The first five weeks of the 2015 season have been filled with surprises for the Seattle Mariners.

Offseason acquisition Nelson Cruz has been on a tear nobody could have seen coming and is currently leading the majors by a healthy margin with 14 home runs. Cruz has really helped Seattle stay afloat during a rough stretch of play.

Seth Smith and Logan Morrison have provided some value at the plate, other parts of the offense have struggled at times, the starting rotation has been shaky behind Felix Hernandez and J.A. Happ and the bullpen has been poor after an outstanding 2014 season.

All of that has resulted in a 14-17 record through 31 games. The good news is that the Mariners are ahead of the Oakland Athletics and within striking distance of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but a 5.5-game deficit to the Houston Astros is significant, even if Houston is unlikely to keep this pace up.

The rest of the season will surely offer some storylines that would have seemed highly unlikely just a month ago.


Brad Miller spends most of his time in the outfield—and is successful

There were rumblings during the offseason that Miller might work on learning other positions and becoming a sort of super-utility man. The addition of Rickie Weeks and the wrist injury to shortstop competitor Chris Taylor seemed to postpone that idea, at least until later in the summer.

Taylor’s return, the injury to Austin Jackson and the ineffectiveness of other outfielders have changed the situation again. The Mariners have been getting Miller some time in the outfield and intend to play him there, at designated hitter and occasionally first base this season, according to Shannon Drayer of 710 ESPN:

It’s unclear how much Taylor will hit at the major league level, but the team understandably likes his defense (and baserunning) a lot more than Miller’s. While Miller has good enough range for the shortstop position, he’s been far too prone to throwing errors.

Miller has the athleticism and arm to be successful as an outfielder, potentially even in center field. Coach Andy Van Slyke deserves a lot of credit for turning Dustin Ackley into a plus-seven DRS left fielder in 2014, and Miller has an even better physical skill set for the position.

Don’t expect Miller to flat-out take someone’s job in the outfield, but the Mariners can rotate around and get him plenty of playing time. With any consistency at the plate, Miller will be a valuable piece for the rest of the season.


Logan Morrison has his best season in the majors

On April 28, Morrison owned a .149/.197/.194 slash line with one home run. A .212 BABIP and great defensive plays to rob Morrison of multiple home runs in the first month didn’t help matters.

One hot stretch later, and Morrison owns a much more respectable 94 wRC+ with five home runs, including a walk-off on Friday to begin a three-game sweep of the Oakland Athletics. There are reasons to believe Morrison’s numbers should only continue to get better.

Morrison’s struggles early on went beyond the typical BABIP woes. According to Baseball Savant, Morrison ranks seventh in the majors in average exit velocity off the bat and ranks right up with some prolific power hitters.

Hitting the ball that hard is eventually going to help Morrison’s average and slugging percentage. Morrison’s strikeout numbers are also the best of his career in what’s quickly becoming a relevant sample size, and he’s still drawing a healthy number of walks.

It’s easy to forget that Morrison was great in the second half of 2014 after missing significant time due to injury early on. If he stays healthy (a huge “if”), Morrison is primed for a big season as a critical part of Seattle’s offense.


Franklin Gutierrez gets meaningful playing time

Perhaps the biggest question of the early season is what to do with Ackley. Ackley has been unable to sustain his hot July and August from last season, batting .192/.217/.346 with a 54 wRC+ so far.

Those numbers even come with the caveat of being largely shielded from left-handers. As good as Ackley‘s defense is, a team with ideas of contending can’t have such a black hole in the lineup.

Add in Jackson’s injury (and uncertainty about his performance at the plate), a slow start from Justin Ruggiano and a minus-0.1 WAR total from Weeks so far, it becomes clear that Seattle needs outfield help. There aren’t many good options within the organization—apart from one familiar face.

Franklin Gutierrez is off to a .324/.457/.554 start with four home runs in Triple-A Tacoma after missing over a year with gastrointestinal problems. That has put him on the team’s radar, according to Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune:

Nobody is expecting Gutierrez to get back to his 2009 levels, and he’s been injury-prone on top of a difficult medical condition to deal with. But he could provide some short-term help as a fourth or even fifth outfielder, something the Mariners will be needing soon.


All stats via FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. 

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