MAURA DOOLEY

Biggest Mariners Questions in ’22: Who are the biggest wild card bats?

Mar 10, 2022, 10:33 AM | Updated: 10:34 am
Mariners Kyle Lewis...
Kyle Lewis of the Mariners hits a two-run home run against the Oakland Athletics in 2021. (Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
(Lachlan Cunningham/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 SeattleSports.com as we continue our series of articles looking at important topics for the Mariners. In the coming days, we will be focusing on the lineup.

In this post, Maura Dooley of The Mike Salk Show looks at the top candidates to replace Kyle Seager’s RBI production. Look for more posts about big questions about the Mariners’ lineup throughout this week.

As we wait  for the seemingly endless back and forth between MLB and the MLBPA to come to a resolution, it’s hard not to imagine what 2022 could look like for the Mariners.

Biggest Mariners Questions in ’22: Who can replace Kyle Seager’s RBI production?

Last season ended with so much excitement packed into T-Mobile Park that Mitch Haniger was moved to pen a heartfelt thank you to the fans for their support in a Player’s Tribune article. Haniger also added that he hopes the front office understands “that it’s time to really go all-in.”

We only got a brief glimpse at what the Mariners have in store this offseason before the lockout started, but signing Robbie Ray and Adam Frazier was an encouraging start and with reports that they are in the mix for names like Trevor Story and Kris Bryant, it seems that Haniger’s “all-in” hopes could come true.

But what about some of the names that are already on the roster? Who are the wild cards that could contribute to the lineup for the 2022 season? Kyle Lewis, Evan White and Julio Rodriguez all fall into that category for different reasons.

OF Kyle Lewis

The uncertainty surrounding Lewis stems from his unfortunate injury history.

After being drafted 11th overall in the 2016 MLB Draft by the Mariners, Lewis was assigned to the Everett AquaSox. He suffered a torn ACL and meniscus in his right knee a little over a month into that season. A year later, he returned to action with the Modesto Nuts but crashed into the center field wall and dealt with more issues in his surgically-repaired knee that limited him to just 49 games. The start of his 2018 season was then delayed for a cleanup surgery, which seemed to finally get Lewis fully healthy.

He got the September call up in 2019 and had one of the more memorable Mariners debuts we’ve witnessed, hitting six home runs in his first 10 games. In 2020, he was unanimously voted AL Rookie of the Year after posting a .262/.364/.437 slash line with 11 home runs in 58 games.

Lewis appeared to be on the verge of breaking out after battling so much adversity but injury struck again in 2021. He suffered another deep bone bruise in spring training that held him out most of April. The setback saw him get off to a slow start but he managed to slash .246/.333/.392 with five home runs in 36 games before being shut down again in June. An MRI revealed a torn right meniscus and that coupled with a setback during his rehab kept him out the rest of the season.

Now, the Mariners find themselves in a tough position. They want to give Kyle Lewis a chance to show he can get back to form but can’t rely on it.

“We have to go into this season planning on whatever Kyle is able to deliver as a bonus,” Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto said in his postseason press conference. “He’s had a really rough go here with his knees and through no fault of his own missed a good part of this season. He’ll be a huge part of what we do but we can’t push very hard on the pencil until we see him play. Right now we’re not in a position to make a call like that but when Kyle Lewis is healthy, we’re a better team on the field. We’ll make sure that there’s an opportunity to get the most out of what he has to give.”

It sounds as if the team will proceed with caution, potentially utilizing Lewis at DH and in a rotational role in the outfield to ease him back in. Even if he is not an everyday player, Lewis has shown enough potential as a hitter to be a valuable contributor to the lineup if he can stay healthy.

1B Evan White

White is an extremely talented defensive player but is a wild card because of injuries and struggles at the plate.

Whtie was the 17th overall pick by the M’s in the 2017 MLB Draft. The Mariners believed in him enough that they made White the first Double-A prospect to receive a long-term extension when they signed him to a six-year deal worth $24 million in late-2019.

In 2020, White showed why the M’s felt so strongly about him when he won a Gold Glove for his spectacular season at first base. However, offense was a bit more of a struggle for the rookie. In 54 games, he posted a .176/.252/.346 slash line.

Things only got tougher at the plate in 2021. White battled a quad issue that saw him miss much of April and was forced out of the lineup by the end of May with a hip injury that cost him the rest of the season. The brief time that he was in the lineup did not go well, either. White slashed just .144/.202/.237, with two home runs in 30 games.

If White can rebound offensively in his return from injury, the Mariners will find a way to work him into the lineup. Ty France’s versatility gives them the option to move him around and put White back at first if necessary in the future, but Ty France has won the job for the moment.

“We’re going to have to see what it looks like when he’s fully rehabbed and ready to play,” Dipoto said of White. “Ty France did a wonderful job and I thought from beginning to end it was hard to really find a flaw in his season. He played spectacular defense, which frankly we couldn’t have bet on. I’d never seen much of him at first base and I thought he was the best first basemen in our league from a defensive standpoint and from tip to tip he was about as consistent a hitter as we had in our lineup. He’s going to be in our lineup. Where Evan White falls is going to have to be determined when we get a better gauge on where he is with his health is.”

OF Julio Rodríguez

Rodríguez is a wild card because it’s unlikely he will make the M’s opening day roster but we should see him called up fairly early in the season and he will have an immense amount of hype to live up to. He is currently Baseball America’s No. 2 overall prospect. JJ Cooper of Baseball America joined The Jake and Stacy Show in November to discuss Julio’s ranking.

“Man, I’m excited about Julio Rodríguez,” Cooper said. “He is a prospect that is very easy to love. I remember doing a piece on him at the end of the year this year that just kind of pointed out the history of players that batted roughly .330 in the minor leagues in the last decade, it’s really hard to find anyone on that list that doesn’t have a good…. often great big-league career. Julio Rodríguez has done that.”

In 46 games with Double-A Arkansas last season, Julio was able to slash .362/.461/.546 with seven home runs. His power is incredibly impressive but only striking out in 18 percent of his plate appearances makes it all that much more of a feat.

It remains to be seen whether Julio can avoid the struggles that many prospects face when being called up but the Mariners have no doubt where he is headed.

“The power is there, the arm strength is there, and the confidence is there,” Dipoto said. “He has a great personality to be the front man so to speak. He’s not afraid of the camera, he’s not afraid of the adulation. He shows growing leadership traits. He’s still so young, there’s a lot in front of him but he’s a big dude with big strengths and we feel like he has the chance to be a star in this league.”

Big Mariners Questions in ’22: How high is Ty France’s ceiling?

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Biggest Mariners Questions in ’22: Who are the biggest wild card bats?