10 Most Important Mariners in 2017: #9 Mitch Haniger

I am a huge Mitch Haniger fan. I don't believe I am the President of this club, but I am definetly a card carrying member. But how can a 26 year old rookie be one of the 10 most important players on a team with playoff aspirations? Because the Seattle Mariners have made it so. 

The Mariners have not wavered from their belief that Mitch Haniger will be the Opening Day rightfielder. In fact, during last weekends Fan Fest, Manager Scott Servais believes Haniger will hit 6th, behind Kyle Seager and ahead of Danny Valencia. That is a lot of faith to put in the hands of somebody with 123 PA's.

Haniger does poses 25 home run power, and has showed that he will be at least league average in the field. He can steal 10-15 bases in the right enviroment. The tools make Haniger appear to be a very intriguing 4th outfielder who could possibly grow into a starting role.

But the Mariners have refused to engage with veteran outfielders like Angel Pagan to protect themselves in case either Haniger or Jarrod Dyson prove unable to handle a full time work load. Simply put, the Mariners need Haniger to be a solid-average player.

Fangraphs Steamer projections believe Haniger will post a .249/.315/.414 slash with 15 homers and 6 steals. They believe the defense will regress to slightly below-average, but have a projected fWAR of 1.4 in 2017. As unsexy as that may sound, that would be a perfectly acceptable outcome for Haniger.

The defensive drop seems a bit odd, as Haniger was the second best outfielder in baseball in September and October, primarily as a centerfielder. A move to rightfield should lessen this load, and in theory, should improve his defense. If Haniger repeats his defensive prowess of 2016 in RF, you could be looking at a solid 2 win player.

Should Haniger fail, the team could be forced to turn to Ben Gamel or Guillermo Heredia. Or perhaps force the team to call up Tyler O'Neill earlier than they would like. If he can prove to be just an 1.5-2 win player, it will allow for Servais and company to play the best mathcups and lengthen the lineup.

The Mariners can not have a black hole in their lineup, and already have questions at catcher and firstbase. If Haniger can be a solid Major Leaguer, it will be one less thing for the Mariners to worry about.