After another dismal series from the offense, it appears a roster shakeup is imminent. Opinions are divided on whether sending Justin Smoak (or others) to Triple A is useful or not, but after watching certain players struggle with the same issues all season, I'm sympathetic to the idea of adding new blood to the team. The problem is that there isn't much offense waiting in the minor leagues.
First, there is no help on call in double A Jackson. While there are a few decent hitting prospects suiting up for the Generals, highlighted by second basemen Stefen Romero and third basemen Francisco Martinez, none are ready to face advanced arms. Romero has all of sixteen double A games under his belt, Martinez is very young, and the players with the best stats are mostly a collection of org guys. All would be badly exploited in any extended big league showing.
Unfortunately, the picture isn't much prettier in Tacoma. Minor league veterans have carried the Rainier offense but Luis Rodriguez and Guillermo Quiroz have proven they can't be trusted to hit major league pitching while Mike Wilson and Luis Jimenez have the classic quad-A profile*. It's tempting to call for a guy like Wilson, a player blessed with tremendous raw power, but one who also falls into many of the same traps that plague Carlos Peguero. Ultimately, Wilson doesn't have the plate discipline to get on base consistently (he has only fourteen walks this year) or enough in-game power to be worth playing regularly. Jimenez lacks the necessary thump to serve as a major league designated hitter or the defensive chops to adequately man first base.
*- The quad-A skillset refers to guys who perform well in Triple A but struggle in the majors. Many quad-A players are sluggers, like Wilson or Wladimir Balentien, who thrive on pitcher mistakes and lower velocity. They are capable of posting gaudy power numbers in hitter friendly environments like Tacoma but struggle with more accurate and harder pitching at the next level.
Most disappointingly, the few players on the Tacoma roster once deemed capable of hitting in the Mariners lineup have all struggled. After striking out in nearly 40% of his big league at-bats a year ago, Trayvon Robinson has put more balls in play this season, but at the expense of the power that made him so intriguing in the first place. Carlos Triunfel hasn't posted a decent offensive line since 2008 and after another poor summer at the plate in 2012, it's hard to project him as a starter going forward.
Vinnie Catricala ended the 2011 season as the best pure hitting prospect in the system, but 2012 has been a step back for the third basemen. He has struggled transitioning to triple-A, fielding poorly and hitting only seven home runs while playing half his games in friendly Cheney Stadium. Nick Franklin doesn't belong in the group of disappointments, but he was only recently promoted to Tacoma and will not be appearing in Seattle until September at the earliest.
As I see it, there are only two players in the Mariners farm system that might alleviate the club's offensive woes this season: Alex Liddi and Mike Carp. Liddi, unlike Peguero or Wilson, has youth and a discriminating eye at the plate on his side. He also has the versatility to play third, first, and the outfield. He still needs to prove that he can recognize off-speed pitches, but at this point, he's a more palatable roster option than Justin Smoak.
Meanwhile, Carp's performance this year, while ugly at first glance, is actually fairly similar to his output in 2011. His walk rate is more than twice as high as it was a year ago and it isn't laden with an uptick in strike outs. His power numbers are quite similar, as his ISO this season (.181) is only nine points lower than in 2011. The difference between the two seasons is driven by BABIP regression. He hit an unsustainable .343 on balls in play last season but the .161 mark he's toting in 2012 is a massive over-correction. That number will rise, and if it returns to roughly league average, Carp deserves to play every day.
The problem for the Mariners is that Carp and Liddi are hardly game changers. They're probably best utilized in a platoon at this point and they aren't capable of significantly improving the lineup by themselves. Considering that they represent the best of the bunch in the high minors, it might be wise to prepare for as few runs in the second half of the season as in the first. Unless guys like Smoak, Dustin Ackley, or Jesus Montero start hitting or the M's import a bat from another organization, it's hard to see the M's scoring more often.