One of the Mariners’ top prospects has been properly welcomed to Major League Baseball.
The immediate successes of Juan Soto, Bo Bichette, and others have likely spoiled some baseball fans, or at least set their expectations higher than the sky for their favorite team’s prospects. But the enormous amount of pressure set upon these young players to perform at the highest level right out of the gate is downright unrealistic, and I hope this is not the case with Mariners fans and Jake Fraley.
I hope that Mariners fans are smart enough to recognize everything that goes into the development of a Major League player, even those that dominate the minor leagues like Fraley has done for the past two years. But I also realize that with sports and fandoms, overreaction comes with the territory.
Still, it’s been five games.
Don’t get me wrong, Fraley has looked overpowered from the jump. In 20 plate appearances, he’s struck out seven times. He looked absolutely lost against Aroldis Chapman in the ninth inning of last night’s 5-4 loss to the Yankees, but so do a lot of other, more experienced hitters.
The game hasn’t slowed down for Fraley yet. He looks blown away by the velocity and deceived by everything else, which shows through in his 23.8 chase percentage and 28.6 whiff rate. The confidence has yet to click for him, as he’s taken 60% of first pitches he’s seen—some very hittable balls that could be capitalized on with a bit more aggressiveness earlier on in his at-bats.
It’s not like this is Fraley’s first taste of struggle, though. Things didn’t come to him quickly at Triple-A Tacoma either, and he didn’t truly figure things out until the final few weeks of his term there. He’s had to adjust and learn through his failures before and this is no different.
The MLB is a different animal than the leagues Fraley has torched this year and last. With more technology and scouting at the fingertips of Major League pitchers, Fraley’s weaknesses will be exploited and it’s his job to adjust. Right now, pitchers are hammering away down and out of the zone against him, and he’s giving into it, setting himself up to be punished with high heat to put him away.
One glaring hole in Fraley’s game even in the minor leagues has been a >20% strikeout rate and lack of walks, so there is some cause for concern about this being a long-term issue for him. But I think it’s also a matter of him being more decisive at the plate and picking and choosing his spots, which he appears to be confused about right now.
There’s a lot of timidness in Fraley’s plate approach at the moment, as is the case with most prospects—highly regarded or otherwise—in their first big league action. Some may say that he doesn’t look ready, but how many prospects truly are? MLB promotions are often a baptism by fire, and this is no different in the case of Fraley. He’s adjusted well to every league he’s played in and the Mariners will be patient with him, which should give fans hope for better results in the near future.