Breaking down the Mariners' OF situation

July 20th, 2020

SEATTLE -- With now in camp and looking back at home in center field, the Mariners’ outfield contingent is finally at full strength. Or at least as full strength as it’s going to get, given that and prospect Julio Rodriguez are sidelined by injuries.

It’s a very inexperienced group, and the upcoming 60-game season will be a challenge depth-wise should any further injuries occur, even with utility players like Tim Lopes, Sam Haggerty, Dylan Moore and Jose Marmolejos likely filling in at times.

Here’s a look at the true outfield group on Seattle’s 60-man player pool:

The veteran
Smith: The 27-year-old is the only healthy Mariners outfielder with more than 27 MLB games on his resume, and even he is just entering his third season as a full-time starter. Smith led the American League with 46 stolen bases last year, but he’ll need to rediscover his ability to consistently get on base after seeing his slash line plummet to .227/.300/.335 last year. Smith posted a .296/.367/.406 line the previous season with the Rays, and if he can get back near that production, Seattle would have a legitimate leadoff threat. Until then, he’ll likely bat near the bottom of the lineup.

The rookies
: No one has looked better in Summer Camp than the 2016 first-round Draft choice, who burst onto the scene with six homers in his first 10 games last year as a September callup and has been locked in both at the plate and in the outfield -- capably filling in in center field while Smith was absent -- since the club regrouped in Seattle after the shutdown. He’ll start in right and be a middle-of-the-order presence from the get-go.

: The former Louisiana State University standout had a big season at Double-A Arkansas and Triple-A Tacoma last year, but he struggled offensively in 12 games as in a late-season callup for the Mariners before spraining his right thumb. He’s been searching a bit at the plate this camp as well, but he will have an opportunity to show what he can do as the likely starting left fielder to open the season.

: The 26-year-old from the University of Washington needs to hit a little in order to earn a spot as the potential fourth outfielder, but his outstanding defense and mature approach make him a valued member of the organization and he’s started to heat up at the plate recently after a slow start. A fractured right wrist in 2018 and lacerated spleen in ’19 cost him opportunities the past two years, so maybe it’s time his luck turned.

The prospects
: The 21-year-old clearly figures to be a key part of the Mariners’ future, but the question is when that future begins. Seattle’s top prospect and the No. 11 overall prospect in baseball, per MLB Pipeline, has looked good in Summer Camp and is understandably eager to get his career started. But the plan was to start Kelenic at Double-A this year and let him progress, and the club is reluctant to rush a player with just 92 plate appearances above Class A ball. So he’ll join the rest of the extra pool players in Tacoma when the regular season begins and work out against Seattle’s other top prospects until the call comes.

: In normal circumstances, DeLoach would be reporting to Class A Short-Season Everett to get his introduction to pro ball for a few months after being drafted in the second round out of Texas A&M in June. Instead, he’s been tossed straight in among the Major Leaguers, and while he has been a bit overwhelmed at the plate in a few intrasquad scrimmages, the 21-year-old has already intrigued the Mariners’ brass and will get more valuable exposure in Tacoma during the next two months.

The injured
Haniger: While he hasn’t been ruled out for the season, there’s little indication that the 2018 AL All-Star will return this year since he’s on the 45-day injured list and still unable to do much in the way of baseball activity while rehabbing from offseason surgery on a herniated disc. Haniger would be eligible to come off the IL in mid-August, but he’s been sidelined for more than 13 months now and it would seem pointless to try to rush him back and risk further setback just to attempt to play the final few weeks of the shortened season.

Rodriguez: Another one of the Mariners’ bright prospects, the 19-year-old suffered a hairline fracture in his left wrist diving for a ball last week and will be held out of baseball activity for the next four to six weeks, though he was already in the cage swinging one-handed on Monday. The injury likely eliminates any chance of him participating in the intrasquad workouts and scrimmages in Tacoma, but there is hope Rodriguez might be ready to participate in winter ball in the Dominican Republic to salvage some of this developmental year.