Two months ago the Seattle Mariners were looking at future departures in Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, looking for a place to go. As the 2020 Major League Baseball season hits the home stretch, the Mariners have boarded a flight: an optimistic rebuild.
Last season the Mariners finished 68-94, good for last place in the American League West. This season they’re 19-22, good for third place in the AL West. That’s progress. Furthermore, there are positive developments across the board on manager Scott Servais‘ roster.
The Mariners are young around the diamond; eight of the 10 position players who have garnered 50-plus at-bats — and are still on the team — are 30 or younger, including four who are 25 or younger. Kyle Lewis and Dylan Moore are two of those young legs.
Lewis, a former top prospect for the Mariners, has taken the league by storm in the sport’s 60-game regular season. Across 145 at-bats the outfielder is hitting .310, sporting a .913 OPS, and has totaled nine home runs and 23 RBIs.
Moore was a fixture in Seattle’s depth chart last season; he has taken the next step this season. Across 92 at-bats, the utility player is hitting .293, sporting a .934 OPS, and has totaled five home runs and 10 RBIs.
Meanwhile, 30-year-old Austin Nola was one of the most productive catchers in baseball, and general manager Jerry Dipito moved him to the San Diego Padres for most notably Taylor Trammell, a top outfield prospect, at the MLB trade deadline. Arguably the team’s top position player prospect, outfielder Jared Kelenic, is yet to make his big-league debut, too. That is two players waiting in the wings.
The Mariners quietly have a stable starting rotation with upside.
It’s a young unit led by a hurler who’s still just 28, that being Marco Gonzales. In years past the southpaw established himself as a reliable ground-ball pitcher and has done so at a prestigious level in 2020. Gonzales owns a 3.02 ERA and an 0.87 WHIP, opponents are hitting .211 against his offerings, and he’s averaging slightly above six innings per start.
Besides Gonzales is a trio of 24-year-old arms: Justus Sheffield, Justin Dunn, and Nick Margevicius. All three hurlers have held their own on the hill, pitching with efficiency and working out of trouble. They’re doing so in a division that includes multiple high-octane offenses (Oakland Athletics, Houston Astros, and Los Angeles Angels).
Few are wowing, but many are contributing to a competitive Mariners ballclub, one that was difficult to get a gauge on in spring training. The pivotal aspect of their 2020 play has been that the youth is seeing the field with frequency.
Sure, highly regarded youngsters Evan White and Shed Long Jr. are hitting below .200. Yes, shortstop J.P. Crawford, 25, is struggling to get into a groove. This is okay: they’re taking their lumps while getting acclimated to playing on a near-everyday basis in an unprecedented sporting climate.
The Mariners are winning and losing with the future on the field; that’s the best way for any rebuilding team to assess and project its youth. Plus, they’re just two games behind the Astros for second place in the division, which would get them in the playoffs, and two games behind the New York Yankees for the second AL Wild Card. They’re making the playoff race spicy.
It’s a rough road to playoff contention for the Mariners in a 162-game regular season. The A’s and Astros are each far more established than the Mariners from a talent standpoint; the Angels have a fearsome offense; the Texas Rangers have a respectable roster with individuals underperforming.
Regarding the AL as a whole, the Tampa Bay Rays, Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, Minnesota Twins, Cleveland Indians, and Chicago White Sox are further along than the Mariners and/or in contention. In short: the Mariners have a ways to go before they’re a playoff contender in a typical season structure.
This situation isn’t anything out of the ordinary. Rebuilds aren’t supposed to be quick. Houses aren’t build in a week; cars aren’t made in an hour; a website isn’t published with a mere link; papers aren’t written in one draft — unless you’re up against your professor’s deadline.
It wasn’t long ago the Mariners were beginning an abrupt rebuild, trading asset after asset to beef up their farm system; they looked hopeless. Instead, they’re watching everyday players emerge.
Is their rebuild invincible? Of course not. Does a 60-game season precisely depict a team’s outlook? No, but the Mariners have players and position groups to be enthused by. That couldn’t be said with conviction a year ago.
The Seattle Mariners are on the right track.