In 2020, the Mariners will fully shift towards a youth movement, which is best illustrated by their apparent plan at the second base position.
Case in point: despite failing to trade Dee Gordon in the offseason, Shed Long appears to be their de facto second baseman come March. The Mariners may be able to convince Gordon into accepting a limited utility role with the team, but they’re also carrying several younger—and more affordable—players who are capable of playing multiple positions, Long included.
Gordon’s salary for 2020 is a sunk cost for the Mariners. Even if they find a trade partner eventually, it’s doubtful they’ll be able to offload any substantial money off of their books, so they can cut ties whenever they feel like it. No matter the outcome with Gordon, Long is going to be an everyday player this coming season; it just may alter where Long plays on a nightly basis.
Wherever he’s stationed defensively, he’ll have some work to do. The converted catcher now has four full seasons of playing second base as his natural position and some other utility work on the side, but in 2019, he negatively graded out at all three positions he played at the Major League level. Long, however, has an above-average arm and his athleticism should continue to help him in the range department, so it ultimately comes down to being more consistent in playing him at one spot.
Where Long exceeds is with the bat, and there’s plenty of room for him to grow in 2020, which is why I chose him to be “my guy” for the season. After a monster tear in September, Long was on a 162-game pace of a .295/.364/.512 with 23 home runs, 63 RBIs, 50 doubles, five triples, and 14 stolen bases; numbers that were, at the time, very much comparable to one Ozzie Albies.
Those projections dwindled with a little hiccup in the last week of the season for Long, but Albies may very well be the ceiling for him, at least offensively. That’s not to say he will reach that ceiling in 2020 or ever, but there is evidence to suggest a capability of achieving such success. What we know right now is that Long has shown enough discipline to get on base consistently, makes good contact, and has the power to hit 20 or more home runs in a season as well as a ton of doubles.
In just 42 games last year, spanning over three separate stints with the big league club and an injury, Long still managed to club five dingers and 12 doubles. He also made contact with pitches in the zone at an 82.8% clip, which landed him in the same percentile as Rafael Devers, George Springer, Kris Bryant, and Freddie Freeman. He also posted a solid 10.7% swinging strike rate, placing him in the top-70 amongst all hitters last year.
To me, if any of the Mariners’ youngsters pop in 2020, Long feels the most likely to put everything together. Not only do I see a high ceiling for him, but a high floor as well; at worst, he’ll be an average hitter with above-average pop and positional flexibility. In other words, I’d be utterly shocked if he absolutely tanked.