It is no secret that the Seattle Mariners have had their fair share of struggles in the past 20+ years. The 2001 season was one to remember, but since then, there has been little to be excited about. A lot of that struggle in recent years, outside of Ichiro, has come from the outfield group. Names such as Nori Aoki, Leonys Martín, Seth Smith, Michael Saunders, Jarrod Dyson, and many more have come and gone in Seattle. But, lucky for Mariners fans, many of their coveted prospects and young stars play the outfield. We constantly hear about Kyle Lewis, Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodríguez, Taylor Trammell, and then the older, more established player in Mitch Haniger. These players are without a doubt a huge part of the Mariners’ future and deserve every bit of hype they are receiving.
But, one player that tends to be overlooked due to the star power at the position is Jake Fraley. It isn’t a huge sample size, but what he has done in his opportunities this year is worth noting, and very intriguing.
Fraley was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays. He played his college baseball at Louisiana State University, wherein 3 seasons he hit .328/.397/.462 with 10 HRs, 100 RBI, and 59 SB in 173 games played. His stats at the Division I level were no joke, and that eventually made it possible for him to forego his senior season and become a part of the Rays organization. In the Rays organization, Fraley got as far as High A before being traded. On November 8th, 2018, Jake was part of a trade that sent him and Mallex Smith to Seattle for Michael Plassmeyer, Guillermo Heredia, and Mike Zunino. Fraley wasn’t the main player for the Mariners in that deal, as Mallex Smith was supposed to be their fix in centerfield for the time being, That was not the case, and Fraley actually became the key to that trade for the M’s. Fraley quickly became a top prospect for the Mariners, tearing up both AA and AAA pitching in 2019. He was called up to the big leagues and made his major league debut on August 21st, 2019 against none other than the team who drafted him, the Tampa Bay Rays. He struggled in his short stint in 2019, hitting a mere .150 in only 40 ABs. The shortened 2020 season did not help Fraley either, which was the case for many minor leaguers fighting for time in the big leagues. He only appeared in seven games for the M’s, where he hit .154 with 11 strikeouts in 26 ABs.
Anyone who watched Fraley play knew that this struggle would not last forever. He plays the game with immense discipline and professionalism, and when the 2021 season was inching closer, nobody was going to be surprised if he was on the Opening Day roster. That is where he found himself, but because of a hamstring strain, he wasn’t there for long. He worked his way back from that injury and spent 11 days in Tacoma on a rehab assignment, and on May 31st, he was back with the big league ball club. It is now the middle of June, and in that two-week span, he has shown flashes of excellence.
First and foremost, limiting strikeouts was a key for Jake Fraley going into this season. It’s very common for young players to strike out a lot when their career is first starting in the bigs, but for Fraley, an improvement was more than necessary. This improvement is shown most prominently in his walk-to-strikeout ratio. In 2019 with the Mariners, Fraley walked zero times and struck out 14 times in 41 plate appearances. In 2020, he walked two times and struck out 11 times in 29 plate appearances. His K% has dropped from 34.1% in 2019 and 37.9% in 2020 to a minuscule 20.5% so far in 2021. As his strikeout percentage has decreased, his walk percentage has skyrocketed. In 2019, his BB% was 0.0%. He walked a total of zero times in 41 plate appearances. In 2020, his BB% was 6.9%. He walked two times in 29 plate appearances. Up to this point in the 2021 season, Fraley has improved his BB% to 28.8%. He has walked an absurd 21 times in 73 plate appearances. His BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) has been another indicator that his play is improving. In 2019, Fraley’s BABIP was only .231. In 2020, it improved to .267. As of today, he has improved it even further, as his BABIP is .313.
There are a lot of analytics that I just laid out, but this essentially was showing him that if he limits strikeouts and puts the ball in play more consistently, he will be more successful. It seems obvious, but for Fraley, it is a small change that has elevated and transformed his game.
It has been incredibly impressive to see what Fraley has done this year despite not being guaranteed a big league roster spot or playing time for the majority of his career. It takes a special type of player to stay the course and not press in difficult times. He has endured pesky injuries and the constant uncertainty about your future as a baseball player. On June 1st, he even received the “Golden Sombrero”, as he struck out four times against the Oakland Athletics. But Fraley has not let any of that deter his path. He has had trust that his time will come in a Mariners system loaded with outfield talent. That is also shown in his recent play. With the minimum being 50 PA, Fraley leads MLB in BB rate (28.8%), OBP (.493), and chase rate (14.5%). In addition, his 14 RBI since June 3rd are most in the Majors. Fraley is finding his identity. He has been working counts, not throwing away any ABs, and even grabbing opposing pitchers’ attention on the base paths. The fact that he has been able to stay true to what he knows he does well despite dealing with lingering injuries and a few tough performances at both the AAA and MLB levels is astonishing and is starting to get noticed on the national stage.
Jake Fraley is very unique. He is incredibly professional, dedicated to his craft and faith, passionate about winning, and an evolved baseball player. The Seattle Mariners are in the middle of a youth movement that is meant to bring the city of Seattle and its fans a World Series title. As said before, their outfield core will be an immense part of that if it does indeed happen. It will be worth following and quite interesting to see what they plan to do with so much talent at the position and only three outfield spots on any given day. But, one thing we know is true is that the recent play of Jake Fraley has opened a lot of eyes. If he is able to stay consistent and show that he can be an everyday threat, it will be impossible to keep him out of the lineup.
Having “too much” talent is a good problem to have, and talent is clearly not something that Fraley lacks. Keep an eye on Fraley, as he is somebody that excites a lot of fans in the Emerald City.
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