Drayer: Jake Fraley’s strong impression with Mariners goes deeper than a spring hot streak
PEORIA, Ariz. – If there was anything to be learned from Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto’s trade with the Diamondbacks in November 2016, it was to not sleep on the other guy. Jean Segura was the big league headliner that came back Seattle’s way in that deal, but we know now that trade was really about Mitch Haniger.
So when Dipoto made his first trade of the Mariners’ seismic 2018 offseason, sending Mike Zunino and Guillermo Herdeia to the Tampa Rays, it prompted some to wonder if he was perhaps following the same blueprint as that swap with Arizona.
This time Mallex Smith was the headliner coming back the Mariners way, acquired to man center field. The other player acquired from the Rays, 23-year-old outfielder Jake Fraley, was perhaps under the radar – and make no mistake, nowhere near as far along as Haniger at the time of his trade – but nonetheless interesting.
What Fraley has done this spring is impressive – .438/.526/.474 (yes, that’s a 1.000 OPS) with two home runs, a double, a triple, six RBIs and three walks in nine Cactus League games – but the Mariners are happy with their new outfield prospect for more than just a hot streak in exhibition play.
“He’s had a really good spring. We really liked what we saw early on and it has played out that way in games,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said of Fraley. “He’s got power, he can play all over in the outfield, he’s got speed. He still has got development time ahead of him, but it’s been very, very different.”
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Transformation at the plate
It certainly has been different from what Servais saw of Fraley when he scouted him at LSU.
“He was a speed/slap hitter,” Servais said. “He’s not trying to slap the ball anywhere other than over the fence right now. He has a much different approach at the plate with the swing change he has made and he has gotten stronger.”
Sound familiar? Swing change guys have been a target of Dipoto in his acquisitions. Haniger made a swing change after two seasons in the minors and then took off. But unlike Haniger, Fraley made the decision in quick order that what got him drafted might not get him far at the next level.
“I played the first month and a half (in the minors) and struggled tremendously,” Fraley said. “I had had a lot of success in college, but this was completely different. What I did in college did not work in pro ball.”
Fraley was introduced to hitting coach Lorenzo Garmendia of Gradum Baseball in Miami, and Garmendia broke down Fraley’s swing from the ground up, giving him a better path to the baseball while getting his entire body more involved. Early in the zone with better plate coverage and added strength, Fraley has completely transformed at the plate. The path to installing that swing was not easy, though.
Fraley was assigned to Tampa’s High-A affiliate, the Charlotte Stone Crabs, to start the 2017 season. Just 26 games into what would have been his first full pro season, a game against Ft. Meyers turned into a plunk-fest. Fraley stepped to the plate expecting to be hit in the ribs but took a ball off of his knee cap instead. His season, and the chance to put his swing change into full effect, was over.
Once healthy, he headed to the Australian Baseball League to try to pick up some of his lost at-bats. It was in Perth where the swing changes took hold. In 40 games he hit .361/.449/.680 and slugged an eye-popping 13 home runs. He also stole 39 bases and picked up the league’s MVP award.
The winter in Australia set him up for a successful, although once again injury-shortened 2018 season (this time due to a toe). It was enough of a look to catch Dipoto’s eye, however, and Fraley now finds himself in his first big league camp, where he has the look of a mature player. It is clear he is not intimidated being the most inexperienced player in camp (he has fewer minor league plate appearances than even Kyle Lewis, who was slowed by a knee injury, surgery and recovery over his first three pro seasons).
Fraley credits three years at LSU with preparing him for the big league clubhouse.
“When you go to a big time college like that, it allowed me to understand, kind of have a feel for what goes on in a clubhouse,” he said. “Fighting for a spot, competing. Every guy is in here is because they were the best at where they were. When you get to pro ball it flips around and you start fighting your way back to the top again.”
Capitalizing on an opportunity
Fraley is making the most of his time and resources in big league camp, and Servais has noticed.
“I like how he is wired,” said Servais. “I like the questions he asks. He’s very into the game.”
One coach Fraley has taken to in particular is Mariners legend Alvin Davis, a roving minor league instructor with the franchise. Improving his already strong game on the bases is a priority of Fraley’s, and his approach to learning is all-encompassing.
“To me I feel like I lack sometimes, but the good thing is, I’m young,” Fraley said with a laugh. “I have a lot of time to learn and a lot of great people around me. You’d be stupid to not pick a guy’s brain like that. I love seeing and hearing from other people’s point of views, especially when you are talking about baseball. It is so hard in itself, with every aspect of the game I want to be able to get a feel for different angles of what other people are seeing. With Alvin Davis, the mental game, hitting, base stealing, I am picking his brain on everything I can whenever I can be around him.”
Fraley’s time in Major League camp most likely is limited, but he is prepared for whatever the next step in his baseball journey may be. His mental outlook in the game is rooted in faith, which has helped him keep potential pressure in perspective.
“Understanding what truly matters, and that is sharing the love of Jesus where I go and being able to just kind of relax a little bit and enjoy it, because at the end of the day it is a game,” he said. “The guys that play the longest, and obviously there are a lot of key things of being able to do it consistently every day, but at the end of the day it is understanding that you are able to come here every day, it’s not a job. You are able to play a game for a living and just enjoy it every day, and when you do that you are going to put yourself in the best situation to be able to perform the best you can.”
In his first showing in a Mariners uniform, Fraley has done exactly that.