In a prospect-for-prospect swap that sent 2018 Mariners’ draftee Josh Stowers packing, Seattle acquired infielder Shedric “Shed” Long, who posted a 120 wRC+ last year for the Reds’ Double-A affiliate.
As noted in the graphic above, Long began his minor-league career path as a catcher, with 2018 bringing his first full-time job as a second baseman. Like many people adjusting to a new job full of brand-new skills, thought processes, and movements, Long struggled to acclimate. 15 errors marred his season from a defensive standpoint, but the 23-year-old was not brought in to be a vacuum cleaner on the infield.
In 452 plate appearances for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos (hell yeah, Florida), Long swung a loud bat, drowning out erroneous cries about his defensive inabilities. Getting over 100 more PA’s than any other year of his career, Jerry Dipoto’s latest paramour went .261/.353/.412 with 12 home runs and 19 stolen bases.
When watching the youngster’s game tape, his mannerisms call some prominent hitters to mind. Watch his long, drawn-out routine upon entering the batter’s box.
Every bit of that, right down to the exaggerated leeeeaaaan he does as the pitcher comes set, immediately smacks of Robinson Canó.
The actual swing, though, emanates more of a Cody Bellinger vibe. Both hitters cut a U-shape from their left shoulder, down below the belt, and up to a two-handed finish that whaps behind their right shoulder.
Now obviously I don’t expect Long to hit 39 long balls and win Rookie of the Year as soon as he reaches the show. I’m just saying that swing path follows a similar plane to the Dodgers’ star. Both hitters were also similarly pull-happy at Double-A (Long ran a 40.4 Pull% last season, Bellinger sat at 41.4% in his lone year at the level), although the Mariners’ new guy also showed an encouraging propensity to hit the ball the other way. He did so on 32.8% of his 2018 contact, and has teased some drool-worthy power to the left side in the past.
The red flag with Long’s bat is tied to the gratuitous glut of grounders he generates. Two straight years of GB% in the forties preceded last year’s 54.6%, a figure that would have tied him for seventh-highest in the big leagues. To be sure, a wild amount of turf-huggers doesn’t automatically disqualify a hitter’s value. Christian Yelich won the dang MVP smashing over half of his batted balls into the dirt. But for a powerful, speedy hitter like Long—and most hitters for that matter—balls in the air carry a much greater chance of going for extra bases. With all due respect to Ichiro, Dee Gordon, * gulp * Dustin Ackley, and now Mallex Smith, it’d be nice to put a brief halt to the Mariners’ parade of highly-touted left-handed singles hitters.
Long will need some time, and maybe a fat slice of it, to become a Mariner. He’s never seen even a single blade of grass on a Triple-A field. He is, importantly, closer to being big-league ready than Josh Stowers, and plays a position that the team’s organizational depth chart is lacking. While Stowers could also gestate into a nice player, Seattle is banking on several nice players dotting its future outfield, and second base is extremely up for grabs.
For now, that spot is Dee Gordon’s to hold down, like an older brother at the local high school whose younger sibling is rumored to be even better. A vision of not-so-far-off greatness can certainly include Long at second, sandwiched between J.P. Crawford and Evan White, but that vision will remain a mirage until Long adds a piece or two.
He’s already got Bruce Lee-hands. Give him an eye patch and he’d still probably have better plate discipline than Gordon. Opposite field bangers and stolen bases will happen. But this is a guy essentially getting his college reps against professional pitchers. If a learning curve smacks him in the face upon reaching Tacoma, no need to fret. The 2020s are the hopeful decade of Shed, a possible savior who arrived on this earth just two days before a major turning point in Mariner history.
Let’s hope his eventual arrival in Seattle can signal another.