Mariners Preview: Lydia Cruz breaks down every player in projected lineup

Feb 25, 2020, 11:08 PM | Updated: Feb 26, 2020, 8:32 am

Mariners OF Jake Fraley, 3B Kyle Seager...

A lot has changed around third baseman Kyle Seager in the Mariners' lineup. (Getty)


The Mariners have started Cactus League play, and have started to roll out lineups that look like what they may roll out on a regular basis starting with opening day.

Dipoto: 2020 Mariners are much different than 2019 ‘transition team’

Lydia Cruz of 710 ESPN Seattle’s The Blitz checks in to break down the players most likely to occupy the nine spots in the Mariners’ lineup coming out of spring training.

Shed Long Jr., 2B

Last year: Shed started the 2019 season in Triple-A before making his MLB debut with the Mariners in May. He played in 19 games with the club before the All-Star break, filling in for an injured Dee Gordon. Despite dealing with sporadic Tacoma to Seattle shuttles and missing time with injuries of his own (shoulder, fractured finger), Shed flashed in September. In his final 20 games, Shed slashed an impressive .299/.349/.545 while racking up 23 hits, 10 RBIs and four home runs.

This year: Mariners manager Scott Servais told 710 ESPN Seattle this offseason that when it comes to Shed, he hopes to get him “most of his reps” playing second base after he appeared at second, third and left field in 2019. “I think down the road that’s probably where he settles in,” Servais said, “but he does give us some flexibility. He can go over to third, he did an OK job in the outfield. But it’s his bat and his offensive potential that really excites us there.” General manager Jerry Dipoto praised Long’s defensive versatility this offseason, but he also emphasized that Long earned the opportunity for positional continuity. “We want to see Shed play second base … We don’t think we are doing him a great service by not finding out if he can handle one position defensively.” If Shed can couple the offensive promise he demonstrated last September with solid middle infield defense, the 24 year old can solidify his place as the M’s second baseman of the future.

You Should Know: Shedric Bernard Long Jr. doesn’t drink water. He’s not a water drinker. It’s not for him. Enough said. But just for fun, here’s him hitting an inside the park grand slam in Tacoma last June.

Evan White, 1B

Last year: Evan slugged his way out of High-A Modesto in 2018 and capped off the year with an invite to the Arizona Fall League. He made the jump to Double-A Arkansas in 2019, and although he missed a few games due to injury, White’s numbers didn’t regress with increased competition. His slash line last year with the Travelers was .293/.350/.488. White posted his second consecutive season with 100 or more hits despite playing 28 fewer games than 2018.

This year: The Mariners signed him to a six-year, $24 million dollar deal this offseason (with three club options), effectively avoiding White’s arbitration years and covering his first three years of free agency. With no everyday first baseman on their roster, the M’s have zero incentive to leave White toiling in the minor leagues unless development necessitates it. The potential Gold Glove defense is there.

His ability to draw walks, create consistent hard contact, and make adjustments at the plate (like lowering his hands in his set-up to generate more leverage in 2018) is evident. If White makes the jump to the bigs this season, the 23 year old with only four Triple-A games under his belt just needs to keep it simple. Stay healthy, focus on the process, and learn to weather the inevitable bouts of inconsistency.

You Should Know: Evan McKee White is a unicorn in the realm of baseball – the rare gem of a player who throws left and bats right. I searched Baseball Reference’s Play Index to find out how many left arms/right bats have made at least 200 plate appearances in a single season since 1871. The answer? A meager 35 big leaguers. Only 20 did it for three or more seasons, and just 13 players made a five-plus year career of it, the most famous being Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson. We can probably rule out White stealing 100 bases in a season like Henderson, but if he continues to make smart decisions at the plate and highlight-reel grabs at first base, he could share Silver Slugger or Gold Glove honors with Rickey someday. Another fun fact about Evan: He loves The Bachelor. Teammate and good friend Justin Dunn admitted to Danny & Gallant on Tuesday morning that Mariners prospects gather for watch parties and White is by far the most invested.

Kyle Seager, 3B

Last year: Seags hurt his hand in spring training last season, an injury that ultimately required surgery and sidelined him for several weeks to start the year. He still hit 23 homers, posted a 110 wRC+ and recorded the second-highest slugging total of his career (.468) despite playing in less than 150 games for the first time since 2011. Kyle also hit better against lefties than righties, cause why not? 2019 gonna 2019.

This year: The longest-tenured Mariner is now entering his 10th MLB season with the club that drafted him back in the third round of 2009. Seags is in the twilight days of his seven-year, $100 million contract, which keeps him in Seattle through next season with a team option in 2022. He’s aware of where the organization is at in its rebuild process and knows his time in Seattle could be limited.

You Should Know: After a decade of watching him play the hot corner, there’s probably not much you don’t know about Kyle Duerr Seager. Instead please enjoy this quote from his son that proves he’s the absolute cutest.

Kyle Lewis, RF

Last year: The 2019 season was a memorable one for the former Mariners first-round draft pick. Lewis made his MLB debut on Sept. 1 and proceeded to launch a moon shot in each of his first three games, becoming only the second player in history to do so. Not a bad way to announce your entrance at a professional party. GOOD EVENING RESPECTED PEERS (AND ASTROS). KYLE ALEXANDER LEWIS, IT ME. Lewis went on to hit two more long balls and five doubles over 18 games with the M’s.

This year: Lewis was on the Hot Stove League recently on 710 ESPN Seattle and talked about his mentality going into spring training. “I think naturally you have a little bit more expectation,” Lewis explained. “I feel like at this point, I expect to make the team and contribute to the team at a high level.” The Mariners might be in the midst of a rebuild but Lewis sees that as an opportunity. “You know with this organization and the state of it right now, the state of the roster, I feel like there’s opportunity there. And for me, if that door is open, I’m gonna try to bust through and take hold of it.” The visual of Lewis breaking things – bats, perhaps – seems appropriate. His power is undeniable. Expect the extra bases to continue. But as Dipoto explained this offseason, strikeouts are the price you pay for such a rare type of power. It’s the simple cost of doing business. THE SEE YA LATER BALL BUSINESS. “Kyle will hit home runs,” Dipoto explained at the Mariners’ pre-spring training press conference last month. “He has power. He controls the strike zone in a different way than people look at. Kyle makes very good decisions on what to swing at. There are empty swings, he’s gonna come up empty, and that’s part of the trade-off for getting the kind of power he has – particularly his power to the opposite field. When you hit the ball as far Kyle Lewis hits it to right-center field, you have to allow the ball to travel deeper in the zone. As a result, you are gonna run a higher strikeout rate more often than not.”

You Should Know: The Double-A Arkansas fraternity is real. Kyle Lewis and Evan White became close friends while playing together in high-A Modesto, but when they made the jump to the Travelers, the wolf pack grew. Enter Justin Dunn, Jake Fraley and Donovan Walton. When White got married in December, “Tiger-Lew,” as Dunn refers to him, was in the wedding. Also, here’s me sketching a K Lew baseball card because … shameless plug.

Daniel Vogelbach, DH

Last year: Vogey started out on a tear, much like the Mariners as a team. He hit .310/.462/.732 in March and April 2019 combined but then struggled to replicate that production throughout the summer, especially in August and September when his slash line dropped to .143/.283/.278 and he struck out 51 times in 133 plate appearances. His struggles against left-handed pitchers continued. But Danny Dingers also launched 30 bombs, drove in 76 RBIs and drew 92 walks. He was a 2019 MLB All-Star. He had a wRC+ of 126 against right-handed pitchers, and according to Baseball Reference, in late and close games he had an OPS of 1.051.

This year: If White makes the jump to the show and assumes the role of everyday first baseman, Vogey will likely appear in the lineup strictly in a designated hitter/pinch hitter capacity. The 27 year old needs to find consistency this season. His power, work ethic and presence in the locker room are beyond reproach, but youthful depth continues to press for plate opportunities behind him. Vogey has proven his patience and discernment at the plate. According to his GM, “he doesn’t throw at-bats away” and embodies the team’s control the zone mentality. If he can continue to work deep counts, make adjustments against lefties, and trust his own abilities, Vogey can take a step forward.

You Should Know: Our lovable adult son was involved in one of the most epic moments in red carpet history last year at the Midsummer Classic. CROWDS ARE CONFUSING OK. Sometimes you need your good friend Matt Chapman to help you out with orientation. Oh, and Vogey had a sandwich named after him at T-Mobile Park. WHAT A LIVING LEGEND.

Tom Murphy, C

Last year: Murphy split time with Omar Narváez behind the dish in 2019, playing in 75 games compared to Omar’s 132. But even with 201 fewer plate appearances than his teammate, Murph still knocked in 18 home runs and ended the season with an OPS of .858. Tom played in more games with the Mariners in one year than he did in four seasons with Colorado from 2015 to 2018, and thus, last year was somewhat of a self-proclaimed “rookie season.” Don’t go labeling T-Murph as just a catcher, though. Last season he also played an inning in the outfield and on three separate occasions pitched.

This year: As a 28 year old looking around the clubhouse at an increasingly youthful team, Murphy is approaching 2020 in true, selfless catcher-type fashion. In a recent interview with 710 ESPN Seattle’s Tom, Jake and Stacy he spoke about the responsibility he feels as a leader. “In a way, my career went from being a rookie to a veteran in almost a year,” he said. “I’m trying to grasp that as best I can, especially at the catching position with all of our young pitchers coming up. I realize that that’s probably the biggest importance of me on the team, is being a leader for those younger pitchers to where we can establish them in a quicker amount of time so that this rebuild doesn’t take two or three years, it takes one year, and we can add pieces along the way that hopefully make us better.”

You Should Know: In the interest of your continued good health, avoid challenging Thomas James Murphy Jr. to a strength contest. Steer clear of all weightlifting competitions, arm wrestling endeavors, or combats involving raw athleticism. I MEAN IT. His teammates nicknamed him Captain America for a reason. Marco Gonzales told 710 ESPN Seattle’s Bob, Dave and Moore that in the event of a mound charging incident, “I’m just gonna try to hold out long enough until Tom Murphy gets there.” Respect.

J.P. Crawford, SS

Last year: In 2017, Crawford played three different infield positions for Philadelphia. In 43 games the next season, Crawford appeared at both short and third. When the Mariners traded for the former first-round pick in December 2018 in a deal that sent Jean Segura to the East Coast, Crawford received his first chance at positional continuity. The Mariners acquired their shortstop for the future. At just 24 years old in 2019, Crawford hit some predictable road bumps in development. He broke out at the plate in the first half, entering July hitting .310/.380/.500. But Crawford played in 50 more MLB games than he had in a single season previously and that ultimately took a physical toll. J.P. slashed .184/.277/.291 in August and September.

This year: J.P. added some weight to his slender, 6-foot-2 frame this offseason – about 10-12 pounds – in hopes of increasing stamina and avoiding a second-half slump. He also bought a house in Arizona to continue training there throughout the winter and made a few adjustments to his batting stance. We saw the defensive work he logged at short pay dividends last season. In particular, this play comes to mind.

Back in January, Dipoto told us, “The jump you saw last year from J.P. – first, what he did defensively, was awesome. The biggest question I think anyone had with J.P. was how he would transition defensively. Prior to us acquiring him, his metrics as a defensive shortstop did not stand out in the big leagues. The commitment that he made, the work he put in with (Mariners infield coach) Perry Hill was phenomenal.” With his range, you can expect more Top 10 plays this season. As evidenced Tuesday, he’s already off to a good start.

You Should Know: John Paul Crawford loves dogs and this automatically makes him cool. I don’t make the rules.

Mallex Smith, CF

Last year: Mallex dealt with a demotion to Triple-A in late April after struggling both at the plate and in the field. At the time, he worked with M’s hitting coach Tim Laker to improve his approach. He consulted with Ichiro and Mike Cameron for help offensively and defensively. After returning to the Mariners in mid-May, Mallex hit .242/.311/.667 the rest of the season, swiped 38 bags (to end the season the MLB leader with 46 steals), and improved his fielding along the way. “The defense has improved because he works every single day,” Mariners insider Shannon Drayer said on 710 ESPN Seattle in August of last season. “I’m not sure I have seen a player in my time covering this team do more extra work than Mallex Smith does.”

This year: Mitch Haniger’s injury struggles have been heartbreaking for fans to watch. Mitch tore an abductor muscle while rehabbing from a ruptured testicle, then herniated a disc in his back. These injuries went undiagnosed for several months until finally he underwent core surgery in January. Then a few weeks later, he had a procedure for his back. The timetable for his return is still indefinite and his absence leaves a glaring want ad in the lineup. MUST LOVE: DIVING CATCHES, RUNNING INTO WALLS, OCCASIONALLY TIPPING INTO THE STANDS FOR SNAGS. After the news of Haniger’s injury broke, Dipoto told media: “The one certainty on our major league club in the outfield is that Mallex will play. And beyond that, it’s a wide-open field.” Mallex started his spring training off with a literal bang – putting his defensive work into play.

You Should Know: Like many of his teammates, Mallex Lydell Smith was a multi-sport athlete growing up. The former high school football defensive back liked to bring the pain on defense. “I liked to hit. I liked to hit and cover,” he told 710 ESPN Seattle in 2018. After a move from cornerback to safety his junior year, he even got the opportunity to call plays. “I played about 8 yards off the ball. I wasn’t really worried about nobody beating me, beating me deep. But I did like to come up and hit. That definitely scared my baseball teams, but it was fun for me.”

Jake Fraley, LF

Last year: Fraley logged a few frequent flier miles in 2019. He played 61 games with Double-A Arkansas, 38 with Triple-A Tacoma, and made his MLB debut in late August. He had an OPS of .925 with the Travelers and .886 with the Rainiers, before getting a small (41 plate appearances) taste of competition in the majors. Fraley’s range in the outfield was on display from day one, against the team that drafted him, no less.

This year: In the same press conference where Dipoto addressed Haniger’s indefinite absence, he acknowledged the opportunity now available to Fraley. “This probably creates more of an opportunity for Jake Fraley to make the opening day club in a regular role, rather than moving around in more of a time share so to speak,” Dipoto explained.

You Should Know: Jake Arnold Fraley’s kids are ridiculously adorable.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Lydia Cruz on Twitter.

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