Today, we continue through the American League West teams in our 2020 Prospect Opportunities series, as we move onto the Mariners. Man, what an opportunity-laden team. Nearly every position is filled with a starter at risk of losing his job. Luckily, the majority of these expected starters do have some fantasy intrigue, so they shouldn’t actually be ignored.
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At Risk: Tom Murphy
Replacement: No one
Leave Coors Field and flourish? Tom Murphy finally got an extended opportunity and ran with the job. However, he strikes out a ton, walks infrequently, and posted a BABIP that he has little chance of coming close to again. With projected wOBA marks all below .300, that means he’s no lock to hold a starting job.
The Mariners completely lack any sort of catcher prospect, so given solid defense, it’s unlikely Murphy loses his job. He might give up more playing time to jack-of-all trades Austin Nola, but Nola’s ability to play multiple positions means he’s not going to outright take over the starting catcher job. Plus, given his weak minor league track record pre-2019, he’s at risk of collapsing offensively himself.
At Risk: Evan White
Replacement: Jose Marmolejos
I can’t understand why it’s presumed that Evan White would open the season as the team’s starting first baseman. He has recorded just 18 plate appearances at Triple-A, and that came in 2018. In 2019, he spent the entire season at Double-A. He doesn’t walk much and has middle power for a first baseman. His projected wOBA marks hover around .300. Why wouldn’t the team give him an extended chance at Triple-A first before promoting him?
Perhaps White figures to get the first shot because of the embarrassing lack of first base talent in the minors. The team’s Roster Resource page literally lists just one hitter above Single-A, and that’s Jose Marmolejos. Marmolejos is a bit old for a prospect, at age 27 now, but he swings and misses less often than White, and his power breakout in 2019 was to a higher level. Maybe he can’t match White’s fielding prowess, but offensively, he looks like the better near-term bet.
I like Shed Long Jr.’s power/speed mix for fantasy owners, but with wOBA projections hovering around and below .300, he’s no lock to contribute offensive value. That means he’s at major risk of losing his job. Of course, this assumes he beats out incumbent Dee Gordon, which we all assume he will. Gordon is worth considering if he wins the job, but he stinks offensively too, so how long he holds a starting job is anyone’s guess.
Tim Lopes figures to win a utility job on the bench after making a respectable debut last year. He could get a chance to start if the at risk guys flop, but Lopes would have to prove his 2019 Triple-A breakout was real. There, his HR/FB rate quintupled to reach double digits (though just barely) for the first time, while his ISO nearly doubled. Suddenly, he displayed decent power, and when combined with his stolen base prowess (he swiped 26 bags), you were left with a nice little power/speed combo. He doesn’t swing and miss often, leading to strikeout rates below 18% at every stop in his career. Of course, he could quickly revert back to his powerless pre-2019, but the upside is that was a new level of skill he established.
With Mitch Haniger’s timetable still up in the air, he seems out of the picture, giving an opportunity to Jake Fraley. Fraley is the team’s 15th best prospect in his own right and has performed well since 2018 in the minors. But with sub-.300 projected wOBA marks, there’s serious risk he fails. A former top prospect, Kyle Lewis shot to the Majors last year, completely skipping Triple-A, and hit six homers in just 71 at-bats, driven by a 40% HR/FB rate, and fueling a .324 ISO. That sounds exciting, but he also struck out 38.7% of the time, and walked just 4% of the time. That kind of plate discipline isn’t going to lead to long-term success. Without the benefit from an inflated BABIP, Mallex Smith’s offensive game collapsed. For a guy with no power, he relies on that BABIP, which makes him a risky bet.
Braden Bishop earned a cup of coffee last year, after enjoying a solid Triple-A campaign that included a power spike. His ISO nearly doubled to finish over .200, while his HR/FB rate actually did double from his 2018 mark at Double-A. He makes decent contact and doesn’t strike out too often. He’s got 70 grade speed, but hasn’t actually used it to steal many bases. Maybe he’ll be more adventurous in the Majors.
A .333 wOBA is acceptable, but not really so for a DH like Daniel Vogelbach. The Mariners can plug anyone into the spot if Vogelbach isn’t hitting, but we’ll use this opportunity to highlight another hitter who could steal at-bats.
At age 28, Patrick Wisdom isn’t a prospect, but has posted an ISO over .260 in two of his last three stops at Triple-A. That power has been partially driven by big fly ball rates, typically over 40%, which will boost his home run output. Unfortunately, it will also limit his BABIP, which is a major negative, as he strikes out a lot. A bad BABIP + lots of strikeouts means serious batting average downside risk. But he’s got the power, and over a small sample, I’d rather bet on power showing up than balls not dropping in.
Both Kendall Graveman and Taijuan Walker are returning from TJ surgery, so just based on that fact alone, makes them a risk. Returnees typically struggle with control early on, and not all of them fully regain their velocity immediately.
Justin Dunn is the team’s 10th ranked prospect and earned a cup of coffee with four starts last season. He hasn’t pitched at all at Triple-A, but posted a 28.6% strikeout rate at Double-A last year. Who is Nabil Crismatt? Unranked on the team’s top prospects list, Crismatt posted strikeout rates in the high 20% range between Double-A and Triple-A last year, supported by solid SwStk% marks. He has actually posted double digit SwStk% marks at every single minor league stop in his career. As he has bounced between the bullpen and rotation, I’m not sure what the Mariners see as his future role.
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.