BRENT STECKER

Breakout Mariners Candidate: Cal Raleigh’s high ceiling at catcher

Feb 16, 2022, 8:22 AM
Mariners Cal Raleigh...
Mariners catcher Cal Raleigh hits an eighth inning RBI single at Yankee Stadium on Aug 8, 2021. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

While one of the most anticipated seasons in Mariners history is on hold until the MLB lockout ends, we’re not letting that get in our way of breaking down why 2022 should be a big year for baseball in Seattle. Keep your eye on 710Sports.com for a series of articles looking at important topics for the Mariners. This week we’re concentrating on young players who could have a breakout year.

In this post, 710Sports.com’s Brent Stecker looks at catcher Cal Raleigh. Find links to earlier posts on breakout candidates at the bottom of the article.

Multiple highly-touted Mariners prospects made their MLB debuts after the first month of the 2021 season.

Salk: Time for Mariners to spend money saved from Canó trade

Jarred Kelenic arrived in May, and while he proved to not be ready – at least not yet – for the leadoff role he was immediately slotted into, he finished the season on a strong note as one of Seattle’s better hitters down the stretch.

In that same May game against Cleveland, Logan Gilbert started on the mound. And while he struggled in that game and in general at first, he soon found his footing and showed plenty of flashes throughout the season that signaled a bright future for him with the M’s.

There was a third rookie that got the call up from Triple-A Tacoma to the Mariners during the season, though, one that isn’t getting the same kind of attention as Kelenic and Gilbert going into 2022. That’s because catcher Cal Raleigh’s debut in 47 games last season didn’t have a whole lot of head-turning moments. Instead, he slashed just .180/.223/.309 with only two home runs, and his playing time was spotty at best while the Mariners made a late push at a playoff spot, appearing in just 15 games and making only 42 plate appearances over the final month of 2021.

I’m not writing off Raleigh because of the tough start to his MLB career, nor am I ruling out a breakout 2022 season for the beefy backstop.

A third-round MLB Draft pick by the Mariners out of Florida State in 2018, Raleigh more or less breezed through the minor leagues before joining the M’s last year. He had a .902 OPS for Single-A Everett in 2018, a combined .820 OPS between High-A Modesto and Double-A Arkansas in 2019, and then dominated Triple-A in 44 games last year. With the Tacoma Rainiers, Raleigh slashed .324/.377/.608 for a massive .985 OPS, slugging nine homers, 21 doubles and a triple along the way before the M’s added him to the roster just before the All-Star break.

Unfortunately it all came crashing down when he arrived in Seattle, but as we all learned with Kelenic, hitting prospects taking the majors by storm is the exception, not the rule.

Raleigh had a number of things working against him last year. For starters, in addition to trying to figure out how to hit MLB pitching, he was also learning how to handle an MLB staff from behind the plate. Then there’s the playing time issue, as his development had to take a backseat in the final months with the Mariners in the postseason race. And perhaps biggest of all is the fact that Raleigh is a switch hitter, meaning he has two swings to manage and wasn’t getting all that much opportunity in live game situations.

Look at it this way: Raleigh’s 148 total MLB plate appearances in 2021 is already a small sample size. Now consider that 114 of those were as a lefty hitter against right-handed pitchers, leaving him just 34 PAs versus southpaws. I can only imagine how frustrating that must have been for him, trying to wrap his head around how big league pitchers were approaching him and then every so often having to go to a side of home plate that he was swinging from less than 23% of the time.

I would expect Raleigh to take a little more time than the usual success story to get up and running at the MLB level, but the fact that he has the background as a consistent hitter and extra-base threat throughout the minors – not to mention a great rapport with Gilbert and other big-name pitchers coming up in Seattle’s system – has me optimistic he’ll be a big contributor sooner rather than later in Seattle.

More Mariners breakout candidates

Shannon Drayer: Why Jarred Kelenic could turn the corner in Year 2
Bob Stelton: Logan Gilbert showed he’s built for big moments
Brandon Gustafson: Andrés Muñoz could be next lights-out M’s reliever

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