Project me up before you go go.
The annual release of the ZiPS projection system (department of redundancy department) has swept through the Seattle Mariners roster, providing a framework for Seattle’s possible 2022 outcomes. Dan Szymborski’s venerable projection system sees the Mariners as around an 80-85 win team as it stands, an encouraging baseline considering the club’s immense unspent capital and the various star-level players the club has been connected with and will hopefully reconvene with once the owners’ lockout concludes. While Szymborski notes Seattle is in an encouraging position, there are some worries, some highlighted in the depth chart below, others not. Also, we’ll get to Julio Rodríguez (not listed below) in just a moment.
First, Seattle’s depth makes for a blessing and a curse, as their strengths are not so easily highlighted on a visual like the one above. On the other hand, with every position (based on FanGraphs playing time projections in the visual above) projected around 1.3-2.7 fWAR, there are no glaring holes for truly drastic improvement, particularly if certain players see their playing time faded (see: White, Evan). That’s not to say adding talent isn’t essential to enhancing Seattle’s likelihood of success, only that they will need multiple moves still and perhaps some consolidation to maximize their impact.
Secondly, Seattle gets more benefit of the doubt in some areas than fans might be comfortable with, while being questioned in others. ZiPS sees Jarred Kelenic continuing to put up a mixed bag of numbers as a big leaguer, with a league-average bat but exceedingly poor defensive numbers. While Szymborski notes he sees a more promising season ahead for Kelenic personally, it is a worthwhile note that Seattle’s situation in center field is far from solidified. The bullpen that carried Seattle to success in 2021 is also seen as a deficiency by ZiPS, which sees only Diego Castillo as a likely source of clear strength.
Thirdly, Julio. The 20 year old wunderkind is not listed on the club’s depth chart graphic as FanGraphs is understandably skeptical Seattle prioritizes anything over manipulating Rodríguez’s service time. However, ZiPS expects Julio to ultimately rack up just over 400 plate appearances. Where does it project his performance relative to the rest of the club?
Oh! To be not just the best position player on the team by rate, but even with just 2/3rds the reps, the best player overall! Perhaps it might behoove Seattle to find some way to get Julio onto the field ASAP, in that case. Part of the rosy projection, you may notice, is that ZiPS is absolutely a believer in Rodríguez as a defender, something he’s long gotten somewhat of a hand-wave for on a scouting perspective. His arm is in the 60-70 range, and his athleticism makes him a relatively rangy player, plus his fluidity makes him a fairly smooth slider and diver, something not guaranteed in even highly trained athletes (e.g. Mitch Haniger, Guillermo Heredia). The club even claimed interest in giving him run at in center field at the big league level due to their satisfaction with his development with routes, though that may be a bit of posturing. In any case, Rodríguez projects to be the club’s second-best hitter already in his age-21 season, just short of Ty France and ahead of Haniger. If Julio delivers at that level, the Mariners would have to be thrilled, and they also should consider orienting their roster around getting him on the field as early and often as possible.
There’s plenty more to dig through, but the last thing I’ll note here is how much the rotation is still in question. Sticking Ray at the top of the list is a massive boon, particularly with the club intending to drop back to a traditional five-man rotation. But between a pair of contact managers in Marco Gonzales and Chris Flexen, as well as a still-young Logan Gilbert, at least one of the expected arms may encounter issues in 2022. While ZiPS sees promise for solid contributions in Brandon Williamson, Matt Brash, and George Kirby in the near future, this is a group that’s in serious need of another upside addition.