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Fraley eager to build on 'unbelievable year'

Mariners prospect plans to be fully healthy, ready to compete for OF job
@gregjohnsmlb
October 9, 2019

SEATTLE -- While Mike Zunino helps the Rays prepare for Thursday’s Game 5 of their American League Division Series showdown with the Astros, Jake Fraley is in a much quieter spot in his career. Fraley, acquired from the Rays along with fellow outfielder Mallex Smith in the trade for Zunino

SEATTLE -- While Mike Zunino helps the Rays prepare for Thursday’s Game 5 of their American League Division Series showdown with the Astros, Jake Fraley is in a much quieter spot in his career.

Fraley, acquired from the Rays along with fellow outfielder Mallex Smith in the trade for Zunino last November, was also in Florida this week. But the 24-year-old is back home in Miami beginning physical therapy on the sprained right thumb that wiped out his first shot in the big leagues last month for the Mariners.

That doesn’t mean Seattle came out on the short end of the four-player swap with Tampa Bay, which also sent Minor League pitcher Michael Plassmeyer to the Rays.

Looking ahead to shaping the Mariners' 2020 roster

Zunino hit just .165 with nine home runs in 266 at-bats for Tampa Bay this year and has yet to play in the Rays’ five postseason games, with Travis d’Arnaud having taken over the starting catching role after being acquired in May from the Dodgers.

While Zunino becomes a free agent after next season, Fraley has six years of team control for Seattle, and he is just knocking on the door of what the Mariners believe could be a solid Major League career.

But after an impressive year at Double-Arkansas and Triple-A Tacoma -- where he posted a combined .298/.365/.545 line with 19 homers, 80 RBIs and 22 stolen bases in 99 games -- Fraley’s first impression in Seattle was bruised a bit by a rough start at the plate and then his thumb injury.

Fraley batted just .150 in 12 games, going 6-for-40 with two doubles before being shut down in early September with his thumb injury. But that limited showing came in some difficult circumstances, as Fraley was sideswiped by the death of the wife and the 14-month-old son of close friend Blake Bivens, a pitching prospect in the Rays’ system. Both were murdered in Virginia on Aug. 27.

“Obviously it was a bit of a lost month of September for Jake, so his Spring Training is going to be important to him,” Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “But he deserves a little bit of a hall pass on what was a tough month, both injury and personally.

“He had an excellent season, and I don't want to lose sight of that because of the fact that it just kind of evaporated quickly as we headed into September. He had an awesome year and deserves to be lauded for that.”

Dipoto to let the kids 'run with it' in 2020

For his part, Fraley is focused fully on what went right in 2019. He rose quickly through the Mariners’ system and established himself as their No. 8 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, despite never having played above Class A Advanced Charlotte with the Rays due to two injury-plagued seasons after being drafted out of Louisiana State in 2016.

“I had an unbelievable year,” Fraley said. “I had a lot of goals I set out to do coming into this year, and I got to every single one of them and exceeded a lot of them as far as numbers-wise. When I can stay on the field and stay healthy all year, that’s what I know I bring to the table.

“For me, it was a very good year in that aspect. Those last 15 games, not being able to play them, it’s part of the game. It’s baseball. This is only my third year in pro ball, but when you’re in the game playing every single year, at one point you’re not going to have a perfect story written. It’s inevitable.”

Fraley’s story is just beginning at the big-league level. The Mariners want him to continue getting bigger and stronger this winter, then report to Spring Training ready to compete for a roster spot. His combination of speed, defense and offensive potential make him an intriguing part of the young nucleus of players who are pointing toward Seattle in the coming year.

While he couldn’t play in the final weeks, Fraley enjoyed sharing the MLB introductions of Kyle Lewis, Justin Dunn, Justus Sheffield, Art Warren and Donnie Walton, all of whom he’d spent much of the year with at Arkansas as the Mariners’ future nucleus matured together.

“It was awesome to be around those guys,” Fraley said. “That was a very, very special group. Not only just obviously very talented, which everybody can see from the outside, but just a very close-knit group. I truly believe that’s why we were so successful as a team, and that played a huge part in having some of those guys here this year and getting a little taste together up here.

“It’s hard not to get excited about going into the future and really able to be all together up here for the course of an entire year. That’s very exciting to think about.”

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.