Mitch Haniger is the most exciting player on the Seattle Mariners’ 25-man roster. He’s a legit All-Star talent, and in the 2019 season, he’s the brightest spark PNW baseball fans can count on to carry them through a dark season.
Not that my rebuilding M’s can’t surprise us with impactful wins, and even (maybe?) amaze us with a plus .500 season, but we need to be realistic. Baseball Prospectus has the Mariners finishing the season at 72-90, just one win ahead of the Texas Rangers for dead last in the division. So, while I’m eternally optimistic during Spring Training, this will likely feel like a terribly long 162 games.
Now, before getting into why I’m so stoked about Mitch, let’s look back at his time in Seattle.
In 2017, Mitch’s first season with the Mariners, he played 96 excellent games before getting injured. He flashed at the plate, slashing .282 with 47 RBIs and 16 HRs, which for me, was more-than-enough to see his potential. But then, in 2018, we witnessed a complete Mitchapalooza* when he played a full season, hitting .285 with 93 RBIs and 26 HRs. It was truly awesome.
And that’s not saying anything about his defense. Remember that game, where after hitting two home runs, he made a perfect throw from the deep right-field corner so Segura could apply a behind-the-back tag on Valbuena sliding into second? If you haven’t seen it in a while (or ever!), it’s certainly a treasure worth digging up.
And yet, despite seeing Haniger’s legitimate breakout campaign, detractors say he’s not playing at the level of Judge, Trout, or Betts. And that’s fair, he’s not—not yet.
But I don’t think we’ve seen Haniger’s ceiling.
After thoughtful consideration, I have three predictions for Mitch Haniger’s upcoming season. By the end of September, when the Mariners are all-but wrapped up and we’re watching the playoff picture fall into place beyond our reach, I believe we’ll be able to look back at Mitch’s 2019 season in awe of his ascension to verified star.
Batting Average: .285+
Climbing slightly over the last two seasons from .282 to .285, Haniger’s batting average has looked good. This season, I’m expecting Mitch to sustain a .285 average with the possibility of something closer to .290, if I might be so greedy. Now, that’s not much in the way of improvement, but this year he’s going to see big-league pitchers who have faced him before, and they’re going to be better about adjusting to him mid-game. So, if he can hold steady (or even improve a touch), I’ll be very happy.
Runs Batted In: 115+
RBIs is the category of scoring I’m most excited to watch over this upcoming season. Not only did Mitch jump significantly from 47 RBIs in 2017 to 93 RBIS in 2018, but his role on this team is different this year and it’ll result in another measurable step up, possibly even exceeding 115 RBIs. Last season, he flourished in the leadoff spot, and this year I’m projecting he’ll split time between the number two and three spots. With his average, frequently finding Smith and/or Gordon on base ahead of him, Mitch should see generate plenty of opportunities to bring in more than a few runs.
Home Runs: 30+
In terms of raw power, Mitch is limited both in what he’s physically capable of with a bat, and in how the Mainers utilize his talents. To be fair, in 2017, he launched 16 homers and in 2018 no fewer than 26 of his balls left the yard, but I’m not expecting a whole lot more than that in 2019. I’m projecting 30 home runs, which would be a nice uptick and a new professional benchmark. This offseason, the Mariners acquired a few new heavy hitters, cementing Mitch’s role into a mid-range hitter—not leading off, but not batting clean-up either. Considering those factors, I can easily see Mitch dropping 30 bombs this year.
So, what’s the elevator pitch version of my oh-so hot take?
Easy: Haniger’s our RBI-machine, three-hole hitter who reliably gets on base and occasionally goes yard.
That might be overly positive; in fact, I’m sure it is. But if we get another Mitchapalooza that even sniffs these stats, the Mariners and us fans will have something great to get excited about in right field. And this season, more so than others in the recent past, we need all the moments of greatness we can get.
*I want to start a campaign for Mitch to use Mitchapalooza as his Players Weekend “nickname” jersey. Last year, he used the uninspired Meetch and even he wasn’t excited about it. “College friends call me that and I just did it for them, basically. Not a ton of guys in here call me it.” #Mitchapalooza2019