We look ahead to the start of the 2020 MLB regular season and predict the Seattle Mariners’ opening day lineup.
Summer camp is well underway for the Seattle Mariners and the 2020 MLB regular season will be here before we know it. As long as everything goes to plan — and anything could happen when it comes to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — opening day is scheduled to take place on July 24.
This leads to the question of who will be taking to the field on opening day for the Mariners? If you ever wanted evidence the franchise has been true to their word of undergoing a major rebuild, consider that eight of the players who started last season will not be there in 2020.
(It should be noted the eight includes Mitch Haniger, who is recovering from a second core surgery and a back operation. It is unclear at this stage if and when he will return this year.)
With this in mind, let’s look ahead to the beginning of the 2020 season. Here is who we project will be starting for the Mariners on opening day:
First base – Evan White
Evan White arguably has the most pressure out of all of the Mariners’ young talent, but he will also be given every opportunity to succeed. That’s what happens when you sign a player to a six-year Major League deal with three club options, despite him not yet making an appearance in the Majors. (He is just the fourth player in league history to sign a Major League deal without playing an MLB game.)
White was selected 17th overall by the M’s in the 2017 draft and is currently considered the third-best prospect in all of baseball. While there is no guarantee he will succed in the Majors, the signs are promising regardless.
White has excellent defensive abilities, highlighted by his superior glove skills, while the hitting was on full display during spring training, with an impressive .333/.370/.458 slash line. Now it’s a case of translating all this talent to the Major League level, both for his own and the Mariners’ sake.
Second base – Shed Long Jr.
Shed Long Jr. is set to be in the lineup on opening day, but he remains somewhat of the great unknown at this stage. He only has 42 Major League starts on his resume, although this is the time to see what he has to offer while the Mariners are still in their rebuilding phase.
In some regards Long Jr. is regarded as a champion of the underdog, highlighted by being only 5 ft 8. However, he showed flashes of what he was capable of last season during his debut campaign in MLB, with an impressive .263/.333/.454 slash line.
Long Jr, struggled with his bat during spring training and needs to get this aspect of his game back on track, especially as it is considered stronger than his defense. At least if he fails to produce, the Seattle Mariners still have Dee Gordon as effectively as insurance policy.
Third base – Kyle Seager
Kyle Seager is arguably the first player who would be named in the opening day lineup, and with good reason. While he has never fully lived up to the seven-year, $100 million deal he signed back in 2014, he has still been excellent for the Mariners.
Seager fell off in 2018 and was on course for another average season last year, albeit after missing the first two months with a left hand injury. However, he was able to turn things around in August and show there was still some life left in the old dog.
Talking of old, at 32-years-old, Seager is closer to the end of his career than the start of it. Regardless, he remains an extremely important player for the Mariners, as they aim to give their fans some hope that better days are ahead.
Shortstop – J.P. Crawford
J.P. Crawford was rated as one of the nation’s best young prospects, which resulted in the Philadelphia Phillies selecting him 16th overall in the 2013 draft. The Seattle Mariners saw enough in the 25-year-old, to request him as part of a trade package after the 2018 season.
Crawford’s reputation centered around his exceptional defensive abilities in the infield, with the Mariners understandably hoping he continues to grow in this area. He is firmly set as their starting shortstop after playing a career-best 94 Major League games last season.
What is intriguing is Crawford appears to be developing into a dangerous hitter, which is encouraging for Seattle and concerning for opponents. This development is best evidenced by a scintillating .400 batting average in 10 spring training games prior to COVID-10 stopping play in March.
Left field – Kyle Lewis
Ever since Kyle Lewis was selected 11th overall in the 2016 draft the Mariners have been looking forward to him playing in the Majors, which came to fruition last September. He announced his arrival with a home run on his Major League debut and became the first player in MLB history to hit homers in six of his first 10 games.
As a result of Lewis’ performances in general, he is set to earn the honor of being named to the opening day lineup despite only playing 18 Major League games. In may ways he represents why the M’s decided to undergo a full rebuild involving a major youth movement.
The bat is there for all to see, but Lewis also has the tools to be an excellent outfielder, including an intriguing combination of athleticism and energy. In addition he offers the versatility and talent to be able to play center field if required, something which general manager Jerry Dipoto has previously mentioned.
Center field – Mallex Smith
Mallex Smith will be in the opening day lineup mainly because of his speed, as long as there are no complications after his late arrival at camp due to an unspecified reason. He had more stolen bases than anyone else last season with 46, while also leading Major league batters with a 25.0 soft contact percentage.
As much as Smith’s speed is an excellent asset for the Mariners, he still has work to do on his defense. In addition, he will need to improve at the plate if he is to be a long-term starter in Seattle.
The Mariners certainly gave Smith his opportunities last season as he had 510 at bats, which was the most of his four-year Major League career. However, he had a disappointing .227/.300/.335 slash line with his .227 batting average particularly standing out, after a dramatic drop from .296 just a year earlier.
Right Field – Jake Fraley
Make no mistake about it, if Haniger was healthy he would be starting in right field on opening day. (There is actually some genuine concern he will miss the 2020 season altogether.) Regardless, his loss is Jake Fraley‘s gain; his main value comes as a depth player in the outfield, but he will now have the chance to prove his worth as a starter.
In truth Fraley needs to work more on his bat, after minimal impact when he saw his first action at the Major League level towards the end of last season. He had a poor .150 batting average and a solitary RBI in 41 plate appearances over 12 games.
In fairness to Fraley, his production with the bat was extremely encouraging during spring training, before the coronavirus stopped play. He recorded an improved .231 batting average, to go along with two homers and four RBI in 30 plate appearances during 10 games.
Catcher – Tom Murphy
Tom Murphy saw his most action yet in the Majors last season, playing 75 games in his first year with the Mariners. In the process, he showed enough that he deserves to be playing in Seattle for the foreseeable future.
Murphy was excellent behind the plate, but also showed the ability to be extremely effective with his bat. Consider that he had 18 homers, 40 RBI and a .858 OPS in just 281 plate appearances.
The only thing which may compromise Murphy’s development is how often he plays in 2020, even allowing for the fact there will only be 60 regular season games. Manager Scott Servais said back in March he was planning on a 55-45 percent split at the catcher position, between Murphy and Austin Nola.
Designated hitter – Daniel Vogelbach
Daniel Vogelbach finally proved he belonged in the Majors last season, resulting in his first All-Star selection. He led the Seattle Mariners in home runs (30), RBI (76) runs (73) and walks (92).
There is no denying Vogelbach started to fulfill his potential, but there are still understandable concerns about his consistency. The prime example of this was a notable dip in form following the All-Star Game.
However, Vogelbach is projected to improve his consistency, in part because he now has the experience of a full season playing at the top level. It will also help that he will be able to fully focus on his hitting, with the responsibility of first base duties removed.
What do you predict the Seattle Mariners’ opening day lineup will be this year? Do you agree with our starting nine, or would you make any changes? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.