Jake Fraley has created his moment. The erstwhile Rays farmhand built the foundation of a breakout in High-A last year, then burst through the roof like a hirsute Kool-Aid Man. The cavernous confines and stiff winds of Dickey-Stephens Park are less punishing to left-handed hitters, but Fraley’s dominance at AA-Arkansas was impressive without any caveats. It pushed him through to Tacoma, and then the bigs, barely a year removed from leading the Australian Baseball League in steals.
What makes Fraley is his burst. 22-for-27 stealing bases will get you noticed. It keeps eyes on you when you match it with a slugging percentage over .500 and an isolated power over .225. Fraley outhit everyone above Everett in the Mariners minor league system not named Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodríguez this year, and did so while playing most of his games in center field. If he had not turned 24 in May, Fraley’s numbers would have pushed him into the top-100 prospects conversation.
At some point in the next year or two, the Mariners will call Enchant and ask them to drop off a cage in the middle of T-Mobile Park’s outfield, and then lock Fraley, Mallex Smith, Jarred Kelenic, and Braden Bishop in it. One will emerge, wild-eyed and bloodlusty, claiming the crown of Center Field of the Future. This spring, we’ll see if Fraley can get the inside track on the position or be relegated to left field, or even the bench.
Had he been healthy, we might have the answer to that question already, but availability remains the last great hurdle for Fraley to overcome. His call-up was delayed by minor leg injuries, and his development in previous years has been similarly halting. Once cracking the bigs at last, an unfortunate collision in Houston with Smith put Fraley’s hand in a brace and a wrap on his season. The aggression with which Fraley swings, runs, and plays, is what makes him a prospect, and gives him the opportunity to exceed expectations. But focusing that motor is a difficult thing. An inability to mitigate harm while flying at full speed has shortened the careers of many players who blaze across the field as Fraley does.
At this season’s conclusion, nursing a nearly-healed hand, the questions going into this winter are different than those asked of most M’s players.
Like he was surely taught as a standout high school wide receiver, does he still drive through impact and pain? Or can he learn to soften with the blows, limited their damage and extending his availability? Many injuries are poor fortune, but can augmentations be made by Fraley to his approach to ensure he is healthy and close to 100% as often as possible? His fleeting 12-game MLB debut was disappointing, yes, but hardly cause to disbelieve in the 24 year old’s talent. We need to see more from Jake Fraley, yes, but most of all we need to see Jake Fraley more.