Entering Spring Training, the Mariners were slated to roll out Mallex Smith in center field and Kyle Lewis in left, but there was little clarity regarding right field following a series of injuries that have left Mitch Haniger without a timetable to return to game action. Jake Fraley, Braden Bishop, Jose Siri and veteran non-roster invitees Carlos Gonzalez and Collin Cowgill were among the team’s options to step into the void created by Haniger’s absence.
Fast forward a few weeks, and the team’s situation has trended toward a resolution. Siri was just claimed off waivers by the Giants earlier this afternoon, the Mariners also announced that Bishop was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma. Both struggled in Major League camp with the Mariners — Siri going 2-for-12 with a homer but seven strikeouts and Bishop going 1-for-11 with a pair of walks and five punchouts. (As Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times tweets, Bishop has struggled to return to form after having his spleen removed early last summer.)
At this point, Fraley appears to be the favorite to open the year in right field. MLB.com’s Daniel Kramer spoke with Seattle skipper Scott Servais about the 24-year-old, whom the organization acquired alongside Smith in the trade that sent catcher Mike Zunino to the Rays. “I like where Jake is at,” Servais said of Fraley. “There’s still room for growth. … But he comes to work every day. He’s about as serious as anybody in that clubhouse. He knows what he wants to get done every day.”
Fraley got his feet wet in the big leagues last season, although he went just 6-for-40 in his first MLB cup of coffee. That small sample shouldn’t overshadow a huge year between Double-A and Triple-A, however, as Fraley’s combined .298/.365/.545 slash is eye-catching (particularly considering the pitcher-friendly nature of the Double-A Texas League). Fraley appeared in 99 games in the minor leagues (427 plate appearances), but he still racked up 19 home runs, 27 doubles, five triples and 22 stolen bases. Thus far in Spring Training, he’s 6-for-26 with a pair of homers, a pair of doubles and a steal. He’s punched out in eight of his 29 plate appearances but also drawn three walks.
Gonzalez and Cowgill remain in the mix, but it seems unlikely that either would secure a starting job. The Mariners have every reason to get a look at Fraley in a regular role against big league pitching, considering they control him through at least the 2025 season. Gonzalez could be a bench bat and potential fallback option in the event that Fraley struggles early, but the Mariners appear intent on trotting out a young lineup and evaluating their controllable candidates. With uber-prospects Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez looming behind the current crop of outfielders, this is the best time to get a look at Fraley and other currently MLB-ready options.
It’s also possible — and perhaps likely — that neither CarGo nor Cowill breaks camp with the club. Divish tweets that the Mariners could carry both Tim Lopes and Dylan Moore on the Opening Day roster, using one as a fourth outfielder in that scenario. That’d keep with the team’s evaluation-focused modus operandi in 2020, although it’s worth noting that Moore exited today’s Cactus League game after being hit on the wrist by a fastball. Initial x-rays were negative, but his status is one to keep an eye on at the moment.