Checking In: Progress of Mariners’ top prospects in spring training, part 2
A lot has changed in the six days since we last checked in on the Mariners’ prospects. Obviously baseball, like the rest of the country, has taken a backseat to the COVID-19 pandemic, and there’s no telling when MLB or any of the other major sports leagues will be back.
Before everything came to a standstill, we looked at what the Mariners’ top four prospects (as ranked by MLB.com) had done in 2020 Cactus League play and promised to do the same at a later date with the other prospects that are in Seattle’s top 10 and have seen time in major league spring training action. So that’s what we’re going to do.
At the end of the post, we’ll also identify a few other young standouts for the Mariners who either aren’t in the top 10 or no longer fit the definition of prospect.
No. 7 prospect: Justin Dunn, SP
Cactus League stats: Three appearances, 6.2 innings, 10 strikeouts, two earned runs, three walks, four hits, 2.70 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, .160 average against.
Notable highlight: Dunn struck out three over 1.2 innings against the Angels on March 4, including a punchout of Albert Pujols where he fooled the three-time MVP with a breaking ball that broke out of the zone.
A quick word: “He had a couple of mechanical adjustments to make,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said of Dunn before his first Cactus League start. “When I saw him in January I thought it looked a little bit better; it looks way better now. Just trying to be more consistent on-line, he’s kind of always fighting mechanically to get the ball to the glove side consistently. So far it’s looked pretty good this spring. I like where he’s at right now, the ball’s coming out really good, he’s got a lot of confidence, he’s carrying himself really well around here.”
2020 outlook: For a while during the offseason, the fifth spot in the Mariners’ initial five-man starting rotation appeared to be Dunn’s to lose. Then the M’s added Taijuan Walker as spring training began, which seemed to nudge the 24-year-old Dunn back to Triple-A, a level he skipped on his way to making four starts as a September call-up from Double-A in 2019. As Mariners insider Shannon Drayer put it, Dunn would have the chance to force the issue with his appearances in the spring, and you have to think what he did in his three Cactus League games were at least a step in the right direction. Considering command was an issue in his MLB outings last year, almost assuredly due to jitters in his first promotion to the big leagues, his 1.05 WHIP this spring is a welcome sight. The 10 strikeouts in just under seven innings are also quite impressive. It doesn’t look like the 2016 Mets first-round pick is planning to spend much of his 2020 season in the minors, and he’ll be the first man up should an opportunity arise in Seattle’s rotation.
No. 8 prospect: Cal Raleigh, C
Cactus League stats: Eight games, 16 plate appearances, .188 average, .625 OPS, one home run, one double, three RBIs, no walks, five strikeouts.
Notable highlight: This is why he’s the metaphorical lead singer of the Beef Boys group from the 2019 Double-A Arkansas Travelers team.
— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) February 27, 2020
A quick word: “If 2020 is his chance to play in the big leagues whether that is midseason or late season, we are going to let that happen because we think the development of our young core of players is the single most important thing we are doing,” Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said of Raleigh in December.
2020 outlook: Raleigh, a 23-year-old backstop who Seattle selected in the third round in 2018, is believed to be the Mariners’ catcher of the future. If that comes to fruition, he’ll have some time to settle into that role as the M’s have a pair of catchers in their prime years currently on their MLB roster in Tom Murphy (turns 29 next month) and Austin Nola (30). The switch-hitting Raleigh has the makeup of a baseball lifer, and his combination of skills behind the plate and power in the batter’s box could take him a long way. The Cactus League homer was a nice appetizer, but the rest of his spring numbers signal that he’ll need some extra seasoning in the minors before assuming his place on the MLB roster.
No. 9 prospect: Jake Fraley, OF
Cactus League stats: 10 games, 30 plate appearances, .231 average, .838 OPS, two home runs, two doubles, four RBIs, three walks, eight strikeouts, one stolen base.
Notable highlight: Dude pulled a 101-mph fastball for a home run.
A quick word: “I know he’s got some very high goals set for himself,” Servais said. “Jake is very, very serious. … 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.”
2020 outlook: Fraley will likely be in the starting outfield whenever the MLB season begins. The ongoing injury problems for Mitch Haniger have opened the door, and the 24 year old will get the chance to show if he can hit consistently against major league pitching. He was a star in 2019 Mariners spring training after coming to the team from the Rays in the trade that sent Mike Zunino to Tampa Bay, and his numbers have been strong this spring as well. There’s no question that Fraley is a great athlete who can cover ground in the outfield, has some pop in his bat (19 homers combined between Double-A and Triple-A in 2019) and can make things happen on the base paths (22 stolen bases in 2019). When the Mariners’ brass talk about giving “the kids” a chance to play in 2020 to get reps against MLB competition, Fraley is the exact kind of player they’re talking about.
No. 10 prospect: Kyle Lewis, OF
Cactus League stats: 11 games, 32 plate appearances, .172 average, .733 OPS, three home runs, seven RBIs, three walks, seven strikeouts.
Notable highlight: How does an oppo-taco grand salami sound? (Honestly a salami taco might be worth trying. I mean, taco pizza is available all over the place and personally I’m a big fan of a dish know as Mexican lasagna, so I have to believe a salami taco could be yet another success in Mexican-Italian fusion. There’s something for you adventurous cooks to try out while we’re all shut in at home.)
— Marineros de Seattle (@LosMarineros) March 7, 2020
A quick word: “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,” Dipoto said in January. “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.”
2020 outlook: The Mariners are going to take a good, long look at Lewis, who was Seattle’s initial first-round pick under Dipoto in 2016 and who will turn 25 around midseason. He took the big leagues by storm in 2019, becoming the second player in history to homer in each of his first three MLB games and finishing with six home runs in 18 games after joining the team as a September call-up. He had 75 plate appearances in his time with the M’s, which means every 12.5 times he stepped to the plate, the ball left the yard. He’s kept it up this spring as his three homers lead the team. But as the quote from Dipoto states and .172 average from spring training bears out, Lewis’ prodigious power does come with a drawback. He’ll get all the chances he needs to figure out how to put that power to use in MLB action this year, likely figuring in as Seattle’s regular left fielder.
The other standouts
• J.P. Crawford, shortstop: The key return in the Mariners’ trade that sent Jean Segura to Philadelphia prior to the 2019 season, Crawford had a few spurts of strong play in 93 games with Seattle last year. He had one of the shiniest web gems of the entire MLB season and at times looked like a prototypical No. 2 hitter. His glove and arm have continued to dazzle this spring, and the bat has been one of the best in camp for Seattle, as he is hitting .400 with a .989 OPS and five RBIs. And watching him run the bases for a triple, something he’s done twice in Cactus League play, is about as fun as it gets.
• Justus Sheffield, starting pitcher: Sheffield is still considered a prospect, ranking 13th on the Mariners’ list from MLB.com, but he’s appeared in each of the last two MLB seasons and comes into 2020 as one of Seattle’s expected starting pitchers. He’s been a big bright spot this spring, holding opponents to two runs scored while maintaining a 0.63 WHIP in eight innings over three appearances. He’s also struck out a staggering 12 batters and walked none, and he turned heads by suddenly switching to a two-seam fastball and ditching his four-seamer to great success.
• Tim Lopes, utility player: There’s been a lot of talk about the Mariners opting to use a utility player as their fourth outfielder after Braden Bishop was optioned to Triple-A, and Lopes seems like the top candidate if that ends up being the case. He is primarily a second baseman and only played the outfield once in eight seasons in the minors, but he was sent to the outfield 35 times and appeared at second only three times in his 41 games with the Mariners in 2019. The important thing, however, is that he has been hitting the cover off the ball this spring, almost assuredly playing himself into an opening day roster spot. He leads the team with a .440 average, 11 hits and five doubles in 11 games, and he’s driven in seven runs, scored five and even has a pair of stolen bases – and hasn’t been caught stealing, either.
More Mariners spring training coverage
• Drayer: M’s choosing to stick together despite season’s delay
• Top M’s pitching prospect Logan Gilbert shines again in 2nd spring start
• Who have been the Mariners’ most impressive young hitters this spring?