Photo via Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
The Mariners came into this season in the next chapter of their rebuilding phase and were expected to finish toward the bottom. The main outcome I was hoping for coming into this season was progress from the young prospects and signs of life. The Mariners showed more progress than expected overall, only finishing two games out of a playoff spot. They finished 27-33, two games behind the Houston Astros, who lost to the Tampa Bay Rays in seven games in the ALCS.
The Mariners as a team struggled in the hitting department, an aspect which saw some growth but a lot of growing pains present, finishing with the third-worst team On-base Plus Slugging Percentage with .678. They finished in the bottom 10 in nearly every major statistical category such as runs scored, home runs, etc. However, they finished 12th in most walks this season.
Kyle Lewis, who started so well to begin the season, went on a slump in September. His OPS dropped from .883 in August to .550 in September, batting average dropped from .286 to .147 and 13 RBI to only seven. He was 11th in the MLB in strikeouts with 71. He still finished with a solid .801 OPS, .262 BA, 11 home runs and 28 RBI. However, Lewis’ campaign was enough to earn unanimous AL Rookie of the Year as he led all rookies in runs (32), 90 total bases and a total On-base Percentage (OBP) of .364. The other Kyle, Seager, was also productive this season, leading the team in RBI with 40. He chipped in an OPS of .788 and a .241 average.
The other two notables were shortstop J.P. Crawford and rookie first baseman Evan White, who both won the American League Gold Glove awards at their respective positions, shortstop and first base. Crawford scored 33 runs, drove in 24 with an OPS of .674 and a BA of .255. His most notable impact was at fielding, where he made incredible plays on a consistent basis. As for White, his rookie season was filled with growing pains as he was third in the MLB in strikeouts with 84 and notched an average of .176 along with a .599 OPS. However, he showed signs of potential with 26 RBI, third on the team, and eight home runs. If he can improve his contact, he could prove to be a dangerous hitter moving forward, solidifying the first base position.
Pitching was the biggest concern coming into the season and it saw struggles as well, finishing with the seventh-worst team earned run average (ERA) and the fifth-worst total earned runs. However, they were 17th opposing batting average and 16th in home runs allowed, a decent result. Marco Gonzales was once again the ace for the team, finishing with a 7-3 record and a 3.10. Justus Sheffield chipped in with a 4-3 record with a 3.58 ERA and the youngster Justin Dunn finished 4-1 but with a 4.34 ERA and a Fielding-Independent Pitching (FIP) of 6.54.
Taylor Williams started out as the closer with a 1-1 record, 5.93 ERA with no blown saves. However, he was traded to the San Diego Padres at the trade deadline. Yoshihisa Hirano took over the closing duties and went 4-4 on his save opportunities.
Overall, this season gave Mariners fans plenty of reason to feel optimism for the future. They contended for a playoff spot all season as they only finished two games behind the Astros and found success despite a roster in full-rebuild mode. The lineup is young and raw and the pitching rotation needs a lot of development. But players such as Lewis and White showed signs they can be part of a future core that can finally break the playoff drought which has plagued them since the 2001 season.
The Mariners have six prospects in the MLB Top 100 Prospects, three of them are outfielders and three of them are right-handed pitchers. Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez are two top-15 prospects which look to cap off a future deadly outfield with Lewis going forward. Taylor Trammell looks to provide depth at that position going forward.
At pitching, Emerson Hancock, Logan Gilbert and George Kirby look to bolster the rotation in the coming years as they develop. The Mariners have a bright future and as long as they stick to the rebuild and exercise patience, the results will start to show down the road.