The 2023 Outfield (and DH)
The current depth of the Seattle Mariners outfield makes this group the most difficult to project. Whenever GM Jerry Dipoto decides to make his moves for veterans, the trade pieces for this deal will likely come out of the plethora of talent he as collected on the mound and in the outfield. That being said, we know at least 2 of the names who will appear on this list, so let’s get started.
Left Field: Jarred Kelenic
The beauty of the current Mariners’ outfield prospects is that they are pretty interchangeable, at least in terms of defensive alignment. Kelenic can easily and very well be the centerfielder. But Kelenic will eventually move to a corner, if for no other reason than to try and keep him healthy with an easier defensive position.
The beauty of Kelenic’s game is that it is almost impossible for me to see him being any worse than Boston Red Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi. It also isn’t difficult for me to see Kelenic post a few 2019 Austin Meadows like seasons. And in 2023, Kelenic is, at least, entering his second full season.
But we are looking for a somewhere in between his 50th percentile and his 95th percentile. So in an effort to find that happy medium, we are going to slap a 2019 Michael Conforto comparison on the 2023 version of Jarred Kelenic. Conforto hit .257/.363/.494 with 33 home runs, a 3.7 fWAR. But Kelenic is going to be better defensively, so a 4 win season seems like a happy compromise.
Centerfield: Jake Fraley
Honestly, just pick your horse. Braden Bishop is a good possibility. Jarred Kelenic may be the best bet. Noelvi Marte could fit here as well. But we are going to go with a better bat. Bishop has the better glove and if you want to imagine this team with Bishop in center, I would use Kevin Pillar as the comparison.
But Fraley has a high upside at the plate and is no slouch defensively either. We need to find an above-average defender with good pop and a threat to steal quite a few bases. I think we have our guy: 2016 Lorenzo Cain.
They’ll go about things differently, but in 2016 when Cain was with the Royals, he slashed .287/.339/.408 with 9 home runs and 14 steals, as well as the good defense. That was good enough for a 2.2 fWAR, which feels about right for the Fraley we have watched so far.
Right Field: Julio Rodriguez
This one seems to be a certainty right? Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kellenic will share the same outfield, possibly as early as 2021. The only question is how good each will be by the time opening day of 2023 rolls around.
Julio Rodriguez has a wide range of possible outcomes. A Bryce Harper level slash line is not out of the question. But that may be the high-end of things. Although, some scouts have compared the young outfielder to the young Miguel Cabrera. Obviously, those represent incredible players but we aren’t looking at best case scenarios.
So where are we going to settle on our comps? Well, 2019 Trey Mancini is a tempting comparison, but Rodriguez is a better runner and defender. So ultimately, let’s settle on Justin Upton. But not 2019 Upton. Instead, let’s settle on 2014 Justin Upton. That season, Upton slashed .270/.341/.491 with 29 home runs, 34 doubles, 8 steals, and a 3.1 bWAR. Not too bad.
DH- Kyle Lewis
The DH role will be split amongst the entire team. I have a hard time imagining Jerry Dipoto having a “full-time” DH by 2023. But for our purposes here, let’s slide Kyle Lewis into this slot so we can talk about him. Lewis posses the big-time power you want in your lineup and he displayed that in his big league debut last September.
He also displayed some serious holes in his game, namely his ability to make consistent contact. Lewis struck out 38.7% of his at-bats in 2019 while posting a terrible 4.0% walk rate. For Lewis to be an everyday contributor, he has to cut down on strikeouts and improve his on-base skill. By this time, Lewis should have at least 2 full seasons under his belt, making 2023 a do or die season for him.
Let’s project that Lewis can get the walk rate closer to 7% and get the K% down to around 33%. What type of player are we looking at? Well, interestingly enough, Domingo Santana is a pretty good fit, at least offensively. Mariners fans should remember how good Santana was last season before he got hurt. And over the course of his career, Santana has a .259/.343/.453 with 25 home runs and 10 steals.
Lewis will be a better defender than Santana, but he won’t be a gold glove caliber defender. Lewis will be an interesting player to watch and could be a gamechanger if he makes the most of his upside.