Despite having plenty of compelling players, the Seattle Mariners spent the vast majority of 2019 as a team that you wanted your team’s pitchers to face—they ranked 20th in wOBA as a team, and 27th in the second half. Despite this, they should be largely improved, as they will get back Mitch Haniger, a healthy Mallex Smith, Kyle Seager and Dee Gordon, and J.P. Crawford will have another year under his belt. It will surely be an experimental year, but there are plenty of young players with upside here. That is, assuming the roster remains mostly intact as it is now—general manager Jerry Dipoto is known to have a voracious appetite for trades.
(Last Updated: July 1, 2020)
60-Game Season Update
As one of Seattle’s best players, saying Mitch Haniger had a difficult 2019 is an understatement. In his recovery from a ruptured testicle, Haniger sustained an undiagnosed adductor injury that developed into a herniated disc in his back. Haniger went for microdiscectomy and core surgeries in February and needed extensive rest and rehab. Luckily, the MLB delay gave him that time, and it is hoped that Haniger will be able to play in 2020.
The team announced on June 28th that Haniger was transferred to the 45-day IL and was not on the 60-man squad, but could be added later if he is healthy enough to play. If we see Haniger working out before the season starts in late July, we can consider him, but it doesn’t look good for him right now. Drafting an injured player in a shortened season is ill-advised. It might be best to leave him undrafted and put him on the watch list.
In Haniger’s absence, utility players Jake Fraley, Dylan Moore, and Braden Bishop will see more lineup cards. Fraley is on many sleeper lists and could contribute if given regular starts. If there is an extended Haniger absence, Fraley should be the top choice to fill that gap with the others rotating in, as needed. This may be Fraley’s one and only shot.
Evan White inked a contract in the off-season and many believed that he was ticketed to a job in Seattle in 2020. If there were doubts that he would be able to handle professional baseball beyond Double-A, those can be cast aside. From a purely developmental standpoint, White will get much better instruction and experience in the majors than he will with a taxi squad and, with rosters expanding to 30, White should be getting reps at first base.
Daniel Vogelbach will likely lose playing time at first base thanks to the developmental needs of Evan White. Vogelbach would still see DH time, but a shortened season could cut into potential plate appearances. If the Mariners want to give players rest and get younger players into the lineup, that could easily come as a DH, at Vogelbach’s expense. I certainly don’t see Vogelbach getting many sniffs of the lineup against lefties (he slashed .161/.288/.315 in 146 PAs last season).
The fantasy baseball community spent the off-season ripping on Mallex Smith and it’s especially rough when that off-season lasts for nine months. I’m putting Smith as a Trending Down candidate because I expect that teams will not be as aggressive on the bases in the shortened season. With games, and therefore outs, at a premium, speedsters like Smith need to be more cautious so as not to risk the team’s precious baserunners. Of course, we might see a team be hyper-aggressive on the bases in an attempt to manufacture runs and put pressure on opposing pitchers. The Royals did it in 2016 en route to a World Series, after all.
Dee Gordon wasn’t expected to see much playing time in 2020. He would have been guaranteed $14M in 2021 if he made 600 plate appearances, so there was very little chance of the team allowing that to happen. The MLB and MLBPA were still negotiating the terms of vesting options as the time of writing, but it is a safe bet to assume that Gordon falls short of reaching the milestone. His role may be limited to pinch-runner and mentor to younger players.
|1||Mallex Smith (L)|
|2||Evan White (R)|
|3||Mitch Haniger (R)|
|4||Kyle Seager (L)|
|5||Tom Murphy (R)|
|6||Branden Bishop (R)|
|7||Kyle Lewis (R)|
|8||Dylan Moore (R)|
|9||Dee Gordon (L)|
|1||Shed Long Jr. (L)|
|2||J.P. Crawford (L)|
|3||Kyle Seager (L)|
|4||Tom Murphy (R)|
|5||Daniel Vogelbach (L)|
|6||Kyle Lewis (R)|
|7||Jake Fraley (L)|
|8||Evan White (R)|
|9||Mallex Smith (L)|
Original March Edition
- ADDITIONS: Seattle’s lone addition to their offense outside of the organization is utility player Patrick Wisdom. He has the ability to play the corner infield and outfield spots. This is a depth signing.
- SUBTRACTIONS: Most notably, 1B/3B Ryon Healy was outrighted to Triple-A Tacoma. However, he elected to become a free agent instead. OF Keon Broxton also declined being outrighted to Triple-A Tacoma and is now a free agent as well. While Healy showed promise offensively in half of a season for the Oakland Athletics in 2016, this is now three seasons’ worth of mediocre or worse production. That’s not going to cut it with his subpar defense. As for Broxton, he has as much potential as anyone in the league, but with such glaring weaknesses at the plate (and the presence of Mallex Smith), there’s no need for him on the roster. Utility player Tim Beckham won’t be back after popping positive for PEDs, despite being under 30 with an average bat and defensive versatility, and OF/DH Domingo Santana was non-tendered as well. The Mariners jettisoned C Omar Narvaez to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for a prospect and a draft pick.
Tom Murphy (C | Batting 5th)
2019: 32 R, 18 HR, 40 RBI, 2 SB, .273/.324/.535 | C Unranked (per ESPN Player Rater)
2020 ADP: 514 (C #21)
Tom Murphy formed a platoon with Omar Narvaez and had a career year. On the surface, everything looks quite encouraging—he posted a .859 OPS with 18 home runs—but there are several warning signs. First, he used a pull-heavy approach that was aided by the rabbit ball. It is not supported by his Statcast numbers–his .355 wOBA far outweighs his .301 xwOBA. Further, his 31.0 strikeout percentage is grisly, and his 13.1 swinging-strike percentage isn’t great either. Steamer has him projected for a .217/.271/.407 triple slash, which, to be fair is about league average for catchers, but he is projected to hit 19 home runs.
On the plus side, he drastically reduced his swing percentage and increased his contact percentage back to his 2016-2017 norm. His 10.9% barrel rate, while on just 174 batted balls, is quite solid–it is quite literally more than two times that of former Mariner Omar Narvaez, and his average exit velocity is strong as well.
To be a complete package, Murphy will have to shave his strikeout percentage to increase his batting average, and he will have to walk a little more as well. His defensive accumen, framing abilities, and obsessive preparation tendencies will keep him in the lineup, and he is a near-lock to provide some pop.
Weaknesses: AVG, OBP, R, RBI, SB.
Murphy doubles down on his 2019 and has himself a second breakout–this time improving his plate discipline enough to make him an average to above-average hitter with good defense. This means 20-plus home runs with another OPS eclipsing .800.
Murphy, without the delights of his beloved rabbit ball, regresses into the hitter he has been prior to 2019. His strikeout percentage rises, once again, to the mid-to-high-30s, and he has an OPS around .650 with a home run total just above 10.
2020 Projection: 50 R, 20 HR, 60 RBI, 4 SB, .240/.315/.440
Kyle Seager (3B | Batting 3rd)
2019: 55 R, 23 HR, 63 RBI, 2 SB, .239/.321/.468 | 3B #30 Position Rank (per ESPN)
2020 ADP: 246 (#29)
After the Seattle media made a huge commotion about his new diet and workout regimen that would slim him down and keep him healthier, Seager had a bad luck hand injury in spring training that limited him to just 106 games. Despite this, when he finally shook off the rust, Seager looked the best he has been since his career 2016 year.
While the rabbit ball helped Seager scrape a few balls over the fence that normally would not have gone over, I am more willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that I am less willing to give to Narvaez. He is going to be a mainstay in the lineup, and while his last few months aren’t totally legitimate, I think there’s a decent player left here in Seager.
Strengths: PA/AB, HR.
Weaknesses: AVG, OBP, R, SB.
Seager gets back to hitting in the upper-20s in the home run department and props up his batting average and on-base percentage to .250 and .340, respectively.
The shift continues to be a huge deterrent in Seager’s game, and his power isn’t enough to make up for it. His batting average and on-base percentage continue their downward trend for an OPS in the low .700s.
2020 Projection: 75 R, 27 HR, 85 RBI, 4 SB, .245/.330/.470.
J.P. Crawford (SS | Batting 1st)
2019: 43 R, 7 HR, 46 RBI, 5 SB, .226/.313/.371 | SS #29 (per ESPN Player Rater)
2020 ADP: 519 (SS #53)
Crawford made a swing change that I wrote up in 2019, and it preceded a period where Crawford was going berserk at the plate. He ended up reverting back to his 2018 baseline afterward, but it was encouraging nonetheless. Crawford now has a full season’s worth of games and plate appearances under his belt, and while he’s been below average for the most part, he’s still just short of 25 years old. He doesn’t pack much of a punch when it comes to game power, but his glove, potential and lack of a long-term replacement will keep him in the lineup. He has the chance to go double digits in home runs and steals and hit in front of some legitimate hitters.
Weaknesses: AVG, OBP, HR.
As Crawford’s body continues to mature, his hit tool develops and he shows enough game power to be meaningful, eclipsing 15 home runs with a .350 on-base percentage.
Despite his other skills, Crawford’s lack of power continues to weigh down his game, and he posts a sub-.700 OPS for the third straight year in the major leagues.
2020 Projection: 65 R, 13 HR, 50 RBI, 7 SB, .240/.335/.380.
Dee Gordon (2B | Batting 8th)
2019: 36 R, 3 HR, 34 RBI, 22 SB, .275/.304/.359 | 2B #15 (per ESPN Player Rater)
2020 ADP: 195 (2B #17)
Gordon fills one obvious need for anyone, and that’s stolen bases. He underwhelmed in that category, especially paired with his .663 OPS, but he also dealt with several nagging injuries throughout the year—most notably a quad strain and tight groin. At this point, we should know better than to expect any production out of Gordon’s bat, but we can reasonably expect somewhere between 25 and 30 steals out of him, barring a major injury. However, speed (and thus stolen bases) are most likely of any skill to fall off a cliff.
Weaknesses: OBP, SLG, R, RBI.
Gordon stays healthy and swipes 35 bases.
Gordon does not stay healthy and fails to do the one thing he can—steal bases. He finishes the year with fewer than 20 stolen bases.
2020 Projection: 55 R, 2 HR, 35 RBI, 28 SB, .275/.300/.350.
Austin Nola (1B | Batting 6th)
2019: 37 R, 10 HR, 31 RBI, 1 SB, .269/.342/.454 | 1B Unranked (per ESPN Player Rater)
2020 ADP: 520 (1B #49)
Nola was seen as a development win for the Mariners. He mostly appeared at first base, but he also played a meaningful amount of innings at second base and was a solid emergency option at catcher, as well as a few innings in the outfield. While expectations are lower as a quasi-utility infielder, I’m not in love with the profile here—a .296 xwOBA, .369 xSLG, and .235 xBA are not going to play at first base, and neither is a 3.4% barrel percentage. Perhaps some people could be tricked into taking a flyer here, but he was a massive beneficiary of the rabbit ball and (presumably) would have lost quite a few home runs without it. Check the spray chart: this approach (i.e., pulled home runs making up all of his production) isn’t gonna fly.
Weaknesses: AVG, OBP, PA/AB.
Nola, aided by his defensive versatility, plays 120 games while repeating his .342 on-base percentage and .454 slugging percentage.
An increase in playing time exposes Nola as a replacement-level player who is only marginally superior to Dee Gordon as a hitter and posts an OPS below .650.
2020 Projection: 35 R, 10 HR, 30 RBI, 2 SB, .245/.315/.395.
Mallex Smith (OF | Batting 9th)
2019: 70 R, 6 HR, 37 RBI, 46 SB, .227/.300/.335 | OF #45 (per ESPN Player Rater)
2020 ADP: 151 (OF #43)
After a respectable .773 OPS in 2018, Smith’s OPS plummeted to a .635 in 2019. Yes, he still ran like crazy—he had 40 stolen bases in 2018 and 46 in 2019—but his strikeout percentage skyrocketed to 24.9%. I’m inclined to believe that his true talent level is higher than this. Like former teammate Domingo Santana, Smith sustained a strained right elbow injury in February that caused him to miss spring training. Smith said himself that this affected him at the plate (and Santana was clearly hampered as well).
At this point, it seems safe to assume below-average production at the plate—he has a career 93 wRC+—but Smith is a sure thing in terms of stolen bases, as he led Major League Baseball with 46 in 2019. Smith’s BABIP itself leads me to believe that he should be somewhere around at least a .300 wOBA. Not great, but certainly not devastating, especially as stolen bases become increasingly scarce.
Weaknesses: RBI, PA/AB, HR.
With a full spring training under his belt, Smith continues to thrive with another 40-plus year in stolen bases while having a league-average offensive year.
Smith has his fourth below-average offensive year in five years and continues his struggles, with an OPS barely eclipsing .650. He becomes what Dee Gordon was.
2020 Projection: 75 R, 6 HR, 45 RBI, 45 SB, .270/.330/.370.
Mitch Haniger (OF | Batting 2nd)
2019: 46 R, 15 HR, 32 RBI, 4 SB, .220/.314/.463 | OF Unranked (per ESPN Player Rater)
2020 ADP: 165 (OF #52)
Despite more than two seasons’ worth of data, it still isn’t entirely clear what kind of player Haniger is. In his breakout 2017 with the Mariners, he outperformed his xwOBA by 24 points. Then in 2018, he backed it up with a more congruent .367 wOBA and .371 xwOBA. Finally, his shortened 2019 was characterized by more pop-ups, a higher percentage of pulled batted balls, but also a higher barrel percentage.
I’m curious as to whether the shift played a role in Haniger’s struggles—his shift percentage leaped to 41.7% (from 21.5% and 18.6% in the past two years)—but that seems unlikely, as he had a .363 wOBA against the shift. In any case, Haniger seems to be one of the more forward-thinking hitters in the league, and he is clearly very intentional and perhaps prone to make constant adjustments.
Given his current ADP (per Smada’s 2EarlyMocks), Haniger is currently being heavily under drafted, in my opinion—I don’t think Eddie Rosario and Rhys Hoskins offer anything that Haniger does not. The injury that ended his season was as bad of luck as it gets (contused testicle…ow), and he recently hit 26 home runs with eight stolen bases. The Mariners have talked about wanting to get him more stolen base opportunities, so he has the potential to cover all categories, with about 25 to 30 home runs and potentially double-digit steals.
Strengths: PA/AB, HR, R, RBI.
With a clean bill of health, Haniger gets back to raking and has a 2018-esque year, hitting nearly 30 home runs with double-digit stolen bases.
Haniger’s pop-up problems persist, and he spends 2020 tinkering with his swing. While by no means a bad year, he posts a low on-base percentage and modest numbers, relative to his past production.
2020 Projection: 85 R, 27 HR, 80 RBI, 8 SB, .270/.350/.490.
Jake Fraley (OF | Batting N/A)
2019: 3 R, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 0 SB, .150/.171/.200 | OF Unranked (per ESPN Player Rater)
2020 ADP: 482 (OF #123)
Fraley doesn’t have much in the way of pedigree, but he is, in my opinion, one of the more underrated hitting prospects in Major League Baseball. Following a swing change, Fraley broke out in 2018 in which he had an OPS of .962 with 11 stolen bases in 55 games in High-A. This precipitated his involvement in a trade that sent him and Mallex Smith to the Mariners in exchange for Mike Zunino, Guillermo Heredia, and Michael Plassmeyer. Fraley backed his 2018 up with a strong .925 OPS (156 wRC+) in Double-A and .886 OPS (104 wRC+) in Triple-A.
For reference, Kyle Tucker had a .909 OPS and 113 wRC+ in Triple-A. He swiped 30 bags in 125 games, while Fraley swiped 22 in 99 games. In other words, Fraley has been performing at a level that is just short of Tucker, who FanGraphs considers to project as Max Kepler or Nomar Mazara on the low end. While their batted ball profiles are different, their plate discipline skills have been similar during their respective cup of coffees in the big leagues (although Fraley’s sample size is essentially non-existent).
Before going down with a thumb injury in September, Fraley figured to have a chance to really showcase his skills in the last month. Jerry Dipoto has discussed giving their young players as long of looks as possible in 2020, so Fraley figures to have a legitimate shot at a starting job in 2020. Don’t expect fireworks right away, but Fraley could be a legitimate multi-category contributor in 2020.
Strengths: HR, SB.
Weaknesses: PA/AB, OBP, R, RBI.
Fraley seizes control of a starting role and has more than 20 home runs and steals apiece.
Fraley has an inconsequential year and bounces between Triple-A and the major leagues.
2020 Projection: 40 R, 10 HR, 45 RBI, 13 SB, .285/.340/.460.
Kyle Lewis (OF | Batting 3rd)
2019: 10 R, 6 HR, 13 RBI, 0 SB, .268/.293/.592 | OF Unranked (per ESPN Player Rater)
2020 ADP: 407 (OF #101)
After dealing with an ACL injury in 2016, his first year in professional baseball, Lewis endured an underwhelming 2017 and 2018 in which it was looking as if he was certain to be a draft bust. His 2019 in Double-A featured an elevated 29.4% strikeout rate paired with an anemic .136 ISO and .398 slugging percentage.
Despite this, Lewis got the call to audition in the major leagues with encouraging results. There are a few red flags—a 4.0% walk percentage, 38.7% strikeout percentage, 63.0% contact percentage and 17.7% swinging-strike percentage.
On the flip side, Lewis posted a .357 wOBA with gaudy Statcast numbers. His .348 xwOBA is solid, and his 90.3 mph average exit velocity is sexy, but he flashed a few skills that are pretty important for a young player in a small sample. First, his 23.3% barrel percentage is obscene—if he were to sustain that over an entire season (which he would not), that would be short of only Joey Gallo and Giancarlo Stanton—and his barrels divided by plate appearances percentage was highest in the league. Second, his maximum exit velocity of 108.9 mph in such a short amount of time is encouraging to see. As with Fraley, it may take some time, but there are lots of cheap home runs here if he gets a shot like we think he will.
Weaknesses: PA/AB, AVG, OBP, SB, R, RBI.
Lewis cleans up his plate discipline numbers and spends the year raking in a starting role—hitting over 20 home runs with a strikeout percentage in the mid-20s.
Lewis is overwhelmed by an expanded role and his strikeout numbers persist, hovering around a 35% strikeout rate.
2020 Projection: 25 R, 10 HR, 30 RBI, 4 SB, .255/.300/.430.
Dan Vogelbach (DH | Batting 7th)
2019: 73 R, 30 HR, 76 RBI, 0 SB, .208/.341/.439 | 1B Unranked (per ESPN Player Rater)
2020 ADP: 300 (1B #31)
After spending several years absolutely wrecking the minor leagues (seriously, he’s probably been able to do this since 2016 or 2017), Vogelbach finally got his chance to shine. Overall, the results were positive: Vogelbach posted 30 home runs with a 16.5% walk percentage and 111 wRC+.
With context, though, things aren’t as rosy. Vogelbach has three large flaws: he can’t hit lefties, he’s a poor fielder and base runner, and he can only hit fastballs. Technically, those are four flaws, but his fielding shouldn’t come into play unless the Mariners have another player who can only slot in at designated hitter.
Vogelbach finished with an atrocious last two months and, even if there was a hidden injury to explain this slump in performance, I am much more gloomy on him than before. Low batting average, no chance at stolen bases, and it’s possible that major league pitching has exposed him. I wish Vogelbach well, but his ceiling is capped, and his floor is being in a platoon.
Weaknesses: PA/AB, AVG, R, RBI, SB.
Vogelbach adjusts to major league pitching and improves upon his 2019, with an improved strikeout rate and batting average—his OPS crosses the .800 threshold easily.
Opposing pitchers overwhelm Vogelbach with breaking and offspeed pitches and, despite a healthy home run count, his batting average falls below .200 and he loses playing time as a result.
2020 Projection: 50 R, 20 HR, 55 RBI, 0 SB, .225/.350/.445.
Evan White (1B | Batting N/A)
2019: 73 R, 30 HR, 76 RBI, 0 SB, .208/.341/.439 | 1B Unranked (per ESPN Player Rater)
2020 ADP: Unranked (Unranked)
In an unprecedented move, the Mariners gave Evan White a six-year extension before he had even spent a notable amount of time in Triple-A. White is one of the most unique players in the minor leagues—unlike most players, he bats right-handed and throws left-handed. He’s a plus-plus defender at first base, and could probably be plus in the corner outfield as well. He’s got some pedigree and there are not many doubts about the hit tool, but some are doubtful that a meaningful amount of game power will ever develop. He’s performed at all levels thus far, and the Mariners gave him a few games at Triple-A just for kicks last season (because of injuries on their roster).
Steamer is currently predicting about 130 games of near-average production, but don’t be surprised if he’s more productive than expected—he’s impressed at every step of the way. In any case, he’s got the chance to play a ton because his plus defense will anchor him, and if he’s able to be an above-average bat, he’ll be an asset. Incredibly weird profile, but he’ll be up in 2020 at some point for sure and I think his floor is an average hitter that’s plus in the field. The Mariners gave him a guaranteed $24 million before he’s advanced beyond Double-A, so rest assured they feel strongly about him.
Weaknesses: SLG, R, RBI, SB.
White takes control of the first job right out of the gate and starts most days. He puts up a .280 batting average and .350 on-base percentage while chipping in with a few stolen bases and double-digit home run power that’s good enough to play at first base.
White doesn’t get the call until the middle of the year. After the call-up, he impresses in the field, but his power fails to develop, and he has a well below-average batting average and on-base percentage. His OPS is in between .650 and .700. (After receiving his extension, the playing time concerns have become less likely.)
2020 Projection: 70 R, 18 HR, 75 RBI, 4 SB, .270/.335/.430.
Shed Long (2B/OF | Batting N/A)
2019: 21 R, 5 HR, 15 RBI, 3 SB, .263/.333/.454 | 2B/OF Unranked (per ESPN Player Rater)
2020 ADP: 507 (2B #50)
After a strong 2018 in Double-A with a .765 OPS and 12 home runs and 19 stolen bases, Long showed some more pop in Triple-A but overall underwhelmed. After a promotion to the big leagues, Long displayed a large disparity between his .333 wOBA and .271 xwOBA, and so, as I have with his teammates, you would expect that I would have a very bleak outlook on Long moving forward, right?
After a long stretch between his audition in May and June and his re-introduction in September, Long cleaned up his plate discipline numbers and had a few multi-hit games. I trust his skill set and profile. Barring a trade, he’s going to be blocked at second base by Dee Gordon, but he has some defensive versatility that should help him force his way into the lineup. Second base is an absolute wasteland, so he may be worth watching in leagues if you don’t have a first or second-tier option.
Weaknesses: PA/AB, HR, R, RBI, SB, AVG, OBP.
Long embraces a utility role that allows him to have regular playing time and manages to contribute in all categories with double-digit home runs and steals and a respectable OPS.
Long’s hit tool and game power fail to develop, and he posts anemic on-base and power numbers alike.
2020 Projection: 70 R, 15 HR, 55 RBI, 8 SB, .260/.325/.440.
Playing Time Battles
At catcher, Narvaez and Murphy will be battling the starting catching position. While I give the nod to Narvaez, Murphy’s defensive abilities best Narvaez’s, and if Narvaez doesn’t produce on offense, he could certainly cede starts to Murphy. I think they both overperformed in 2019 (especially Murphy), but Narvaez seems like the more stable option.
Left field is up for grabs to a combination of Kyle Lewis, Jake Fraley and Shed Long. I think the trio will each get legitimate shots at earning playing time, but I have the rosiest outlook with Fraley, while I think Long has the highest floor (but lowest ceiling).
Vogelbach is pretty likely to lose playing time because of his deficits on the basepaths and defensively—especially if his second-half woes at the plate persist. It is probable that Evan White wins the starting job at first base out of the gate, although Seattle could potentially wait a few months before awarding him a spot in the bigs. Seattle didn’t give him a $24M contract for nothing.
Overall, it’s clear why Dipoto has talked about 2021 and 2022 as the target for the Mariners’ window. There are quite a few graduating prospects who will likely be up to stay by mid-2020, and many have legitimate upside and skills they bring to the table. However, it’s easy to envision some bumps in the road for the more inexperienced players. I think Smith, Haniger and Seager will all be underdrafted due to their injuries and slow starts in 2020, which is something to take advantage of. There’s a ton up in the air, especially since several players could be traded, but the Mariners’ offense is not devoid of potential.