Top 5 debut seasons in Mariners history

April 7th, 2022

SEATTLE -- From homegrown prospects to superstar free-agent signees and blockbuster trade acquisitions, the Mariners have had plenty of players come in and immediately make their mark in Seattle. Some were under the radar, others drew paparazzi.

Julio Rodríguez has a chance to etch his name into Mariners lore with his rookie season, which will begin on Friday with his much-anticipated MLB debut.

Below are the Top 5 debut seasons in franchise history. For this project, we only looked at a player’s first season with the franchise, not the first “full” season or one that exceeded rookie limits after a debut the year prior, so players such as Kyle Lewis were not included.

1) , RF (2001)
Ichiro might have a case for the best debut season in MLB history, not just in the Mariners annals, and he certainly has a claim for that title in his era. As a 27-year-old rookie, Suzuki more than lived up to his lofty hype during his first year in Seattle after signing a three-year, $14 million contract. The cameras, fame, glitz and glamour never got to him because he was already a superstar following nine seasons in the Japan Pacific League.

He became the first player in MLB history win league MVP and Rookie of the Year Award honors, earn Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards and start in the All-Star Game all in the same season -- and he did so while helping at the top of the lineup for a Mariners team that won an MLB-record 116 games.

Ichiro also won the American League batting title, hitting . 350/.381/.457 with an MLB-best 56 stolen bases and 127 runs scored to pair with elite defense and a cannon arm in pitcher-friendly T-Mobile Park. Only eight players in history -- the Ty Cobbs and George Sislers of the world -- had more than his 242 hits that season (and he set the hits record three years later, finishing with 262).

2) Alvin Davis, 1B (1984)
“Mr. Mariner” wasn’t even supposed to be with the big league team in 1984, but after Ken Phelps fractured his finger in the opening week of the season, Davis took the opportunity and ran with it. In his second career at-bat, Davis crushed an upper-deck homer off eventual Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley, who intentionally walked him later in what was a tight game.

A sixth-round pick by Seattle in 1982, Davis had a rookie season for the ages, hitting 27 homers and 116 RBIs, fourth most in the AL, to go with a .284/.391/.497 slash line. He was an All-Star and earned the Rookie of the Year Award, edging out teammate Mark Langston. Davis’ debut was so good that the Mariners had to move Phelps into the permanent DH role once he was healthy -- they had their first baseman of the future.

3) Felix Hernandez, RHP (2005)
Hernandez had so much hype coming up that some of the local blogs had coronated him “King Felix” before he even reached the Majors. When he debuted, at 19 years and 118 days old, Hernandez was the youngest pitcher to appear in a big league game since 1984. The stakes were high.

But Hernandez loved the pomp and circumstance. He thrived through it. His first career strikeout was to eventual Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez in Detroit, and the King took off towards his throne from there. The Mariners were out of the postseason picture, but that didn’t take away from the impact Hernandez made in 12 starts over the final two months.

He went 4-4 with a 2.67 ERA, 158 ERA+, 2.15 FIP, 0.996 WHIP and 77 strikeouts over 84 1/3 innings. Because he was called up so late in the season, Hernandez was not in contention for the AL Rookie of the Year Award. But he was well on his way to becoming one of the best pitchers of his generation.

4) , DH/RF (2015)
Despite his 35 years of age at the time of signing with the Mariners as a free agent, Cruz became one of the best acquisitions in Mariners history over his four-year run in Seattle, and he started that $57 million contract with a bang in 2015. That year, Cruz crushed a career-high 44 homers that were the second most in the Majors, while hitting .302/.369/.566.

He was the starting DH for the AL All-Stars that year’s Midsummer Classic in Cincinnati, and he earned also his first Silver Slugger Award and finished sixth in the AL MVP Award voting.

5) Mark Langston, LHP (1984)
Seattle’s second-round Draft pick in 1981, Langston finally reached the big leagues three years later and went 17-10 with a 3.40 ERA and an AL-high 204 strikeouts, finishing second in the AL Rookie of the Year Award voting to Mr. Mariner Davis. Brought up out of San Diego State, Langston debuted on April 4 and held the Brewers to just two runs and four hits in a win, going seven innings for the first of 17 times that season. He threw two shutouts that year and three additional complete games, and he struck out 12 three times.

Langston is considered one of the Mariners' stronger Draft picks of their early era, having earned an All-Star bid and anchoring the rotation for parts of six seasons. His 1,078 strikeouts during that stretch trailed only Nolan Ryan. But Langston is perhaps most prominently remembered for being the big send-off to Montreal in the Randy Johnson blockbuster of 1989.

Honorable mentions

, 2B (2014): The smooth-swinging Canó didn’t immediately replicate his power numbers with the Yankees, but he did hit .314/.382/.454 with 14 homers over 157 games and earned his sixth All-Star selection in his first season after signing a franchise-record $240 million contract.

, RHP (1999): Garcia was a bulldog in his debut season, leading the team with 17 wins and throwing 201 1/3 innings that trailed only Jamie Moyer. He finished second to the Royals’ Carlos Beltrán for the AL Rookie of the Year Award.

, CF (1977): We have to include the top performer from the very first Mariners team ever, don’t we? Jones hit 24 homers with a .778 OPS and stole 13 bases over 160 games, earning an All-Star selection.

, LHP (1996): When the much-traveled Moyer was acquired from the Red Sox at the Trade Deadline, it wasn’t met with much fanfare. But it wound up being one of the biggest trades in club history. Moyer went 6-2 with a 3.31 ERA and a 150 ERA+ over 11 starts down the stretch, though the Mariners missed the postseason by 2 1/2 games.

, RHP (2000): The Japanese righty picked up 37 saves, third most in the AL, for a Seattle club that won the AL Wild Card and reached that year’s AL Championship Series. He compiled a 3.16 ERA and struck out 78 in 62 2/3 innings, and he became the second-oldest big leaguer to win the Rookie of the Year, at age 32.