March 26, 2020, at 1:10 PM, marks the first game of the 2020 regular season for the Seattle Mariners.
March 26, 2020, at 1:10 PM, also marks the first opportunity for fans to see what kind of team the Mariners are looking like they will be – not just here and now, but also in the future.
And it looks to be an exciting one.
Gone is the franchise savant, Felix Hernandez, who left and signed a minor-league deal (that includes an invite to big-league camp) with the Atlanta Braves, and gone with him is one of the final pieces that can be tied to the franchise’s success. While their amount of success has varied through each season, the fact that they have produced sub-.500 records for seven seasons since 2010 speaks more to their uneven roster and on-field performances that each team has produced.
Describing the Mariners’ roster as ‘exciting’ may lead fans the wrong way, but ‘exciting’ here does not necessarily coincide with ‘successful,’ ‘positive,’ or ‘postseason-bound.’ The future of this organization looks to be a lot brighter than their current roster complexion, which is going to make the Mariner faithful a bit uneasy to have to wait to see the finished product.
But it should damn well be worth the wait.
Spring Training in 2020 is a great look into what the future holds for this organization, as future stars like Jarred Kelenic (OF), Julio Rodriguez (OF), Logan Gilbert (RHP), Evan White (1B), and Justin Dunn (RHP) all live at the top of the franchise’s farm system, and they are all projected to make their MLB debuts within two seasons, which will provide the big-league team with a huge amount of talent all at once.
Riding the wave of the youthful players is a very careful chess game that requires the utmost patience in massaging the most amount of production out of it. The Atlanta Braves were able to do that very successfully, channeling the early success players like Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, Austin Riley, Mike Soroka, Mike Foltynewicz, and Chad Sobotka, into a National League East divisional title and a few playoff runs (even if they have both ended prematurely).
For the Mariners, their up-and-coming core may not necessarily resemble that of the high-ceiling core that the Braves had, but their core of players that are looking to make big-league impacts as soon as this season has got to finally give fans something to be happy about and look forward to.
Of their projected nine starters, only Kyle Seager, Kyle Lewis, and Evan White were drafted by Seattle, making their foray into upgrading their roster mainly an outside-reaching affair. The likes of J.P. Crawford, Shed Long Jr., Daniel Vogelbach, and Mallex Smith were all acquired by the team, among other players, and that type of talent did not come cheap, but it seems as though that the Mariners have been able to recoup any sort of lost value through the development of their future stars.
Kelenic looks to be the cream of the crop, acquired in the Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz trade with the New York Mets last offseason, which seems to be looking better and better for the Mariners as the days go on. Cano has continued to deal with injury issues while in the Big Apple, and even though Diaz put up 26 saves last year for the Mets, his 2-7 record combined with a 5.59 ERA shows up as a far cry from his 57 saves and 1.96 ERA he produced in his final season with Seattle in 2018.
The strategy of building for the future while still playing for the present is nothing even close to being a science, as teams across all levels of professional sports struggle to make this concept work. And the same goes for the Mariners as well, especially since they have been producing very inconsistent results over the past decade.
Mixing in losing seasons in between those that are above .500 is a weird way to run a rebuild or a reset of sorts, which may be the exact reason that this team has been stuck in a bit of a purgatory lately. But with what is on the horizon, they only have to hold out for a little bit longer before the valued resources get to the big leagues and hopefully help push them to the point of consistent and above-average play.
At the moment, the future has arrived in the form of White, Justus Sheffield, and Long Jr., who each will be able to help this team in different ways.
For White, he looks to be the main guy to play every day over at first base, especially with the slugging Vogelbach staying as the team’s main designated hitter. With the kind of defensive prowess that White has, the 23-year-old 17th overall selection out of the University of Kentucky looks to be the perfect first piece to help start the integration of their farm system into their big-league roster.
Even with only four games at the Triple-A level under his belt, White comes into camp with the first base role seemingly favored in his direction, which shows the type of player that Seattle thinks that he can become. Combined with the six-year, $24 million extension that he just signed even before taking a single at-bat at the MLB level, and you have all the makings of a young player that has a ton of support behind him from the organization.
Whether or not the Mariners make 2020 the year that they finally re-enter the radar of people and fans across the country, they still have the type of roster at this moment and in the foreseeable future to be very excited about. The results that they earn in ‘20 may not necessarily be the ones that they are looking for at the moment, but the improvements that their core of up-and-comers are going to make will speak more about what they are going to become and not about who they are already.