Inbox: Why not Smoak as cleanup hitter?

Inbox: Why not Smoak as cleanup hitter?

The weekend rainouts give us a chance to get to some reader questions in the Inbox. One bonus from a rainy couple days in Ohio, anyway!

Why won't Eric Wedge bat Justin Smoak cleanup? I know he is trying to protect him a little, but c'mon, he's the best power hitter we have!
-- Meaghan O., Long Island, N.Y.

One of Wedge's big beliefs is the cleanup role is tough on young hitters because of the perceived pressure of having to be a big run producer in that spot. He did bump Smoak from fifth to third in the order after Milton Bradley's dismissal last week, but he is in no rush to put the 24-year-old in the No. 4 hole.

For now, that role will fall mostly to Miguel Olivo against left-handed pitchers and Jack Cust against right-handers. Smoak, for his part, says he's hit in the middle of lineups all his life and doesn't feel any added pressure wherever he's at. But given Wedge's strong opinion there, not to mention the need for a good No. 3 hitter, as well, I suspect we'll see Smoak staying at No. 3 as long as he keeps hitting well.

Wedge says he's going to give Michael Saunders a fair shot this year by letting him play. Didn't Saunders play these last four years? Isn't that enough time to notice his abilities? When is enough time, enough time?
-- Ronald J., Salem, Ore.

There's no question Saunders is facing a show-me season right now, but your clock is ticking a little fast, Ronald. He's actually only been up with the Mariners the past two years, playing 46 games in '09 and 100 last year. So he's essentially just now added up to about one full season of playing time in the Majors.

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That said, the .171 batting average through the first 33 games this year is disappointing. So while the 24-year-old has played nice defense in center, he needs to begin showing strong signs of improvement at the plate. Once Franklin Gutierrez returns, the Mariners will face a decision with Saunders, who'll likely split time with Gutierrez initially and then move into the mix in left field with Mike Wilson and Carlos Peguero.

What are the Mariners going to do with Kyle Seager? Dustin Ackley is the future at second base, but Seager is doing fairly well in Double-A. It would be great to see those two together in Safeco Field.
-- Jeff W., Puyallup, Wash.

Seager is indeed hitting well again (.305 batting average with an .841 OPS) in Jackson after a big year in Class A last season. He's playing mostly second base, but he's also played shortstop and third in his two seasons since being drafted in the third round behind Ackley.

Surely the two former North Carolina teammates would welcome the chance to play together again at some point, and if both can excel at the Major League level, I'm sure the Mariners will find a way to accommodate. While Ackley likely will see Seattle at some point in the next few months, Seager figures to be a year or two away from even thinking about such things, however.

What happened to Ji-Man Choi? He had what looked like a good year last season, but is not on any of the affiliates' rosters this year. What is his outlook with the organization?
-- Dave, Tingley, Wash.

Choi, a catcher from South Korea who turns 20 this month, indeed performed well last year as the Offensive Player of the Year for the Peoria squad in the Arizona (Rookie) League while hitting .378 in 39 games. He also batted .302 in 11 games with Class-A High Desert.

He is still in the organization, but has been on an extended spring session in Arizona while rehabbing from some lower back pain issues. When healthy, he'll report to one of the Mariners' full-season Class A clubs, either Clinton or High Desert.

My fiance and I want to get married at the ballpark. How do we go about doing that?
-- John K., Port Angeles, Wash.

I'm not usually the go-to guy for romantic advice, John, but I'm told the Mariners have done several weddings at Safeco Field over the years. Couples have exchanged vows at home plate, the top of the dugout steps and even in the bullpen, which is where bullpen catcher Jason Phillips got married last year.

If you're truly interested, call the Mariners main office at (206) 346-4000 and ask for the Events department.

If Jack Cust continues to struggle, what is the likelihood of him been released, and who do you think would be brought up from Triple-A?
-- Jacques L., Stellenbosch, South Africa

Cust has still yet to hit a home run, but he's started warming of late and has hit .298 over his last 14 games. So I think the club will give him time to show what he can do, as they certainly still need the potential presence of his bat in the middle of the order, which is the reason he was signed in the first place.

That said, it's hard to ignore the recent surge of Mike Carp in Tacoma. The lefty went 4-for-6 with three home runs and six RBIs Sunday in New Orleans, and has now hit .405 (30-for-74) with eight homers and 24 RBIs over his past 18 games. Those are Minor League numbers and should be taken as such, but Carp is a lefty DH candidate, as well, and would be the logical challenger if Cust's power doesn't resurface at some point.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.