Remember when the Mariners started 2019 with a 13-2 record and Dan Vogelbach was the greatest player on the planet? Well the Mariners went 55-92 after that stretch, and now have close to a whole new roster. And they are going to be awful in 2020.
With question marks about the health of Mitch Haniger, Vogelbach is the name to watch in Seattle. Acquired from the Cubs in a trade which sent Mike Montgomery to Chicago, Vogelbach hit 30 home runs last season, showing signs of why he was one of the best prospect bats in baseball. However, Vogelbach does struggle to hit for average, and he may not physically own a baseball glove. All of his value is going to be derived from his bat. There’s definitely a role for a guy like that, but as the main cog on a team looking to contend, he’s not the guy.
Should he be healthy, Mitch Haniger is Seattle’s best player. However, the past 365 days of his life have been marred by not only constant trade rumors, but also an injury that forced him to miss almost 100 games last season. He is also currently injured with a herniated disc and will almost certainly miss some time in 2020. He could be a potential three or four win swing, but he has to see the field to do so, and there’s no guarantee he does for any extended period of time.
One of the few mainstays, despite the aforementioned Vogelbach, is “star” third baseman Kyle Seager. Seager was very productive when he actually saw the field last year, though he was sidelined by a hand injury suffered in Spring Training. For a player whose missed no more than eight games prior to 2019, however, it’s fair to expect a bounce back from Seager.
Seager is the only projected starter on Seattle’s roster with more than four years of MLB experience. While Dee Gordon and, potentially, Carlos Gonzalez do provide veteran depth, Jerry Dipoto’s squad is one of the youngest in baseball headed into 2020.
The big name youngster to look out for is Shed Long. Acquired from Cincinnati last offseason because Jerry Dipoto couldn’t help but feel FOMO that there was a trade he wasn’t involved in, Long had a really productive start to his Major League career. Long’s combination of power and speed makes him a valuable prospect to have in a system, though more development is certainly needed, specifically in the contact category.
J.P. Crawford, the main piece of the Jean Segura trade, has never been productive with a bat in his hands, deriving almost all of his value from defense. While that wasn’t supposed to be the case, expecting a breakout at the plate in what will be his fourth partial Major League season is a risky proposition.
Evan White will more than likely be Seattle’s first baseman after receiving a Scott Kingery-like contract earlier this offseason. White has the potential to be a very rare five tool first baseman, though there’s a lot of development that is going to have to take place before that is the case. White hit relatively well at AA Arkansas last year, but only has four career games above that level. Expect some major growing pains from him in 2020.
Theoretically, Kyle Lewis should be an outfielder that is able to absolutely mash for the Mariners. However, in practice, he hasn’t been able to do that. Anywhere down the line. It’s a weird case as to why, he’s graded at 65 raw power potential via Fangraphs, but outside of a cup of tea at the Major League level last year, he hasn’t been a power threat. Teams learn how to pitch to guys relatively quickly in the bigs, so Lewis is going to struggle again in 2020, despite looking pretty good in 18 games last year.
Other than those guys, there really aren’t many notable players in the Mariners lineup. Mallex Smith was bad last year. Tom Murphy was actually pretty good but, now that he has the keys to the everyday starting catcher’s role, expect his offensive production to take a hit. Jake Fraley somehow managed to be worth almost -1.0 fWAR in 12 games last season.
While top prospect Jarred Kelenic playing in 2020 would be incredibly fun, it’s not exactly realistic. The Mariners have zero intention to compete this year, so having Kelenic, MLB Pipeline’s 11th ranked prospect, play in 2020 would be a front office failure of possible catastrophic proportions. Seattle does have a fairly good farm system, led by Kelenic, 19-year-old OF Julio Rodriguez, and Stetson product Logan Gilbert, though none are likely to make any Major League contribution in 2020.
Seattle’s rotation has two names to watch: Yusei Kikuchi and Justus Shieffield.
Kikuchi, last year’s top international Major League free agent signing, underwhelmed in Seattle. That being said, he did flash the signs of potentially four plus pitches, albeit with very little command. Sporting a deceptive delivery, if Kikuchi can learn to command his pitches better than he did last year, he could be a mainstay in Seattle for years to come.
Justus Sheffield was once the savior of the New York Yankees. However, he was shipped to Seattle for James Paxton and has been awful ever since. Not only has Sheffield been horrible in both of his Major League stints, he was somehow even worse for AAA Tacoma last season, sporting a 6.87 ERA. It’s possible he puts it all together, but he’s running out of time, and fast.
Marco Gonzales is going to be able to eat innings for Seattle as one of the few connections to the half decent Mariners teams of years past, but it’s down to a collection of Kendall Graveman (remember him?), Taijuan Walker, Erik Swanson, and Nick Margevicius to pick up the remaining innings.
Justin Dunn, acquired in the Edwin Diaz/Robinson Cano trade, did pitch in the Majors last year, though he skipped AAA to do so. Chances are, he starts the year in Tacoma.
The bullpen doesn’t have any massive names in it, though Jerry Dipoto did add two guys with some Major League success. Yoshihisa Hirano might close for Seattle following two average years with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Carl Edwards, Jr., who has shown some electric stuff in the past with the Chicago Cubs, is going to have to learn to harness his pitches before he is thought of again as a leverage reliever.
This is going to be a rough year for the Mariners. Sure, they have some really nice building blocks for the future. Sure, they have the ability to get more should guys like Seager and Haniger get traded. However, this team is a minimum of three years away from anything resembling contention.
If one thing is for sure, though, Jerry Dipoto will keep himself busy.
Projected Divisional Finish (AL West):
Projected Opening Day Lineup and Rotation (Fangraphs 2020 fWAR Projections for each player in parentheses):
Shed Long, 2B (0.1)
J.P. Crawford, SS (1.8)
Mitch Haniger, RF (2.7)
Kyle Seager, 3B (2.3)
Daniel Vogelbach, DH (1.7)
Tom Murphy, C (0.9)
Jake Fraley, LF (0.0)
Evan White, 1B (-0.7)
Mallex Smith, CF (1.6)
Yusei Kikuchi (1.6)
Marco Gonzales (2.7)
Justus Sheffield (1.3)
Nick Margevicius (1.3)
Taijuan Walker (0.6)