Key Mariners storylines to follow during the 2020 MLB season
The Mariners will soon be playing ballgames again, and though there’s just 60 games in this strange new season, there will be a lot to follow for Seattle’s team in 2020.
Last time, we took a look at five storylines with the team to keep a close eye on in 2020. Well, there’s other storylines this season as well. Here are five more.
6. Does Haniger play at all?
When Mitch Haniger was healthy for all of 2018, it was easy to see why the Mariners made sure to acquire him along with Jean Segura and Zac Curtis from the Diamondbacks.
In 157 games that year, Haniger hit .285 with 26 home runs, 93 RBI and also played above average defense in right field. He earned his first All Star Game nod as well.
While Dipoto was trading seemingly anyone of value ahead of 2019, the two guys he made sure to hold onto were Gonzales and Haniger. While Gonzales had a great season, Haniger hit just .220 with 15 home runs and 81 strikeouts in 63 games before undergoing season-ending surgery on a ruptured testicle he suffered from a foul ball.
With that behind him, it was going to be interesting to see how Haniger rebounded from his brief season. But Haniger needed two offseason surgeries – one on his back and one on his core – and the thought was he wouldn’t return until after the All Star break.
Well, baseball doesn’t start until the end of July, which is weeks after the All Star Game was scheduled, though general manager Jerry Dipoto recently told 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny and Gallant that the Mariners will enter the season without Haniger and will take it day by day with the former All Star.
That was echoed when the Mariners announced their 60-man roster for the next round of preseason practices and Haniger was placed on the injured list, though he will be eligible to return. But whether or not he does is in question and if he does return, will he look like his 2018 All Star self, or the 2019 version where his average went down and strikeouts went up?
7. What does a middle infield of Long and Crawford look like?
Even with veteran Dee Gordon still on the roster, the top Mariners brass said that they wanted Shed Long to get the majority of reps at second base in 2020. That would pair Long with J.P. Crawford, who was one of the top prospects in baseball while in the Philadelphia Phillies organization, in the middle of the Mariners’ infield.
Long, 24, and Crawford, 25, were both acquired last offseason ahead of the 2019 season. Crawford had spent time in the bigs in Philadelphia and came over in exchange for All Star shortstop Jean Segura and two relievers. He hit .226 with seven home runs and 46 RBI in 93 games with Seattle. Long was traded from the Reds to the Yankees, who promptly shipped him to Seattle. He started his career as a catcher before moving to third base and Seattle plans to stick him at second base. He made his MLB debut in 2019 and he hit .263 with five home runs in 42 games.
With Crawford, his defense has been good at shortstop, but it’s a matter of whether his bat will be good enough to keep him in the lineup throughout his career. Long has more pop and likely higher upside overall at the plate, but he’s yet to stick at a single position as a pro, though that’s largely because he’s extremely athletic and can play all over.
The 2020 season could show whether or not Long and Crawford have the ability both offensively and defensively to hold down the middle infield spots for years to come.
8. Which version of Vogey appears?
Designated hitter/first baseman Daniel Vogelbach was hot out of the gate in 2019, hitting .310 with eight home runs and 16 RBI in March and April. From that point on, he hit over .200 in just one other month the rest of the season, and that was in June when he hit .250.
Due to a number of factors such as Seattle’s lack of starpower last year, the trade of Edwin Encarnacion, there being more worthy starting pitchers than Marco Gonzales who was Seattle’s best player, and that MLB has every team represented at the All Star game, Vogelbach made the 2019 American League All Star team. His first half numbers were a .238 batting average, .375 on base percentage as well as 21 home runs and 51 RBI. After that, it was pretty rough.
In the second half of the year, Vogelbach hit .162 with nine home runs and 25 RBI. His pitch selection also saw a sharp decline. After walking 61 times and striking out 79 times in the first half, Vogelbach walked 31 times while striking out 70 times in the second half. That came with him playing just 53 second-half games compared to 76 in the first half.
Vogelbach’s size limits him to first base/DH, and having Evan White, who many prospect experts believe could be a perennial Gold Glove winner at first base, set to make the roster this season puts Vogelbach in a position where his bat is seemingly all he has.
If Vogelbach looks anything close to how he looked last March and April, that’s a good sign for the Mariners and Vogelbach for 2021. If not, his spot on the roster for 2021 may not be as set as you’d think for a former All Star.
9. Does Seager become a trade chip?
One of the few homegrown players of the last decade to pan out for the Mariners, third baseman Kyle Seager has been a model of consistency for Seattle since making his debut late in 2011.
From 2012 to 2018, Seager, 32, played in at least 154 games every season while playing solid defense, earning a Gold Glove and All Star Game nod, and providing some much-needed power and run production in the middle of the Mariners’ lineup.
But last spring, Seager suffered a wrist injury that caused him to appear in just 106 games – the fewest he’s played since 2011, when he was a late-season call up and played in only 53.
Seager wasn’t at his best initially, as he hit just under .220 between May and July. But a hot month of August showed why Seager is a former All Star. During that month, Seager hit .323 and hit nine home runs and drove in 25 runs. After that scorching month, however, he hit just .202 with five home runs and 13 RBI in September.
Seager is under contract through 2021, but if the Mariners can find a trade partner, the club option for 2022 becomes a player option for $15 million, which Seager would almost certainly take. With the Mariners rebuilding, perhaps Seager can perform well enough to warrant a trade to a contending team during the Aug. 31 trade deadline (yes, Aug. 31). If so, Dipoto would almost certainly love to offload as much of Seager’s remaining contract as he can, though the extra year likely being added to Seager’s contract should mean finding a trade partner should still be difficult.
10. What does the bullpen look like?
The Mariners had a lot of moving parts in their bullpen last season and while other positions and groups seem set, it’s not abundantly clear who will be pitching out of the ‘pen in 2020.
Free-agent signings Carl Edwards Jr. and Yoshihisa Hirano figure to be locks, but then it’s less clear. Other members of Seattle’s 40-man roster who should see some time this year are Rule-5 pick Yohan Ramirez, Dan Altavilla, Erik Swanson, Matt Magill, Austin Adams (reports are he’s fully recovered from an ACL tear), Taylor Guillbeau, Gerson Bautista, Brandon Brenan and Nestor Cortes.
Along with those players, some prospects who could make the team at some point are Art Warren, Aaron Fletcher, Joey Gerber, Sam Delaplane, Wyatt Mills, and many more who were non-roster invitees to spring training. You can see that full list here.
While many of the mentioned names aren’t big names or top prospects, last year’s bullpen was a revolving door in some ways and with a lot of younger players seemingly on the cusp of a big-league debut, perhaps the future of Seattle’s bullpen is on display in 2020. An issue that could arise is how many bullpen prospects the team puts on their taxi squad as other top prospects who are position players or starting pitchers could take priority.