frank raul
Second baseman Nick Franklin (left) has been a revelation since being called up to the Mariners, while outfielder Raul Ibanez is having a 41-year-old season for the ages. (AP)

By Brent Stecker

At the All-Star break, the Seattle Mariners have turned into a youthful team with cagey veterans peppered in, and they've orchestrated a turnaround over the last few weeks. They're not in the conversation for a playoff berth, however, and because of that the fan base is clearly focused on the future.

Mariners insider Shannon Drayer sat down for a lengthy chat Wednesday, and the talk centered around the rookies that have cemented themselves in the lineup, the top prospects that are on the cusp of joining the team, and potential trades and free-agent signings the team could make around the trade deadline and offseason.

The full transcript of the chat can be found here, and highlights are below.

Cole asked how much better having Brendan Ryan on the roster makes Brad Miller.

Shannon Drayer: I think he, and the scouting reports available at the big league level are making a huge difference with Brad whose eyes and ears are open to everything. Both he and Nick have commented on how much it helps to have the reports and the positioning from Robby Thompson. Both have looked much better defensively than I think we thought they would and both can get better. Brendan without a doubt is a help, but if they were to trade him I think the others would be okay.

TrollTossin asked if Triple-A pitcher Taijuan Walker could be promoted to the majors after a few starts.

Shannon Drayer: I am more and more getting the feeling that we will indeed see Walker before September. 3 starts allowing just 1 ER since his promotion is eye opening. Let's see what he does after the break. I have mentioned this on my blog but my best guess would be he will have his innings capped at about 155 this year. He is at 100 so we are looking at only 8-9 starts remaining, max. I think if he continues to dominate, some of them will be in Seattle.

Bryen asked if the Mariners will be active in the offseason after the numerous free-agent busts this season.

Shannon Drayer: The Mariners should have plenty to spend this year. They only have two players under contract for next year, Felix and Iwakuma. Everyone else is club controlled, read, cheap. They very well could have the most they have ever had to spend in an off season this but the FA market is not good. I think they will look to trades to make impact moves, try to get a FA outfielder and perhaps a quality bullpen arm.

Brendan K asked if Jesus Montero is still considered to be the future at the DH position.

Shannon Drayer: He has to show it. Far too young to give up on but hasn't shown enough to depend on in my opinion. They kind of did that going into this year. Named him the starting catcher in the fall even though he really hadn't shown big improvement. Most likely was just a stopgap because Zunino was coming but still, he took a huge step backwards at the big league level this year.

Bryce asked who would be the best outfield option in the free-agent market that the Mariners could afford this off-season.

Shannon Drayer: I don't think cost is going to be a problem. Available talent is. (Jacoby) Ellsbury or (Shin Soo) Choo would be at the top of the list. While Ellsbury has been reported to be less than thrilled with the Red Sox in the past, I have to think change of manager and winning this year could really up his chances of re-signing there.

PJ asked what Shannon thinks Raul will be doing next season.

Shannon Drayer: If he finishes healthy and strong and still wants to play I could see him back here in the role he originally was supposed to be in. LH bat off bench and occasional DH.

B_A_3 asked if Shannon thinks Triple-A outfielder Stefen Romero could be a quality MLB-ready outfielder.

Shannon Drayer: Maybe? The Mariners love his bat, not going to be a huge home run guy but he is a hitter. Can play multiple positions which is a plus. I think they certainly need more than one. September call-up I would imagine.

Mike asked why the Mariners keep playing Dustin Ackley in center field when Endy Chavez is hitting almost .300 on the bench.

Shannon Drayer: Endy's numbers have been declining and his OBP has never been great. The biggest thing with Ackley is they are trying to give him reps and figure out if he can play CF. Why not at the minor league level? Well, he has proved he can mash AAA pitching. Seeing more of that is not going to help. That said, I think he is a candidate to be sent down when Guti and Morse are ready.

Chris asked if Justin Smoak is still the first baseman next year regardless of how he finishes the season.

Shannon Drayer: Kind of what I said about Saunders and Montero earlier. Unlike this year, the position won't just be given to him. He has to finish strong, show more of what we are seeing right now.

Daniel asked if Shannon is sold on Smoak being a productive first baseman from here on out.

Shannon Drayer: Yes? Kind of sort of? She says with fingers crossed. We have seen a lot of good over the last calendar year. I like the progression I have seen as well. He seems to have a good idea of hitting and approach which causes me to be a bit more optimistic.

Brklynbrn asked if Seattle is more likely to attract free agents because of the moved-in fences and increased home run total at Safeco Field.

Shannon Drayer: Winning is the biggest thing but I think the new fences have caught the attention of others. Ron Washington said he has never seen Safeco play this way when the Rangers were in town a couple of weeks ago.

frenchy4ta asked if Shannon sees a real change in Smoak's approach/swing.

Shannon Drayer: Swing is shorter and with less movement. He has a good idea of what he wants to do at the plate and a good eye. I like the progression (it goes back much further than from when he returned from the DL) we have seen and the OBP. Not surprised about the SLG. Part of that progression. Like what I see, hope he can keep it up.

Jackson asked about catcher Mike Zunino's bat, and what happens when fellow catcher Jesus Sucre returns from injury.

Shannon Drayer: (Zunino's) numbers weren't great at AAA either. He was called up because of need and their confidence that he could be the every day catcher, which he has been, which is pretty remarkable. He is everything that was billed behind the plate. At the plate they knew he was a work in progress, that he would need to learn to hit at the big league level. I like what I have seen. They are able to put him near the bottom of the order and while we haven't seen big numbers we have seen him hit situationally and we haven't seen a lot of bad at bats. I really have little concern about him right now. Sucre most likely will be optioned to AAA.

Bend, Oregon asked about comparing second baseman Nick Franklin to Red Sox All-Star Dustin Pedroia.

Shannon Drayer: Well, Franklin is a switch hitter which is one big difference. There is the potential to be similar production-wise. Also, something I am interested to see is Pedroia is very much a catalyst for that team, on and off the field. Can Franklin take over in that regard? It is not something he has to do but it is something Pedroia brings and you asked how similar they are.

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