Last off-season, the Seattle Mariners decide it was time to rebuild. Their first deal in that direction was the Mike Zunino, Guillermo Heredia, and Michael Plassmeyer for Mallex Smith and Jake Fraley trade.
Naturally, most Mariners fans focused on Zunino, Heredia, and Mallex. After all, these three players all had significant MLB experience. Zunino and Smith were the biggest names and the deal was so interesting, it could still be argued that Dipoto hadn’t decided to rebuild.
Little attention was paid to the “throw in” of the deal, 24-year-old outfielder Jake Fraley. In fact, as the story goes, the Mariners interest in Fraley didn’t start until an intern brought him up in an off-season meeting.
It wasn’t hard to see why Fraley might be overlooked. He struggled in 2016 and 2017, battled through injuries, and was given a 4th outfielder label. Fraley was a great athlete but didn’t show much power and prior to 2018, gave no reason to be excited about him.
In 2018, things changed, but Fraley once again missed time, and despite a sharp increase in his slugging percentage, he still hit just 4 home runs. Since coming into the Mariners organization, all Fraley has done is hit.
In AA Arkansas, Fraley was slashing .313/.386/.539 with 11 home runs and 15 doubles in half a season before being promoted to AAA Tacoma on Thursday. So what can we learn from Fraley? Two very important lessons.
First, the Mariners are a lot better at player development now then they have been in a long time. Fraley had tweaked his swing last season to add more pop to his game. This season, the Mariners (and more importantly Fraley) made another tweak and Fraley’s power grade has gone from a 35 to a 50 on the 20-80 scale.
Second and more importantly; players change their profile every year. We as a community obsess over the prospect ranks and many people take them as the gospel. But the simple truth is players drastically change their ceiling every year.
Look no further than Fraley, who went from interesting bench option to a legitimate starting outfield prospect with an outside chance to go 20/20 with great defense in CF.
So what can we take away from this? Just a simple reminder that players acquired in trades, especially during rebuilding years, are rarely finished products. Just because a player isn’t where you want him to be today, doesn’t mean he will never be.
Fraley is just the latest example of this trend for the Mariners. Austin Adams, Connor Sadzeck, Brandon Brennan, Ljay Newsome, and Evan White are just a handful of other players who have greatly changed their profile since entering the Mariners organization.
Jake Fraley is one of many players to change their profiles over the past year and he won’t be the last. So next time you reach for the old ” the Mariners can’t develop players” chestnut, remember that Jack Zduriencik isn’t around and there are numerous examples to prove it.