Mitch Haniger, Seattle Mariners

Since we’re just days from pitchers and catchers reporting for spring training, let’s continue the discussions, preview-style.

First, we talked pitchers — starters and relievers alike — so now let’s go over every position player. All players on the 40-man roster and others invited to camp are discussed below.

The Mariners, as a team, ranked No. 22 in runs scored a year ago. They finished No. 24 in batting average at .226, No. 26 in on-base percentage (.309) and No. 28 in slugging at .370. The club’s 91 wRC+ ranked No. 23.

Seattle was 25th in the league with 60 home runs, 13th in walk rate (9.5%), and struck out 25% of the time, good for 8th-most in baseball.

On the bases, the club finished No. 2 in the entire league behind the Colorado Rockies by one measure — rankings seen here.

Defensively, the Mariners ranked No. 9 in MLB in Defensive Runs Saved, but several other metrics grade them below average.

Of course, they did all that without their best player, and over a small sample, so caveats apply in either direction.

Projections below are subject to change with roster additions.

Projected Starting Infield

The starting infield is going to look very similar to start 2021, with three returning starters and a part-timer from a year ago likely taking over regularly.

Evan White, 1B
2020: .176/.252/.346, 8 HR, 8.9% BB, 41.6% K, 66 wRC+, -0.2 fWAR

White was quite literally hit or miss in 54 games last season, struggling to make consistent contact and landing on the extreme edges in terms of batted balls — 84.7% registered as ground balls or fly balls, just 15.3% line drives.

Hitting the ball hard is not an issue, as evidenced by his average exit velocity of 91.7 mph, hard-hit rate of 52.5%, and barrel percentage of 14.1, and neither is generating loft anymore, thanks to adjustments made in the minors. But he whiffed on more than 15% of his swings, the 16th-highest rate in all of baseball among batters with 200 or more plate appearances.

There was a hole at the top of the zone and above his hands where opposing teams attacked with velocity, and he struggled mightily versus any kind of offspeed stuff.

He’s the best defensive first baseman I’ve seen — ever — and can make plays with his feet, eyes, arm, and instincts, but to serve in a regular role in the majors he has a lot of areas to improve at the plate.

The good news is, they’re the types of things that come with experience — plate coverage, overall discipline, swing consistency — and his chase rate last season of 28.4% is acceptable for a run producer.

Dylan Moore, 2B
2020: .255/.358/.496, 8 HR, 8.8% BB, 27.0% K, 138 wRC+, 1.4 fWAR

Moore was very good in 2020, but his sample is even smaller than most everyday players. He spent a stint on the IL and ended up with only 159 plate appearances in 38 games.

Still, the results were promising, led by pop one normally doesn’t expect for a middle infielder, and speed one does.

Moore played a lot of outfield last year but should be the regular second baseman to start 2021 — he’s earned that, regardless of the diplomatic position-battle chatter the club will toss out to the public all spring.

Moore’s versatility is helpful, however, especially since the club is anything but deep up the middle. His ability to handle shortstop gives the Mariners roster flexibility — they don’t have to carry another player that can play shortstop, just one that can handle second base, and they have no shortage of that.

The 28-year-old Moore made his living last season on fastballs — .333 AVG, 6 HR, .693 SLG — and was dominated by anything softer. He’ll have to make that rather large fix or his .255 batting average is likely to fall through the floor, and his power potential will follow.

On a World Series contender, Moore is probably a solid utility player that received 300 PAs per season and can fill in admirably over the long haul if a starter suffers a significant injury. For now, he has a chance to be an average regular, and 2021 is going to tell us a lot about his chances to achieve that.

J.P. Crawford, SS
2020: .255/.336/.338, 2 HR, 9.9% BB, 16.8% K, 94 wRC+, 1.1 fWAR

Crawford has a solid 2020, despite continued streakiness and a lack of punch. He’s an above-average to plus glove, and that’s not going anywhere, and is very good on the bases despite average speed.

At 26, there’s still time for the Gold Glover to break through at the plate, but it’s my opinion the swing he’s employing limits his ability to maximize his bat-to-ball skills.

The plane, one of the line-drive variety, is ideal, since Crawford lacks the kind of raw power to take advantage of consistently hitting the ball in the air. But he gets his swing started a bit late, and I believe his hands are a tad high and a bit too far back toward the backstop as the pitch is released .In addition, there’s a bit of a bat wrap — the top of the bat is angled back toward the field, creating a longer path to get to the ball.

Considering Crawford’s bat speed is merely average, these are real problems.

As a result, Crawford gets jammed too easy and is too often late with the head of the bat. This makes him susceptible to, well, everything. If he cheats on hard stuff, soft stuff eats him alive. If he anticipates offspeed, he has no chance on fastballs.

These issues also impact Crawford’s strike zone coverage.

He makes consistent contact, it’s simply not consistently hard contact (31.1%), and he struggles to find the barrel (1.8%).

I also don’t see proper balance, but that’s a longer conversation for another day.

Even small improvements with the swing could show up in another 10-20 points in average and OBP, and may even unlock a little bit more power. He’s already a 2-win player, so more offense could shoot Crawford toward three.

Kyle Seager, 3B
2020: .241/.355/.433, 9 HR, 12.9%, 13.3%, 118 wRC+, 1.5 fWAR

If it doesn’t break, Seager hits it and hits it hard. That’s about where the veteran is as a hitter nowadays. He hit .260 with six homers and a .488 slugging percentage versus fastballs in 2020, and .321 with two home runs and a .536 slugging percentage versus splitters and changeups. Sliders and curveballs gave Seager fits, however, and carved his season down to decent.

Seager’s contact skills remain high, but it may serve him well to be a bit more aggressive — he offered at just 40% of the pitches he saw last season — to decrease the number of breaking balls he sees.

He’s using the whole field more effectively the past two seasons — particularly the middle of the field — and that game plan and mechanical adjustments have given Seager a better ability to cover the zone and find a few hits he wasn’t back in 2018.

Seager did struggle late last season after a hit start, but the whole sample is small, so the struggles in September (.189) shouldn’t be overstated. But it’s also worth noting he posted a .371 OBP during that stretch, an extension of his improved ability to judge the strike zone and limit swings and misses.

Seager enters his 11th and final season in Seattle with 207 career home runs and 280 doubles, both 4th in Mariners history. He’s also 4th in hits (1,267), 5th in runs scored, 4th in RBI, 5th in total bases, 5th in games (1,321) and 5th in rWAR (33.4) among position players.

He can move into 4th all-time in games this season, and his defensive rWAR could surpass Dave Valle, Alex Rodriguez and Harold Reynolds to vault the third baseman into sixth place.

Projected Starting Catcher

Tom Murphy
2019: .273/.324/.535, 18 HR, 6.8% BB, 31.0% K, 126 wRC+, 3.2 fWAR

Murphy, 29, got to his plus raw power in 2019, and missed 2020 recovering from knee surgery. He’s expected to be the No. 1 catcher this season, however, perhaps catching 55-60% of the games.

While the power is real, there are reasons to wonder whether or not Murphy can replicate his 2019 offensive output. is strikeout rate is high, his BABIP of .340 is high, and there is more of a book on him now than prior to that season when he had just 210 big-league plate appearances spread out over the previous four seasons.

Whether Murphy can do it again and over a full season remains to be seen, but I do believe he can hit .250/.300/.450 (considering the ball has been altered to somewhat limit the bounce). That, paired with solid-average defense, and Murphy could easily post a 2.5-win campaign, or better.

Projected Starting Outfield

Barring further additions to the roster, the Mariners will start the season with just two ‘starters’ in the outfield and what appears to be a timeshare of sorts in left field.

Mitch Haniger, RF
2019: .220/.314/.463, 15 HR, 10.6% BB, 28.6% K, 106 wRC+, 1.1 fWAR

Haniger’s 63-game sample in 2019 was weird. He hit for power — paced for 40 homers — although he wasn’t hitting the ball in the gaps much and his strikeout rate was up nearly 7% from the prior season.

He did pull the ball significantly more in 2019 than any other year, which may have been by design, but it also may explain some of the inconsistencies in his ability to make contact.

A healthy Haniger is a big boost to the Mariners lineup — again, I’d bat him leadoff and stop miscasting Crawford into a top-of-the-lineup role — and I’d be willing to bet on a return to form. In back-to-back seasons 2017-18, Haniger batted better than .280, posted an OBP over .350 (.352, .366) and slugged .490 or better with very consistent, sustainable batted ball data.

Haniger swung through more fastballs in 2019 than ever before and there is evidence the cause was his attempts to elevate the ball more.

If he’s healthy and gets back to his pre-2019 game plan, there’s no reason he can’t put up a 3.5-4 win season. Maybe better. There’s also a chance he does it with two teams.

Kyle Lewis, CF
2020: .262/.364/.437, 11 HR, 14.0% BB, 29.3% K, 126 wRC+, 1.6 fWAR

Lewis had a very good 58-game rookie season, spraying the ball around the yard and staying competitive versus fastballs, breaking balls and changeups alike.

But Lewis should be more explosive, and in order to do that he has to get to his pull side more. Nearly 70% of his batted balls went up the middle or the other way, tied for 6th-most in baseball. Here are the top 6:

Raimel Tapia
DJ LeMahieu
Whit Merrifield
Jackie Bradley Jr.
Kolten Wong
Trea Turner

See the common theme here? Yeah, those hitters have little in common with Lewis. They’re contact hitters, doubles hitters, and in the case of LeMahieu, a doubles hitter with some HR power that fits his home ballpark well.

For context, among the top 25 home-run hitters in MLB in 2020, only three had pull rates under 35% (Nelson Cruz, Nicholas Castellanos, Juan Soto) and only seven pulled the balls under 40% of the time.

Considering Lewis’ home park, a severe pull strategy doesn’t make much sense, but hitting a lot of balls to center field isn’t ideal, either, especially when most of them are of the fly ball variety.

Lewis has 70 raw power. I’d rather he took more chances hitting fly balls to left and left-center than to center and to the opposite field. Slugging .437 is fine for a small sample for a young player, but the 2020 American League Rookie of the Year is more than capable of 30-40 homers while batting .260 or better with strong OBPs.

Projected Starting DH

Ty France
2020: ..305/.368/.468, 4 HR, 7.1% BB, 23.9% K, 132 wRC+, 0.9 fWAR

France had a better season at the plate than Moore in a similar sample size, and he’s two years younger. So if you’re optimistic on Moore — and I am, at least for 2021 — you have to be encouraged by what France has shown so far.

He’s a 40-grade second baseman and at-best a 45-grade third baseman — though the trend here is up — but he can fake at either spot and all signs point to France hitting.

It’s 60 raw power and a chance to hit for average, suggesting his bat could carry him to an everyday role despite the defensive deficiencies.

France’s average exit velocity wasn’t all that impressive last season — 85.7 mph — naturally leading to a pedestrain hard-hit rate of 29.8%, but just 16.3% of his batted balls registered as soft contact. That will lead to a lot of hits and suggests barrel awareness. His barrel rate of 8.7% backs up such a theory.

France is likely to DH a lot in 2021, but he’s passable at first and third and considering how Seattle plays the shift versus left-handed batters he could be situationally playable as a second base option.

Projected Reserves

Luis Torrens, C
2020: .257/.325/.371, HR, 9.0% BB, 19.2% K, 96 wRC+, -0.2 fWAR.

Torrens is a bat-first catcher at present, but has all the physical tools to be at least average defensively. He may be a bit too undersized to catch enough to ever be a true No. 1 option, but projects as a terrific pairing with Cal Raleigh.

Torrens has always been selective and showed solid strike zone judgment in his cup of coffee last summer. He’s short to the ball with a line-drive stroke that serves all fields, and he stays back on breaking balls, suggesting consistent contact. The bat speed is above average and capable of producing the kinds of exit velos that generate a lot of doubles and at least a handful of long balls.

Shed Long Jr., 2B/3B/LF
2020: .171/.242/.291, 3 HR, 8.6% BB, 28.9% K, 49 wRC+, 0.0 fWAR

Long wasn’t healthy last season from the get-go and finally succumbed to surgery. In a 42-game sample two years ago, Long batted .263/.333/.454, which was more in line with his trends in the minors.

He’s a good athlete with at least above-average speed, and is capable at second base. He has bits of experience at third base and left field, both of which may come into play in 2021.

When healthy, Long stays home versus left-handed pitching and uses the whole field, and his average or better raw power shows up mainly versus righties.

The swing is generally terrific, sans a bit of a hitch at its trigger point. But he’s quite adept at staying with himself and getting to his power organically. He has gap power to left-center and his two-strike swing is sound.

I think Long is most likely a solid, multi-position reserve, but I do think the bat plays enough to warrant semi-regular time.

Sam Haggerty, 2B/OF
2020: .260/.315/.400, HR, 7.4% BB, 29.6% K, 100 wRC+, 0.4 fWAR

Haggerty is average at second base and may be able to fake it at shortstop in short stints, but his work in the outfield is promising enough to suggest he can serve as a true utility defender.

There are things to like about the potential at the plate, but he gets out front a lot and swings and misses too much for a player without power. Still, the versatility and plus speed give him an inside track to making the club.

Jose Marmolejos, 1B/OF
2020: .206/.261/.411, 6 HR, 6.1% BB, 27.8% K, 83 wRC+, -0.3 fWAR

The 28-year-old isn’t a true outfielder, so despite above-average raw power he’s essentially a backup first baseman who struggled to hit for average in his first taste of the majors.

I’m projecting Marmlejos to make the club, as of February 15, because as a bench option there is offensive potential, and because he’s out of options while some of the other competitors are not.

If it were me, I’d DFA Marmolejos and start the season with two of the next four players below.

Braden Bishop, OF
2020: .167/.242/.233, 5.9% BB, 29.4% K, 37 wRC+, 0.0 fWAR

Bishop is a 65 runner with a 70 glove in center. While one look at his big-league numbers from the past two seasons may appear worrisome, he’s never been given an extended look. It’s always been here and there, optioned, called up, and injuries have played a role.

While he doesn’t project to hit a bunch of home runs, there’s enough gap power available and he uses the opposite field adequately.

With his defense and baserunning (though he’s not a great base stealer), all Bishop has to do is hit .250 with a league average on-base mark. This season may Bishop’s last chance to earn a role with the Mariners, and it’s plausible the club parts ways with Bishop — and a number of other fringe-roster types — prior to the start of the season.

Ideally, at least in my opinion and considering the current roster, Bishop and Fraley start the season as the left-field timeshare until Jarred Kelenic is ready, whether that be April, May or June (bet on sooner than later).

Depth

Donovan Walton, 2B/SS
2020: .154/.214/.231, 7.1% BB, 35.7% K, 25 wRC+, -0.1 fWAR

Walton can handle shortstop in a pinch and projects as average or better at second base. He’s an above-average runner with enough athleticism to suggest he could make a transition to the outfield in order to increase his value.

Offensively he’s limited. There’s no discernable power, and his ability to hit line drives is below average. Walton has thrived off a high-contact, ground-ball attack. He has, however, always worked counts and reached base.

Walton should start the season as Tacoma’s starting shortstop.

Jake Fraley, OF
2020: .154/.241/.269, 6.9% BB, 37.9% K, 45 wRC+, -0.1 fWAR

Fraley, like Bishop, has struggled in massively sporadic opportunities, despite production in Triple-A. Fraley isn’t the defender Bishop is, but he has more power to offer and a better overall outlook at the plate.

He’ll need to make more contact, but it’s petty to harp on performance without a larger sample.

While I think he and Bishop should team up as the left-field combo to start the season — barring a veteran addition to the roster — Fraley may end up starting in center for Tacoma whenever the MiLB season gets under way this spring.

Taylor Trammell, OF

Trammell did not play in the big leagues last season, but starts 2021 as a top-10 prospect in one of the top 10 farm systems in baseball.

He’s a hit, run and defend player, but there’s untapped power potential, and he may be ready for the show sometime this season.

I’ll have comps and tools grades for Trammell, and 39 other prospects later in February.

Cal Raleigh, C

Raleigh, a top-10 prospect, may debut in 2021, but he’s starting the season in the minors as Tacoma’s No. 1 catcher.

There’s above-average power to offset a below-average but playable hit tool, and he makes up for a lack of prototypical athleticism with smarts, framing and throwing accuracy. The arm is at least average in strength.

He’s a better left-handed hitter but he’s had enough success from the right side to maintain an advantage and continue switch hitting, though there’s also more power from the left side.

Except to see Raleigh at some point in 2021, but likely later in the season, perhaps merely a September call-up. The new roster rules, however, increase the chances Raleigh is summoned prior to the mandatory 28-man rosters the final month of the regular season.

Sam Travis, 1B/OF

Travis offers a chance to hit for average with average power, but at 27 he’s depth at first base, and might be Tacoma’s starter if he remains with the org throughout spring training.

Brian O’Keefe, C

O’Keefe, 27, is back with Seattle for Year 2 after spending six years in the Cardinals system.

O’Keefe leaves a lot to be desired defensively, though there’s been progress the past two years. He offers 60 raw power, but a 35-grade hit tool has held him back.

O’Keefe may be the frontrunner to start 2021 as Raleigh’s catching mate in Tacoma, though he does have competition.

Jarred Kelenic, OF

Kelenic has played 21 games above Advanced-A ball yet we’re certain to see him at T-Mobile in 2021. He won’t turn 22 until July, so he likely debuts at 21, and brings a little bit of everything to the table as a player.

He can defend — he’s more than playable in center, though as he’s filled out he’s lost some first-step explosion — he can throw, he carries above-average speed into the season, and the hit and power tools are well above average.

There’s great potential for the weirdest scenario to develop for Kelenic and the Mariners. Let’s say Seattle leaves Peoria with a plan to call up Kelenic once the service time threshold passes just over two weeks into the season. That would make it roughly the middle of April.

The MiLB season isn’t likely to start until May at the earliest with current plans to limit the number of players at the complexes to the ‘big league’ camps.

Kelenic could, in theory, stay back in Peoria for a little over two weeks, then join the Mariners somewhat cold, not having real games to play in the meantime. He’d essentially have an extended spring training.

Either way, the club’s top prospect will be seen at The Mobi pretty early in the season.

Carter Bins, C

Bins is a defensive-minded backstop, but has bat speed and good strike zone judgment, suggesting there’s power to be found. He carries a backup profile into the season, and likely starts 2021 in Everett, oddly, where he’s played every game of his career thus far.

Julio Rodriguez, OF

He comes with star-level upside led by 65 raw power, but he’s a decent athlete and should be able to hold down right field where he has a 65 or 70-grade arm and likes to prove it. In many defensive regards, he’s very Jay Buhner-like.

He has a lot of work to do, however, and represents one of the more intriguing player development decisions of the spring for the Mariners: Where does Rodriguez begin his 2021 season?

He just turned 20 in late December, has just 97 games of professional experience and has just 84 games above rookie ball — 17 of those finished out the 2019 season in Advanced-A.

He was hurt for much of last summer and his only real development time has come this winter, and without good results.

The smart route is Double-A Arkansas to start, with an open mind as to how quickly he can move to Triple-A. The goal here should be to expose to him to the best pitching possible while giving him a real chance to have some success in the meantime. Let him make an adjustment or two, put it into play with good results for at least a few months, then move up a level.

Dillon Thomas, OF

Thomas, 28, was a fourth-round pick in 2011 by the Rockies and reached as high as Triple-A. He spent all of 2019 in Double-A with the Brewers.

He’s a big swinger with above-average raw power. There’s been far too much swing and miss in his game, but he runs well and is a solid defender in the outfield corners.

Jantzen Witte, 1B/3B

Witte, 31, spent seven seasons in the Boston Red Sox organization and comes to Seattle as corner-infield depth. He has a shot to stick as an option in Triple-A Tacoma.

Witte has never hit for power, however, so this signing and invite remain as puzzling as it was when the ink was damp.

Josh Morgan, C

Morgan just turned 25 and is a converted infielder, having just started to catch in 2018 (319 innings that year, nine in 2019).

As a bat he has patience and discipline, but no real power, but his athleticism suggests a chance to catch. He’s been adding strength and good weight to his frame.

Jordan Cowan, 2B

Cowan, a product of Kentlake High School, doesn’t wow you in any manner, but after seven years has a career .270 average in the minors and is capable at second, short and third.

Jose Godoy, C

Godoy has shown big-league defensive abilities, including an above-average throwing arm. The swing needs a lot of work abut he offers legit bat speed, and bats left-handed, sometime a slight advantage for catchers when all else is equal. Godoy has a good chance to beat out O’Keefe for a spot on Tacoma’s roster to work with Raleigh.

Eric Filia, OF

Filia has hit for average at every level, but has failed three drug tests and served two suspensions. He also was suspended at UCLA for plagiarism.

So, despite the hit tool, there are some off-the-field concerns. But personally, my concerns in regards to the failed drug tests are about Filia the person, not Filia the baseball player. They were drugs of abuse, not PEDs.

On the field, I also have issues with Filia’s prospects.

Yes, he’s hit everywhere, carrying a career .320 average and .412 OBP in the minors into spring training. But he’s also always been old for the level at every stop but one, and offers little to zero defensive value.

He was 23 when he batted .362/.450/.496 in short-season ball in 2016. He was more than a year older than the average player the following season in Modesto when he hit .326/.407/.434. That trend continue until 2019 when he was exactly the average age of his peers in the PCL.

Without power or defensive value, it’s difficult to project Filia as more than an up-and-down, part-time player. He’s now 27 and running out of time.

Luis Liberato, OF

There was a time Liberato was merely a good athlete that lacked instincts in all facets. While he doesn’t project to hit enough for the majors, he does offer plus speed and above-average defense in center. He also throws well, and with accuracy.

Liberato isn’t much of a prospect anymore at 25 and having not hit above Class-A Modesto.

Got a take on what you just read? Talk about it here!

Last Updated on February 15, 2021 by Jason A. Churchill

Image courtesy of Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire
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Jason A. Churchill

Churchill founded Prospect Insider in 2006 and spent several years covering prep, college and pro sports for various newspapers, including The News Tribune and Seattle PI. Jason spent 4 1/2 years at ESPN and two years at CBS Radio. He now serves as the Executive Copy Editor at Data Skrive, a tech company that manipulates data to provide automated content to clients including the AP, BetMGM, USA Today, and ESPN. Find Jason's baseball podcast, Baseball Things, right here.