Mariners Table Setter: As Kelenic gets a breather, Jake Fraley gets his shot

Jun 8, 2021, 11:52 AM | Updated: 12:41 pm
Mariners Jake Fraley...
Mariners OF Jake Fraley has two homers and a 34.8% walk rate entering Tuesday. (Getty)

Ever since the Mariners acquired 2018 first-round pick Jarred Kelenic as the headliner of a trade return from the New York Mets for All-Stars Robinson Canó and Edwin Díaz, he and fellow top prospect Julio Rodríguez have been the young outfielders that M’s fans have been fixated on.

Mariners ‘went as far as they could’ with Jarred Kelenic before demotion

That wasn’t always the case. For about three weeks before that deal, there was another outfield prospect the Mariners picked up in a trade that had people intrigued. Because he reminded them of somebody else who had taken Seattle by storm.

I’m talking about Jake Fraley, and you would be forgiven for forgetting that there was a bit of excitement when Seattle acquired him in the trade that kicked off general manager Jerry Dipoto’s rebuild in November 2018. A lot has happened since then. But when Fraley came to the Mariners, people noticed that he checked off a lot of the same boxes that Mitch Haniger had upon his arrival to Seattle.

When the M’s got Haniger, it was in the transaction people referred to as “the Jean Segura trade.” Only Haniger, who had been an under-the-radar prospect with just 34 MLB games to his credit with Arizona at the time of the move, blossomed into an All-Star while Segura ultimately was flipped in another big trade before 2018 ended. Which is to say that when you think of that 2016 deal with the Diamondbacks now, you’re probably more likely to call it “the Mitch Haniger trade” than “the Jean Segura trade.”

Fraley was picked up by the M’s in similar circumstances. When they sent catcher Mike Zunino, outfielder Guillermo Heredia and pitching prospect Michael Plassmeyer to Tampa Bay, Fraley wasn’t the big name Seattle got in return – that would be outfielder Mallex Smith. The thing was, though, the potential similarities between Fraley and Haniger were picked up on pretty quickly since Haniger’s emergence was so fresh in everyone’s minds.

From February 2020: Jake Fraley could be the gem of Zunino trade

But unlike Haniger, Fraley had a bit more development ahead of him at the time of his acquisition by Seattle, and he didn’t hit the ground running with the Mariners. He debuted in the majors in 2019 but struggled both to stay healthy and on the major league roster. And with Kelenic, Rodríguez and 2020 trade addition Taylor Trammell all in Seattle’s system, not to mention Haniger still around playing well enough to elicit calls from the fan base for a contract extension, Fraley has seldom come up when the Mariners’ outfield of the future has been discussed.

Which brings us to now.

While Kelenic is headed back to Triple-A following a rough first 23 games in the majors, the 26-year-old Fraley has been one of the surprises of the Mariners’ season. That’s not entirely because of his strong production with the bat since returning from the injured list on May 31, either. Fraley has, for whatever reason, become a prodigious walker this year. Entering Tuesday’s series opener in Detroit, he has drawn a bases on balls in 16 of his 46 plate appearances, good for a 34.8% walk rate. For the sake of comparison, when Barry Bonds walked an MLB record 232 times in 2004, his walk rate was 37.6%. Small sample size, sure, but Fraley really is walking at an incredible clip.

Even when Fraley was out of the starting lineup Sunday, he still found a way to get a walk – and that came after he led off the ninth inning with a pinch-hit single (the Mariners batted around in a five-run frame, giving him an unexpected second plate appearance that he naturally turned into a free pass). Now that’s some efficiency.

All this walking has helped Fraley build up an interesting slash line of .206/.500/.483, and while that first number – his batting average – is still a bit low, the other two (and the .983 OPS they combine to create) make it easy to write off. You can credit his power stroke that is finally shining through in the big leagues, as he hit his first MLB homer on Thursday night in Anaheim, then followed up Saturday with his first grand slam in the majors.

Fraley is on his best run yet with the Mariners since making his debut in 2019 and making a case for regular playing time – and he should get a fair amount with Kelenic in the minors and Kyle Lewis hurt – and it’s easy to forget something else about him. Sure, he’s been around the big league club for three seasons running now, but he still has just 31 games of MLB experience. This could be his first true shot to show what he can do for the M’s.

Nobody expected Mitch Haniger to turn into the star player he became when given a chance in Seattle. And while I won’t go as far as to expect Fraley to be anywhere near the breakout player Haniger was, I will leave you with this. In Haniger’s first season with the Mariners, he was 26 years old and had 34 MLB games under his belt. Right now, Jake Fraley is 26 years old and has 31 games of MLB experience under his belt.

Just keep an eye on him. He’s a capable outfielder with a decent arm, runs well, gets on base, and has shown power that could be tapped into more. You never know – maybe that initial comparison with Haniger was just a few years ahead of its time.

This week’s Mariners schedule

All games and shows air live on 710 ESPN Seattle.

• Tuesday: Scott Servais Show, 1 p.m. on Jake & Stacy with Shannon Drayer
• Tuesday: Mariners at Tigers, 4:10 p.m. (pregame show 3 p.m.)
• Wednesday: Mariners at Tigers, 4:10 p.m. (pregame show 3 p.m.)
• Thursday: Jerry Dipoto Show, 8:30 a.m. on Danny & Gallant
• Thursday: Mariners at Tigers, 10:10 a.m. (pregame show 9 a.m.)
• Friday: Mariners at Cleveland, 4:10 p.m. (pregame show 3 p.m.)
• Saturday: Mariners at Cleveland, 1:10 p.m. (pregame show noon)
• Sunday: Mariners Magazine, 8 a.m.
• Sunday: Mariners at Cleveland, 10:10 a.m. (pregame show 9 a.m.)

Follow Brent Stecker on Twitter.

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