Breaking down Mariners' Rojas/Urías 3B tandem

March 13th, 2024

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Mariners have a lot riding on third base this season, perhaps more than ever since Kyle Seager became their everyday player there in August 2011.

Seager and Eugenio Suárez were stalwarts at the position, middle-lineup run producers counted on for 150-plus games. But now, the hot corner will feature a tandem of and , established big leaguers but with far less pedigree, who’ve each shown flashes of success but also struggles at the MLB level.

Urías was limited from throwing due to right shoulder soreness, but he’s now played the field in three Cactus League games. Rojas has had a strong camp. So, with two weeks until Opening Day, does it feel like it’s coming together more?

“Yes, it is,” manager Scott Servais said. “And the key for me in that position is defensively. I think we'll be able to mix and match between Rojas and Urías and try to put us in a good spot offensively.”

The platoon
Rojas hits lefty and Urías hits righty, each with pronounced splits. In parts of five seasons with the D-backs, Rojas was used against lefties just 24.8 percent of the time, while Urías has a career .796 OPS against lefties compared to a .691 OPS against righties.

Yet splits won’t be the only playing time factor.

“It is not a straight platoon,” Servais said. “We will go with matchups, history, whatever.”

The offensive outlook
Unlike Seager and Suárez, who took their most plate appearances in Seattle in the Nos. 3-5 holes, the Rojas/Urías tandem will be installed towards the bottom.

Rojas exclusively hit eighth or ninth in games started after being acquired at the Trade Deadline, and thanks to some significant swing adjustments, he became a nice bridge to leadoff man J.P. Crawford, batting .272 with a .721 OPS in 46 games after the deal.

“The fact that every adjustment that we made felt good, and I saw results right away, really helped me mentally to buy in and trust that process,” Rojas said. “My swing has always been adaptable. I can kind of do whatever somebody asks me to do. It's just a matter of comfort.”

Urías hit a career-high 23 homers back in 2021, then 16 in ‘22, while playing in the hitter-friendly National League Central. The Mariners are banking on a bounceback closer to that than his injury-plagued ‘23, when he batted .194 with a .636 OPS and played just 52 games. Urías has one homer, one triple and a 105 mph double in 19 Cactus at-bats.

“I feel good at the plate right now,” Urías said. “I feel like the main thing right now is my arm. So, I just want to try and show up, do rehab every day and try to get as strong as possible. And hitting-wise, I feel like I've been having the results so far.”

The defensive outlook
This is where the Mariners could take a significant hit, given that their blueprint for success has been rooted in defense and that Suárez was among the best third basemen during his two seasons in Seattle.

Rojas began last season as Arizona’s third baseman and has gotten most of his reps there since debuting in 2019. He was worth minus-6 outs above average at the hot corner and particularly struggled on balls to his left, per Statcast, compared to plus-1 at second base. Urías came up as a shortstop with the Padres before transitioning across the diamond. For his six-year career at all positions, he’s been worth minus-15 OAA.

For context, Suárez was worth plus-11 OAA with the Mariners, tied for fifth best among third basemen in that stretch.

“Geno was awesome the last couple of years, because Geno could really throw and was good at a lot of different athletic-type plays,” Servais said. “I think both those guys so far this spring have played very well defensively. Rojas has looked very good over there.”

The Brian Anderson factor
Anderson is in camp on a split Minor League contract, where he’ll earn $2 million if he makes the team at any point. Because he’s played well, and also at first base, it’s possible he could opt out and sign elsewhere rather than report to Triple-A Tacoma, if that’s where he’s indeed assigned if he doesn’t break camp. Because barring an injury, he’s on the outside looking in.

“What I know about the organization is that they like position players that play the game really hard and they like guys that play defense,” Anderson said. “So to me, it looked like a good decision or a good spot for me to land and try to make the team.”