Locklear making the most of MLB opportunity

June 11th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Daniel Kramer's Mariners Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox. MLB.com colleague Josh Kirshenbaum pinch-hit this week with a feature on Tyler Locklear’s promotion to the Majors.

SEATTLE -- ’s first visit to Kansas City may have lasted just a shade over 18 hours. But it was an 18-hour whirlwind.

The 23-year-old first baseman -- ranked by MLB Pipeline as Seattle’s No. 8 prospect -- learned that he was getting the call to the big leagues on Saturday afternoon, during batting practice at Triple-A Tacoma’s Cheney Stadium. His flight landed just after midnight Sunday, and he didn’t get to the team hotel until 1:30 a.m.

By 6 p.m. he was on another airplane, back to Seattle after the Mariners won a dramatic series finale over the Royals, 6-5 in 10 innings.

In between, Locklear crammed a good amount of advice, a few milestones and a whole lot of memories into one very busy day.

“Getting here on short notice, then getting to meet the guys in Kansas City, getting accumulated to the clubhouse and all and then coming back here to play today, it’s been real crazy,” Locklear said. “But we’ve got good guys who have calmed me down and let me be a baseball player.”

Locklear wound up getting his first big league hit in Sunday's victory, then another knock in Monday's win. He also took a 97.9 mph fastball off the brim of his helmet to keep Seattle's game-tying eighth-inning rally alive and was able to quickly shake it off, smiling on his way to first base before Cal Raleigh's grand slam in extras.

Every big leaguer has had their first day, and as soon as Locklear got to the visiting clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium, he got first-day advice from all of his new teammates.

Julio Rodríguez, who swung at the first Major League pitch he saw -- and eight of the first 10 he faced -- in his own debut on April 8, 2022, told Locklear to go up aggressive to the plate.

Mitch Garver, who made his debut as a pinch-hitter for the Twins on Aug. 19, 2017 -- when Locklear was 16 years old -- gave him a more poetic pointer: Look up once to take it all in, and then don’t look up again.

Ty France, who singled in his first at-bat in 2019 with the Padres, had the most to say to Locklear, and the most specific information; Locklear was there to fill in for him, after all, after France was forced to the injured list with a hairline fracture in his right heel.

“Ty was just there in my corner, helping me at first base and settling me down,” Locklear said.

Seattle’s training staff doesn’t know exactly how much time France will miss, and that creates a significant hole. France started 59 of Seattle’s first 66 games at first base, second only to Rodríguez’s 65 starts in center field for starts at one position.

“You’re going to see him a lot,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said of Locklear. “I don’t know how long France is going to be out; we’ll just have to wait and see on that one. But while Locklear’s here, he’s going to get plenty of opportunities.”

It’s a fast rise for someone who was still a couple steps away from the Majors a couple of weeks ago.

Locklear, Seattle’s second-round Draft pick in 2022, played 61 games for High-A Everett before ending last season at Double-A Arkansas. That’s where he started 2024, racking up a .291/.401/.532 slash line with eight home runs and 26 RBIs in 41 games before getting promoted to Triple-A Tacoma on May 28.

“That ballpark in Arkansas is a tough place to hit, especially for right-handed hitters, and he’s gone out and destroyed that environment,” Mariners general manager Justin Hollander said when the move was announced. “That really told us, ‘I’m ready to go to a new place.’”

The new place was Cheney Stadium -- not exactly a hitter’s park in its own right. But Locklear didn’t slow down, ripping an even .300 batting average (12-for-40) in 10 games.

Then France went on the IL, and just like that, Locklear’s time in Tacoma came to an end. He didn’t even get a second weekend at Triple-A Tacoma.

“I was expecting to be there a little longer,” Locklear said. “But that’s just baseball. You can’t control anything in baseball, so you just take it day by day.”

Coming halfway across the country on short notice, the rookie did his best to listen to the veterans in the clubhouse. He held first base down without any troubles in France’s absence. He let it rip at the plate per Rodríguez’s advice, swinging at the first seven pitches thrown to him and driving in the go-ahead run in the top of the seventh on his first career hit, an RBI double.

And he tried to follow Garver’s advice. He really did.

“I looked up a couple times, I’m not going to lie,” Locklear said. “But it got better and better every time I looked up.”