bay, but that roster full of promising young talent has yet to produce, almost to a man.

The Mariners figured that this was the year they would get major offensive contributions from a handful of regulars with high ceilings. Catcher Jesus Montero has three times been ranked in the top-10 prospects by Baseball America and was entering his second full year in the majors. First baseman Justin Smoak was ranked as high as 13 by BA, Fellow first-round pick Dustin Ackley was twice ranked in the top-12 and centerfielder Michael Saunders got into the top-30 in the BA rankings at one point.

Instead of an offensive boom lead by a group of maturing players, the Mariners’ lineup has been weighed down by a group of young players that has yet to find success at the game’s highest level. The biggest culprits thus far have been Montero and Ackley and within the past week, GM Jack Zduriencik has demoted both players to Triple-A Tacoma.

In their place, the Mariners brought catcher Jesus Sucre and infielder Nick Franklin to the big leagues.

While Sucre has a fun name, his minor league track record is ugly (he has a .630 OPS across eight seasons of pro ball). He’s really just keeping the roster spot warm until Mike Zunino gets the call to join the big club. Zunino got off to a sizzling start in his first foray into Triple-A competition, but then endured a horrendous slump. His slash line is still lower than ideal and he has had some contact issues, but he’s also shown good extra-base pop; something the Mariners don’t have enough of.

Franklin is a 22-year-old former first round pick (27th overall, 2009) that got off to a great start at Tacoma before getting the call. A switch-hitter, Franklin has been primarily a shortstop in the minors, but will get extensive time at second in place of Ackley.

Meanwhile, Ackley will try to again find the stroke that got him to the big leagues after just a season-and-a-half of minor league seasoning and Montero will be working to learn first base with Seattle essentially declaring his catching career over. Of course, if Montero doesn’t hit better than he has, the only place a big league could carry his bat is at catcher. A guy with a career .396 slugging percentage just shouldn’t be employed as a first baseman or DH. That said, Montero is a liability behind the plate as well.

In a perfect world, Montero will adapt well to his new position and develop into the kind of impact hitter that everyone expected him to be. Ackley will return to form and resume his big league career and those two will push the disappointing Smoak and offensively-challenged shortstop Brendan Ryan out of the lineup. Zunino will come up and solidify the production behind the plate and the Mariners will become a markedly better ballclub.

Of course, as several of Seattle’s hitters have shown, minor league success doesn’t always translate to the Show. The lights are brighter, the stadiums bigger, and the pressure higher. Having a highly-regarded farm system is not a promise of big league successes to come.