The Seattle Mariners have a lot of work to do to get where they want to be in the time frame in which they want to be there. But some of what needs to happen can happen without adding another player to the organization.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. The Mariners do not have the players necessary to get to where they want to be right now. And if they wait for all of those players to come up organically, it’ll be another 4-5 years before we can even talk about competing for division titles.
But there are things that can happen inhouse to make the acquisitions from outside the organization a little less crucial. The biggest thing that can happen is that players can develop or refine tools to heights not previously envisioned.
For example, if George Kirby develops a nasty cutter and suddenly becomes a legitimate ace candidate, that can change the timeline for the Mariners, albeit a bit incrementally. We already saw something similar to this with names like Jake Fraley and Shed Long, who entered the year as nice bench pieces to legitimate everyday starters potential.
With that in mind, the Mariners are going to be looking for players to take big steps in 2020. They need players to, for lack of a better term, “breakout” in 2020. While these breakouts may not result in All-Star bids or 5 WAR seasons, significant improvement is the real goal for 2020.
With that in mind, here are 3 players I believe will break out and show significant improvement over their 2019 self.
Yes, Yusei Kikuchi was a disappointment this season but there were a lot of very serious off the field situations the 28-year-old was dealing with. A small handful of these factors include: moving to another country and all that goes with it, competing in a brand new league, mourning the death of his father, fathering his first child, learning a new language, working with a new baseball, a new coaching staff, and a new team.
On top of being the biggest off-season addition to the 25-man roster and being expected to be great right out of the gates. That is but a fraction of what Kikuchi went through this season, but there is no denying that the numbers were rough.
What gives me hope is two-fold. One, Kikuchi flashed signs of brilliance throughout the season. He was never able to sustain said brilliance for more than a start or two, but the fact that it happened throughout the season shows that he did adjust.
And those adjustments lead me to my second reason for optimism: Kikuchi wants to be great. Anybody who has worked with the lefty can’t go more than a few minutes without talking about his work ethic. He worked hard to form relationships with his teammates. He worked hard to be available all season. And he showed he was willing to take criticism and even tweak his delivery at the end of the season.
Being successful in the Major Leagues is difficult. Being willing to move away from what made you successful in Japan is also difficult. But Kikuchi’s willingness to try and strick with it shows me that there is a commitment to making this work.
With a full off-season to work on his new mechanics and his body now starting to adjust to the new baseball calendar, 2020 could be a nice year for Kikuchi.