Jake Fraley had a feeling this day was coming soon. He said he wanted to speak candidly about this particularly topic — he thought he’d end up with the Seattle Mariners before the 2019 season was out.
“I think I’m a hairline away,” Fraley said in July, weeks after he was promoted from Double-A Arkansas to Triple-A Tacoma following a torrid start.
Less than a month after he predicted his big-league call-up, the Mariners made it official. The 24-year-old outfielder joined Seattle on the road Tuesday, as the club continued a three-game series against his former organization, Tampa Bay.
He will make his MLB debut with his first appearance, becoming the 63rd player to appear for the Mariners this season and the 17th rookie to debut with Seattle. He was not in the starting lineup Tuesday, as he spent the day traveling, but is expected to play at some point during the Rays series.
“It’s been a really good year for him,” Mariners manager Scott Servais told reporters in St. Petersburg on Tuesday. “He was very impressive in spring training for our look at him there. He’s played all three outfield positions, predominantly in center field as of late.
“He’s swung the bat very well. He’s shown power. He’s shown pretty good plate discipline. He can run the bases pretty well. He can steal a base. It’s a good skill set. I’m anxious to see how it plays out.”
Had a quad strain not hampered Fraley during the first two weeks of August, this promotion may have come even sooner.
An offseason acquisition in the trade that sent catcher Mike Zunino to the Rays, Fraley has risen through Seattle’s ranks quickly, and is considered the No. 8 prospect in the organization. He was slashing at .298/.365/.545 with 27 doubles, five triples, 19 homers, 80 RBIs and 22 stolen bases through 99 games in the minors.
“I think he brings a lot of things,” Rainiers manager Daren Brown said Monday, after Fraley was pulled from the lineup and spotted leaving Cheney Stadium early with his bags packed. “There are certain guys who can beat you in a lot of different ways every night. He can steal a base. He’s shown an ability to hit for average. He’s shown power.
“Defensively (he has) the ability to play all three outfield spots and play them all very well. He’s got a grit about him. He likes to play. He plays hard. I just think he’s a really solid, all-around baseball player. ... He had a really big first half in Double-A, and coming here really didn’t slow down a whole lot.”
Fraley should find immediate playing time in Seattle’s depleted outfield, which is still without injured players Mitch Haniger, Braden Bishop and Domingo Santana. Keon Broxton was acquired from Baltimore last month to help fill the void, but has struggled at the plate, and Mallex Smith was temporarily benched last week after making multiple base-running mistakes.
Most days lately, outfield holes have been filled by rookie infielders like Dylan Moore and Tim Lopes. Fraley’s addition should help remedy some of that outfield turnover.
“We’ll give him an opportunity and we’ve got to let him get comfortable,” Servais said. “I think the biggest thing when you bring young players up is you’ve got to let them show you who they are before you start making a ton of changes. Just get them acclimated to the program here with us, the big-league routine, and then go from there.”
Santana, who hasn’t played in the outfield since July, was placed on the 10-day injured list in a corresponding move, making room for Fraley on the active roster. Santana continues to battle soreness and inflammation in his right elbow, which has bothered him since the All-Star break.
The Mariners have played him exclusively as a designated hitter since a pair of throws aggravated the elbow in a game against Texas on July 23, but he hadn’t been placed on the IL until Tuesday.
“He started throwing and getting it going a little bit, just up to 60 feet, and wasn’t feeling good,” Servais said. “He finally admitted it was bothering him a little bit when he was swinging the bat. He doesn’t feel it on every swing, but some of them he does. We just thought at that point let’s let this calm down, give it 10 days, a couple weeks, whatever it takes and get him back.”
In 15 games appearing as a DH, Santana was 6-for-49 (.122) with a double, two homers, four RBIs, nine walks and 27 strikeouts. His 159 total strikeouts this season continue to lead the majors.
Servais said he would like to see Santana get comfortable with the bat again before the season is out, but it’s unclear if his arm will progress enough to return to the outfield by the end of September.
“I really want him to finish the season strong,” Servais said. “He had such a good first half.”