Ranked: 5 Seattle Mariners who need to step up

May 17, 2024, 9:45 PM | Updated: May 18, 2024, 1:51 pm

Seattle Mariners players J.P. Crawford and Julio Rodríguez...

Julio Rodríguez and J.P. Crawford of the Seattle Mariners during a 2024 game. (Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

(Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

The Seattle Mariners are in first place in the American League West, but it still feels like the team hasn’t reached its full potential.

Rost on Seattle Mariners: What we’ve learned a quarter through the season

Seattle’s pitching staff has been among the best in baseball. That was expected by many, especially those in the Pacific Northwest. The offense has had its highs, but it’s also had plenty of low moments throughout the year.

The Mariners start a 10-game road trip Friday where they’ll see two of the best teams in the American League. It starts with three games against the Baltimore Orioles followed by four at the New York Yankees. That means Seattle will need to put together complete performances to add to its run of winning eight of its nine past series.

For the Mariners to reach their full potential, some players need to step up. Mike Salk broke down who those Mariners are Friday during Ranked on Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk.

Ty France

Ty France quickly became a fan favorite after arriving from the San Diego Padres via trade during the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign. France hit immediately with the Mariners, batting .302 in his brief 23-game stint in 2020 and posting a .291 average and .813 OPS while being named in All-Star in 2021. But the 29 year old has largely struggled since injuries slowed him down in 2022. After a disappointing 2023, France trained with Driveline Baseball to retool his swing in hopes of finding the same sort of improvement as teammate J.P. Crawford. It hasn’t been a scorching start to 2024 for France, but he’s starting to show signs of his offseason work paying dividends. He homered twice in this week’s three-game set against a strong Kansas City Royals pitching staff.

“You’re starting to see it at times, some breakout potential, but they banked on him at first base,” Salk said. “They really need him to be that or else that’s a spot that you just gotta find a replacement.”

Mitch Garver

The Mariners signed Mitch Garver to a two-year, $24 million contract this offseason, which made him the most expensive free agent bat president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto has ever signed. That deal came after Garver was one of the heroes of the Texas Rangers’ championship run. The designated hitter got off to perhaps the slowest start of many slow starters, and his batting average dipped to as low as .138 on May 3. Garver seems to be finding his swing in May, though. He’s raised his batting average to .174 and his OPS nearly 100 points to .634 this month.

“He’s been well below what the expectation was, well below what he was last year in Texas where he was one of their playoff heroes,” Salk said. “They need Mitch Garver to provide some of that insurance for Julio, some of that protection in the lineup and just be a veteran bat. You know what I want to see from him? Just RBIs, just driving in runs. I don’t care how you get there. I don’t need to see the home runs, just drive in runs, be a run producer, and if he can do that in the middle of the lineup, that will go a long way.”

Jorge Polanco

Polanco was supposed to be the answer to Seattle’s revolving door of second baseman when they sent four players to Minnesota Twins to get him this offseason, but he’s been nowhere near what the Mariners have expected. Polanco is hitting just .192 with a .606 OPS, which are both well below his career averages of .266 and .772. Perhaps most alarming has been Polanco’s skyrocketing strikeout rate. He’s fanning at a 31.5% clip this season, which is nearly 13% above his career average. The increased strikeouts are becoming a real trend for Polanco, who set career highs in strikeout rate in each of the past two seasons.

“That’s who they spent assets on in the offseason, more in terms of the prospects that they gave up, but his salary essentially replaced what they had given up in in Eugenio Suarez,” Salk said. “They were hoping because he’s a little younger, etcetera, you’d get an upgrade. You haven’t had that yet. You need that upgrade from Polanco getting on base, being productive, being a pest, giving a great at bat and, quite frankly, not striking out as much as he has.”

J.P. Crawford

J.P. Crawford is a leader in the Seattle clubhouse and broke out as one of the top offensive shortstops in 2023, setting career highs with a .380 on-base percentage, 19 homers, 65 RBIs and an .818 OPS. Crawford’s 2024 hasn’t been the same story. He was hitting just .198 with four-extra base hits in 98 plate appearances before a right oblique strain sidelined him in late April. Crawford seemed to be destined to return to the team for Friday’s series opener with Baltimore, but he was hit on the hand by a pitch in his presumed final rehab appearance with the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers. Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times reported Crawford did not travel with the team to Baltimore.

“Come back and be J.P. Crawford here heading into the next part of the season, because you do eventually want him hitting first or second in this lineup,” Salk said. “You do want his late-game heroics. You do want his clutch gene. You want everything that JP can bring to this lineup to be back and helping to make everything go at the top.”

Julio Rodríguez

Last August was a prime example of just how scorching-hot center fielder Julio Rodríguez can be at the plate and how he alone can essentially carry the Mariners’ offense. Rodríguez put up an absurd .429/.474/.724 slash line last August, which helped Seattle surge right back into the playoff race. Rodríguez hasn’t had near the impact the Mariners had hoped earlier this season, especially when it comes to his power production. He’s last among all Mariners with at least 100 plate appearances with just two home runs and seven extra-base hits.

“It’s Julio, man. They just need Julio to be Julio, and it’s getting there,” Salk said. “The at bats are improving, the contact is getting better. (We’re) still waiting for the pop, still waiting for the big moments where he drives in big runs. He’s perfectly capable of doing it. He had the one this year, with his first walkoff. Get Julio hot, man, and just watch the rest of this team follow.”

Listen to the full Ranked segment at this link or in the audio player near the top of this story. Tune in to Brock and Salk weekdays from 6-10 a.m. or find the podcast on the Seattle Sports app.

More on the Seattle Mariners

• First-place Mariners face powerful Orioles: Three things to know
• Mariners the ‘team to beat’ in AL West? Why that’s now the case
• Video: Bob’s Breakdown – What’s changed most since start of season?
• Is expected return of Mariners’ J.P. Crawford now in doubt?
• Drayer: Rojas helping Julio an example of Seattle Mariners’ offense evolving

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