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Baseball is Back!! A Quick Look at the Seattle Mariners Positional Starters in 2020

"2010 07 08 - Yankees at Mariners_NP 41" by neilparekh is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

We got baseball in 2020!! Even though the negotiations were very painful, and left many people really doubting the competency of baseball leadership. For us to not have baseball in 2020 because of 10 games is absurd, this has been handled so poorly by both sides. The MLBPA is obviously not happy with the outcome, they were dead set on no less than 70 games, but because of power given to baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, he’s forcing the season to start with the league’s preferred 60 games. Right now, the season is projected to begin 07/23-07/24, but things will most likely stay toxic between the league and the players

COVID-19 is not even close to under control, many states with MLB teams have continued to see record increases in positive tests for the virus. It’ll be very interesting to see how exactly the league is going to keep the players safe while we continue to have outbreaks all over this country. Projected rosters a few months ago could be very different from when the season starts on 07/23. Some of the league’s biggest stars are still not certain they’ll play this season, there’s real doubt that the league will be able to keep them safe.

They’re a few certainties in life; death, taxes, and that the Seattle Mariners will struggle in 2020. The team is in year two of a complete re-build. The farm system is littered with exciting prospects, some of those prospects will see playing time in the big leagues this season. The losses will be abundant this year, but it should be fun to watch these young players develop, and a core starts to build. The future is bright in Seattle, so let’s take a quick look at who the projected position starters will be this season.

Position Players:

Catcher-Tom Murphy

Murphy was a really nice surprise last season. He’s been a backup most of his career, but last year showed the ball club that he’s a solid everyday catcher. Last season he hit .273 with 18 home runs, and an OPS of .858. Very solid numbers, and at just 29, should improve on those this season.

1st Base-Evan White

This will be White’s 1st season in the big leagues, he’s one of those prospects that the club believes will be a core player, and someone the franchise can build from. He was the team’s top pick in 2017 and is currently ranked the 56th best prospect in baseball. He has no big-league experience but has had success at every level in the minor leagues. He made such an impression on the ball club that in November of 2019 they signed him to a 6-year $24 million deal, extremely rare that a team gives contract extensions to players with no MLB experience. Last season in AA he hit .293 with 18 home runs, and a .838 OPS. Evan White could be a rock at 1B for years to come.

2nd Base-Shed Long

Long will split time with veteran Dee Gordon this season, I’m almost certain the team will try it’s best to trade Dee before the season is over. Shed Long is probably a name most fans aren’t familiar with, 2019 was his first season in the big leagues. He’s a versatile player, last season he spent time at 2B, OF, and 3B. He’s a player the M’s have in their future plans, he’s just 23 and has all the tools to be a really solid 2B for years to come. In just 152 plate appearances last season he hit .263 with 5 home runs, not eye-popping numbers, but a player the team is excited about.

Shortstop-JP Crawford

Another one of those core guys, JP is an exciting player that could solidify that SS position for years to come. He was acquired via trade from the Phillies for All-Star Jean Segura. Giving up a great player like Segura for JP, really shows us that the team thinks very highly of him. He was a 1st round pick of the Phillies and a former top prospect. He’s played in three MLB seasons, last year was his first in Seattle. Crawford hit .226 with 7 home runs and an OPS of .684, not great numbers, but at times showed signs that he could develop into a very solid MLB player.

3rd Base-Kyle Seager

Kyle Seager has been with the Mariners for 9 seasons, and the starter at 3B for the last 8. He’s had some good seasons for the M’s, in 2014 he was an All-Star and won a Gold Glove in 2015. The last few seasons have been very inconsistent for Kyle, his offensive numbers have gone down, and his defense has not been as reliable. The team tried to trade him after 2018 with the other veterans they dealt, but his large salary and lack of production have made him almost untradeable. You can bet that GM Jerry Dipoto will try to deal Kyle again this season, but doubtful he’ll be able to pull it off unless the team is willing to eat a huge chunk of his salary. Hopefully, Kyle can get back to the production he had 2013-2016, at this point, I can’t see Seager as part of the club’s future plans.

DH-Daniel Vogelbach

A fan favorite last season, body like the Babe, with a fun-loving personality. Finally clicked for him in 2019, the previous seasons were filled with struggles at the MLB that kept him down in AAA most of the time. No question about his power, he hit 30 home runs last year, good enough to participate in the Home Run Derby, but finished with a disappointing .208 average, and only drove in 76 runs.  He’s the best power hitter on the team, but if he wants to factor into the long term plans he needs to improve that average and drive in more runs. His slugging percentage is low for a guy with his ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark. He’s still young at 27 and should continue to improve as he gets more at-bats. The key for him is consistency, the home runs will come, but he needs to improve all the aspects of his hitting.

OF-Mallex Smith, Kyle Lewis, Jake Fraley

Mitch Haniger’s future is very much in doubt, he suffered a serious injury in 2019 that ended his year after just 63 games, and his recovery has been filled with setbacks. After his All-Star season in 2018, Haniger was considered untouchable by GM Jerry Dipoto. After last season’s injuries, it’s almost like Haniger has been erased from memory. If healthy, Mitch Haniger is a good, borderline great player. But I really can’t see Haniger playing a game in the shortened 2020 season, I really hope I’m wrong.

Kyle Lewis has the biggest upside of the three outfielders. He was the team’s 1st round pick (11th overall) in 2016, and at one point was an MLB Top 100 prospect. Last season he made his debut with the Mariners, in 71 plate appearances (18 games) Lewis hit .268 with 6 home runs, and a .885 OPS. If you convert those numbers into a full 162 game season, that equals 54 home runs and 117 runs batted in. Obviously, those aren’t realistic stats but shows that he demonstrated some real power at the end of last season. Lewis is another core guy and absolutely factors into the team’s rebuilding plan.

Jake Fraley and Mallex Smith will most likely split time with Braden Bishop. Fraley and Smith have better offensive upside then Bishop, but Bishop is a better defensive player than those two. You could see Bishop playing a lot as a defensive replacement late into games, but he should also get plenty of opportunities to start.

Jake Fraley was another high draft pick; he was the 2nd round selection of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2016 and acquired by the M’s via trade in 2018. Fraley only played in 12 games for the M’s in 2019, had a total of just 6 hits. Obviously not enough at-bats to really judge how he’ll do at the major league level. Fraley is benefiting from Haniger’s injury, if Mitch is healthy, he’d be the starter in Left Field, and Fraley would most likely start the season in AAA. At this point, I don’t see Fraley as a player the team is looking to build with, but he’s a good athlete, so there’s still a chance he could develop into a good outfielder for this young team.

Mallex Smith is the most experienced of all the outfielders. He’s played 4 seasons in the MLB; last season was his first in Seattle. He played in 134 games with the M’s in 2019, he had his fair share of struggles, at one point was sent down to AAA. He hit .227 with 6 home runs but stole 46 bases, his base running ability is stellar. Mallex is not a guy the team will rely on for power, they need him to get on base and put pressure on the defense with his speed. He needs to improve on his .300 OBP from last year, if he can get on base more consistently, those 46 stolen bases could easily grow into 55-60. He’s still a young player at 27, so there’s a chance we could see Mallex in the outfield for years to come, but he really needs to improve his on-base numbers. If that .300 OBP doesn’t improve this season, I can’t see Mallex with the club in 2021 and beyond. Especially with superstar OF prospects Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez waiting in the wings.

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