PEORIA, Ariz. – Some people viewed young outfielder Mitch Haniger as a throw-in prospect in the offseason deal that got the Seattle Mariners top-notch shortstop Jean Segura.
The Mariners certainly never felt that way about Haniger, even though he has played in only 34 major league games.
Not only did Seattle want Segura in its lineup, general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais expect Haniger to be their starting right fielder this season.
“I feel blessed to be valued and that’s something that Jerry and Scott told me when I got traded over here, that they really liked me as a player,” Haniger said. “I’m not doing anything different now than I have in the past as far as work ethic. In my mind, I’m still fighting to make the team, to earn my spot.”
Haniger homered twice in his first seven spring training games with the Mariners, who acquired him last November in a five-player swap in which they also got reliever Zac Curtis from Arizona. Seattle traded away right-handed pitcher Taijuan Walker and shortstop Ketel Marte.
Before spending the final six weeks of last season with the Diamondbacks, Haniger hit .321 with 24 doubles, 25 homers and 96 RBIs in 129 minor league games.
“Haniger last year, by the numbers, was able to show that he was the best offensive player in the minor leagues,” Dipoto said. “You put the numbers together and he produced more runs … than any other hitter in minor league baseball.”
Dipoto describes Haniger as having right-hand power that “really manifested itself similarly to Jean Segura once he made swing adjustments and really took off over the course of last year and a half.” Segura hit .319 and led the NL with 203 hits last season.
As for his time in the majors with the Diamondbacks, when he hit .229 with five homers and 17 RBIs, Dipoto said that by any measure Haniger proved to be one of the three best defensive outfielders in the big leagues.
Haniger’s locker in the Arizona spring training clubhouse is next to that of third baseman Kyle Seager.
“He’s coming into a good situation,” said Seager, a stalwart on the Mariners roster that has drastically changed in the 1 1/2 years Dipoto has been the GM. “He’s definitely a guy that’s got a lot of upside, and looks like he can help a team on either end of the ball.”
The 26-year-old Haniger was drafted 38th overall by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2012 and traded two years later to Arizona, where he started to rework his hitting mechanics. He advanced from Class A Visalia at the start of 2015 to the majors by the end of last season.
“When you get out there, it’s like ‘Wow, I’ve made it.’ But for me, I would just put blinders on and started to say, ‘OK, I’m playing the game I’ve always played’,” he said. “I’m playing against big-name guys, but at the same time, they’re human, they’re just like me. So that’s kind of how I dumb everything down so that everything feels normal.”
While Haniger went mostly unnoticed outside the Mariners organization when the trade happened last Thanksgiving, that likely won’t stay the case much longer.
“Segura is an unbelievable player, so me being in a trade with him, of course he’s going to get all the recognition because he deserves it. … I don’t expect everyone to be throwing my name around,” Haniger said. “I’m looking forward to proving a lot of people right, and a lot of people wrong.”