Kelenic coming, but Fraley ready to compete

February 28th, 2021

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Not even two years ago, the offensive star in the Mariners’ Minor League system wasn’t Kyle Lewis, Evan White or . It was outfielder , who went from hitting his way onto the big league roster late that summer to entering 2021 Spring Training looking to restore his stock as a Major League left fielder.

On paper, that seems like a short stretch. But it spans a sprained right thumb that ended Fraley’s stellar 2019 early, a nice Spring Training in ’20 that was cut short, a Summer Camp that wasn’t as productive and just a seven-game stint in the regular season that ended when the club instead opted for waiver claim Phillip Ervin for the final month.

A frustrated Fraley finished out the year at the alternate training site, then he set off into the offseason, using his faith to seek self-direction.

“When I got called down after having about five games up there and they claimed Phillip Ervin, that was kind of a big turning point for me as far as mentally,” Fraley said. “And I really had to take a step back. And I spent a lot of time with the Lord kind of trying to reel myself back into a solid ground, a solid place, because I wasn't really there.”

Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has said that Fraley will have every opportunity to break camp as the club’s starting left fielder, but his spot is likely only written in pencil, given that No. 1 prospect Kelenic is waiting in the wings and is in stellar shape this spring.

Through his Cactus League play, the super confident and competitive Kelenic plans to make Seattle's decision on his Opening Day roster status more challenging, particularly in the wake of comments made about Kelenic’s future by former president and CEO Kevin Mather. Braden Bishop, a superior defender to Fraley but with a less impactful bat, is also vying for the spot.

“Us as the players, we know that,” Fraley said. "We kind of look around the room and kind of get the feel of and understanding without anybody having to sit down and really explain that much detail. But the only thing is, we really view it as a competition. And, you know, we're all going to go out there, and we're going to give it everything we have, and the pieces are going to fall where they may.”

Fraley’s big league sample size is still incredibly small. He’s played in just 19 games, but it was a performance he’d like to move past after hitting .152/.200/.227 with four extra-base hits, two walks and 25 strikeouts in 66 at-bats. And again, his .298/.365/.545 slash line with 19 homers and 80 RBIs over 99 Minors games in ’19, including a promotion to Triple-A Tacoma, isn’t in the too-distant rear view.

However, the Mariners are progressing beyond the evaluation phase of their rebuild and moving into one more of development. That’s not to say Fraley will be left behind, but they would like to see positive results this spring.

He’s off to a solid start. Mariners manager Scott Servais said Fraley trimmed 15 pounds, which cut down some bulk Fraley put on in an effort to seek more power. He also worked extensively with assistant hitting coach Jarret DeHart, who lives near Fraley’s parents’ home in the offseason.

Along with some video consultation with hitting coach Tim Laker, the trio assisted Fraley in making some minor changes with his lower half that help him get into better hitting positions more consistently, with the objective of covering more pitches in the strike zone. In his wildly small sample size, Fraley has missed 18.6 percent of the in-zone pitches he’s swung at, which is right at league average.

“Jake has made some pretty major changes, adjustments offensively in the batter's box and I think he needed to -- you know, looking at the struggles he had a little bit -- work through some different things injury-wise just to have the year he was hoping to have last year,” Servais said.

Now, Fraley will try to put it all together over 28 Cactus League games in a 30-day stretch beginning Sunday. But after his mental conditioning last winter, he believes he is at far more psychological ease this go-round.

“It takes a lot of pressure off,” Fraley said. “But that's the hardest part is, like I said, putting that into action every single day.”