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40 in 40: Cade Marlowe can still ascend

The left handed Mariners outfielder will look to the better angels of his 2023 campaign to try and make an impact with Seattle at the major league level.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Los Angeles Angels Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

For many of the Seattle Mariners faithful, Cade Marlowe needs no introduction. Lookout Landing readers might be familiar from Kate’s insightful piece written in January of last year, chronicling the University of West Georgia alum’s journey and outlook from a 20th round pick to being named on the playoff taxi squad that previous October, 2022. Alternatively, the site faithful may even remember when Marlowe made his 40 in 40 debut last year, with Connor chronicling the way his statline quietly popped on his way to the bigs, and the opportunity that 2023 was yet to provide. There is even a chance some might know him from his days with the delightful Savannah Bananas.

Savannah Morning News

There is nothing remarkable about an even semi-involved Mariners fan knowing about Cade Marlowe, who was at times in the mix competing for regular outfield starts in 2023, just touching triple digits with 100 plate appearances. The real reason why he might need no introduction to even many casual Mariners fans is that he already has to his credit a singular moment so grandiose, so instantly legendary that there is no doubt the place it will have in the highlight reels of the present and future. Don’t let the ultimate fate of the Mariners’ 2023 season fool you (or the Angels ultimate 2023 fate, for that matter): in the August 3rd game the Seattle Mariners played on their division rival’s home field in Anaheim, Cade Marlowe’s moment was everything. Feel free to relive all the juicy details of the game itself, I won’t stop you.

The story of the game itself is worth revisiting, but made more vibrant with the framing around it. Marlowe was able to help notch a victory for his team that was a much needed moral one in what had been an inconsistent team campaign, sure, but in a truly rare moment he also played an important part in a division rival’s narrative. The universal shock at the Angels decision to not trade Shohei Ohtani in the last year of his contract and instead “go for it”, with incredibly disastrous results, was only still setting in at the time in early August. Marlowe’s come from behind, top of the ninth grand slam - just the second Major League home run of his career - was a punctuation mark in that still developing conversation. If you don’t think that home run or single game alone had that much weight, then it should be noted that the momentum it helped apply led to the Mariners taking the next three games in Anaheim as well, leading to an inspired name for the series dubbed by Kate Preusser, The Mickey Mop.

A folk hero moment of even half that magnitude will endear a player to a fanbase, and in many ways that is an important milestone for a player trying to break into the big leagues and prove they belong. More important than that, however, and the next step for Marlowe, is to see if he can take the good from his rookie campaign and apply it more consistently - especially for a player who has been seen by the organization as on the outside looking in with regards to their outfield depth. Last spring he had a chance to impress his way onto the roster and was instead edged out by a breaking-out Jarred Kelenic, and indeed didn’t see a call to the Major League roster until July 20th after Kelenic betrayed his cooler half and kicked his way onto the injured list, and he remained with the team until Kelenic’s return on September 11th.

During that time, Marlowe’s performance can very easily be split into two halves. Through the Angel series sweep that his hero moment helped spark, a sample of forty-two of his one hundred plate appearances, he maintained an 160 wRC+ and a slash line of .278/.381/.556. More impressively, though, he was able to work a 14.3% walk rate against a 19% strikeout rate. After that point, he posted a 77 wRC+ and a dismal slash line of .212/.293/.337. The walk rate didn’t crater at 10.3%, but the strikeouts exploded to 43.1% in those remaining fifty-eight plate appearances. One hundred plate appearances across thirty-four games rests firmly in the small sample size category, even if it is beginning to approach a clear picture, and the two halves can easily be explained by a league adjusting to a young player and that player not yet having the opportunity to respond to that.

Ultimately his 2023 MLB numbers balanced out to a .229/.330/.420 slash, and a 12% walk rate and 33% strikeout rate. Marlowe has answered the question on whether he can live up to the big moment, but questions still remain about whether his skills can play on the big stage. His ‘23 112 wRC+, 0.9 fWAR, and 0.61 WPA all confirm the positive value he can and has had at the level, but there are cracks in the numbers that are cause for concern. The most obvious is the strikeout rate, which were concerning at the major league level, but have also reared their ugly head in his ‘22 AAA campaign, where he posted an albatross 38.3 K% across sixty plate appearances after being called up to the level that year. The time he spent in AAA in 2023 saw him drop that to a much more respectable 26% strikeout rate though, but there remain other questions with the bat.

Marlowe has undoubtedly unlocked some power in his bat during his pro career, but his profile remains one that hinges primarily on his ability to make contact and provide a left handed bat. Unfortunately hidden in his 2023 numbers are reasons to be concerned about the quality of the contact at this level, in that he outperformed multiple of his expected stats. His average of .229 was against an xBA of .193, his SLG of .420 was against an xSLG of .320, and his wOBA of .327 was against an xwOBA of .276.

Even with those concerns in mind, 2024 still provides plenty of opportunity for Cade Marlowe. He has already tackled the long journey of going from being a 20th round pick, grinding his way through an entire organization, and making the most of a moment in such a way that he truly earned a story he can tell his loved ones about for generations to come. He also displayed solid defensive and baserunning abilities - his deft handling of Minute Maid Park’s silly outfield angles was particularly impressive. The competition of left handed outfielders has seen a departure in Jarred Kelenic, but an arrival with Luke Raley, and so Marlowe’s position with the club remains much as it did this time last year in regards to handedness. While he may lack the positional versatility of Sam Haggerty or Dylan Moore, and may need to play his way onto the roster in spring, he already has made a grand first impression.