Fann: Breaking down Mariners position players, projecting opening day roster

Feb 24, 2023, 12:31 PM
Mariners Cal Raleigh Julio Rodríguez...
Cal Raleigh celebrates with Julio Rodríguez after the Mariners take the lead over Toronto on Oct. 8, 2022. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Happy first day of spring baseball, everyone! With the Mariners beginning their exhibition slate on Friday, now is as good a time as any to discuss the team’s projected opening day starters and which position players will be fighting to claim one of the 13 roster spots.

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Below you’ll find a position-by-position breakdown of Seattle’s roster as well as a look at those who are on the bubble.

Catcher: Cal Raleigh

Raleigh’s turnaround in 2022 was astonishing. He went from being a complete liability at the plate to turning in a 4.2 fWAR season, largely due to his 27 homers and 121 wRC+. Raleigh was so impressive that expecting another big jump in 2023 would likely be too greedy. Status quo and another 4-plus fWAR season would cement him as one of the game’s top catchers.

The big thing for Raleigh is to get him to opening day healthy. Seattle is likely to take things slow with their prized backstop given he finished last season with a painful thumb injury.

First Base: Ty France

France has indicated that his wrist injury plagued his swing down the stretch of last season. I’ve seen enough from France to trust that he’ll bounce back to his first-half form that made him an All-Star in 2022. Keeping France healthy will be paramount.

Second Base: Kolten Wong

Wong managed to be a 2.5-win player in 2022 despite having the worst season of his career defensively. His glove should bounce back given he’s a two-time gold glove winner, and now he’s got Perry Hill in his corner.

Seattle will need his bat to stay hot though if he’s going to be a marked upgrade over Adam Frazier. Wong posted a 117 wRC+ and 15 home runs in 2022. Frazier managed just three long balls and a meager wRC+ of just 81. As one of only two notable offseason additions to the lineup, there’s pressure on Wong to deliver.

Shortstop: J.P. Crawford

Both of Seattle’s middle infielders are coming off dreadful seasons defensively. Crawford should bounce back just like Wong given he was such a wizard defensively in 2020 and 2021. His bat is likely to hover around league average, and while I’d prefer to have more firepower offensively up the middle, Crawford has enough leadership intangibles to make up for some of his shortcomings at the plate.

Third Base: Eugenio Suárez

Suárez is probably Seattle’s biggest regression candidate following his stellar 31-homer, 4.1 fWAR campaign in 2022. But if you’re looking for a glass-half-full approach you could argue that he’s merely regained form following two subpar seasons in 2020 and 2021 in which he posted a combined fWAR of just 1.0.

Prior to that, Suárez posted fWAR seasons of 3.9, 4.3 and 4.2 from 2017-19, respectively. He was as pleasant a surprise as any Mariners position player that I can remember. Suárez was a throw-in salary dump in the Jesse Winker trade last spring and ended up being a catalyst for Seattle’s run into the postseason.

Suárez remaining a potent middle-of-the-order bat will be paramount once again in 2023.

Left Field: Jarred Kelenic

The wild card of all wild cards. Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci thinks Kelenic is “prime for a turnaround” in 2023. I can’t get myself to look through those rose-colored glasses. I don’t have any expectations for Kelenic given his track record the last two seasons, but I do agree with Verducci in that Seattle’s embattled outfielder has the skill set to realistically change the power structure in the American League West.

I’m of the thought that it’s Kelenic’s eyes and brain that have hindered him more than his swing. He always seems to be going 12 rounds with himself mentally while simultaneously being unable to recognize and locate big league breaking balls. However, if his new swing makes him quicker to the baseball it’s likely that he’ll be able to catch up to more hittable fastballs that he has previously swung through or fouled off.

I really hope this is the year for Kelenic. There’s no doubt he’s put in the work to find big league success, and he’ll have every opportunity to do so.

Center Field: Julio Rodríguez

We don’t need to spend much time here. Rodríguez is expected to be a top AL MVP candidate, and there’s no reason why he can’t win it this season. Last year’s back issues were a bit troubling, and it makes me nervous that he’ll be playing in the World Baseball Classic.

However, it will be awfully fun to watch Rodríguez continue his ascension on a global stage knowing that he’s already signed a mega-extension to keep him in Seattle for at least the next decade.

Right Field: Teoscar Hernández

Hernández should be an upgrade over Mitch Haniger, and staying healthy for a full season would be a huge bonus in that regard. However, if Haniger plays an injury-free season for the Giants, it wouldn’t surprise me if he ended up with the better numbers in 2023.

Designated Hitter: Tom Murphy

I may be misreading the tea leaves here, but I get the feeling that the team internally believes in Murphy’s bat and that belief played a role in Seattle opting not to sign a more traditional DH this offseason. Murphy posted an otherworldly wRC+ of 168 in just 14 games last season.

This spot will be a sum of the parts with France, Hernández, A.J. Pollock, Raleigh and potentially others chipping in.

On the Bench: Dylan Moore, Sam Haggerty, A.J. Pollock

Moore (core) being hurt could open up an opening day roster spot for somebody else. Haggerty’s speed, defensive versatility and sneaky pop against lefties make him too valuable to leave off the roster. Pollock is the team’s top insurance in left field should Kelenic falter again. His starts will likely come against lefties as extra protection for Kelenic, who has struggled against left-handers the last two seasons.

On the Bubble: Evan White, Tommy La Stella, Cooper Hummel

My gut tells me that La Stella’s roster spot is safe, but I put him down here because if White or Hummel are to force themselves onto the Opening Day roster, it would be at La Stella’s expense. Hummel probably has as a better shot than White, who will almost assuredly start in Triple-A in order to get him maximum at-bats.

Gonna Take a Miracle: Cade Marlowe, Kole Calhoun

A miracle, or several injuries, that is. Taylor Trammell also won’t have the opportunity to break camp with the big league club due to his broken hamate bone.

More Mariners roster talk from Joe:

• Fann: A look at Mariners’ rotation that should be top 5 in MLB
• Fann: Mariners’ top spring training competition resides in bullpen

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