A challenge of moving across the country as I have this year is being far removed from Seattle’s minor league affiliates. No longer can I take a
30-minute hour and a half slog through traffic to Everett or Tacoma and get my eyes on future Mariners. I’ve fortunately been able to fill that void by writing for our Mets affiliate, Amazin’ Avenue, but neither AA-Binghamton nor AAA-Syracuse tend to offer much overlap with Mariners prospects.
Today that changes!
The Mariners have claimed INF/OF Sam Haggerty off waivers from the Mets.— Shannon Drayer (@shannondrayer) January 10, 2020
The 40-man roster is now full.
Sam Haggerty was a September call-up for the Mets, and fit the prototype for the sort of player the lengthened September roster allows. The University of New Mexico product has gone 113/139 on stolen base attempts through his five minor league seasons - an 81.3% clip. That hasn’t slowed at higher levels, as he’s swiped 49/60 bags between AA/AAA in 174 games over the past two years - an 81.6% rate. By FanGraphs’ weighted Stolen Base metric, which gives credit to players for both number of steals and rate of success, Haggerty was one of the high-minors best bag swipers. Though he didn’t get a chance to try his luck at the big league level, he appeared in 11 games this September - eight times as a pinch-runner, thrice as a pinch-hitter. You can see a bit of that speed on display here (the video starts at Haggerty’s entrance), as he advances on a tricky play, then scores on a shallow single to left.
The speed is game-changing, and understandably it helps him in the field as well, as his reputation defensively is entirely serviceable. He’s been shuffled around the diamond, playing predominantly at second base, but he’s gotten around 225 and 257 innings at center and left field respectively, 387.1 innings at shortstop, and 665.1 innings at third. When the Mets acquired Haggerty, he was destined to be bumped out of SS reps thanks to sharing the diamond with top prospect Andres Gimenez, but he’s long been given the utility treatment, and that seems best-suited going forward. The plus speed is most apparent on the basepaths but theoretically is well-suited to above-average defense as a corner outfielder.
The bat, unfortunately, is the biggest uncertainty for the 25-year-old. He ran a .266/.372/.381 line in 341 plate appearances between AA (292 PA) and AAA (49) this year, going from a challenging offensive environment in the Eastern League to the bonanza that was AAA, albeit the slightly more sane International League. His 12.9% walk rate and 25.8% strikeout rate are more befitting of a slugger than a speedster, though he’s managed to maintain that high on-base rate all through the minors. Looking at a few advanced metrics, his .345 combined weighted On-Base Average (graded on the scale of OBP) is promising, as is a decent 121 wRC+. The .372 Batting Average on Balls in Play indicates he’s no doubt been somewhat lucky, but speedier players tend to outperform expectations on that to some degree at least. Still, particularly for a player who was older for the AA-level, it’s a suspect profile.
A common concern for disciplined/low-pop hitters is that at the big league level, pitchers will eschew nibbling and challenge punchless hitters in the zone consistently, forcing them to swing and make their own offense in lieu of taking free passes from less skilled minor leaguers. The highest rate of pitches in the zone in 2019 were thrown to Nicky Lopez, Dee Gordon, David Fletcher, and Mallex Smith, who as a group mustered just 17 HRs against 2019’s juiced ball in 2,032 combined PAs. Haggerty has knocked just 15 dingers in 1,711 PAs of his own in affiliated ball, and his high strikeout rate makes him a dodgier candidate to make the most of MLB’s bouncier baseball (if it even remains that way). His patience is at least somewhat earned, as he swings and misses at just 10.7% of pitches, but considering that’s likely to only rise against better competition, it’s an uphill battle for Haggerty to beat out a crowded UTIL competition.
Injuries have kept the former Cleveland draft pick sidelined for parts of each professional season, but if healthy he will compete with Dylan Moore, Tim Lopes, Patrick Wisdom, and Donnie Walton for the 25th/26th spot on the roster, as well as reps in Tacoma in the infield and outfield. If things go well for him, we may get another enthusiastic moment like this: