PEORIA, Ariz. -- For some in a young Mariners camp, manager Scott Servais has to remind them that jobs are already solidified and that it’s time to just “relax and play.”
Outfielder Jake Fraley might be among a handful that falls into that category. Fraley is all but guaranteed an outfield spot on Seattle’s Opening Day roster in light of Mitch Haniger’s setbacks, and now comes the time for self-trust and conviction.
Fraley is the front-runner for a corner-outfield spot, with star prospect Kyle Lewis slated for the other and Mallex Smith in center. Braden Bishop, who played in 27 games last year, is likely to be the fourth outfielder, with veteran Carlos González on the outside looking in.
Yet, Fraley’s 2020 season could be more significant than it appears at surface level. He has just 12 games under his belt after debuting last Aug. 21 (and subsequently spraining his right thumb), but Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez, a pair of the Majors’ best prospects, are waiting in the wings. Both are outfielders earmarked for long-term, possible face-of-the-franchise roles, and while Kelenic, 20, and Rodriguez, 19, aren’t likely to contribute much, if any, at the MLB level this season, they are coming soon.
“We're creating opportunity for these young guys, and we have to be patient with them,” Servais said. “I like where Jake is at. There's still room for growth. He's got plenty to work on. But he comes to work every day. He’s about as serious as anybody in that clubhouse. He knows what he wants to get done every day.”
Fraley’s self-direction is as thorough as any player in the Mariners’ clubhouse, Servais said, and it manifested as a response from his exit interview with the club in September, which preached the importance of establishing a robust routine. Physically, Fraley lifts weights twice per week, does corrective exercises on three days and takes two days off.
Life in the Minors can be more structured, where players’ responsibilities are more scheduled and outlined. When they reach the Majors -- even with more detailed coaching, scouting and analytics -- their preparation comes with far more accountability.
“The flip side, in the big leagues, the game time is 7 o’clock and we have X, Y and Z,” Fraley said. “If you want to do it, do it. If you don’t, you don’t. Just be ready for the game. So, for me, I felt when I got [to the Majors last season], it was more of not really understanding exactly what I needed to do every day.
“Obviously you have your basics. I need to stretch. I need to hit. I need to lift every day. It's the normal routine, but it's more just kind of like organizing it to the best of my ability to make sure I'm ready to go at 7 o’clock.”
Fraley’s Spring Training routine might not be planned down to the minute, but he says it’s not far off. He’s put a far bigger premium on his diet, hiring a nutritionist in October and being more selective with his consumption. After going back and forth, Fraley has ditched red meat (minus the occasional bacon splurge) and gone to a pescatarian diet, which he said gives him far more energy as he operates in the unorthodox, baseball-driven schedule.
“Being only 24, I can kind of get away with some things now that I kind of really focused on. I want to look big picture. As I get older, it's inevitable. Your metabolism slows down. I need to make sure that my body is able to do this, because I want to do this a long time. So, for me, it's really placing those things in order now so I don't have to worry about it down the road.”
Fraley, who was acquired in the Mike Zunino trade, is keeping his scope broad, and perhaps for good reason. He soared from Class A Advanced to the Majors in less than one year, was a Spring Training star last season, hit .313/.386/.539 at Double-A Arkansas then .276/.333/.553 at Triple-A Tacoma, with a combined 19 homers in 99 games.
Gone are the days where Fraley’s ability to hit and do so with power were questioned, even after a fast-paced Major League awakening, when Fraley hit .150/.171/.200 in 40 at-bats. He has an .818 OPS in 23 Cactus League at-bats, including two homers.
“He puts a lot on himself,” Servais said. “With the injury to mitch Mitch Haniger, it opened up maybe a bigger window for him -- a bigger opportunity. I think he's handled things pretty well so far.”