I consider myself a fairly optimistic person. Take this whole coronavirus thing. I don’t have it (or maybe I do — or maybe I do and don’t know it — or maybe I don’t and do know it and now you have it just from reading this article.) It’s a scary time, but I’ve tried to remain looking on the bright side that we’re all washing our hands, self-isolating, and wiping our butts so well that this thing will pass quickly. Then I started looking at the Mariners projected lineup, rotation and bullpen for 2020. Now I’ve covered the Tigers, the White Sox and the Royals to prove you can mine for fantasy gold in the darkest of baseball caves. But the Mariners might be my hardest task yet. It’s hard to be optimistic about this team.
To start — no one here is projected to hit over .250. The lowest team batting average in the history of baseball belongs to the 1885 St. Louis Maroons. But that lineup was mostly made up of farmhands and blacksmiths who joined the team in the Rule 5 draft earlier that year. I don’t think the Mariners will break that record — but they’ll give a good, long look at it.
As I’ve done with the other teams I’ve highlighted a few players with fantasy sleeper potential. I always use this as an example — but when I get to the Los Angeles Angels I won’t be writing about Mike Trout. He’s good — so good that auto-correct just turned that first ‘good’ to ‘God’ and I almost didn’t change it back. But here are a few guys that could return some value.
Evan White (ADP: 334.8): White enjoyed a breakout season in 2019 with the AA Arkansas Travelers — getting named to the All-Star Futures Game. In 92 games with the Travelers, he hit for a: 61/18/55/.293 line. Like many large lumberjack first basemen, he’s not going to steal too many bases — but he could chip it 5-10 in a full season. The power hasn’t been off the charts — but 18 HRs in 92 ABs isn’t completely terrible. Do you know who he reminds me of? (This might scare a lot of people off — but keep reading!) Brandon Belt. Belt was also 23 when he made his debut with the Giants in 2011 and showed off okay power — a little speed and a solid batting average. Hopefully (and this is a big hope here) he can take steps forward and develop his power a bit more like we all hoped Brandon Belt would. If you drafted or kept Bellinger or Freeman and just forgot about middle infield until round 24 — you could take a shot on Evan White.
Shed Long (ADP: 374.3): Here’s the long and short of Shed Long and short. He has 15 HR/15 SB potential at the plate and might be the best fantasy option the Mariners have. He’s got low 20s K rate, but around a 10% BB rate so he’s not too bad discipline wise. What I don’t really love is that for his entire minor league career he’s hovered around a 50% GB rate which caps the HR potential. But what he really needs to work on his hitting breaking balls and offspeed pitches. Last year he hit .321 against fastballs (yay!) but only .213 against breaking balls and .150 against offspeed pitches (aye!) Smart teams will just tell their pitchers to pester him with anything but a fastball and his average will plummet until he puts the work in to make adjustments. Of course, his team stats won’t be pretty — but as a MI or UTIL guy he’s not awful at his cost. In a full season (which obviously isn’t happening this year) I could see him going 65/15/45/12/.250. Speed is speed is speed man.
Jake Fraley (ADP: 480): Why aren’t more people talking about Jake Fraley? Last year he hit 19 HRs with 22 SBs and a .298 AVG in 427 AA/AAA at-bats. *Looks at his AA splits* .231 AVG, .552 OPS versus lefties compared to .330/1.002 versus righties. Oh… But at AAA he hit .289/.897 versus lefties and .271/.881 versus righties! Oh! But those games were played in the Pacific Coast League. Oh… Fangraphs lists Fraley as being in a timeshare with Tim Lopes in the OF, but Lopes kind of just seems like another guy to me. I expect Fraley to be on the strong side of this platoon and hopefully running (and hitting) away with this job. Fraley isn’t someone you draft unless you’re in an AL-only league, but he’s someone I definitely add to my watch list and see how he’s doing around the second week of April (or second week from when the season starts…you know what I mean!) He is young, he is unproven — but until Mitch Haniger (maybe) comes back there is an opportunity for ABs in Seattle’s OF and he could end up providing some double/double power and speed.
No one in this rotation is projected for under a 4.60 ERA according to Steamer? Zang! No one is projected for over 10 wins? Excellent!
Justus Sheffield (ADP: 364.6): Oh Mr. Sheffield! As recently as 2019 he was a top-50 prospect so there’s some pedigree here. If you’re evaluating what Sheffield could be as a starting pitcher — ignore last year. Blame that 6.87 ERA in 55 innings on the Pacific Coast League his 7.85 K/9 was his career-worst, his 6.72 BB/9 – also career-worst and his 1.96 HR/9 — career-worst. In 2018 with the Yankees AAA affiliate he had a 2.56 ERA in 88 innings. He’s also had some control issues (3.5 BB/9 in the minors) but never that bad at giving up HRs (0.7 HR/9.) I think with a guaranteed spot in the rotation and his rough 2019 behind him there is a lot of sleeper potential here with a low-to-mid 4.00 ERA with around 9 K/9.
Yusei Kikuchi (ADP: 406.8): Yusei Kikuchi before coming over to MLB had a career 2.80 ERA in 1037.1 IP and an 8.1 K/9. Last year he had the worst year of his entire career with a 5.46 ERA in 161.2 IP. Fun little fact I found in my research — Kikuchi broke the Nippon record for highest velocity by a left-handed Japanese pitcher with a 98 MPH pitch. Last year, by mid-Summer his fastball was barely averaging 91 MPH. According to reports, Kikuchi reworked his delivery this off-season and is touching 96 with his fastball again and his secondary pitches have also seen an uptick in velocity. If he regains his lost velocity there’s definitely some sleeper potential here.
Oh? Bullpen by committee you say? HARD PASS! Normally I’d say avoid this noid — but let’s see if we can’t figure out which turd will shine brightest in this bullpen..
Spring Training: Hirano is the only one to actually pitch at all since Magill and Tuivailala are nursing shoulder injuries (not a good start for ya boyz!) But in 5 innings Hirano has already allowed 5 hits, 2 walks, 3 ERs including a HR. Not a good start for ya otha boy!
History: Hirano was the closer with the Orix Buffaloes in Japan and had some unbelievable seasons with the team. His best season came in 2013 when he notched 31 saves with a 1.87 ERA and 71 K in 62.2 IP. In his debut season with the Diamondbacks he had a 2.44 ERA in 66.1 IP, but last year struggled with a 4.75 ERA.
Magill’s only true closer experience came at the end of last season and he was meh. In the 14 games/13 innings he pitched as closer he had 5 saves and 18 Ks, but a 3.46 ERA. He did have a nice 11.4 K/9 last year which is what you like to see in your closers.
Tuivailala: Closed a few games for St. Louis’s AAA team back in 2015 and 2016 and it was a tale of two seasons. 2015: 17 saves, 1.60 ERA; 2016: 17 saves, 5.21 ERA. Last year he was pretty great in limited innings with the Mariners: 23 IP, 2.35 ERA, 10.6 K/9.
So who should you own out of these guys? Unless you’re in an AL-only league — none of them. What? You were expecting me to have some amazing romantic revelation about any of these guys? Hirano is old and had his worst season last year and hasn’t looked good this spring — his career is probably over by mid-August. Magill and Tuivailala are already nursing shoulder injuries and aren’t anything special. They’ll split the saves on the 50 or so wins the Mariners will garner this year. So that maybe means — 15 tops for one of them?
Are you still here? You REALLY want me to pick a stand out arm in the Mariners bullpen?
FINE! Let me tell you about this Dominican spinning string bean Yohan Ramirez. He reminds me of this pitcher we had back when I played in high school (I won’t name names) who could throw unbelievably lightning fast — but had no idea where the ball would end up once it left his hand. We were all TERRIFIED at the plate because he’d either embarrass us with a nasty fastball or give us CTE for the rest of our lives with a nasty fastball.
Last year in 62.1 innings in the Astros AA system Ramirez had a 12.85 K/9 and a 7.51 BB/9. Both of those numbers are impressive. He can touch 100 with his fastball and has a sharp slider and change-up that is 20 miles per hour slower than his fastball. I’d like to see if he can take a few MPH off his fastball to interact with the strike zone even a little a bit more. If so, he could be a deep sleeper for save opportunities. If he can’t — he’ll be out of the league.