PEORIA, Ariz. – Contrary to popular belief, the competition for the starting left field spot on the opening day roster is not solely between Jarred Kelenic and his service time accrual.
Though that little saga has only one ending that won’t be met with anger or consternation.
And while the fans and Kelenic may believe he’s the only player possible to be the opening day left fielder, the Mariners, specifically general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais, steadfastly maintain that the spot is an open competition.
And if that’s the case, if Jake Fraley, Jose Marmolejos or Braden Bishop can truly earn that job coming out of spring training and not the Wisconsin wunderkind then perhaps a new name should be added to the battle — Taylor Trammell.
Technically, with the competition being open, he’s always been a candidate. But it always seemed as though the plan for Trammell was to get some extended experience and quality results in what would be his first year at the Triple-A level and be ready for a late-season call-up to the big leagues.
But why not now?
“We’re going to see a lot of him in this camp,” Servais said. “We’ve got a lot of competition in the outfield. It’s great opportunity for a lot of our young players and you know he’s taken advantage of it so far.”
In the span of three games over the past three days, Trammell has offered salivating glimpses of his potential.
On Tuesday vs. Cleveland, he hit a rocket double to the gap in right-center. The double came on a breaking ball after he had fought off fastballs registered at 97 mph.
“He’s got the ability because he’s on time (with his swing) and he’s in a really good position when his front foot does land, he just adjusted,” Servais said. “He’s a big, strong kid, and he’s just kind of growing into his man muscles so to speak.”
On Wednesday in Mesa, he crushed a home run to deep left-center on a fastball away, offering a glimpse of his power.
“Yeah, that was probably the hardest ball hit in today’s game,” Servais said postgame. “He smoked that ball. Right off the bat, wind or no wind, you knew that was going to be out of here. He continues to impress in this camp.”
On Thursday in Peoria, he worked a walk, stole second with ease and later scored on a single.
While it’s easy for fans to focus on future dreams featuring Kelenic and his buddy Julio Rodriguez in an outfield with Kyle Lewis, it should be pointed out that Trammell had just as much prospect pedigree. Until this season, he was considered one of the top 100 prospects in baseball for three straight years by Baseball America, reaching as high No. 33 in 2019. He was ranked No. 73 going into the 2020 season but fell out of BA’s Top 100 this season after his trade to the Mariners. Baseball Prospectus and MLB.com still have him ranked in their top 100s.
A first-round pick (35th overall) by the Reds in 2016, Trammell has been traded three times in his career.
Trammell’s status as a prospect started to diminish when he had some struggles at the Double-A level in 2019, the year he was traded to the Padres as part of three-team deal that sent Trevor Bauer to the Reds. He split the season between two different affiliates, but swing changes implemented by the Reds didn’t have expected results.
Working with Padres hitting minor league hitting instructor Jonny Washington, Trammell found a better swing that fit his body style and generated increased power with a more consistent contact rate. It’s the swing that he worked on during a 2020 without a minor league season and used in the fall instructional league.
He comes into spring training with simple goals at the plate.
“It’s just consistent contact,” he said. “I want to … home in on hard hit balls, just being comfortable in the box and making sure that I’m owning the batter’s box.”
For the lefty swinging Trammell, a home run to deep left-center is always a good sign.
“That was very fun because it was one of the things that I was even working on in practice,” he said. “… The results will come in due time, but if I can consistently hit the ball hard and on the line. Those are the type of results that are gonna happen.”
But does Trammell really have a chance?
The Mariners were cautious in their season-projection plans for him since he came to them midway through last season and saw limited game action until the fall league. They already knew about his maturity, his work ethic, his infectious and team-oriented attitude. But it seems the baseball aspect was more advanced than expected.
And that’s why he’s pushed forward into the conversation.
From a pure talent standpoint, he has vastly more potential than Fraley, Bishop or Marmolejos. He has better speed than Fraley or Marmolejos. He’s better defensively than Marmolejos. He has more power and production potential than all three players.
He isn’t winning as many head-to-head comparisons to Kelenic. Though he does possess more speed.
But here are some key differences — Trammell was placed on the 40-man roster this offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. He turned 23 in September. He’s played 126 games at the Double-A level and amassed 514 plate appearances. And because of his age and the presence of Kelenic and Rodriguez looming for the future, accruing early service time isn’t quite as detrimental to the Mariners in their overall rebuild plan.
If he continues to perform, don’t be surprised if he’s in the final consideration for the opening day left field spot.