How goes the rebuild?
Jake Fraley came to the M's in the Mike Zunino/Mallex Smith trade
August 8, 2019
This is not a good year for Your Seattle Mariners. At least, not at the big-league level, and not by the standard metric of, you know, winning. But there are other ways to gauge progress, especially when the club is in the midst of a rebuild.
With that in mind, here's a look at what a near-future Mariner squad might look like and what those players are doing now. Will the M's be contenders again next year? Will they have to wait until 2021? Longer? Much depends on these players.
- C Omar Narváez. Acquired from the White Sox over the winter, Narváez this season has overcome his biggest deficiency—brutal defense—to become a league-average or so catcher, no small achievement. He's also the best hitter on this year's Mariners and the best-hitting catcher Seattle's had since . . . ever.
- SS J.P. Crawford. He's got a bit of developing yet to do, but J.P. has shown us he has the chops to hold down shortstop for a long time. He can hit, we've seen it (.338 in June), but we've also seen him go cold (.183 since the All-Star break); with some better plate discipline he should be able to get on base at a .350 or better clip over a full season with regularity. It just needs a little more time and effort.
- OF Mallex Smith. Mallex had a rough start, no question. He picked it up after he made up for his lack of spring training with a short stint in Triple-A, but recently he's dropped off again. Hard to know what's going on with him just now, but like Crawford, he's shown us he's capable and it's more than reasonable to think this year's performance is an anomaly and last year's line of .296/.367/.406 is closer to the norm.
- OF Mitch Hangier. It's not been a good year for Mitch, made all the worse by a nasty injury. But he's not going anywhere, and with luck he'll be back to the guy that hit .284/.367/.492 and had 18 outfield assists from 2017-2018.
- 3B Kyle Seager. Whether you want him here or not, it's unlikely Seager is going anywhere given the nature of his contract. He's Seattle's likely third baseman for at least the next few seasons, and though his numbers have looked really, really bad the last couple of years, he might just have a comeback in him. His last three weeks might be just a freak burst of sunshine in a sea of gloom or it might be an indication that he can again be the kind of hitter he was as recently as 2016.
- DH/1B Daniel Vogelbach. Making the All-Star team was a nice feather in Vogey's cap, but it'd be nice to see a little more consistency out of the big guy. Despite the amazing power, we've yet to see the Vogelbach that owned Triple-A for years. With some support in the lineup around him, maybe he'll get more hits, but as long as that OPS figure tops .850 he'll be plenty welcome in the lineup.
- LHP Marco Gonzales. Marco keeps on impressing, and though a bit more consistency would be welcome, he should be a mainstay in the Mariners' rotation. He's pitched better than his stats would suggest and his best years are still ahead of him.
- LHP Yusei Kikuchi. We can't predict what kind of success the M's will see from Kikuchi in the next few years, but he's here for a while and with luck he'll improve on this transitional season in 2020. He's been something of a disappointment so far, but let's give him a chance to get things right.
- OF Jake Fraley. Acquired in the Mallex Smith deal with the Rays, Fraley dominated Double-A pitching this season and got a promotion to Triple-A after just 61 games. The 24-year-old is still adjusting to the higher level, but for a guy that hadn't seen anything higher than Class-A ball prior to this season, he's been mighty impressive. Even money on whether or not he starts next year with the M's or back in Tacoma, but sooner or later he's going to be sharing the Seattle outfield with Smith and Haniger.
- OF Braden Bishop. Though he's already had a taste of the Majors before landing on the injured list, Bishop probably isn't quite ready yet. He still needs some recovery time after his abdominal injury and maybe some more time at Triple-A before hitting the bigs for good, but the former UW Husky isn't too far off.
- IF Shed Long. We've seen Long up with the M's briefly already, but it remains to be seen where he might fit in the Majors when and if he graduates Triple-A. The Mariners are clearly trying to turn him into a super-utility player, giving him significant time at three different positions so far with the Rainiers (2B, 3B, and LF), and if he succeeds at that he should have himself some longevity as a bench player if nothing else. His on-base numbers in the minors are solid, but strikeouts are a problem for now.
- LHP Justus Sheffield. It's tough to predict how quickly Sheffield will be part of a Major League starting rotation. His performance at Double-A Arkansas has been phenomenal—5-2, 1.49 ERA, 0.995 WHIP, 5 Ks per BB—but he was seriously overmatched in Triple-A and the 23-year-old might need a season or two at that level to figure out a repertoire and control that will work in the bigs. If not 2020, he could be in the mix in 2021.
- RHP Logan Gilbert. Seattle's first-round draft choice last year, Gilbert has already climbed up to Class-A West Virginia and is wiping the floor with South Atlantic League competition. At 22 and with a fantastic college career behind him, he could be ready for the Majors in 2021 or maybe even next season.
A couple years away
- RHP Justin Dunn. Dunn could jump the line, but he's probably going to need a year or two in Triple-A before he's a full-time Mariner. Part of the Robinson Canó trade with the Mets, Dunn has been solid in Double-A this year, but his 1.259 WHIP at that level suggests some more work is needed. He's got big-league stuff already, though, striking out more than 10 batters per nine innings this season.
- 1B Evan White. An outstanding defensive player, White has held his own at Double-A this season with a line of .289/.339/.476. The 23-year-old has a much higher ceiling than that, though, and will likely see another year in the minors before he'll be ready to reach it.
- OF Kyle Lewis. With Fraley and Bishop ahead of him, there's no sense rushing Lewis through the system. He's done well at Double-A and could probably succeed now at Triple-A, but he'll get a full year with the Rainiers next season barring an unexpected need elsewhere.
- CF Jered Kelenic. The prize piece of the Canó trade, Kelenic is just 19 and is currently in Advanced-Class-A ball in Modesto. He's got superstar potential and should crack Triple-A next year sometime, but best to let him mature down there rather than pull a Zunino and promote him to the Majors before he's ready.
- OF Julio Rodriguez. Just 18, this Dominican jumped to the Class-A South Atlantic League in a hurry. It remains to be seen if his skills can keep up with successive levels of pro ball, but if he lives up to his hype he could crack the big leagues in just a few years.
Sometime next year we should be enjoying games at the ballpark by Elliott Bay featuring a lineup something like this:
LF Mallex Smith
SS J.P. Crawford
RF Mitch Haniger
DH Daniel Vogelbach
CF Jake Fraley
C Omar Narváez
3B Kyle Seager
1B Evan White/Austin Nola
2B Shed Long/Tim Lopes
The pitching is a bit less certain, especially relief pitching, but we might see a rotation with Gonzales, Kikuchi, Sheffield, Gilbert, and someone like Wade LeBlanc or a low-end free-agent pickup.
Domingo Santana is probably not going to stick around past next year—the outfield has several up-and-comers and it'll be a good time to sell high on Santana this offseason or perhaps during next season. If he could be dealt for another pitching prospect, it would help the plan along.
It might not be enough to win the West in 2020, but things are definitely moving apace with the rebuild. There should be plenty to work with and a surplus in some areas to trade from to fill others as next year and 2021 approach. The Future Mariners should be exciting.