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Mariners prospect Mitch Haniger: heading for a breakout?

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Can the Seattle rookie parlay a hot spring training into a successful season?

MLB: Spring Training-Seattle Mariners at Chicago White Sox Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s dip into the Minor League Ball mailbag for a question on Seattle Mariners prospect Mitch Haniger:

Mitch Haniger is having a great spring training. He caught my eye last year and I was surprised when the Diamondbacks traded him. Will he break out?---J.T. in Colorado Springs

Good question, J.T.

Coming into the spring, Haniger ranked seventh on the Minor League Ball list of Top 20 Seattle Mariners 2017 prospects with the following assessment:

7) Mitch Haniger, OF, Grade B-: Age 26, first round pick by Brewers back in 2012 from Cal Poly, traded to Arizona in 2014, then on to Seattle in Taijuan Walker deal; hit .321/.419/.581 with 25 homers, 69 walks, 99 strikeouts in 458 at-bats between Double-A and Triple-A, then .229/.309/.404 in 109 at-bats in the majors; an older prospect with a mixed track record, development was slow due to injuries and fouled swing mechanics but has always had good tools including at least average power, decent speed, and a strong arm; step forward in ’16 seems legit although a lot of his power production was in the friendly PCL; realistically should be able to hit .260 with good power; ETA 2017.

As J.T. notes, Haniger has had a strong spring, hitting .400/.443/.667 in 65 at-bats. He’s knocked two homers but what really stands out are ten doubles. He’s also stolen three bases in three attempts. On the negative side, his BB/K ratio is not very good with three whiffs and 12 strikeouts, though obviously this hasn’t impacted his production.

Shortly after the Mariners acquired Haniger in November, Jake Mailhot at Lookout Landing filed this report on the changes in Haniger’s swing that resulted in his production outburst last year. It appears that he’s maintained those changes this spring. Of course, as the saying goes, it is only Spring Training. The key will be maintaining this in April and May and in the dog days of summer.

Objective projection systems like ZIPS or Steamer look at the entire body of Haniger’s career and aren’t aware of the swing changes. They aren’t especially optimistic: ZIPs projects him at .237/.302/.409, Steamer at .249/.315/.414. On the other hand, Baseball Prospectus is more sanguine at .254/.328/.450.

My personal opinion is that Haniger will be able to maintain most of this progress and will hit around .260 with good power, close to the Prospectus numbers.