Mariners Takeaways: J.P. Crawford is Seattle’s MVP so far, young OFs making most of opportunities

Jun 11, 2021, 8:46 AM
Mariners OF Jake Fraley, J.P. Crawford...
Jake Fraley and J.P. Crawford have been two of the Mariners' hottest hitters of late. (Getty)

The Mariners fell to the Detroit Tigers 8-3 on Thursday and lost the series as a result, but the team has been having better results at the plate in recent weeks.

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Three players in particular have really stood out of late, helping the Mariners’ lineup out a great deal since the start of the month. Let’s take a closer look.

Fraley gets his chance, saves the day

Let’s start with the hero from Seattle’s most recent win.

On Wednesday with the score tied 3-3 in the ninth inning, it looked like the Mariners were done for as Isaac Paredes smoked a pitch from Drew Steckenrider that had the distance to make it out of the park. Luckily for Seattle, Jake Fraley was playing left field.

Fraley ranged back, timed his leap perfectly and robbed Paredes of a would-be walkoff homer. Not only that, but he recovered quickly and threw a perfect toss to second baseman Shed Long Jr., who relayed to first base to double off a runner and take the game into extra innings.

Fraley wasn’t done there, as he drove in the go-ahead run in the 11th inning of Seattle’s 9-6 win. Overall, Fraley went 2 for 5 with an RBI and run scored in the game.

That type of performance – at least at the plate – is nothing new for Fraley, who’s been one of the Mariners’ hottest hitters.

After a 1-for-3 performance that include a walk, a stolen base and a run scored in Thursday’s game against the Tigers, Fraley is slashing .350/.458/.650 with two home runs, nine RBIs and three stolen bases over his last seven games. That raised his season slash line to .263/.500/.474.

Fraley is going to get his an extended look in the Mariners’ outfield really for the first time in his career. He made his debut in 2019 and played sparingly in 2020, but he has yet to have a long run in the big leagues due to injuries.

Now, with Fraley healthy, top prospect Jarred Kelenic demoted to Triple-A and starting center fielder Kyle Lewis sidelined with a partially torn meniscus, he is getting his shot. And so far, Fraley is making the most of it.

Related: As Kelenic gets a breather, Jake Fraley gets his shot

In terms of Seattle’s long-term plans in the outfield, Fraley often gets forgotten due to Kelenic, Lewis, Julio Rodríguez, Taylor Trammell, Mitch Haniger and even 2020 draft pick Zach DeLoach, but he may be making people think twice about his value with his recent play.

Speaking of value, where Fraley is perhaps most valuable this year is his ability to draw walks.

We saw that a lot at the beginning of the year before Fraley got hurt, such as on opening day where he drew three walks and was hit by a pitch. That included a bases-loaded walk in extras that scored the winning run.

After drawing yet another walk on Thursday, Fraley has 17 on the year to just 13 strikeouts. The walk was also his ninth in 10 games since returning from the IL. Fraley has now walked in more than 30% of his plate appearances in 2021.

We know Kelenic will be back in the bigs this year, and general manager Jerry Dipoto told 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny and Gallant on Thursday that Lewis will return this year as well, but until then, Fraley should have a chance to play close to every day and show Seattle what he can do. So far, so good.

Promising signs from Trammell

Speaking of outfielders, Trammell will also get a good amount of playing time due to the absences of Lewis and Kelenic.

Like Fraley, Trammell made the Mariners’ roster out of spring training, but he struggled mightily in his first taste of MLB action and was sent down to Triple-A as he failed to consistently make contact and strikeouts piled up.

After absolutely tearing up Tacoma for about three weeks, Trammell returned to the big leagues on June 1 and looks far more comfortable. Dipoto recently said Trammell had a “different level of confidence” about him.

Trammell has hit safely in five of nine games since his call-up, with four of his seven hits going for extra bases. In his last seven games, Trammell is slashing .240/.345/.360.

While he has struck out 10 times in 36 plate appearances (27.8%) since getting called back up, that’s just slightly over the MLB average and is far better than his first stint when he struck out over 40% of the time.

Another positive development? The left-handed Trammell appears to be more comfortable against left-handed pitching.

In his first MLB stint, Trammell recorded only one hit off of southpaws. On Tuesday alone he tallied two hits off of lefties.

It’s a small sample size for sure, but the demotion to Triple-A appears to have worked out well for Trammell, who is putting together more competitive at-bats on a more consistent basis.

J.P. the MVP

There’s a strong case to be made that Haniger, who leads Seattle in home runs and ranks among the league leaders in that category with 16, is the Mariners’ MVP so far this year. Heck, you could make a case that relief pitcher Kendall Graveman has a claim to that title.

But when you get down to it, the Mariners’ MVP so far in 2021 is shortstop J.P. Crawford, and I think it’s about time that people start paying closer attention to what he’s been doing.

First and foremost, Crawford is the team’s leader in wins above replacement (WAR) with 2.2. Graveman, despite being out for a few weeks, sits at 1.5 WAR while Haniger is next up at 1.2. Kyle Seager and Justin Dunn are also in the mix with both at 1.1.

So there’s that, but let’s look more closely at the bat.

Funny enough, as Crawford rose through the minors as a top prospect for the Philadelphia Phillies, the question wasn’t whether or not he could hit, it was whether his defense would be good enough to stick at shortstop. Entering 2021, though, the script was flipped.

Crawford won a Gold Glove at shortstop in 2020 and is playing well in the field once again this year. But while he hit a respectable .255, his OPS+ was 92 (league average is 100).

This year, the offensive numbers have really improved, especially of late.

In this most recent series, Crawford went 5 for 13 and drew three walks. For the year, Crawford is slashing .271/.337/.381 with three home runs, 22 RBIs, two stolen bases and 27 runs scored, and he’s played in 63 of the Mariners’ 64 games this season. His 2o21 OPS+ is 113.

Those numbers have been steadily rising recently as Crawford has been Seattle’s hottest hitter.

In his last seven games, Crawford is slashing .462/.529/.808. And in his last 15 games, Crawford boasts a .298/.364/.509 line.

We know that players like Kelenic and Rodríguez are in Seattle’s long-term plans, but it was unclear heading into this year whether Crawford was someone who would be around for the long haul, especially as the 2021 free-agent shortstop class is exceptionally strong. But his hot bat, elite glovework and ability to get on base and score runs has been key for a Mariners lineup that has struggled throughout the season.

If the plan for the Mariners was to spend big on a shortstop this offseason, perhaps the plan is starting to shift towards spending that money elsewhere.

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Mariners Takeaways: J.P. Crawford is Seattle’s MVP so far, young OFs making most of opportunities