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Drayer: Mariners outfielder Jake Fraley could be the gem of Zunino trade

Mariners spring training is full of names and faces you may recognize, but they belong to players who for the most part have yet to have a chance to make an impression to fans. That’s where our new series comes in.

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Shannon Drayer, Mariners insider for 710 ESPN Seattle, is catching up with the highly touted prospects, recent acquisitions and more under-the-radar players throughout spring training in Peoria, Ariz., to provide insight into who the Mariners of 2020 and beyond are.

Next up: Jake Fraley, a 24-year-old outfielder who is Seattle’s No. 8 prospect according to MLB Pipeline.

Shortly after Jean Segura was acquired from the Diamondbacks in the fall of 2016, a buzz about another player who was in the trade broke out. Yes, the Mariners had acquired a shortstop who had led the National League in hits but the real prize in the deal according to some, was the little know Mitch Haniger.

Fast forward two years to when Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto made the first deal of what would be a seismic offseason for the Mariners, sending Mike Zunino, Guillermo Heredia and Michael Plasmeyer to the Rays for Mallex Smith and Jake Fraley. Once again, it was the major leaguer who appeared to be the headliner of the trade, but when you took a closer look at the minor leaguer, a young outfielder whose numbers took a jump after a swing change, you perhaps started to wonder if this was a similar deal. Was Fraley the gem?

Only time will tell, but the Jake Fraley that showed up in Peoria last spring and hit from the get go in Cactus League play appeared to be on his way to being that type of eye opening player. He put up strong numbers at Double-A, but minor injuries postponed his Major League call up. When he did eventually arrive, injury and personal tragedy – his family was very close to Rays minor leaguer Blake Bivens whose wife, infant child and mother-in-law were allegedly murdered by his brother-in-law – limited him to just 12 games.

The Fraley we saw in September looked little like what we saw that spring. The season had taken its toll both physically and mentally, but it was something he was determined to put behind him. The remedy, work and dedication to his routine stood out. Fraley told me this winter that he structures his offseason days like he would an in-season day. The routine, of course, is different, but everything is planned to the minute. He’s also attacked his diet working with a nutritionist starting with the Whole 30 plan and working his way to becoming a pescatarian.

The story of Fraley’s work sounds much like what we hear from players who have gotten to the point where they realize they have to make changes because they are moving into a different stage of their career. Perhaps they are turning 30 and they can’t do the things they used to. Fraley is not waiting for those signs, he’s just 24. If there are lessons to be learned, great. But if someone with experience can point him in the right direction, all the better.

“I know he’s got some very high goals set for himself,” said manager Scott Servais. “Jake is very, very serious. His preparation, I put him not quite in the Tom Murphy (most prepared) boat, but he’s swimming towards it. There’s no question how seriously he takes his game. The biggest thing for him and these guys who are so driven like that is to relax a little bit and smile once and awhile. It’s great when I see him running around with his kids and his wife is here.”

It is not all baseball with Jake Fraley. Far from it. He leads with family and faith and on the family side, he does things a little bit differently. If you have been in Peoria, either at a game or on the back fields of the complex, like the skipper, you’ve likely seen his two little ones running around. Fraley keeps his family close, explaining that he and his wife wanted their children to experience what he is doing in baseball, so they had them young and they go just about everywhere. If you need any tips on traveling with children, Jake Fraley is your man. It’s a lot to balance, but he’s doing it as Servais saw when he made an offseason visit to Fraley’s home to check in on him.

“Probably one of the funnest nights I had all off season was spending time with those two,” he said. “They’re young, they’ve got two young kids. They’re trying to figure it out and understand where they are.”

It was good to catch up with Jake and great to hear him talk a little bit more about his journey in the game, his family and about the behind the scenes with this young group that the front office is hoping will lead this franchise back to contention. How quick can that happen?

“As quick as we want it to happen.”

Let’s catch up with Jake Fraley.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Shannon Drayer on Twitter.

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