I started this new series yesterday and you can bookmark this page to follow along going forward. I’ll put that link in every intro for sure, but I could also list every team that has been covered so far in every intro if you’d like. Please let me know in the comments.
Today we head out to the Pacific Northwest to discuss the Mariners. They are a bit stuck right now with a roster that isn’t really set up to tear down nor is it good enough to truly compete. Their farm system is on the rise, but their best prospects are years away. Of course, GM Jerry Dipoto loves to trade and could flip this entire roster by Christmas. We’ll see how it goes.
Is Dee Gordon done as a 50-SB threat?
A bruised wrist and strained quad limited Gordon to just 117 games and resulted in his third sub-.700s OPS and underwhelming SB output season in the last four. We can excuse his 30 in 2016 as he played just 79 games and then he led baseball with 60 in 2017 but then just 30 and 22 the last two seasons. Those two seasons don’t even pace that well (31 per 600 PA) when you consider barren numbers that come with the steals (.271 AVG, 4 HR, 41 RBI, and 58 R per 600 PA).
Gordon’s 6.6 speed score was easily a career-worst and his StatCast sprint speed has dipped each of the last three years. He also has a .305 OBP or worse in three of the last four years, including a combined .295 the last two years. Teammate Mallex Smith swiped an MLB-best 46 bases with a .300 OBP so it’s possible to rack up a giant total with a terrible OBP, but Smith is also five years younger and faster. As Gordon enters his age-32 season, it’s hard to project him for more than 30 SB and part of me wonders how much Seattle wants two OBP drains who only offer speed in the lineup on a daily basis.
Can Yusei Kikuchi reach another level in year 2 as an MLBer?
Kikuchi flashed here and there during his MLB debut, particularly with a 3.43 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in his first 11 starts, but homers became a major issue over the remainder of the season as he posted a 6.66 ERA in his final 21 starts thanks to a 2.5 HR/9. The 29-year old southpaw has decent velo at 92.5 mph, but proved far too hittable as he couldn’t miss bats with it or his two breaking balls. One of the benefits of players coming over from Japan is that they’re usually developed so if they hit the ground running as a rookie, it’s more believable.
Of course, this can work the other way, too, so if they struggle out of the gate you kinda have to believe in it. I’m willing to believe Kikuchi can shave down that 19% HR/FB and keep more balls in the yard, but I don’t see where even an average swing-and-miss ability is going to come from, thus I can’t really see a clear path to fantasy relevance. Best case would be trimming the homers and a sharp defense behind him offering a better than average BABIP that brings his hit rate down substantially, too.
Will J.P. Crawford deliver on his Top 10 prospect pedigree?
Crawford has always been one of those tricky prospects who charts high on ranking lists and lures in fantasy managers who forgot to investigate why he was charting so well. Defense drove his strong outlook and even made him a top 10 prospect at one point. In that same season (2017), he didn’t receive higher than a 40 in any of his present hitting tools and only a 55 future hit topped 45. With 396 PA in 2019, he has pushed his MLB total to 621 which essentially gives him a full season.
In that time, he’s posted a .222/.320/.367 (in line with his 2019 marks) with 10 HR and 8 SB. His best skill as a major leaguer has been a 12% BB rate, but we’ve seen little else in his three samples. He did flash some excellence in June (.983 OPS), but struggled quite a bit after that with just a .572 OPS from July 1st on in 254 PA. Even acknowledging that defense drove his high rankings, he still needs to improve the bat to fulfill his prospect promise. His lack of power paired with the depth of shortstop makes him easy to pass over in fantasy leagues.
I’m taking the easy way out here because the candidates are sparse on this club. Haniger was limited to just 63 games and had just a 106 wRC+ so it won’t take much to improve, though he could be doing it elsewhere (more on that later). A gut-wrenching ruptured testicle ended his season in June after a breakout 2018 (137 wRC+, 26 HR, 93 RBI, 90 R, 8 SB) and the skills were completely believable. In fact, his 2017 season hinted at the breakout with a 129 wRC+ in 96 games. At age-29, I’m not seeing a ton of growth in his profile, but a return to the level he was at in 2017-18 feels plausible with maybe a bit of rust pullback baked in (say, a 125 wRC+ level).
Murphy paired with Omar Narváez to deliver the best catching wRC+ (121) in baseball this year and only three teams topped their 5.0 WAR (MIL 6.4, PHI 5.8, and MIN 5.2). Murphy did his best work against lefties with an incredible .347/.408/.695 line and 11 of his 18 HR. It’s hard to see a repeat of his 18 HR and impossible to see a repeat of his .429 BABIP against lefties that drove his huge line. There have been 25 instances of at least 15 HR in 300 or fewer PA over the last 10 years and no one did it more than once. Murphy won’t be the first to do so and I don’t see his playing time rising substantially in 2020 unless something happens to Narváez.
A MOVE TO MAKE
Haniger’s trade value certainly isn’t at a peak coming off an injury-shortened season, but Trader Jerry will move anyone at any time. The White Sox were dead last in outfield wRC+ at 82 and as such they’ve been linked to key OF free agents, plus they are expected to add Luis Robert to their outfield relatively early into 2020. Robert alone won’t flip the OF so a trade could be the answer if the free agents prove too costly and/or unwilling to sign. An Eloy Jimenez-Haniger-Robert outfield starts to look pretty solid when all three are clicking.
The Mariners would get an intriguing but raw arm in Lopez. They seem uninterested in a full scale rebuild so someone like Lopez who has shown glimpses of what could be keeps them more in that retooling arena instead of tearing it all down. Lopez looked he had laid a foundation to build on back in 2018, but then allowed an MLB-high 110 earned runs as he was regularly punished by the longball (1.7 HR/9). While he’s never had the same pedigree of current teammate Lucas Giolito, it’s worth noting that Giolito also “led” the league in earned runs the year before his breakout. Giolito had to generate his own changes so Lopez either needs to follow that path or get into a new org if he’s going to realize his potential.
Basabe is six years younger than Haniger and on the cusp after a season in Double-A. His season was delayed by hamate surgery and then a quad injury cost him a spell in the summer resulting in just 74 games played. He has a dynamic set of skills with some punch and speed, but he will need to either push his power another level or two to tolerate the swing and miss (29% K) or curb those strikeouts in hopes for more base hits or else his bat could be a major issue.
PLAYING TIME BATTLE(S)
I hinted at Gordon’s deficiencies earlier and that could open the door for one of Lopes or Long to home in on his playing time. Both get on base at a much better clip while Long brings some actual pop to the table. Lopes matches Gordon’s speed, isn’t allergic to walks, and he’s six years younger.
Long is definitely a bit slower, but still has a speed component in his game. He, too, has shown the capacity to take some walks, his power dwarfs that of the other two, and he’s eight years younger than Gordon. From a fantasy standpoint, I’d prefer to see Long emerge here as he could be a .270/20 HR/10 SB bat will full playing time. The theoretical trade of Haniger could also help Long, who spent 123 of his 341 innings in the outfield.
PROSPECT CONTRIBUTORS FOR 2020
Hitter: Kyle Lewis | Outfielder
Lewis made a huge splash in a late-September call up, blasting six homers in just 75 PA. He needed a 40% HR/FB rate to do so and also struck out at a comical 39% clip in that time. The 24-year old prospect has dealt with several injuries in his pro career so it was nice to see him skip Triple-A and make some noise immediately.
There is work to be done given that swing-and-miss, but if we can’t take his power and assume it’s who he is after 75 PA, the same goes for that ugly strikeout rate. His minor league work suggests he’s going to hold a mid-to-high 20s% strikeout rate, though, which will challenge his batting average. While his MiLB slugging percentages were underwhelming, his 60-grade raw power has always suggested there’s more in the tank. I’d tab him for a .245 AVG and 25-30 HR (depending on whether he breaks camp and gets a full season of playing time).
Pitcher: Justin Dunn
Dunn also skipped Triple-A to debut in late-September but didn’t standout like Lewis. He had four opening starts with his debut lasting just 2/3rds of an inning thanks to five walks and then three 2-inning starts where he put up six scoreless innings with 2 hits, 5 strikeouts, and 4 walks. Part of the Robinson Cano trade, Dunn had a great season repeating Double-A, but it would’ve been nice to see how he handled the rabbit ball in Triple-A.
He flashed an interesting four-pitch mix in the small sample with a decent fastball, strong slider, and developing curveball and changeup. His 30% BB rate from measly 6.7 MLB innings isn’t indicative of the control we’ve seen from him as a pro and is largely influenced by those five walks in his debut. The slider is his strikeout pitch and has a chance to give him a strikeout-per-inning rate in the majors. While I do think he will start the season in Triple-A, he should get a chance to be up for 4-5 months depending how he starts the season. I’d project him for a 4.25 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 23-25% K rate.
UP NEXT: Houston Astros