Mitch Haniger is invested in Mariners’ rebuild, and his sights are set on an eventual World Series

Mar 1, 2019, 10:56 PM
Despite being a 2018 All-Star, Mitch Haniger said his last season was "definitely not great." (AP)...
Despite being a 2018 All-Star, Mitch Haniger said his last season was "definitely not great." (AP)

Mariners All-Star outfielder Mitch Haniger knows how focused he looks when he’s on a baseball field, but don’t mistake that for him not having fun. In fact, that really is his true idea of joy.

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“I’m pretty serious, so you guys might not think or fans might not think I’m having fun. But trust me, when I’m out there, the most fun I can have every day is just come to work and play a game for a living,” Haniger told 710 ESPN Seattle’s Brock and Salk. “I’ve just found that when I’m very serious and focused and I try not to get sidetracked with a lot of the other stuff is when I play the best, and I think I bring that side out of my teammates, as well.”

Haniger joined Brock and Salk for an interview at Mariners spring training on Friday, not all that long before he hit his second home run of Cactus League play. And coming off an offseason where he was one of just a handful of players to remain with Seattle through an extensive overhaul that kicked off Seattle’s rebuilding effort, the 28 year old’s comments proved that he is 100 percent on board with the Mariners’ plan for the future.

“I wasn’t too worried when everything was going down,” he said about Seattle’s trade-heavy offseason. “I was pretty confident that I was going to still be here. (I’ve) been happy here the last two two years and I’m looking forward to being here for a long time. Everything went well in the offseason, I thought we got a lot of really good players in return and I think we’re going to be in a really good spot heading into the future. It’s going to be fun here building a winning culture and a World Series team.”

That wasn’t the only time the goal of a World Series came up in the interview. In fact, Haniger brought it up four times, and it didn’t come off like he was saying it just to say it.

“Everything’s all about having fun, but for me I’m having fun when I’m winning, so I want to win. That’s why I prepare the way I do and I focus on everything I do, because I want to win ball games. I want to help my team win ball games, and holding up the World Series trophy is going to make me the happiest,” Haniger said.

And when asked about whether making the American League All-Star team last season for the first time was meaningful, the topic of the fall classic emerged again.

“Yeah, it’s definitely meaningful,” Haniger said. “I really don’t think about it that much. To be honest with you, in years past when I was growing up I never thought I’d be a Major League All-Star. Never in a million years. I’d say my first year here in Seattle, after I got hurt the first time and I was off to a really good start, that was a goal I set – I want to be a big league All-Star. But my main goal in my career is to win a World Series, and then after I win the first one (I want) to win more.”

Here are some other highlights from the conversation with Haniger, which you can listen to in the player embedded in this post or download a podcast of at this link.

Haniger’s not satisfied with his breakout 2018 season

Most baseball players never even sniff the kind of season Haniger put together in 2018. In his first full season in the big leagues not to be interrupted by major injuries, he posted a slash line of .285/.366/.493 with 26 home runs, 93 RBIs, 90 runs scored, 38 doubles and four triples over 157 games. In addition to making the All-Star team, he finished 11th in the American League MVP race.

True to form, Haniger looks back at last season and sees room for improvement.

“I thought it was pretty good, definitely not great,” Haniger said. “I think I can get better in a lot of areas – little bit with defense, little bit offensive side. Just stay more consistent. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about myself the past couple years and I’m continuing to learn about myself so I know that’s only going to help me for the future.”

Dark horse candidates

Prior to the 2018 season, Haniger identified Mariners pitcher Marco Gonzales as a dark horse candidate to have a strong season. It was a pretty good choice, as Gonzales had a breakout season that included a 13-start stretch where he went 9-2 with a 2.44 ERA.

So who are Haniger’s dark horse choices for 2019? He’s going with Dee Gordon, Kyle Seager and Jay Bruce, a trio of former All-Stars who struggled last season but have been impressive this spring.

On Bruce, Haniger noted that the 31-year-old slugger acquired from the Mets in the Robinson Canó-Edwin Díaz blockbuster is “a really good player.” As for Gordon and Seager, who were both hampered by foot injures last year but have been big stories this spring, Haniger expects them to bounce back in a big way.

“I think last year last year was a fluke. I think people don’t realize when you have kind of nagging injuries how that really does affect your performance, and when your body can’t do the things you want it to do and you have limitations because of pain or because of literally your body’s sending signals for you to ‘No, don’t do that, it hurts,’ it’s tough to maximize your potential and play as well as you think you should play. So I just think when they’re healthy you’re going to get a much bigger year out of those two guys.”

The new kids

Haniger is stepping into more of a leadership role with the Mariners, something that seemed apparent when he was asked about which of Seattle’s prospects in camp have caught his eye.

“It’s been really impressive to see some of these young guys and the talent they have,” Haniger said. “I’ve seen Justin Dunn on the mound, he looks really good. I knew Kyle Lewis before this year but he’s been really good. Braden Bishop’s been very good. Shed Long, just met him beginning of camp, he’s been very impressive. I really like his swing, I like how he plays the game and the swagger he has. Jake Fraley. I mean, there’s a ton of guys, there’s a lot of really good young talent here.

“What I told some of the younger guys is just focus on what you can do to get better for the next day and just focus on building small each day. Don’t worry about making the big leagues this year, don’t worry about getting called up. Just focus on what you can do to make yourself a better player today, and before you know it you’ll be up here with us.”

M’s RHP prospect Justin Dunn convincing Scott Servais he’s a starter

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Mitch Haniger is invested in Mariners’ rebuild, and his sights are set on an eventual World Series