As Seattle’s tank went into full effect last season, the aging veterans were shipped off or cut so that they young players in the farm system could get a shot. Despite all of this, the M’s offensive attack in 2019 was surprisingly average and should see improvement during the 60-game season.
Last year we got to see some of the Mariners’ prized prospects last season, as JP Crawford, Shed Long Jr., and Kyle Lewis. The success of these youngsters in 2019 should give you hope for the future of the franchise, even though we shouldn’t expect to see Jared Kelenic this season. But heading into the 60-game 2020 season, don’t be surprised if these guys struggle with inconsistency; which shouldn’t cause you to worry due to how short this season is.
Unfortunately for the Mariners, they’ll be entering this season without right fielder Mitch Haniger as he’s still battling the back and testicular injury that sidelined him in 2019. In theory he could return once his stint on the 60 day injured list is over; but I would be shocked if management forced him to come back in a rebuilding year with a pandemic raging. This means that we’ll be seeing a lot of 25-year old Jake Fraley as we wait for Haniger to recover.
Projected starting nine, lineup
- 2B Shed Long Jr.: Long made his major league debut last season with 168 plate appearances over 42 games. The 24-year old hit .263/.333/.454 while walking in 9.5% of PAs, and striking out in 23.8%. Despite his average walk rate, the second baseman’s on-base percentage of .333 made him a valuable lead off hitter. If he can increase his walk rate just a touch, he’ll be really dangerous at the top of the line-up.
- SS JP Crawford: Crawford was the first of the prospects to come up and he hit .226/.313/.371 in 396 plate appearances last season. The rookie encouragingly walked in 10.9% of his PAs while being a fairly consistent defender at short stop. Heading into 2020 it would be smart for Seattle to have two guys with above average OBPs and a little speed at the top of its line-up in front of the next two spots.
- 3B Kyle Seager: Without any true third base depth in the system, the 32-year old is going to be the starter until he is no longer productive. Fortunately for Seattle he had a fairly productive 2019 as the Seaboss hit .239/.321/568 while seeing his walk rate tick up to 9.9% (the second highest of his career). If he still has a bit of pop in his bat and can continue to walk at a decent clip, then Seager will be a good three-hole hitter that can help score get some offense going early.
- C Tom Murphy: The 29-year old was one of the biggest surprises of 2019; after four-years of short stings with Colorado, Murphy hit an astounding .273/.324/.535 in his first full season at the big league level. While his strikeout rate was a worryingly high 31%, it was also the lowest in his career to date — he also posted a career best walk rate. Heading into 2020, the slugger has the starting job wrapped up and should be a good fit at the traditional clean-up slot.
- DH Daniel Vogelbach: Vogey finally got a full major league season and he hit the holy living hell out of the ball — his isolated slugging percentage was an eye popping .232. The 27-year old clubbed 30 home runs while hitting .208/.341/.439; while his batting average is worryingly low, Vogelbach made it up with a walk rate of 16.5% and a wRC+ of 111. Heading into 2020, with the on base percentage and speed of three of the first four hitters — and the threat posed by Murphy — I like Vogelbach in the five spot to either knock everyone in, or prolong the inning with a walk.
- LF Kyle Lewis: Lewis was easily the best story of the 2019 squad as he mashed in his major league debut, less then three years after a gruesome knee injury in Everett. In 75 plate appearances last season, Lewis clubbed 10 dingers while hitting .268/.293/.592 with a wRC+ of 127. His walk rate was worryingly low while his strike out rate was terrifyingly high; personally, i think that has a lot to do with him being a hot as hell at the plate and trying to ride it. In 2020, we’ll need to see those numbers come more in line with what he did in double A Arkansas to become a more consistent offensive threat; hitting him behind Vogey seems like a good place as any for him to get a few more hitable pitches
- 1B Evan White: White signed a historic contract extension in the off season, becoming the first prospect to do so without playing above AA. The club believes that the 23-year old is worth the investment as their future everyday first basemen. In this COVID shortened season, you can expect to see a lot of this top prospect. In AA Arkansas, White hit .296/.361/.471 in 365 trip to the plate.
- CF Mallex Smith: In his return trip to Seattle — in 2017 the M’s traded for him from the Braves, then a few hours later flipped him to Tampa — the center fielder struggled. He hit .227/.300/.335 while striking out in a career high 24.9% of his plate appearances. Smith should not have led off last season, and he shouldn’t lead off in 2020 (or 2021 for that matter). The bottom of the lineup would give him a low pressure PAs to continue to work on improve his plate discipline and consistency.
- RF Jake Fraley: Right field was a bit of a revolving door after Haniger’s injury last season. Fraley played in 12 games and was awful at the plate, while being ehhhhh in the field. But he’ll be the man who carries the primary load until Haniger comes back. If he can preform anywhere near his 2019 season in Tacoma, then Fraley could be a valuable piece this season.
Off the bench
1B/C Austin Nola: Another one of the M’s great story lines in 2019, the then 29-year old hit .269/.342/.454 with a wRC+ of 114 in 267 plate appearances. Nola had spent the previous six seasons bouncing around the Marlins’ minor league system but never got a crack at the bigs. Heading into 2020, you can expect the now 30-year old as match-up relief for Vogey and White because he absolutely mashed against lefties (wRC+ of 135 with an OPS of .894).
2B/OF Dee Gordon: Gordon had a nice rebound year in his second season in the Emerald City; the 32-year old hit .275/.304/.359 while seeing his walk rate increase from 1.5% to 4.3%; worryingly, his strikeout rate went up a tick. With the club’s youth movement, don’t be surprised to see him come out when the club needs a defensive replacement or some extra speed on the base paths; he should also see starts against some righties as he was slightly better against them.
OF Braden Bishop: Bishop was a member of the revolving door in right field last season as he played in 27 games for the M’s. The 26-year old was announced as part of the club’s 60 person player pool. And with his experience last season, don’t be surprised if he’s on the 26 person roster as the back-up outfielder.
SS/OF Dylan Moore: Moore was another part of the rotation in right last season, as well as a part of the additional depth for the infield. In 282 PAs, he hit .206/.302/.389 while striking out in 33% of those appearances. You can pretty much guarantee he’ll be outfield depth, as well as Long’s backup if he needs a day off or if anything goes wrong.
OF Tim Lopes: More outfield depth, Lopes saw a decent amount of playing time last season as he appeared in 41 games with 128 PAs. He was arguably the most effective bat off of the bench as he hit .270/.359/.360 with a wRC+ of 101. If he can be anywhere near that effective in 2020, it would make sense for him to be the potential the outfielder off of the bench heading into the future.
Seattle is continuing its youth movement during this abbreviated season. You can expect to see lineups heavy with the team’s young stars and prospects that saw time last season; along with a heavy dosage of rookie Evan White at first. This season is entirely about developing the roster for the 2021 and 2022 seasons, which is when the Mariners should be (hopefully) contending for a playoff berth — originally general manager Jerry Dipoto promised the end of 2020 and 2021 season, but I think we can push those expectations back due to COVID.
Now even 2022 seems optimistic considering the youth on the roster and the worries about Haniger’s durability. If the star right fielder is healthy then this lineup is really dangerous in the future, if not…then the club will need Jared Kelenic to be major league ready quickly. Otherwise this rebuild could end up dragging out far longer than ownership has patience for.
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