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2020 Mariners Exit Interviews: Outfielders

The future is bright. The present was, well, SOME of it was a gift.

Texas Rangers v Seattle Mariners Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

The next decade of Mariners baseball will sink or soar based on the strength of their outfield. Some combination of Kyle Lewis, Jarred Kelenic, Mitch Haniger, Julio Rodríguez, Taylor Trammell, and perhaps some free agent or other addition is the vision of sugarplums that will dance in M’s fans heads this long winter. Seattle’s 2020 outfield was the fertile soil in which two players broke out impressively, and another saw his career careen off a once-promising path. Several of the players who saw time in Seattle’s outfield should not have, or at least were clearly not among the best players in the organization.

2020 Mariners Infielders

Kyle Seager 60 248 118 130 0.788 1.5 0.6 1.8
J.P. Crawford 53 232 94 93 0.674 1.1 1.4 1.2
Evan White 54 202 66 65 0.599 -0.2 -0.1 -0.6
Dylan Moore 38 159 139 117 0.855 1.4 1.7 0.9
Tim Lopes 46 151 78 82 0.642 -0.1 -0.4 0.0
Shed Long Jr. 34 128 50 60 0.533 0.0 -0.2 -0.6
José Marmolejos 35 115 84 85 0.672 -0.3 -0.3 0.1
Ty France 23 94 129 99 0.815 0.6 0.4 0.3
Dee Gordon 33 82 42 75 0.482 -0.3 -0.6 -0.2
Daniel Vogelbach 18 64 38 0.476 -0.5 -0.6 0.4
Sam Haggerty 13 54 100 95 0.715 0.4 0.4 0.3
Donnie Walton 5 14 25 86 0.445 -0.1 -0.2 0.0
All numbers are full season numbers (NOT position-specific) as Mariners, save for WARP, which is full season numbers across teams, impacting France and Vogelbach. FanGraphs/Baseball Reference/Baseball Prospectus

Kyle Lewis was the shining star here, as a player I admit freely seemed better served in AAA to start 2020 in a normal season. Instead, improvements at the plate in terms of plate discipline and pitch selection lead to excellent on-base numbers, to combine with some solid power and unexpectedly solid center field defense. Lewis had no shortage of oddities in his line, including just three doubles despite 11 home runs, and a .341 BABIP to keep his naysayers well supplied. Fortunately, Lewis looked healthy, comfortable, and confident, and few players have as many caveats on their minor league numbers as the presumptive AL Rookie of the Year. Lewis will start 2021 as Seattle’s catalyst, in many ways. There are sky-high expectations for the prospects just a year or two behind him, but if Lewis can build on his first 317 PAs and show himself to be an everyday stud, the Mariners are well on their way to a new core that’s something to spit at.

In terms of everyday studs, the other name on this list that fit the bill was even more surprising than Lewis. Dylan Moore made a claim to be a starter every day of the week, even if it comes at a different position each time. Moore’s improvements were documented well by Jake Mailhot, who noted the way Moore managed to maintain his pop while improving his contact rate. The improvements were something Moore credited to his teammate Dee Strange-Gordon, who also appears on this list, albeit abbreviatedly. Dylan and Dee are joined by Tim Lopes, Sam Haggerty, and Shed Long Jr. as true utility players at this point, who showed varying degrees of promise or lack thereof this year. All five seem capable of handling the outfield in spurts, but only Moore has seemed most adept, in addition to his ability to handle any infield spot along with his bat. Long will be fighting for reps throughout the lineup this winter and spring, but the rest of the group other than Moore seem either certain to be gone (Strange-Gordon) or unlikely to be planned around (Lopes, Haggerty). Moore, on the other end, took his sliver of opportunity and made everything of it, and the benefit of the doubt has been extended.

The fact that only one of the four players to receive even 50 PAs as outfielders this year for the Mariners could be considered a true OF (Lewis) is a reflection of Seattle’s interesting roster construction most of this year, with a “Build The Whole Thing Out Of Second Basemen” approach that yielded mixed results. The fourth-most prevalent outfielder this year, to the pitching staff’s chagrin, was José Marmolejos, whose overall numbers at the plate were a bit better than his outfield splits. Still, a below-average offensive showing doesn’t fly when you’re a first baseman being stretched far out of your depth in corner outfield, as Marmo often seemed. There’s nobody knocking down the door in the high minors to take 1B reps from Marmo if he sticks in the organization, but with Evan White a commitment at first and the outfield prospects encroaching, this may have been it for the 27 year old in Northwest Green.

Last and in some cases least, the also-rans of the true outfielders. Braden Bishop and Jake Fraley were supposed to get significant run in 2020, with the clock ticking on both to show they can belong against big league competition. Instead, neither got much playing time due to reasons of health (Fraley) and.... no i don’t actually know why Bishop didn’t play much of the year. There’s plenty of argument that Bishop isn’t going to hit enough to merit a spot, but as the team was starting infielders in T-Mobile’s spacious outfield greenery much of the year, it couldn’t have hurt. Fraley’s path is even murkier, as he missed an almost guaranteed opening day roster spot with the stomach flu, then seemed out of sorts much of the rest of the campaign. Phillip Ervin was acquired to fill in during the back half of the season, and seems as good of outfield depth as any, but continuing to give him starts over younger, possibly more adaptable options flies in the face of what Seattle seems to be intending. Ervin, however, was edged out of an outfield full of alternatives in Cincinnati, whereas Mallex Smith played himself through multiple opportunities out of Seattle’s organization, reaching free agency this fall after clearing waivers entirely following two abysmal seasons in Seattle. He remains an elite baserunner, but his erratic defense and anemic, roll-over-heavy offense make him tough to roster. Seattle could cut bait on Ervin and even Bishop, but it’s likely at least two of this group make it through the winter.

In total, at least four of these players could easily be removed from Seattle’s 40-man roster depending on how things shake out in the next few months. Smith is already gone, and Strange-Gordon is all but certain to have his $1 million buyout elected. Ervin and Haggerty arrived as waiver claims, while Lopes and Marmolejos were had on minor league deals, so each could conceivably be snuck through waivers. It’s a lot of question marks for a position group with such lofty long-term goals, but this is the conundrum the M’s find themselves in in not wanting to “block” their prospects for when they bring them up. Then again, playing time sometimes helps Dylans- err, diamonds in the rough to appear. Just don’t forget diamonds found where you expect them shine just as brightly, and maybe purchase a scratch-off 2021 calendar for the month of April and the first week of May.