Posted on March 13, 2020, by Bryan Zarpentine
Heading into the 2020 season, the Seattle Mariners are undoubtedly in rebuilding mode. Since last season, they’ve not been shy about trading away proven players to restock their farm system. To their credit, the Mariners have one of the more intriguing farm systems in baseball. Can Seattle’s young players make them one of the surprise teams in 2020 or will it be a long season in the Pacific Northwest?
The Mariners will have plenty of youth in their rotation this season after saying goodbye to the likes of Felix Hernandez and Mike Leake after last season. Lefty Marco Gonzales will lead the rotation after winning 16 games and posting a 3.99 ERA last year. However, there are few certainties beyond him. Japanese lefty Yusei Kikuchi got knocked around a little last year, although Seattle hopes his second year will go better. The Mariners are also taking a chance on Kendall Graveman and Tijuan Walker, who are both coming off Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2019 (outside of one inning pitched by Walker)
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In fairness, if Graveman and Walker can bounce back quickly, Seattle’s rotation could be decent. But if either one doesn’t hit the ground running, the Mariners will turn to their crop of youngsters. Justus Sheffield is likely to earn a spot in the rotation at the start of the season. He’s the team’s top prospect and a potential frontline starter. Justin Dunn also flashed great potential in his four starts last September. Erik Swanson is also an option if the Mariners need additional depth.
As with most rebuilding teams, the bullpen could be an issue for Seattle. Many of the team’s top receivers from last season are no longer with the team, so the Mariners will have a lot of new faces. The Mariners will take a chance on Carl Edwards Jr., who had a couple of good years with the Cubs but had a disastrous 2019. Yoshihisa Hirano is another offseason addition the Mariners hope can put a rough 2019 season behind him. Sam Tuivailala will also be key after a strong second half last year.
Of course, there is no shortage of young and promising arms in the Seattle bullpen. Nestor Cortes, Art Warren, Gerson Bautista, and others have the stuff to be impact relievers. However, those guys and most of Seattle’s relievers are unproven in the majors. If they struggle and veterans like Edwards and Hirano can’t handle prominent roles, Seattle’s bullpen could be a disaster in 2020.
Scoring runs could be a serious problem for the Mariners in 2020. Mitch Haniger is one of the best hitters on the roster, but he could miss the early part of the season due to injury. That will put a lot on the shoulders of Kyle Seager, who is one of the few proven players the Mariners have. The good news is that catcher Tom Murphy had a great season offensively in 2019 while Dan Vogelbach mashed 30 home runs, giving the Mariners a nice power source in the middle of the lineup.
Of course, it’ll be the development of Seattle’s young players that ultimately determine how easily they score runs in 2020. Kyle Lewis is one of the team’s best prospects, but he’ll be asked to play every day and produce, especially with Haniger out. Jake Fraley will also get a chance to play regularly early in the season. First baseman Evan White is another top prospect the Mariners hope is ready to contribute in the big leagues. Finally, the two biggest X-factors could be the middle infield tandem of J.P Crawford and Shed Long. Crawford, in particular, was one of the top prospects in baseball a few years ago but is yet to fulfill his potential. If he can have a breakout season, it’ll do help push forward Seattle’s rebuilding project.
Needless to say, expectations are meager for the Mariners, who are projected to win 67.5 games after winning just 68 a year ago. Of course, that’s if the MLB season isn’t further delayed by the coronavirus pandemic and the season remains at 162 games. If everything falls into place, the Mariners could make things interesting and even hover around .500 this year. However, there are far too many uncertainties with such a youthful roster. Look for the Mariners to have their moments but ultimately fall short of 67.5 wins or any other adjusted win total while finishing last in the AL West.