Jake Fraley has had a hard time trying to break into the Mariners lineup to this point in his young career, but it looks like that will change in 2021. If no one else is signed, Fraley will have a real chance to start for Seattle on Opening Day in left field. In fact, he probably is the odds on favorite to do so.
Fraley came over to the Mariners in the Mike Zunino trade in the winter purge after the 2018 season. He is now 25 years old and has only played in 19 games, getting 70 plate appearances where he had a batting line of .152/.200/.227 (.427 OPS).
However, Fraley has some impressive stats from the minors with over 1,000 plate appearances and a .842 OPS in the minor leagues. He also has hit and power prospect ratings of 50 on MLB.com and is a 50 overall player putting him at 9th on Seattle’s prospect rankings for 2020.
Now, with a crowded young outfield in the future where can Jake Fraley fit into the mix? The Mariners have 3 options of what they can do with him.
Mariners trade him during the season
This looks to be the least likely of the three options based on how the Mariners have been making moves this offseason. It also is a tough thing to think about months in advance. If Fraley puts up some impressive numbers then should Haniger be the one to be traded? Or if Fraley puts up more disappointing numbers won’t the Mariners then keep Fraley since his trade value will take a sharp decline with him having over 300 major league at-bats with poor stats?
How I see this happening is if Fraley puts up ok numbers next season, with his proven track record in the minors and plus defense he could be a key piece of a trade as a team can take a chance on the, at that future time of this summer, 26-year-old prospect with 5 more years of team control.
Keep him hoping he turns into a starter
It is a real possibility that Jake Fraley puts up impressive stats for a rookie as he had great stats in 2019 in AA and AAA. Whenever Seattle’s young outfield is talked about no one ever mentions Fraley, but MLB.com still has him as a top 10 prospect for the team and says that he “has more than enough ability to be an everyday guy in a big-league lineup.”
If Fraley hits an above-average OPS, let’s say around .780, for the first half of the season, then Fraley can’t be taken out of the lineup in favor of Jarred Kelenic. This then creates a great problem for Seattle to have as someone will be the odd man out among Fraley and Haniger. Seattle could then trade Haniger to commit to the youth movement and hope that Fraley keeps up the impressive hitting and becomes a rotational outfielder or pushes Julio Rodriguez to the DH spot in the future.
Keep him for a future depth role
This is the most likely option that I think the Mariners will take. While I want Fraley to be traded while he is still young and has some value as a prospect, he also has some value as a backup outfielder. He could be the 4th outfielder on a competing Mariners team that features Kelenic, Lewis, and Rodriguez.
Based on his minor league stats, Fraley should at least be a serviceable MLB hitter with an OPS+ consistent with most 4th outfielders. Seattle probably also wants to hold on to Fraley for his 60 grade fielding which can come in handy playing all over the outfield, and he could be a threat as a pinch hitter in some key roles against a right-handed reliever in a future season when the Mariners are competing.