It hasn’t gone as planned for Jake Fraley.
Nearing his 26th birthday in May, the 2016 2nd round pick (77th overall) made it to the major leagues in late August of 2019, a week ahead of his 2020 Rookie of the Year teammate. Despite injury-wracked minor league obstacles, Kyle Lewis has put together three (or two and a half) full healthy seasons in a row and his athleticism and consistency are a glimmering spot of optimism for Seattle. Fraley is still searching for that stability, and his time is running out.
2019 was the first time he posted for over 100 games in a season, capping at 66 previously due to several lower body injuries, as well as various smaller nicks that required short but impactful time on the injured list. Even in his breakout 2019 campaign, a quad strain delayed his call-up in early August and may have impacted his acuity upon arrival, before a collision with Mallex Smith in the outfield dinged his wrist and hampered his September availability. He acknowledged being impacted, too, by the horrific tragedy that befell the family of his close friend and former Tampa Bay Rays teammate Blake Bivens, which is understandably the type of thing that can have a lasting impact on one’s psyche.
2020 was no respite, as he was slow to start games in “spring” training due to a stomach illness, took a fastball to the head from Gerson Bautista, and ultimately did not make the team to his frustration. In many ways, his frustration was justifiable. He dominated Double-A, put up decent numbers in the moon colony that was the 2019 Pacific Coast League, and had been talked about all winter as someone the club hoped to play every day. Instead, in a halting, shortened season, a tighter-shorn Fraley played just seven games, raising his MLB total to a whopping 19, with 70 PAs across two seasons. His numbers are abysmal, with a .152/.200/.227 line that lacks a big fly or much of any of his minor league promise. His best highlights are doubles, showing the line drive and loft skills he rejuvenated himself with, and yet the swing and miss on breaking balls particularly has been brutal.
The situation is somewhat dire for Fraley, who has seen his playing time fall away to Dylan Moore, Jose Marmolejos, and even the recently waived Phillip Ervin and Tim Lopes. In the past few years Fraley’s fate has so rarely been fully in his own hands, yet now even finding the playing time to prove health and productivity is not a given. Better health, physically and mentally, is the first of many steps to righting Fraley’s story and turning the LSU standout into a solid big leaguer. The quad strain that ended his 2020 season early may have hampered him, or perhaps he simply lost a step, but the excellent speed he showed at many points in his minor league career was less apparent, and his swing had holes you could plant deciduous trees in.
That Fraley is not even in discussion from the team’s public statements for the Opening Day left field spot, alongside Kyle Lewis and Mitch Haniger speaks to the distance he has to climb to reestablish a role. But Fraley, like fellow depth outfielder Braden Bishop, is on a precipice, and his future with the Seattle Mariners may no longer be in his own hands. Grow the hair out, do some yoga, and bring the 2019 bat back, Jake. Before it’s too late.