Is The Mariners’ Jake Fraley For Real?

The alternate title for this post was going to be, “Jake Fraley Is This Year’s Dylan Moore Of 2020”, but it’s not quite apples to apples. The sentiment is there: he’s a fringe player, thought to be nothing more than a bench bat/fourth outfielder, who has stepped his game up to the point where the Mariners MUST put him in the lineup everyday. Or face the consequences. Namely: my wrath.

Dylan Moore was just that prior to 2020. He was a nobody. Then, last year, he figured out how to generate more power from his bat; his slugging jumped from .389 in 2019 to .496 in 2020. Of course, last year was a pandemic year. On top of that, Moore was buried on the active roster by lesser players (mostly an injured Shed Long), so even though he was killing it, he only appeared in 38 of 60 games.

Not for nothing, but through the first half of 2021, Moore finds himself playing considerably worse than even his paltry 2019 season. The only aspect of Moore that’s better today is his defense, but you couldn’t be much worse defensively than Moore was in 2019 (especially in the first half of that season). I had much higher hopes for Moore heading into this year, based on his 2020. I thought he’d enacted some sort of Chris Taylor transformation, but apparently that’s not the case. In all likelihood, 2020 was a mirage.

That brings us to Jake Fraley. He was brought over after the 2018 season from the Rays in the Mike Zunino/Mallex Smith trade. Mallex Smith was a bust, and I don’t think anyone had any confidence in Fraley being anything more than a Quad-A type of player. His brief cups of coffee in 2019 and 2020 all but confirmed it. I figured, at best, he was a reserve outfielder who might be a defensive replacement late in games, or an emergency starter if enough guys got injured.

And yet, here we are in 2021, and Jake Fraley is tied with Ty France for second (among position players) on the Mariners in WAR (1.6) even though he’s only appeared in half the games of France. He’s among the best players on the team in on-base percentage (first among position players at .409), slugging (third among position players at .439), and OPS (first among position players at .848).

And, like Moore in 2020, Fraley has often found himself buried on the active roster behind inferior players. It’s really only since the end of May that Fraley has found himself in the lineup on a regular basis. And yet, he’s managed to produce!

A lot of the hype – especially early on – surrounded Fraley’s walk rate. It was off the charts! It continues to be his biggest asset, but he’s managed to add a little pop to his bat to balance things out. He’s also – like J.P. Crawford – finding himself in the middle of a lot of these Mariners rallies. He’ll find a way on base when we need someone, he’ll steal a bag for you, and he’ll come up with a clutch hit late in the game to win it. What more can you ask for from someone who consistently finds himself batting near the bottom of the lineup?

It’s difficult to see Fraley’s long-term viability on the Mariners, with guys like Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez soon-to-be patrolling the outfield on a regular basis, and also Kyle Lewis, whenever he gets his injury issues squared away. Fraley could be an excellent bridge guy to our Outfield of the Future, or he could supplant someone like Lewis (if we find the right trade for him), or he could be a trade chip himself! I would want Fraley to build up considerably more value before the Mariners deal him, but thankfully there’s still plenty of time for that.

Ironically, Jake Fraley is exactly the type of player who would thrive in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. If he’s able to keep it up through the rest of this season, maybe we send him back for another Rays player, who perhaps will soon be too expensive for them to retain. Fraley has team control through 2025, so he’ll continue to be a bargain for a little while yet.

It’s always fun seeing these guys who you never expect to turn into anything, become quality everyday players. Fraley is especially fun because he’s so involved in all of the best aspects of what this 2021 Mariners team has become. Scrappy, fast, playing above their overall talent level, finding ways to get it done that are maybe a little less conventional than the Three True Outcomes. In another time, Fraley might’ve been one of my all-time favorite players. As it is, I’m going to enjoy the ride for as long as he takes me on it.