With less than a month left in the 2019 season, we look at what Jerry Dipoto and the Mariners will do at first base and DH for 2020.
The Mariners decided to start this season with Jay Bruce and Edwin Encarnacion as the primary players at first base and designated hitter. The main reason Dipoto was looking at trading both Bruce and Encarnacion before the trading deadline was because of their high salaries, and not being part of the plan for rebuilding.
In May the Mariners were able to trade Bruce to the Philadelphia Phillies so Daniel Vogelbach began having opportunities to start more often. In mid-June Encarnacion was traded to the New York Yankees. This gave Vogelbach a chance to start almost every game either at first base or designated hitter.
At the time when Encarnacion was traded, Vogelbach had 17 home runs in a part-time role. Vogelbach had 21 home runs at the all-star break along with hitting .240. Since the break, he has hit only eight home runs while his batting average has dived to .218.
The Mariners, and fans alike, wanted to know how Vogelbach would do against lefties being in the lineup every day. Thus far, he hasn’t done well at all against lefties. His average is .172 against lefties compared to .236 against righties.
Not great against righties either. However, 24 of his 29 home runs have been against righties. The Mariners have to decide whether Vogelbach can play primarily against righties next year along with spending time at first base and designated hitter.
The Mariners have Domingo Santana, who began the season in left field then was moved to right field in May. He wasn’t great but felt more comfortable. There is a good chance the Mariners will try to trade Santana during the off-season. The Mariners will have to see whether an American League team would be interested in acquiring Santana. The Mariners would look at getting a high prospect in return.
With the bat, Santana was having a good season batting .273 with 21 home runs when he hurt his right elbow. The Mariners decided to insert him at designated hitter so his bat would still be in the lineup.
However, in 32 at-bats Santana had only two hits for an average of .063 so they decided to place him on the injured list on August 20. We don’t know for sure when or if he will return in September; however, manager Scott Servais is optimistic he will.
If the Mariners decide to keep Santana will it mean they will trade Vogelbach instead? The Mariners could convert Santana into a first baseman where he could play some of the time well as at designated hitter. The Mariners will probably have three outfielders ahead of Santana so he may only play out there on occasion.
General manager Jerry Dipoto could trade Vogelbach instead or as well. This would depend on what other teams may see his value at. I expect they won’t get as much for Vogelbach as for Santana. Vogelbach is popular with his teammates well as the fans but Dipoto will have to look not only for 2020 at 2021 too.
Those who watched the first game of the Texas League playoffs on Wednesday, September 5 between Arkansas (the Mariners double-A team) and Tulsa saw how 2017 Mariners’ first-round pick Evan White played at first base. The Mariners haven’t had a first baseman play defense like that since John Olerud. He covers a lot of area between first and second base which helps out the second baseman especially when the team is in a shift.
White could start 2020 in Seattle or at triple-A Tacoma. He already works defensively well as a major league first baseman but is he ready to hit as well? This season he played all year at Arkansas where he hit .293 with 18 home runs. His power increased from having 11 home runs at single-A Modesto the year before.
The Mariners are not asking White to be a big home run hitter but it could happen. When Kyle Seager came up to the Mariners he was a second baseman who they moved over to third. Seager became a home run hitter when he realized it was important to do so at the position.
Although White won’t hit 30 home runs in a season, he could hit 20 home runs or more. With his athleticism, he could hit any spot in the lineup between two and five. During his rookie season whether in 2020 or 2021 he probably bat lower in the batting order before feeling comfortable at the plate.
If White doesn’t make the team coming out of spring training 2020 and either Domingo Santana or Vogelbach or both are gone, Austin Nola will play a lot at first base. His versatility will give him some time at second base, and catcher. Nola has been one of the surprise players since he came up in mid-June when the Mariners traded Edwin Encarnacion.
Nola is not your typical major league player when it comes to a team in rebuilding mode. When arriving in June, he hadn’t played a game in the major leagues after seven and a half years in the minor leagues at the age of 29. He is hitting .277 with nine home runs and has recently been hitting 3rd in the batting order. I don’t expect him to stay there; however, it is impressive in his rookie season.
I didn’t mention Ryon Healy because of his back injury there is no assurance he will be able to resume play next season.
I am sure fans have their favorites who they are rooting for to be at first base and DH. I like to see Evan White playing first base with Vogelbach at DH against righties. I don’t see Santana on the team in this case. The right-handed bat I am not sure who it may be though one of the bench hitters could fit the spot.