Mitch Haniger, the Seattle Mariners starting right fielder, hasn’t had the most direct path to major league stardom. Originally drafted 38th overall by the Milwaukee Brewers in the supplemental first round of the 2012 MLB Draft, Haniger was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks along with Anthony Banda for Gerardo Parra in 2014.
Despite spending the 2015 season reworking his swing mechanics and batting stance in order to drive the ball more, he hit .332 with 12 home runs over just 226 plate appearances in A+. His power didn’t seem to carry after he moved to AA later that year, only hitting a single homer in 174 plate appearances.
Haniger’s offensive development continued the following season as he worked his way through AA and AAA. His AAA numbers were especially eye-catching after he posted a .330 ISO across 312 plate appearances while hitting .341. This revamped approach at the plate earned Haniger a call up to Arizona where he appeared in 34 games for the Diamondbacks. While the talent was certainly there, Haniger failed to impress the Diamondbacks the way they had envisioned after aggregating a .229/.309/.404 slash line.
With 2016’s cup of tea in the majors possibly playing into their decision, the Diamondbacks included Haniger and Zac Curtis in a package headlined by Jean Segura to the Mariners for Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte. This trade was one of the more notable moves of the offseason in terms of fantasy, but more so because of Segura’s 2016 season and Walker’s upside heading into 2017.
As soon as spring training began, Haniger seemed to be a perfect fit for the Mariners’ defensive outfield movement. With a starting outfield composed of Jarrod Dyson, Leonys Martin and Haniger, the team has three players who are capable of playing center field at once. Haniger’s defense wasn’t the only thing impressing in the spring as he flashed his five-tool talent enough to catch deeper league fantasy owners’ attention, including mine as I took him in the 20th round of a 15-team roto NFBC draft back in mid-March.
The 26-year-old finished spring training hitting .385/.429/.628 with 11 RBI and three stolen bases. While spring numbers rarely translate to any sort of major league success, Haniger’s consistent offensive development over the last two seasons made them easier to buy into.
While Haniger was originally supposed to serve as support for Seattle’s core of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager, his strong showing in spring training seemed to earn him a table setter role from manager Scott Servais. Haniger has hit second in all of the Mariners’ games this season which significantly increases his run scoring value and explains his place among the major league leaders with 12 runs.
Despite Seattle’s slow offensive start, Haniger has stabilized the top of the order slashing .294/.410/.588 over 51 at-bats. He has also displayed his pop (four home runs), ability to drive in runs (11 RBI) and on-base skills (.426 wOBA) over the first two weeks of the season. Adding to that, he has shown some of his stolen base potential stealing two bases over that time as well.
We might only be a handful of games into the 2017 season, but what better time is there to make bold predictions?
Early in the season, Haniger’s peripherals seem to be in-line with those of his breakout stint in 2016 while playing for the Reno Aces. Granted they play in the extremely hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, but Haniger hit 20 home runs while driving in 64 runs over 74 games.
The outfielder displayed above average plate discipline as well, sporting a 12.5 BB%. However, Haniger was prone to the strikeout in AAA as much as the average hitter, punching out 19.9% of the time. Additionally, his .373 BABIP does stand out during his 2016 AAA stint as the highest of his minor league career – ignoring an eight game stay in AA during the 2014 season.
Comparing these metrics to Haniger’s current campaign, albeit a very small sample size, some similarities emerge. His 26.2 K% indicates some growing pains while adjusting to everyday play in the majors, but shouldn’t raise any alarm quite yet. His 14.8 BB% makes that high K% seem a bit better as Haniger continues to adjust to major league pitching. While his BABIP was on the higher end during last year’s stay in AAA, his .353 BABIP so far this season indicates Haniger may be able to maintain this elevated rate. Among his 13 stops at various levels since being drafted, Haniger has sported a .300 or better BABIP at nine of them.
Haniger’s 1.098 OPS and .330 ISO during those 74 games in AAA also pair with his .998 OPS and .294 ISO over the start of his Mariners’ career. Although Haniger’s AAA numbers make him seem like a substantial power hitter, he is not viewed as a legitimate power threat.
That’s not to say, however, that Haniger can’t manage a 18-20 home run season while adding 12-15 steals. These numbers wouldn’t make him the best fantasy option, but owners playing in five outfielder category or roto leagues would certainly find season-long value in him. Currently, FantasyPros isn’t as optimistic as I am about Haniger, projecting a .251/.314/.428 season for the young outfielder with 16 homers, 59 RBI and just six stolen bases.
With that being said: Haniger is available in 34% of Yahoo leagues and 38% of ESPN leagues where he can provide value in HR, SB and R. Personally, I view Haniger as a top-50 outfield option, making him a must own in any five outfield formats with at least ten teams. He isn’t one of those players that will define your team by any means, but he does have the ceiling to aid any fantasy owner in their quest for a championship.
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