After history-making 2022, Raleigh's confidence soaring

March 12th, 2023

PEORIA, Ariz. -- After authoring one of the biggest moments in Mariners history -- hitting the walk-off home run that sent Seattle to the postseason for the first time in two-plus decades -- one might expect that ’s life would have changed considerably in the months since his long drive clanged off the right-field foul pole and landed among the sea of fans in the outfield seats, causing absolute pandemonium at T-Mobile Park.

For the switch-hitting catcher who has since turned 26 years old, that franchise-defining homer -- which was his 26th of the 2022 season -- also set the Mariners record for the most home runs in a season by a backstop. He finished the regular season with 27 overall, the most among MLB catchers on the year.

But with Spring Training underway and Seattle preparing for an encore in 2023, Raleigh doesn’t see it that way, though he did admit there has been one key difference.

“I don’t think anything for me has changed. I’m still the same guy, do the same things, enjoy the same stuff,” Raleigh said. “But I definitely get noticed a little more, and I hear a lot more of my name being yelled around and people saying stuff. It’s cool. I mean, it’s really cool to see. I never thought that would happen.”

Given how Raleigh’s big league career (and especially his 2022 season) began, it’s not hard to understand why. After tearing it up at Triple-A Tacoma in ’21, slashing .324/.377/.608 with a .985 OPS in 44 games, he was called up by the Mariners right before the All-Star break. But in 47 games as a rookie, those numbers fell to .180/.223/.309 and a .532 OPS.

Though Raleigh made the Opening Day roster last year, he continued to struggle out of the gate, leading to a demotion to Tacoma on April 28. Little more than a week later, he returned to Seattle and went on to enjoy a breakout year, adding 63 RBIs and a .773 OPS to those aforementioned homers.

“I just think it was a timing thing,” Raleigh said. “It’s not easy to come into this league and have success right away. Obviously, you’ve seen it in this locker room a bunch, but it took some time. I’m just really excited to get going this year and build off what happened last year.”

As Raleigh alluded to, when he was the club’s No. 8 prospect per MLB Pipeline in 2021, the names above him included future American League Rookie of the Year Julio Rodríguez, starting pitchers Logan Gilbert and George Kirby and outfielders Jarred Kelenic and Taylor Trammell -- all of whom have either proven themselves at the Major League level or are emerging in that direction.

Raleigh has now done the same, and that has impacted the way he entered camp this spring.

“Confidence is how I would term it,” said manager Scott Servais. “He’s very confident -- and that would have been the case whether he hit the home run or not -- with just the way he played, being such an integral part of our team offensively, what he did with the pitching staff. He is much more comfortable and much more confident than he has been at any point, and it’s great to see. It’s what you hope to see out of young players as they progress in their career.”

Veteran backstop Tom Murphy has seen that difference up close, given that he and Raleigh are expected to share catching duties for the Mariners this season.

“Any time you have a season like Cal did last year, where it did not start off the way he wanted it to but ended as good as he possibly could ask for -- that’s going to give you an air of confidence coming in here, and rightfully so,” Murphy said. “I mean, you go out and prove to yourself that you can come back from one of the darkest of holes in your career to having one of the biggest moments in Seattle history -- that should give him a ton of confidence, and it’s showing up, for sure.”

Already off to a hot start in Cactus League play, Raleigh is hoping to carry all of his recent success into the 2023 season.

Because what has changed dramatically for someone selected by Seattle in the third round of the 2018 MLB Draft is the state of Mariners baseball, where excitement for the club has reached an all-time high.

“It’s become more of a thing around Seattle, not just a thing you go do on a Sunday,” Raleigh said. “It’s like, ‘Let’s go every night. I want to watch these guys. I want to fill up the stadium for each series.’ It’s super special.

“The fans are great. They’ve been awesome. And we’re just hoping for that same [energy] all year long.”