The brightest spot of the Mariners 2019 season, in a literal sense, was Shed Long’s smile. I don’t know what sort of dental regimen one cultivates when they don’t drink water unless it comes from a hose, but it’s working. More pertinently, Long’s play was also one of the most exciting parts of a dreary step-back season. Despite missing time mid-season with both a shoulder injury and a fractured finger on his throwing hand, the freshly 24 year old looked as advertised once he made it to the bigs. He made solid contact, took plenty of walks, and slugged above what would be expected from a 5’8, 184 lbs second baseman. His final line in 168 PAs was .263/.333/.454 with five home runs and three steals in six attempts. He earned a 111 wRC+ while playing a narrow majority of his games at second base, mixing in 123 innings in left field and even a full game at third base.
The Mariners have to be pleased they stuck their fingers in the Yankees’ and Reds’ pie and helped facilitate the Sonny Gray trade, moving 2018 2nd round pick Josh Stowers to conjure their future at the keystone out of thin air. The deal for Long is a good reminder that any position that may look thin or thick with talent is a moment away from a trade in Jerry Dipoto’s world. Bringing in Long obviously helped the short-term Mariners more than an outfielder in low-A, but 2019 gave us a glimpse of an average or better everyday player at the very beginning of his big league career.
The clear positive was seeing an undersized 23 year old handling big league pitching more than well enough for someone at an important defensive position. The default undersized player in most comparisons, particularly given Long’s position, is José Altuve, but a more apt aspiration may be Cleveland’s José Ramírez. If Long becomes half the player Ramírez has grown into, Seattle will be doing backflips, so of course it is not a projections, but what Ramírez has done for Cleveland is nothing short of miraculous. At his worst in the past four years, he’s been an above-average hitter, taking the field 150+ games a year, all over the field. At his best, he’s been a superstar, but most vitally he’s handled starts at second, third, and left field with something between competence and excellence. The term “super-utility” is thrown around often enough to sap it of its usefulness, but whether he’s starting at second or giving a breather to other players around the diamond, Seattle could get an immense boon in having Long bring a competent version of Ramírez’s brilliance to T-Mobile Park for the next several seasons.
In 2020, Shed Long will be an everyday player. He and J.P. Crawford will hopefully get to grow up together as a double play combo that becomes iconic, and they may share space at the top of the batting order to boot. What needs to be seen next year is a continuation - better footwork, continued consistency, glove-work the team can count on. By mid season Seattle’s infield could easily be Kyle Seager-Crawford-Long-Evan White, where Long could improve dramatically and still be a respectable weak link, but that’s the aspiration.
At the dish, if there is cause for concern, it is in his penchant for moonshots, which helped him earn a DRC+ of just 91. He was one of five Mariners (and 68 total MLB players) with at least five home runs and an average launch angle on those dingers of 30 degrees or higher. Those balls became dingers at record rates league-wide this year with the juicy ball, and while Long has impressive bat speed, he’ll need to continue converting his high flies into round-trippers and not easy outs. 2020 is full of question marks, but at least for Shed Long, it can’t come soon enough.