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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

March 9, 2012 at 11:09 AM

Jim Bowden raves about Mariners’ future, calls them “the next Rays”

felixspring2012.jpg

(Photo by Getty Images)

Note: The commenting mechanism is currently down on all Seattle Times blogs. Our technicians are working on it. For now, all you can do is compose a letter.

I missed this yesterday, but former Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals general manager Jim Bowden, now an ESPN analyst, wrote a love letter to the Mariners and their rebuilding plan.

It’s behind the ESPN pay wall, but I’ll summarize the highlights: He compares the Mariners’ rebuilding plan to that of the Tampa Bay Rays and writes: “Though the Mariners might still be two or three years away from serious contention, the shrewd trades and drafting of general manager Jack Zduriencik have most people in the game realizing how special that organization is about to become.”

He raves about all three of the Mariners’ heralded pitching prospects — Danny Hultzen (“probably ready to be a decent mid-rotation story in the big leagues if they decide he’s ready now”), Taijuan Walker (“one of the most impressive young men I’ve ever met in the game”) and James Paxton (“could be a No. 2 or 3 starter).

Erasmo Ramirez also gets some love (“the ability to be an innings eater in the middle of the rotation for years”), and Bowden writes:

“I’ve been around the game a long time and just three rotations rival what the Mariners are building:

1. The Rays’ present rotation.

2. The 1990s Atlanta Braves rotation: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz.

3. The great A’s staff of Mark Mulder, Barry Zito and Tim Hudson

Bowden — who was on the other end of one of the most explosive trades in Mariners history, the one that sent Ken Griffey Jr. to the Reds — also has positive words about the Mariners’ efforts to improve their offense. He predicts they’ll pick a hitter with the No. 3 overall pick in the draft (“…they’re confident they’ll get someone they can pair wtih Montero in the middle of the order)” and could look to trade Franklin Gutierrez and Brandon League at the July 31 trade deadline.

Here’s Bowden’s conclusion: “With the kind of great pitching the Mariners are developing, they are following the same path as the Rays, arguably the most well-run franchise in the game. Sit tight, Mariners fans, good times are coming.”

The trickiest part for the Mariners is going to be keeping Felix Hernandez in the fold when all the pitching begins to coalesce. Everything coming from Hernandez has been positive about the Mariners and their plan, but I’m sure he’s going to want to see tangible evidence of progress. If Bowden is right, that will be happening in a big way. Perhaps, but there are still going to be struggles and bumps along the way. Mariners fans will have to decide for themselves if they can maintain the same sort of enthusiasm for the future Bowden possesses.

I agree that they have the makings of a superb staff, but history also makes it likely that not all of those heralded prospects will actually develop into top-flight pitchers. There are a lot of potential pitfalls along the way, whether it be injury or stalled development. But even if two of the four young pitchers make an impact, the Mariners will have the nucleus of a strong staff. The key to their contention, IMHO, will be determined by the success of Zduriencik’s efforts to build a credible offensive attack. That is why I’ll be watching Jesus Montero, Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley and Mike Carp just as closesly this year as Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and Erasmo Ramirez.

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