Seattle Mariners: Prospects impressing early on
By Ty Gonzalez
The Mariners will be taking 28 players to Japan in a couple weeks, leaving those who just missed the cut and their vast array of prospects to handle the final stretch of Cactus League games on the docket.
But these players – especially the prospects – haven’t waited around for that moment to make an impression. Some could even argue that, aside from Mitch Haniger, the best players in Mariners’ camp thus far have been the players that won’t break camp with the team.
Shed Long was the first to turn heads this Spring, and currently has a .250 average with a home run and four RBIs. Jake Fraley has also been dominant at the plate, showing off strong gap-to-gap power and blazing speed on the base paths.
Both players were acquired via trade during the offseason, but have flown relatively under the radar due to the high volume of transactions made by the Mariners over the last four or so months. But Long and Fraley are showing strong progression in their games, which bodes well for their projections of cracking the MLB roster at some point in 2019.
Evan White has shown off his Gold Glove-caliber defense at first base, and continues his offensive turnaround with a .364 batting average early on. Dom Thompson-Williams has been another prospect to flash leather early on, but hasn’t been able to do much at the plate yet.
Perhaps the best story out of come thus far has been Kyle Lewis, whom is currently tied for the Cactus League lead for home runs with three. Injuries have plagued Lewis’ young career thus far, and his stock within the Mariners’ farm system has taken a dive.
In his first official Spring Training, Lewis has looked fantastic both offensively and defensively. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come for his season, which is expected to start in Double-A Arkansas. But this kind of production on a consistent basis will put him in T-Mobile Park before the year is out.
Lewis was a key piece in an incredible eighth inning versus the Chicago White Sox on February 28. After Julio Rodriguez singled in his first plate appearance in the United States, Lewis blasted a two-run homer to left-center field. Then, Braden Bishop stepped in the box and launched one in the same direction, setting Mariners Twitter ablaze over a Spring Training game.
The few pitching prospects the Mariners have are all impressing early on. Justus Sheffield has been magnificent, striking out six in his four innings of work thus far. Sheffield has shown off a brutal changeup that may be developing into a new plus-pitch for him, which is great news for those that are hopeful he exceeds the consensus projection of #3 starter for him.
Yusei Kikuchi has been about as expected in his adjustment to the MLB, allowing four runs (two unearned) on three hits in five innings. He’s displayed a propensity for missing bats, striking out four batters thus far (including Joey Votto), but the real challenge will be in how he reacts to longer outings. We’ll likely find out fairly soon, as Kikuchi could start the second and final game of the Mariners’ series with the A’s in Tokyo.
Justin Dunn has also been impressive in a limited amount of action, pitching three innings of relief with two strikeouts. Dunn may have a future as a reliever, but the Mariners will give him every shot to be a starter this season. So far, he’s shown he has the stuff to make it, but I’d love to see him get an opportunity to throw three or four innings in a row before the end of Spring.
In a similar boat is Erik Swanson, whom the Mariners acquired alongside Sheffield in the James Paxton deal. Swanson has had some hiccups in his first two outings of the Spring, but has shown the ability to work out of trouble. Relieving is likely in his near future, though the Mariners are expected to initially utilize him as a back-of-the-rotation starter.
Once the Mariners finalize their 28-man roster for Tokyo, all of the aforementioned players will get a much greater opportunity to shine. Unfortunately, it’s just a three game stretch before the Mariners return from their trip overseas for their final two exhibition matchups with the Padres at T-Mobile Park.
Still, it’s an exciting time for Mariners fans, as they get a glimpse into the future and see how successful these players can be at the highest level. The Mariners haven’t been able to generate this kind of excitement in regards to their farm system in quite some time, and it’s really indicative of the great work Jerry Dipoto has done to quickly turn things around. Better times appear to be ahead for the city of Seattle.