If there’s one thing that will always be true about the Seattle Mariners, it’s that unrealized potential is their forte.
Now let me paraphrase this by saying this article isn’t about the countless prospects that just never seemed to pan out in the big leagues. For whatever reason, Seattle always seems to excel at calling guys up that just don’t end up having a skillset suited for producing at the big league level. There’s exceptions to that scenario, though…and that exception’s name is Mitch Haniger.
Coming from Arizona to Seattle in the Taijuan Walker deal back before the 2017 season, Haniger quickly showed he had the ability to be a productive major leaguer. Although he had a rough stint in Arizona on paper, a deeper look at the stats showed that a bit of bad luck played into what ended up being the Diamondbacks willingness to part ways with the then prospect.
That leads us to the derailed train that is becoming Haniger’s career.
After starting out the first month of the 2017 season as hot as the hinges on the gates of hell, batting .342 with four homeruns, 16 RBI and 20 runs in 21 games, Haniger proceeded to strain his oblique on April 25th and never quite recovered. He returned in early June and proceeded to be hit in the face by a Jacob Degrom fastball at the end of July which once again sent him to the DL.
All in all, Haniger missed 66 games his rookie year playing in 96. Although injuries did put the brakes on just how good that year could have been, Haniger still finished with 25 doubles, 16 homeruns, a .282 average and an impressive 129 wRC+. If he’d qualified, that wRC+ would have placed him ahead of guys like Christian Yelich and Francisco Lindor.
Now if you’re thinking to yourself “That’s just a bad injury during his first season, it gets better” I’m here to assure you that it in fact does get better. But it also gets worse. Weird, I know, but such is life as a Mariners fan.
After a year where he proved to be about as sturdy as a wet paper towel, Haniger bounced back in 2018 and actually played 157 games. Not only did he get through 157 games, he did it in pretty dominant fashion. Hitting a healthy .285 with 26 homeruns, 38 doubles and 93 RBI while earning himself an All-Star nod.
And remember that impressive wRC+ from the year before? Ya, he blew that outta the water too. He ended the season with a 137, good for 13th in all of baseball. This was the potential Jerry Dipoto was betting on when he made that trade. The Mariners finally had their guy.
At least they thought they did…
Cue the 2019 horror story that was Mitch Haniger’s season. It was a literal representation of Murphy’s Law in baseball form. Anything that could go wrong for Haniger, did. And oh boy, did it go wrong. After a decent start to the year hitting 14 homeruns through April and May, Haniger was on the receiving end of an injury bad enough to make any mans stomach hurt. On June 6, 2019 Mitch Haniger fouled the ball off INTO HIS OWN TESTICLES. Yes, you read that right. Whether you knew that already or didn’t, it doesnt make the reality any better.
Not only did he foul the ball off the ol’ pork n’ beans, but while rehabbing from said injury he effectively ended his season by tearing his abductor muscle which required surgery. When all was said and done, Haniger ended the year appearing in only 66 games. You may be thinking to yourself “Well, he’s only 29 and doesnt have a ton of wear on the tires. Maybe theres a chance he can come back completely healthy and finally break free of the injury bug.” And to that I say, keep dreaming young one. As much as I love Haniger and wanted nothing more than to see him succeed, It seems more and more likely that his time has passed.
With the already weirdly short season (Thanks Covid & the stupid owners), the thought was Haniger would have plenty of rehab time before the season were to begin and would be ready. Any hope of him being ready by day one was ended on June 28th when it was announced that Haniger was moving to the 60-day DL still recovering from his February back surgery. Although it isnt completely ending his season, the likelihood of him being ready this season doesn’t look very promising.
Although we may not have seen the last of Haniger, at this point it seems pretty safe to say that we’ve seen the best of him. With the Mariners clear vision of getting younger, and the immense outfield talent pool they have in the minor leagues, there doesn’t seem to be much room left for Mitch to thrive. What was once a barren wasteland of depth, has now become quite the strongpoint for the Mariners organization.
Kyle Lewis proved at the end of last season that he can be dynamic at the major league level by becoming the fourth player ever to hit six homeruns in his first 10 career games. Julio Rodriguez currently sits as Baseball America’s #8 overall prospect and has the power and plate vision combo big leaguers only dream of at not even 20 years old. And all Jarred Kelenic has done since being traded to Seattle is prove that the kid can hit. He ended last season hitting .291 with 31 doubles, 23 homeruns, 68 RBI and 20 stolen bases in 117 games. Good enough to have him debuting as the #12 prospect on the same Baseball America Top 100.
With the upcoming plethora of young, raw talent, Haniger may never truly get the chance to prove to Seattle he’s still got it. As the old saying goes “Don’t cry because its over, smile because it happened”. Despite it being a short lived seat upon the right field throne, Haniger still gave Mariners lots of good memories. So while we may never get to see him penciled in as the Mariners starter again, at least we can look back and remember just how fun of a player he really was to watch.