We continue to work our way around the diamond looking at Fangraphs’ Steamer projections for your Seattle Mariners. Today, we double dip and look at two centerfield candidates.
As a refresher, let’s remember that unlike other position players, the Mariners outfielders aren’t likely to play in one specific spot all year. While we can lock J.P. Crawford into shortstop, we can’t really do the same with somebody like Mallex Smith. Smith will likely play all 3 spots in 2020, so looking at these players in one position doesn’t make much sense.
So rather than try to project who will get the most starts in left field, we will just take the 5 current Mariners who are likely to get most of the playing time in any of the 3 outfield spots. Today, we start with one of the minor league breakout stars of 2019, Mr. Jake Fraley.
Jake Fraley Steamer Projections: 73 games, 294 PAs, .243/.297/.400, 8 home runs, 8 stolen bases, 85 wRC+, 0.2 fWAR
Acquired in the Mike Zunino for Mallex Smith swap, Jake Fraley quickly became every Mariners fans “sleeper prospect” with some even going so far as to call him a left-handed version of Mitch Haniger. While Fraley was very good in AA and AAA, he struggled in his brief cup of coffee in the big leagues.
But it is tough to put any stock in his 41 MLB PAs. He was battling a hand injury late in the year which kept him out of action and had to process the difficult loss of a close friend who was murdered shortly after his debut. I think we can all agree that those circumstances would make it tough for anybody to produce.
But Steamer doesn’t think much of Fraley, at least not this year. They see him as 4th outfielder, projecting him for half a season despite the recent loss of Mitch Haniger for most of April. Aside from the below-average offensive production, Steamer isn’t to fond of Fraley’s defensive prospects, giving him a -3.1 Def score.
But it is interesting to point out that Steamer puts him at what roughly amounts to a 15 home run, 15 stolen base season. This is well within the realm of possibility. The projection may have too heavily weighed his difficult MLB debut, but it is the most recent data point to go on. Fraley has the tools to go .270/.340/.420, but expecting that in his first real taste of MLB is a bit much to hope for.
Fraley will have a chance to win a job on the Opening Day 26, but like Kyle Lewis, would probably benefit from more time in the minor leagues.
Mallex Smith Steamer projections: 136 games, 566 PAs,.249/.318/.360, 6 home runs, 39 stolen bases, 85 wRC+, 0.9 fWAR
Well, this is unusual. Steamer is projecting a Mariner to improve off his 2019 season. Although to be fair, it would be hard to be much worse than Mallex Smith was in 2019, at least at the plate. After a career year in Tampa, Smith came to Seattle with much fanfare, but immediately ran into trouble, first with a shoulder injury that cost him most of spring training, then with one of the worst months of baseball possible.
For the first 4 weeks of 2019, Smith could get on base, he was striking out way too often and even looked like a deer in the headlights in centerfield, dropping several balls that should have been caught and making some poor decisions on defense.
It got so bad, Seattle had no choice but to send him down to Tacoma. He returned quickly and for a while, things looked great, but he quickly returned to normal. However, he did improve quickly on defense and he led the AL in stolen bases. He also posted some solid offensive months in the middle of the season, but April and September doomed any value he could bring to the team.
It is unlikely Smith ever repeats his second season in Tampa Bay, but he doesn’t really need too. If he can hit .270 with a .330 OBP, his defense and base-running will give him a shot to be an everyday player once again. Smith is a classic “positive regression” candidate, so don’t be surprised to see him bounce back in the first half of 2020.