I Know Who This Year’s Spring Training Mirage Is Going To Be For The Mariners

This is always fun. What’s a Spring Training Mirage, you ask? Well, try using your powers of deduction and it shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out: it’s the guy who kicks ass in Spring Training, then once the Regular Season starts, he sucks.

That’s sort of the over-arching, simplified definition. There are different levels to the Spring Training Mirage though. Usually it involves someone who has yet to really make an impact at the Major League level, but we all want to believe they’re close. They’re right there on the fringe, and if only they can show their stuff in Spring Training – and have that carry over into a hot start to the regular season – they can parlay it into a viable and productive Major League career.

Past candidates have included guys like Cooper Hummel last year (who improbably made the big league roster out of spring, only to falter fast and hard). In 2022 and 2023, you had Jarred Kelenic (who actually continued his hot spring hitting into the regular season last year, before eventually succumbing to his baser tendencies at the plate). In 2021, it was Taylor Trammell with his .311 batting average and 9 extra base hits. In 2019, Braden Bishop slashed .379/.419/.724 (his career slash in the majors was .133/.188/.156). 2018 was particularly exciting, as we had Daniel Vogelbach AND Mike Zunino crushing the ball in spring (.407/.529/.926 for Vogey; .395/.458/.791 for Zunino), only for both to fall down around the Mendoza line that regular season.

There was Taylor Motter in 2017, Shawn O’Malley in 2016, Dustin Ackley in 2015 and 2014, Jesus Montero in 2013, Alex Liddi in 2012, and Matt Tuiasosopo in 2011. I could go on and on.

It doesn’t matter how much you want to believe, it doesn’t matter that they’re in the “best shape of their lives”, it doesn’t matter what swing changes they’ve instituted or how good the media members say they look. Spring Training Mirages aren’t real. They’re not going to come to Seattle and miraculously save your season, no matter how much you need them to. They’ll have every opportunity to win a spot, and they’ll squander that opportunity because Marine Layer or whatever.

I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. 2024’s Mariners Spring Training Mirage is Dominic Canzone.

The cool thing about this award is you don’t even need the regular season to start to figure out who’s already won it! Canzone is a fringe Major Leaguer (having less than 60 games to his name, all in 2023), he plays a position the Mariners are a little weak at (and could most benefit from a new breakout star no one was expecting), and he’s – by all accounts – tearing the cover off the ball this spring (.281/.333/.656 with 3 homers, 3 doubles, and 9 RBI).

The big question everyone wants answered is: why does it have to be this way? Is there any avoiding an immediate regular season swoon?

I’m afraid not. See, these players generally have some semblance of talent. But, in spring, they feast on fastballs, and pitchers just trying to work on their craft while getting their pitch counts up. You’re not seeing a ton of nasty sliders and change ups, not like you will in the regular season.

So, what are the Mariners going to do? Well, they’re going to start Canzone out in left field primarily. They’re going to bat him 7th or 8th – in hopes that the soft landing will help – and they’re going to give him a good couple of weeks, while platooning him out whenever a lefty pitcher starts against us.

Fortunately for us, the inverse of the Spring Training Mirage tends to come into play as well. Those are the players who struggle during the spring, only for things to click once the games start meaning something. We have to hope that’s what’s going on with Luke Raley right now, because otherwise he looks like a friggin’ disaster! I fully expect left field to be a black hole for us the entire season, which is going to make things tough to watch.

The other black hole – third base – also features our runner up for the Spring Training Mirage, as Luis Urias has come on of late to look actually productive at the plate. Don’t count on that continuing once the calendar flips to March 28th.

The 2021 Seattle Mariners State Of The Young Guys

I promised to get around to talking about the young guys, and here I am delivering on that promise!

As I noted previously, there’s reason for both optimism and pessimism surrounding the immediate future of the Seattle Mariners. If we glom onto the negative, you’ve got an unsustainable offensive model where the team sucks at hitting, except for very specific points in any given ballgame where the team comes together to score JUST enough to win by a run or two. Otherwise, we’re looking at severe blowout losses that throw our run differential out of whack. Furthermore, the people doing most of the hitting are veterans, while many of the young guys struggled mightily.

I’m going to try to look on the bright side with this post, but you know me. Some of that negativity is bound to creep in.

I’ll start with a point I made in Tuesday’s post: J.P. Crawford and Ty France are far from old fogeys. Just because they’ve been around the bigs for a few years doesn’t mean they’re past their primes or anything; Crawford will be 27 in January and France is 27 now. We control Crawford through 2024 and France through 2025; I don’t care about any years beyond those right now, if I’m being honest. The “Win Forever” concept is a nice idea in theory, but let’s just get to the initial “Win” part before we start talking in terms of multiple years or decades down the line.

I would argue there’s a lot to like about the way Jarred Kelenic finished his season. Sure, his rookie season was miserable for the vast majority of it – finishing with a -1.7 WAR in 93 games – but his September/October were leaps and bounds better than the rest of his year. It can be easy to discount a late-season surge like that, but this wasn’t a guy getting a cup of coffee at the end of a losing year. This was a guy who worked through his initial struggles – largely at the Major League level – and found a breakthrough after a lot of trial and error. It doesn’t mean he’s necessarily going to start 2022 on fire and be an All Star the rest of his career, but it doesn’t rule it out either. Regardless, I would expect a huge improvement in his overall numbers next year; I don’t think we have much to worry about when it comes to Kelenic. We know, if nothing else, he’s going to continue to put in the work to be one of the greats.

I also want to talk about Logan Gilbert up top, as another young stud who should be a mainstay for a good, long while. On the whole, he made 24 starts, had a 1.0 WAR and was up and down with his production at the Major League level. But, he also saved his best and most consistent work for the final month of the season; only one game out of the final six featured him giving up more than 2 runs (and that was 4 runs against the Angels, in 5.1 innings of work). He ended up being one of our better pitchers down the stretch, in a playoff chase, which is very encouraging for his career going forward. He’s got the kind of stuff that can be dominant at the Major League level, so I’m very much looking forward to what he has to offer next year and beyond.

In the next tier down, I’d like to talk about a few guys who showed some promise, but also might end up flaming out.

There’s a lot to like about what Abraham Toro did as a Mariner, and I’ll staunchly defend that trade with the Astros anytime and anyplace. Even if he never makes it as a consistent, reliable everyday player, the idea was sound. All you can ask from your GM is to make good decisions based on the information he has available at the time, and then hope for the best that the players he brings in pan out. Toro will be 25 in December and we control him through 2025; that’s easily worth a reliever rental in my book.

On top of which, Toro made an immediate impact as soon as we acquired him! His first month on the team was outstanding, culminating in a game-winning Grand Slam against Kendall Graveman on August 31st. He scratched the surface of being a .270 hitter in that time, but did falter pretty severely down the stretch. His slash line was overall better as a Mariner than it was as an Astro, but there was a little bit of a dip in his slugging. He finished the year – across both teams – with 11 homers in 95 games, which is okay, but not amazing. He might have more left to unleash upon the game of baseball, but it kinda looks like he’s dependant upon his batting average to provide offensive value, so if his BABIP slumps, he’s going to be a pretty miserable hitter (aren’t we all?).

In a vacuum, there are two openings across the infield – at second and third base – and one of those spots needs to be filled by a quality, proven veteran who’s a middle-of-the-order type hitter. I’m okay with Toro getting one of the other spots as we head into 2022, but he’s going to need to produce more than he did in 2021 if he wants to stick around long term.

I’d also like to throw Cal Raleigh into this bin, even though he had a worse year than anyone I’ve mentioned so far. It’s hard out there for most any rookie at the Major League level; the jump from the minors is extreme and will quickly weed out those who don’t belong. I would argue it’s the hardest of all for rookie catchers, who not only have to worry about their own hitting and defense, but they have to lead an entire team full of pitchers through every ballgame they’re in.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you Raleigh will be fine. He might be a total bust! The Mariners have been calling up catchers for years now, and I’ve spent all this time expecting one of them to pan out; none of them did. Mike Zunino was as sure a bet as you’ll see as a catcher and he still managed to strike out a bazillion times. Only this year did he pull it all together as an All Star who hit 33 homers – with the Rays – and that was with a whopping .216 batting average with 132 strikeouts in 109 games. I think we all were hoping Raleigh would be better than Zunino, but I have my doubts.

A lot will be learned next year. Like Kelenic, Raleigh is an extremely hard worker and a natural leader behind the plate. If he’s able to flush his .180/.223/.309 slash line, maybe he can make strides towards being a viable starter going forward.

I’ll say a little bit about Fraley, Torrens, and Bauers: I think they’re okay, but I don’t think any of them are starters. Torrens is a likely trade candidate – since he can catch and play first base – and Fraley feels like a reserve/fourth outfielder on a good team. Bauers has all the tools – and apparently puts on a great batting practice show with his bat – but he’s yet to really put it all together; it felt like a lot of his hits were lucky bloops and dribblers that narrowly evaded opposing gloves.

There aren’t a lot of promising young pitchers at the Major League level, but I’ll talk about a couple of relievers here. Yohan Ramirez took what seemed like a significant step forward in 2021 over his 2020 season. In 2020, he was mostly put into losing games and blowouts; in 2021, that largely continued, but he was also put into some high-leverage situations and came out okay! The team is trying to harness his stuff, as he’s got a great splitter to strike guys out, but he can be wild at times and get behind in the count. I’m curious to see if he can continue to get better.

Andres Munoz is a guy who can throw triple-digits; he got the shortest cup of coffee at the end of the year, playing in Game 162. But, he’ll be 23 in January, and we control him through 2025, so hopefully he can parlay that confidence boost into a great Spring Training.

There are, of course, young pitchers in the minors we’ve still got to look forward to; I’ll save my breath on them until we know what the 2022 roster looks like, as I expect to see multiple veteran starters brought in to round out the rotation (though our bullpen looks largely set with in-house guys).

You can’t talk about the young guys with promise without throwing 2020 Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis into the mix. He was injured for most of 2021 – the same knee he tore back as an A-ball player – and his long-term prospects appear to be dwindling. It’s not great that he tried to rehab the knee without surgery, only to have a late-season setback that cost him the rest of the year. It’s going to be super frustrating if he does need surgery, causing him to miss 2022 as well.

There’s no denying his talent when he’s healthy, but Kyle Lewis gets tossed onto the Maybe Pile when it comes to talking about future mainstays on the Mariners.

Which is more than you can say about guys like Evan White, Justus Sheffield, and Justin Dunn. I don’t know what the fuck is going to happen there. White sucked in 2020 as a rookie, then played in only 30 games before going down with a hip injury that required season-ending surgery. In those 30 games, he also sucked. His defense is, of course, elite, but at this point so is France’s. White’s bat just doesn’t play at this level, even a little bit. He’s got power, but misses balls too consistently. And he’s not even a cost-effective prospect since we signed him to that 6-year, $24 million deal before he even played a single Major League game! He made a combined $2.6 million for his last two worthless seasons, is set to earn $1.4 million in 2022, then that figure jumps to $3 million in 2023 and $7 million and $8 million in 2024 and 2025. What do you do with that? If France sniped his job at first base, do you try to trade White? What do you get for a guy with that kind of contract, who can’t hit? Do you try to move him to a different defensive position; make him a super-sub?

As for Sheffield and Dunn, I’ve lost all faith in them ever panning out. They just don’t have the stuff to be good or consistent at this level.

Thankfully, as I mentioned, there are lots of prospects in the minor leagues to pull from in the next year or two. The State of the Young Guys is pretty strong for the Mariners, with one of the best farm systems in all of baseball. Here’s to hoping we trade away the duds and manage to hang onto the superstars!

The Mariners Continued Beating Up On The Rays

It would’ve been crazy to sweep the Rays a second time this season, but I’m just happy the Mariners got the series win. Keep on punchin’.

After the disaster that was the Rangers series, it was nice to have Chris Flexen going on Monday to calm things down. He went 6.2 innings, giving up 2 runs, which was plenty good since we amassed an 8-2 lead by that point. The score wouldn’t change from there.

France, Haniger, Crawford, and Fraley all had multi-hit games, including a double and a homer for France (who accounted for 3 RBI). Fraley had 2 RBI, and Seager and Kelenic had 1 RBI each. This was a thorough drubbing, with Joe Smith getting 4 scoreless outs to (so far) be a value-add to this team since the Graveman deal with the Astros. Speaking of which, Abraham Toro had a walk and a run scored to continue being the steal of the trade deadline.

Yusei Kikuchi followed that up with a quality start of his own, going 6 innings, giving up 2 runs (1 earned), even though he didn’t really have his greatest stuff. He spread out 6 hits and 2 walks while limiting the damage just enough to keep us in it while we amassed all of 4 runs to take the game 4-2. There was some nice lockdown bullpen work with Sadler, Sewald, and Castillo going Hold, Hold, Save over the final three innings.

I’m interested in seeing what Sewald’s role will be the rest of the way. Castillo really does give off a Fernando Rodney Experience vibe, which is usually effective, but mostly heart attack-inducing. Since Sewald very clearly appears to be the best reliever on this team, it would be nice if we continued to use him in the highest leverage situations, whether that means going the 7th, 8th, or 9th innings. I hope Castillo is okay with sometimes getting saddled with a non-save situation every now and then, because I feel like this is what needs to happen for the Mariners to maximize their bullpen’s potential. With the promise of so many more close games, it’s going to be necessary to blow as few of them as possible.

Toro and Kelenic each had homers in this one, with Toro scoring 2 runs on the day, and Cal Raleigh hitting in two runners on a sac fly and a fielder’s choice.

Unfortunately, we didn’t quite have enough to get the sweep, losing yesterday afternoon by a score of 4-3. Logan Gilbert had just the one bad inning, giving up 3 runs total over five. 4 hits isn’t bad; 4 walks is far from ideal. We might’ve been able to take this to extras, but Steckenrider gave up a solo bomb in the sixth to Mike Zunino, and our late rally fell JUST short. Crawford and Haniger combined for 5 of our 7 hits, and 2 of our 3 runs; Toro also had another hit and walk.

In 8 games since the trade, Toro has safely reached in every one. He’s hit 12/28 (.429), with 3 doubles, 3 homers, 5 RBI, and 8 runs scored. I mean, it’s silly how good he’s been in such a short time! He’s already almost equalled the WAR he had in 35 games with Houston this year!

Next up: 4 games in New York against the Yankees before we return home. The Yankees notoriously mash against left-handed pitching. So, great news! Three of our four projected starters are lefties! If we win one of these games, it’ll be a miracle.

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.

Jarred Kelenic Got Sent Back Down To Tacoma Temporarily

The thing is: I don’t think there’s a way to positively spin this. The best you can do is give it a Not Negative spin, which is that: it happens to the best of them.

There’s no reason to be excited Jarred Kelenic is being sent back down to the minors, after hitting a whopping .096/.185/.193, with 2 doubles, 2 homers, 8 walks, and 26 strikeouts in 23 games (over 83 at bats). The alternative is: he’s great right from the get-go! And who wouldn’t want that? Who wouldn’t want Kelenic to tear the cover off the ball from his very first game and laugh all the way to the bank at all the people who doubted he was ready when he said he was ready?

I guess the only thing that came to my mind was that he’s a cocky little shit, so maybe a little humble pie wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for him to be eating. But, that’s really only a positive for his everyday life. When he’s on the field, and at that plate, I think you WANT him to be a cocky little shit! You want him to walk with that swag everywhere he goes between those lines! You want him to talk trash and give entertaining post-game quotes, it makes baseball – one of our most-boring professional sports – fun!

There’s an impulse to want to say, “Here we go again, the Mariners fucked up another one of their can’t-miss prospects.” I’ll admit, it’s hard for me not to come out with both barrels blazing. This fucking organization is so fucking God damned inept … BUT, in this one instance, I don’t think that’s true. I don’t think they rushed him like they clearly did with Mike Zunino, Dustin Ackley, and some of their pitchers through the years (Brandon Morrow being jerked around from starter to reliever comes to mind). Jarred Kelenic has proven every step of the way that he’s too good for the minors. And, where it matters most – his mental make-up – is clearly off the charts. While it feels idiotic to put him as your leadoff hitter from his very first game, even then I don’t think they gave him anything that was too big for him to handle. If they had “hidden” him as a 7-hole hitter from Day One, I don’t think his batting average would be any better today. Who knows? I could be totally off-base. But, I think this is just one of those things.

He wasn’t ready this time. I expect Jarred Kelenic will be ready next time.

Sometimes you just need an opportunity to reset. I understand – as I think we all do – how difficult life can be when you’re overwhelmed, your mind is racing a mile a minute, and it’s a struggle just to keep your head above water. With everything feeling like it’s happening all at once, you become overstimulated, and it fries your brain a little bit. It’s nice, in those cases, to just get away from whatever it is that’s dominating your focus, think about literally anything else, and just breathe, without the lights constantly pointed at you.

I don’t care how great your mental make-up is, look at what Jarred Kelenic has come to represent: the next big hope for one of the most hapless organizations in Major League Baseball history. The guy that is supposed to lead the charge out of the 20-year playoff drought and get us to our first-ever World Series. The tentpole for this great rebuild back to respectability. That’s a lot to carry on one kid’s shoulders. Besides that, I’m sure he wants to be great for himself, and for his career, to be the superstar that he feels he was always destined to be. It’s hard not to want all of that RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND.

But, baseball has a way of knocking you down. It’ll be very interesting to see how he responds when he gets his next opportunity.

If you’re one of those fans who is freaking out about Kelenic being a bust, just go ahead and slow your roll. He’ll be fine. Probably. I mean, no one really knows, I guess. But, if you were a believer before, one month of shabby play shouldn’t deter you. My hunch is: he’ll go to Tacoma for a month, do fine, get called back up, and be much better than he was in his initial call-up.

Years from now, we’ll forget all about this unpleasant little first stint in the Majors. Hopefully it’s because he’s going to All Star Games every year, and not because he’s totally flamed out.

The Mariners Are Stacked At Catcher

This isn’t a super-interesting topic on the Mariners landscape, but it is pretty noteworthy, especially when you consider how long we’ve struggled to fill this spot.

The Mariners have not just one, but two perfectly cromulent catchers at the Major League level, in Tom Murphy and Luis Torrens. The Mariners traded for the veteran Murphy from the Giants heading into 2019, and that year he had his best season of his career! He was so good, the M’s felt comfortable trading away Omar Narvaez for basically nothing.

Of course, Murphy injured his foot and missed the entire 2020 season, but he’s healthy and back in the fold as this team’s co-starting catcher. That’s only happening because the Mariners traded for Torrens at the deadline last year (along with Ty France and another high-level prospect) in exchange for Austin Nola. I wouldn’t say Torrens put up Nola-like numbers when he came over, but he was very capable, both offensively and defensively!

The combination of Murphy and Torrens is putting a lot of Mariners fans at ease. Most spots on the everyday roster are locked in at this point – even though Spring Training has yet to commence – but they come with lots of questions and concerns. Even with someone like Kyle Lewis – who won the American League Rookie of the Year award – you have to wonder how he will put it all together over a full season, with all the ups and downs built into it. But, I’ll tell you this much: the least of my concerns heading into 2021 will be what the Mariners are able to do at catcher.

Not to say these guys are the best in baseball. Maybe as a unit, I would say there is little-to-no drop-off between whoever the “starter” ends up being and whoever his backup is (though, I do anticipate pretty close to a 50/50 split, as long as health isn’t a factor); but I don’t think either of these guys are bound to be All Stars or anything. They’re just capable, all-around catchers who should hit enough to help out, and shouldn’t be disasterous behind the plate.

You might think, “Well, that’s not sexy!” And you’d be right! But, at this point, all I’m looking for is run-of-the-mill, missionary-style, passionless married people intercourse from the catcher spot. I don’t need a Mike Zunino who’s a great receiver, but strikes out nine million times a season; nor do I need an Omar Narvaez, who hits like crazy but is among the worst defenders in the game. I just need dudes who can do both to the point where I’m not pulling my hair out whenever I look at them. In the same way in football, the very best long-snappers are ones you never have to think about (because, with a position like that, you’re only thinking about them when they fuck up), such is the catcher in baseball. Just do your job!

On top of the fact that both Murphy and Torrens are good players, they’re also not necessarily important for our future. Murphy has two more Arbitration years remaining, while Torrens has a whopping four more years of team control. These are bridge guys to the future, who is Cal Raleigh. Raleigh in his own right is someone we could see get a cup of coffee at the Major League level in 2021 (or maybe even a whole pot of coffee, if injuries worm their way into the picture). He’s one of the highest-touted prospects in our organization, and a consensus guy who should man that position for many years to come. By 2022, it’s not out of the question that he’d break Spring Training with the Mariners, and as soon as 2023 he could be firing on all cylinders if things go according to plan. That’s exciting!

That’s the current catching spot locked down, as well as high hopes for the very near future! For the first time since Dan Wilson, this won’t have to be a source of frustration! I can’t wait to never talk about this position again!

At What Point Do The Mariners Worry About Evan White?

Let me be clear: I’m not worried about Evan White right now. He was a 24-year old rookie last year, making the jump from AA to the Majors, fresh off of a contract extension that bought out his cheap team control and arbitration years to give him a guaranteed $24 million over 6 seasons, with the possibility of being worth up to $55.5 million over 9 seasons. There was a worldwide pandemic, no fans in the stands, and he’s on a rebuilding team that’s looking to go from mediocre-at-best to elite within the next few years. He was a first round draft pick in 2017 and has been handed the keys to the first base position for the foreseeable future.

There was, in short, A LOT on his plate in 2020. And, other than his defense – which was superb enough to garner him the first of probably many Gold Glove Awards – a lot went wrong. He had a slash line of .176/.252/.346. His strikeout rate was through the roof, his swing-and-miss rate skyrocketed compared to his minor league norms, and he got off to a REALLY bad start; so those terrible numbers are a result of him sort of turning things on a little bit towards the end of the truncated season (emphasis on “a little bit”).

Many fans are concerned, because the Mariners are planning on giving him a LONG leash, for obvious reasons: his contract, the fact that he’s a high draft pick, the fact that he’s so elite at defense, the fact that we’re still not projected to legitimately contend for championships for at least another few years. This doesn’t have the feel of rushing someone along like it did with so many guys prior (Mike Zunino most notably), because he’s not on a team that’s expected to do anything, other than incrementally improve year by year. Rather, he’s being given the experience he needs – in a low-pressure environment, relative to expectations (obviously, it’s high-pressure in the sense that it’s the MAJOR LEAGUES and therefore the dream of everyone who’s ever picked up a baseball bat as a child) – as this organization continues to grow through its rebuild. He’s not the Franchise Savior; White has always been projected as a solid complementary piece to a potentially-great team. If everything pans out with the rest of the rebuild, you’d be happy with White bringing you his usual brand of defense, and batting 7th in the order every night. Best case scenario still only has White maybe batting in the 2-hole (if he gets his strikeouts under control and starts walking and hitting for power more).

Even though the plan seems sound, you never know if it’s a case of too much too soon. White needs to hit to make it in the Majors, that’s the bottom line. He doesn’t need to be a guy who hits .300, or who bashes 35+ home runs; with his defense, you can excuse some mediocre or streaky hitting. BUT, he can’t be a sub-.200 guy who strikes out 200 times; that’s never going to fly.

I won’t say 2021 is a Make Or Break year for White, like it might be for someone like Haniger or obviously Kikuchi; I will say that it would be nice to see some improvement. If it’s more of the same – or God forbid worse – then I think that’s a very ominous trend, and you’d have to start wondering if he will last through his contract. At the very least, we would seriously alter our expectations. A prolonged slump to start his Major League career can very well be his reality, since he brings so much with his glove; it’s nearly impossible to sit him (made all the more apparent by the fact that we have no other first basemen of note in the pipeline behind him). It’s White Or Bust, for at LEAST the next two seasons!

The Mariners can make it easier on him by other guys producing in the lineup. If we can hide White towards the bottom of the order, then I think it’s okay to keep a struggling hitter who is otherwise a value add in the field. But, if everyone else underperforms, that’s only going to magnify White’s presence, since he is considered a piece of this team’s future.

I know we’re all rooting for him to succeed; it’s always a bonus whenever you can draft and develop your own talent and turn them into viable everyday players. An Evan White who pans out means we have one less hole to fill on this roster going forward; a roster full of more question marks than definite answers. And since expectations for him have been tempered from the beginning – he was never projected to be a huge power bat in the middle of the lineup, for instance – the bar he needs to cross isn’t unreasonable at all. Be a .250 hitter. Get on base at a .350 clip. Hit 20 homers and 30 doubles a year. And be a regular finalist for the Gold Glove at first base. That isn’t too much to ask, I don’t think. Anything beyond that is gravy.

It would be nice if he could clear this benchmark starting in 2021, but if he doesn’t, it’s not the end of the world. However, if he isn’t at that level for 2022 and beyond … then I think it could be time to worry.

The Mariners Cut Dan Vogelbach

The Mariners are bound to make a lot of low-level roster moves this season, as they cycle through young players to get a look at as many prospects as possible (at least, when it comes to prospects whose service time they don’t mind churning through before it’s absolutely necessary; sorry Jarred Kelenic, you gotta wait). As such, I’m not going to write about every little move the team makes.

For instance, last night we saw the 2020 debuts for a couple of Quad-A outfielders who will probably never amount to much of anything at the Major League level; am I going to talk about them? No, I am not. I can barely muster the energy to talk about how Mallex Smith was demoted off of the Major League roster the other day. He’s been PRETTY terrible since we traded away Mike Zunino to bring him here, and while I don’t miss Zunino’s millions of strikeouts and anemic batting average, it still feels like we should’ve gotten a better player in return for a former #3 overall draft pick whose defense at least played well at this level. But, anyway, Mallex Smith is here now and he apparently still has minor league options; nevertheless, I don’t expect he’ll be part of the Mariners’ organization in 2021, so here’s hoping he figures his swing out to the point where we can maybe trade him away for scraps.

Dan Vogelbach is the real story here, and I know what you’re thinking. Here’s a guy with a slash line of .094/.250/.226; why are we writing a Mariners Obituary for someone who was never really much of anyone?

I dunno, I guess I think it’s noteworthy when the Mariners – who we can all agree has been a poorly-run organization for almost the entirety of its existence – DFA a guy who was an All Star just a year ago. First of all, it’s crazy that Vogey was an All Star to begin with; the guy’s career numbers are pretty pisspoor: .196/.326/.397. As a guy marketed as a big, burly, hit-first dude when he first came here, his only real skill that you could count on was his ability to take walks. I always got the feeling that the only reason he EVER swung the bat was due to peer pressure from coaches and players around him. Guys with no speed – who only generate walks and singles – have no value in this league, unless you play a premium defensive position AND you’re the absolute very best at that position (the paradox there is that you generally need to have a lot of speed to be good at defense). Vogey’s best defensive position was Designated Hitter; he’s like the rambunctious little boy who is best able to “help” his mom by staying out of her hair for a while. If he was ever going to stick at this level, he needed to be a guy who – when he did swing – hit lots and lots of dingers.

And, for one season, he did that. In 2019, he hit 30 homers in 144 games. By then, he was no longer blocked by Nelson Cruz at DH, and the team mostly stopped trying to shoehorn him into playing first base, so he was free to just mash. Both fortunately and unfortunately, he did the bulk of that mashing in the first half of the season. He hit 20 of those homers from April through June (which is the period that they look at to determine All Star Game rosters), but both his power and overall batting numbers took a steep decline from that point onward. As I’ve complained about repeatedly, he’d find ways to get ahead in the count, then he’d take a nice, juicy meatball right down the middle rather than depositing it into outer space. From there, he’d either work that walk I mentioned earlier, or he’d feebly swing and usually strike out.

The thing is, there’s no joy in writing this. I’m not happy he’s gone, like I usually am for so many underperforming former Mariners. Vogey was an incredibly likable guy, all things considered. There’s a reason everyone keeps comparing him to Chris Farley; he just seems like such a fun teddy bear/party animal! HE NEVER STRAPPED HIS BATTING GLOVES IN; HE JUST LET THE FLAPS HANG OPEN! He always seemed like he was having a great time, and by all accounts he was a terrific teammate and clubhouse presence. You couldn’t help but root for the guy, because the potential for greatness was always there, but also because you just wanted to see Vogey do well and continue to be happy! Also, not for nothing, but as a bigger guy myself, I can’t help but want to see other big dudes succeed at such an insane level as the Major Leagues.

But, also, by some accounts he wasn’t necessarily the most dedicated to his health or his craft. It sounds like, at some point, he got so good at hitting that he sort of cruised by on what he did well, and never really worked to keep improving. And, it’s like the manager said, if your one thing is hitting, and you’re consistently NOT hitting, then at some point the team needs to make a move.

Someone, I think, on Twitter mentioned something about Vogey playing in Japan or Korea; I think that’s PERFECT for him! I think he would excel SPECTACULARLY overseas! Do you know how many slug-first former MLBers go over there and jack dozens of homers every year, to universal acclaim?! He would be a freaking SUPERSTAR over there! While it’s not outside the realm of possibility for him to get his career back on track here in the States, I think that really is the best option; he’d get to do what he loves, he’d probably be great at it, he’d have thousands (or maybe even millions if he’s good enough) of adoring fans, he’d make a good living, and he’d get to go back to being Vogey again (without all the pressure of trying to be a cornerstone to a rebuilding franchise).

Anyway, I’m rooting for him. Consider me a Vogey fan for life. And, of course, there’s always the outside chance that the team re-signs him to a minor league deal (assuming he clears waivers), but either way this still feels like the end in many respects.

Kyle Lewis Has Dumps Like A Truck Truck Truck

I’ll be honest, I didn’t know about Kyle Lewis when the Mariners originally drafted him. This was back in 2016; have you taken a trip down Memory Lane when it comes to our first round draft picks? I didn’t think it was POSSIBLE for this team to select anyone who’s worth a damn!

Leading up to the Lewis selection, previous GM Jack Zduriencik made eight first round picks across six drafts. They ended up being:

  • Dustin Ackley (2009) – Bust
  • Nick Franklin (2009) – Bust
  • Steven Baron (2009) – Nobody
  • Taijuan Walker (2010) – Just Okay Starting Pitcher
  • Danny Hultzen (2011) – Injury Bust
  • Mike Zunino (2012) – Human Strikeout Machine
  • D.J. Peterson (2013) – Bust
  • Alex Jackson (2014) – Currently a fringe Major Leaguer with the Braves (also probably a Bust)

That was, not for nothing, coming on the heels of the Bill Bavasi regime, which saw us select the following five first rounders across four drafts:

  • Jeff Clement (2005) – Bust
  • Brandon Morrow (2006) – Rushed to the Majors, dicked around between being a starter and a bullpen arm, had great potential but ultimately never panned out in Seattle (also selected him over local kid and future 2-time Cy Young Award Winner Tim Lincecum)
  • Phillippe Aumont (2007) – Bust
  • Matt Mangini (2007) – Who?
  • Josh Fields (2008) – Sigh

So, you know, after that run of drafting incompetence, why should I have had confidence that the Mariners would EVER be able to pull their heads out of their asses? Kyle Lewis could’ve been Alex Jackson 2.0 for all I knew!

Then, in his very first season in the minors, he blew out his knee. Even though he’d only played in 30 games as a rookie, he showed great promise, so OF COURSE he had to suffer a devastating injury that really set him back for most of the next two years! He slowly climbed the ladder in 2017 & 2018, but mostly struggled and couldn’t get past the AA level.

Then, last year, returning to AA, he started to make good on that earlier promise. He showed enough improvement that the Mariners called him up in September to take a look at him. He not only Didn’t Disappoint, he blew the roof off the fucking stadium!

He hit 6 homers and 5 doubles across 18 games, with 13 RBI, including a homer a day in his first three games as a Major Leaguer. He cooled off just a tad over the last week of the season – to lower that batting average closer to his usual level – but the damage was done. On a bad team looking to rebuild through its own homegrown prospects, Kyle Lewis had the inside track to earn a starting job in 2020 (so long as he, you know, didn’t shit the bed in Spring Training … or Summer Camp, as whatever it is this thing we’re doing here is being called).

Much like his torrid September last year, Kyle Lewis has gotten off to just as hot of a start this month, hitting three homers in two intrasquad games at Safeco Field over the last few days. Let me be far from the first person to note the extremely small sample size, and provide the usual warning of not taking these games too seriously (they don’t count in the standings, guys are still building up their throwing arms and yadda yadda yadda), but shit man, how can you NOT get excited for this kid?! These kinds of explosions are what All Stars are made of! It’s too early to start working on his Hall of Fame bust, but we could be looking at a cornerstone of the next Great Mariners Outfield! When you factor in our two seemingly Can’t Miss prospects in Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic (the top two rated guys in the Mariners’ farm system, and consensus Top 20 prospects across the entire Major Leagues), I mean, this is it! This is your outfield! By 2022, these three guys are going to be destroying everything in their paths! Just slot them in anywhere from 2-5 in the batting lineup and let’s fucking go!

My only concern – because I can’t help it, it’s a sickness with me – has to do with the Mariners ultimately figuring out their pitching issues. Kyle Lewis is great. Evan White – drafted in the first round in 2017 – is already locked in with the big ballclub and getting his first Major League action in 2020; he seems like he’ll be fine. But, these last three first round draft picks – all starting pitchers – on top of all the other draftees and trade acquisitions we’ve made to bolster our staff NEED to pan out! Because the last thing we need around here is another desperate General Manager with an itchy trade finger, looking to ship out one of our top-line outfielders to shore up a problem they’ve been bungling for years!

I know it’s hard to preach patience when you’re talking about the Mariners; when you’re talking about a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2001; when you’re talking about a team that has never won an American League pennant. But, we just CAN’T screw this up! I don’t ask for a lot, but if we could just have this one elite set of outfielders intact, it would do a lot for my own personal morale. Thank you and goodnight.

Of Course The Year The Mariners Draft So High Is The Year The Draft Is Five Rounds Long

The Mariners will have the 6th overall pick in this year’s upcoming MLB draft. That makes it their highest draft position since 2014, when they also drafted 6th overall. There’s usually 40 rounds to a Major League Baseball draft, which means under normal circumstances, the Mariners would have the 6th pick in all 40 rounds.

This year, due to COVID-19, the tightwad owners decided to reduce the draft to 5 rounds, which is obviously a significant reduction (the M’s have 6 picks in total, as they received an extra compensatory pick for reasons I don’t care to research).

This is, obviously, a huge drag for a rebuilding franchise that could use as many swings as possible to find viable potential future Major Leaguers. There was apparently talk of extending it to 10 rounds – which would NOT be nothing – but of course cheapness prevailed (cheapness always prevails when it comes to baseball … except when it comes to handing out over-inflated mega-contracts to over-the-hill players based on recent-past performance). I’d be curious to know what that vote looked like; it sounds like the Mariners were hoping for at least 10 rounds as well. I would imagine small-market teams like the A’s and Rays took lead on this endeavor; every franchise is worth, conservatively, at least a billion dollars, but of course so many ownership groups cry poverty every fucking step of the way, it just makes you want to puke.

Of course, you can make the argument that after the first five rounds, finding viable prospects is tough. As it is, #1 overall picks can be busts just as easily as stars! Since the turn of the century, the Mariners have drafted in the top three a total of four times, and easily the best baseball player of the bunch was Mike Zunino (a defense-first homer machine who strikes out like crazy and was traded away for a slap-hitting centerfielder). So, you know, counting on ANY prospect in baseball is an exercise in getting your heart ripped from your chest, while watching it continue to beat as the life drains from your body.

But, that doesn’t mean you can’t find diamonds in the rough in the later rounds. It’s asinine to me this isn’t at least going 10; you see SO MANY Major Leaguers picked in those rounds, it’s just unbelievable.

Then again, I hate to play The Mariners Are Terrible At Their Jobs Advocate, but the Mariners are terrible at their jobs! You could give them a thousand draft picks this year, and I’m sure they’d find a way to screw it up one way or another! Picking the wrong guy, targeting the wrong positions, dicking around with what positions they end up playing, and all-around sucking at player development.

All in all, it’s a minor quibble (especially considering we’re still trying to find a way to get the players and owners to agree on re-starting the 2020 season), but it’s just so Mariners for this to happen NOW, I can’t even stand it.

God I hate baseball so much. Then why do I want it back so bad? Because I’m a sick man!