Led by Kyle Lewis, the Mariners have the athletic outfield they’ve wanted
Kyle Lewis brought excitement to the 2020 Mariners season, whether it was with his powerful swing, speed on the bases, or ability to go get a baseball that seems destined for life on the other side of the fence.
Putting a priority on the athleticism that leads that to that kind of excitement has been a common theme since manager Scott Servais and general manager Jerry Dipoto joined the organization ahead of the 2016 season, and Lewis isn’t the only outfielder on the Mariners’ roster who can get on their horse and turn a potential extra-base hit into an out.
While Lewis is settled in center field, Mitch Haniger is back in right field, where he showed the range, glove work and arm worthy of Gold Glove consideration before injuries put him out of action in the middle of 2019. Haniger is in great shape now, luckily for Seattle, and showed how much strength he’s built back up by crushing a homer to left field with an exit velocity of 110 mph on Thursday.
Then there’s the question of left field, where third-year player Jake Fraley is battling prized prospect Jarred Kelenic for the spot (though another top 100-ranked prospect, Taylor Trammell, may be inserting himself into the conversation, as well). Either player is more than capable defensively, but it’s Fraley who put on a show in the field Wednesday when the Mariners battled the Cubs on national TV.
Starting in right field, Fraley made one sprawling, diving catch, had an impressive outfield assist cutting down a runner trying to stretch a single into a double, and had another play where he almost did both again (the ball landed just out of his reach, and his perfect throw to second was just a hair late).
Clearly, the Mariners are happy about the the youth of their outfield and the direction it is heading defensively.
“It’s a point of emphasis for Jerry and I,” Mariners assistant general manager Justin Hollander said about athleticism in the outfield during an interview Friday on 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny and Gallant. “I believe, and I know that Jerry does at well, in how valuable defense is and catching the ball and being able to make the plays for your pitchers. … We think we have the makings of a really good, young outfield, and an outfield that’s really going to help and support our pitchers just by the amount of ground they can cover.”
The Mariners may also have the makings of a potent middle of the order thanks at least partly to those outfielders. Haniger hit 26 home runs during his 2018 All-Star campaign and will be a threat to break the 30-homer mark if he can stay healthy, and Lewis has 17 home runs in just 76 career games, which puts him on pace for 36 homers in a full 162-game season.
Lewis, 25, won the American League Rookie of the Year award last season despite essentially having one amazing month at the plate and one not so amazing month. Hollander said 2021 will be about finding consistency for Lewis, who still really hasn’t had the chance to fully acclimate to the big leagues.
“I think the nature of the 60-game season really didn’t give him the chance to punch back. He threw the first punch for the first 30 or so games, the league threw a punch back the last 30 or so games,” Hollander said. “In a normal season, he would have had a lot more time to adjust, incorporate those adjustments, and then continue his season in hopefully the way it started, and that didn’t happen. So I’m really looking for Lew to get an opportunity to show everyone, as we believe, that the first 30 games (of 2020) are more indicative of the Kyle Lewis we’re going to get for the next five, six, 10 years.”
You can hear the full interview with Hollander in the podcast at this link or in the player below, beginning around the 26:15 mark.