The Seattle Mariners had several guys break out in 2022, which is a huge reason they were able to break their crazy 21-year playoff drought. And man, was it electric when they did. Last year's team was fun, and this one has the potential to be just as fun, if not more.
Several players played above expectations. Cal Raleigh, the Mariners' second-year catcher, was one of them. Just from gathering fans' expectations on Raleigh, they weren't extremely high from year one to year two, so it is safe to say he blew those out of the water with the jump he made.
While he only played in 47 games in 2021, his numbers still weren't extremely impressive. With 148 plate appearances, Raleigh finished with a .180 batting average. Of the 25 hits he had, two of them were home runs, and he only walked seven times, making his on-base percentage .223.
2022 was a lot different, almost like a day-and-night type of difference. Raleigh played in 119 games, so he had a bigger chance to show what he could do, and he did not disappoint with the improved .211 batting average, 27 home runs, which lead all catchers, and an on-base percentage of .284, which is very good.
The guy cemented himself as one of the best catchers in the league by many people, and let the league know he had arrived in the big leagues and was there to stay. But, we knew already how well he played last season. What can we expect from him next season?
Let's just start with the biggest thing, Raleigh's defense. He was a stud on that side of the plate. Per ESPN's stats, Raleigh had the second most putouts of AL catchers and the most caught-stealing of AL catchers with 25. He was a beast, but we knew that, and manager Scott Servais thinks so too.
“Cal’s really smart, he makes good adjustments, he’s a creative game caller – he understands there are times you have to go against the game plan based on what the other team’s telling you," Servais told Seattle Sports Radio during the 2022 season. "… Does a good job with his receiving, stealing all the extra strikes he can get. His throwing has been pretty consistent. He checks all the boxes back there.”
If there was one thing he needed to get better at on defense though, it's his stolen bases allowed number, in which he allowed the second most in the AL with 53. His presence on the plate as a catcher needs to be made more. I don't know how he will do it, but the other team has to know he is not a guy you want to run on.
I think on the defensive side of the ball we will see his play remain about the same, which isn't bad. He was great, one of the best defensive catchers in the AL, maybe the best. So, there isn't anything to be upset about if he doesn't take a huge leap there, as he is really already at the top.
On offense though, he could certainly make strides. The batting average could definitely be better, and I think after a full season of hitting off of big-league pitchers, it will get better. I think we will expect to see his batting average go up a bit, and maybe hover around that .230-.240 area, which would be a big upgrade.
Based on the fact that he has improved from his first year to his second at hitting every type of pitch, I think we can expect to see him get a bit better at hitting the breaking ball, which was his worst pitch in 2022, as he hit .193 off those pitches.
His off-speed hitting got significantly better too, and I think we see that stay relatively the same. His hitting overall should improve, but, I think we can expect his home run numbers to go down a notch. Raleigh had 27 last year, and I think he gets close, but ends the season around the 20 mark.
All of that to say, I think we can expect to see Raleigh take a leap on offense that makes him the best two-way catcher in baseball. He has all of the tools, and the potential is there. You can see it all on the tape. Not to mention, he now has more experience.
Raleigh could have a huge year and absolutely blow all of those expectations out of the water, and I would be totally fine with that. Or, he could very well have a worse season. That is the beautiful thing about baseball, we just don't know what will happen in a 162-game season.