- Feb 28, 2021: -- A 633-day, injury-plagued, mentally taxing hiatus ended on Sunday when Mitch Haniger stepped into the batter’s box during the first inning of the Mariners’ 5-4 win over the Padres in their Cactus League opener.
By that point for the Mariners’ methodical right fielder, it was just another at-bat. The rigorous and specialized rehab he had conducted in the offseason was complete, and the batting practice reps he’d taken since reporting to Spring Training early gave him conviction that he was prepared to take the field. There was no existential feeling of fulfillment while he awaited in the on-deck circle.
It was all business for Haniger, who roped an infield single and gave the Mariners -- and himself -- further validation of his health status entering the 2021 season.
“I was excited,” said Haniger, out since June 6, 2019, because of multiple injuries and surgeries. “Definitely some nerves -- good to feel those again. I feel those every Spring Training and pretty frequently during the season, too. But I think the last couple days, having live BPs, that really helped me prepare. I came down here a little early to stand in on some bullpens, and yeah, I've been feeling good, ready to go. The biggest thing for me is just missing the competition.
“When you're on the on the [injured list] for so long, it's tough to find that fix with competition, and that's what I missed the most.” (D Kramer - MLB.com - Feb 28, 2021)
|Birth City:||Mountain View, CA|
|Draft:||Brewers #1 - 2012 - Out of Calif. Polytechnic State Univ.|
Haniger is a solid athlete who could have played college football as a wide receiver. His brother, Jason, hit 18 homers at Georgia Tech in 2008-2009 and now works as a high school coach in the Kansas City area. Jason was a catcher and was drafted by the Pirates in 2008.
In 2012, Mitch was the Big West Conference player of the year, batting .346 and leading the league with 13 homers and 64 RBIs.
- In 2012, Haniger got drafted by the Brewers (see Transactions below).
In 2013, Baseball America rated Haniger as the 10th-best prospect in the Brewers organization. They moved him up to #3 in the winter before 2014 spring training. But he was down at #22 in the spring of 2015, after being traded midway through 2014 season.
Mitch has a great work ethic and plays hard on every pitch of every game. He puts in the time to improve his game. And he is a cerebral baseball player with good baseball instincts.
Even when Mitch wasn't on the D-backs' 40-man roster at the beginning of 2016, the 25-year-old outfield prospect still thought he could make it to the Majors.
That day came August 16, 2016. Haniger was recalled from Triple-A Reno, started in left field and batted seventh in a 7-5 loss to the Mets at Chase Field. After striking out and grounding out in his first two at-bats, he tripled in a pair of runs in the sixth for his first career hit, then doubled in another run in the seventh.
Haniger is the first player in franchise history to record a triple as his first career hit. He is also the first D-backs player to drive in three runs in his big league debut. (Rill - MLB.com - 8/16/16)
October 2016: Haniger was named the Diamondbacks' organization's hitting prospect of the year by MLB.com.
November 2017: When baseball players plan their offseason workouts, they don't usually involve shoveling dirt, lining fields and painting dugouts. But Mitch Haniger had something different in mind last week, and it landed the Mariners right fielder in Hilo, Hawaii, getting down and dirty with dozens of happy kids.
With Thanksgiving on the horizon, Haniger found a way to give something back to the sport he loves by joining with former college teammate Mike Miller of the Red Sox in a grass roots charity called "More Than A Game."
For seven days, Haniger, Miller and a couple other volunteers literally dug in to renovate two rundown ballfields in Hilo. And they held daily clinics for about 60 kids to help spark a baseball revival in the area. (Greg Johns -MLB.com-Nov. 22, 2017)
April 29, 2018: Mitch comes from a big baseball family. His brother, Jason, was a catcher for four years at Georgia Tech and his cousins, Nik and Alex Balog, played some Minor League ball. But the family ties stretch further beyond playing the game.
Haniger's 10th home run of the 2018 season came at the perfect time—when his family was celebrating the first communion for one of their own.
Uncle Walt (Mitch's dad) promised Ryan a "Hanigone" and that's exactly what he got in the top of the ninth during the Mariners' 10-4 win over the Indians. That's quite the present to receive on such a momentous occasion. (Kleinschmidt - mlb.com)
July 2018: Haniger was selected to play in the MLB All-Star game.
2018 season: After a 2017 campaign in which he was productive but slowed by two stints on the disabled list, Haniger was healthy in 2018 and quickly stood out as one of the most well-rounded players in the American League this season.
Haniger was one of seven players in all of baseball to record at least 35 doubles, 25 home runs, 90 RBI and 70 walks in 2018. The others were Nolan Arenado, Alex Bregman, Rhys Hoskins, Francisco Lindor, Manny Machado and José Ramírez. He earned his first career All-Star Game appearance and finished the season with his name dotting American League leaderboards in several categories.
He posted a bWAR of 6.1, 9th-best among AL position players. He reached base at a strong clip, ranking 11th in the AL in on-base percentage and tied for 13th in walks. He was a fixture in the Mariners outfield, where he played outstanding defense, tying for the Major League lead in outfield assists, while ranking second in the Majors in outfield starts, fifth in the AL in innings played, and 10th in the AL with 5 defensive runs saved (Fangraphs).
And he hit for power. His 68 extra-base hits were tied for 12th-most in the AL and his .859 OPS was 10th-best. And he was a run-producer, finishing 10th in the league with 93 RBI and tied for 14th with 90 runs scored.
Nov. 2018: Haniger was on the MLB roster for the Japan All-Star Series with Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB).
July 16, 2019: Haniger received the MLB Players Alumni Association Heart and Hustle award for the Mariners. This esteemed award honors active players who demonstrate a passion for the game of baseball and best embody the values, spirit and traditions of the game. The Heart and Hustle Award is also the only award in Major League Baseball that is voted on by former players.
2020 Season: Haniger hasn’t played for Seattle since he suffered a ruptured testicle from a foul ball in July 2019. After undergoing sports hernia surgery and a microdiscectomy, he sat out all of 2020.
Haniger will be eligible for arbitration for a third time next offseason, and he can become a free agent after the 2022 campaign.
Dec. 3, 2020: Mitch's wife Amanda delivered a baby girl.
June 2012: The Brewers chose Haniger in the compensation portion of the first round of the draft (for the loss of Prince Fielder), out of California Polytechnic State University. And Mitch signed with scout Dan Huston for a bonus of $1.2 million.
July 31, 2014: The Diamondbacks sent OF Gerardo Parra to the Brewers, acquiring Haniger and LHP Anthony Banda.
Nov 23, 2016: The Diamondbacks traded Haniger, 2B Jean Segura, and LHP Zac Curtis to the Mariners; acquiring SS Ketel Marte and RHP Taijuan Walker.
Jan 10, 2020: Mitch and the Mariners avoided arbitration, by agreeing to a one-year deal worth $3 million.
- Dec 5, 2020: The Mariners agreed with Haniger on a one-year, $3 million contract.
- Mitch has serious bat speed. And he can barrel up off-speed pitches.
Haniger really battles with two strikes. He doesn’t give in, he’s very patient at the plate. He shows he’s not afraid to hit with two strikes. He has the makings of a pretty good hitter.
During the spring of 2015, Mitch refined his setup, getting his hands in better hitting position and staying in sync more consistently. And he found success after making changes to his swing mechanics and continued the overhaul in the offseason before 2016, proceeding to have the best offensive season in the Diamondbacks system in 2016. Mitch hit .321/.419/.581 combined at Double-A Mobile and Triple-A Reno and earned his first big league callup in August.
Haniger modeled his swing in part after A.J. Pollock, and Reno manager Phil Nevin can see the similarities.
“A.J. and I had that conversation in the dugout (during Pollock’s rehab assignment),” Nevin said. “I said, ‘A.J., I watch him play and I see so many things that remind me of you.’ He doesn’t have A.J.’s speed, but his jumps on the ball, his intelligence on the field, the way he runs the bases, just everything. And then you look at the similarities of what the mechanics of the swing are.” (Nick Piecoro - Baseball America - 9/23/2016)
Haniger has a wide stance at the plate. His bat is held high, and his hands get through the ball with enough quickness to gain backspin and distance. At 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, Haniger has excellent proportion to his frame.
Patience and maturity are major components of Haniger's offensive game. He sees lots of pitches. He knows how to take a walk. He can also foul off pitches, deepening the workload of the pitcher while selecting the right pitch to hit. And when he does swing, he makes good contact.
If there is one area of weakness, it is that Haniger has some adjustments to make on high-velocity pitches. High, hard fastballs up and in are really the only type of pitches that tempt his patience. That said, Haniger has the ability to feast on mediocre pitching. He won't miss. Haniger is still refining his game regarding his hitting timing at this early stage of his career. But when he connects, the power is evident. (Spring, 2014)
Haniger's a streaky hitter with plus pull-side power, who handles lefthanders much better than righties.
Mitch spent the offseason prior to 2016 spring training in search of an answer: Why was it hitters not as big or strong as him were able to drive the ball with more authority to the opposite field?
That question, Haniger said, led him to make a series of swing changes, and those changes have helped get him within reach of the Major Leagues.
In 2015, Mitch implemented a leg kick late. And before 2016 he made changes to his load and swing path, adopting similar techniques used by Josh Donaldson, A.J. Pollock and others. He also changed his hand placement pre-swing, which allow him to have a better swing path.
The result, Haniger said, is a better ability to hit the ball to all fields and enhanced pitch recognition.
“I can make up my mind whether to swing or not later than I have in the past because my swing is deeper in the zone,” said Haniger. “It’s easier for me to use all fields and to see pitches better.” (Nick Piecoro - Baseball America - 9/02/2016)
- Feb 1, 2021: Mitch Haniger believes he’s rooted out the cause for the injuries that have kept him out of Major League action for more than 600 days, and he’s spent the past year tailoring a training plan to combat them. The result has Haniger saying that his swing in the best spot its ever been.
Movement imbalances, Haniger says, played a significant part in the endless setbacks he experienced since being initially sidelined with a ruptured testicle in June 2019. That’s what led him to Austin Einhorn and the Apiros training facility near the Bay Area. And anyone who follows Haniger on social media has gotten a glimpse at his specialized rehab.
“We do some things that are, for lack of better words, a little crazy, but definitely not unsafe by any means,” Haniger said. “And it's been fun.”
By enlisting Apiros, Haniger has focused much more on climbing, swinging, hanging and improving core strength. Haniger trains at Apiros three times per week for roughly a 10-hour aggregate. He will sometimes go in for a fourth session specifically to work on his swing and field work, and he’s completed more than 50 sessions over the past year.
Because Haniger intends to maintain the practices he’s absorbed from Apiros, Einhorn consulted Mariners assistant hitting coach Jarret DeHart before diving in with Haniger on the mechanics of the swing that made Haniger an All-Star in 2018, when he hit.285/.366/.493 with 26 homers, 93 RBIs and a 139 OPS+ for the 89-win Mariners.
The three discovered that Haniger wasn’t generating nearly as much movement as he should from his thoracic spine and rib cage. But by better optimizing his movement, the result has Haniger feeling much stronger as he gears up for his most critical Spring Training yet.
“The body is really smart
“It was all movement, contraction-based. How do we get his muscles, enclosed by his ribs and in between his ribs to be under his control? And then there is awareness. And once we fine-tune that part of his spine, that's when [DeHart] came out and was like, ‘Wow, his swing looks even better. We've been trying to make these changes for a long time. We just couldn't.’ And that's because they were going about it from a skill perspective instead of from a movement perspective.”
“My swing has never felt this good in an offseason before. I think a lot of that is because I've never moved this way before,” Haniger said. “And I think I get into better positions than I have been able to in the past. I think my body is moving better than I ever have."
Haniger and Einhorn first connected through one of the right fielder’s childhood friends, before Haniger underwent back surgery last January while gearing up for Spring Training. That followed his adductor tear surgery in September 2019 while attempting a late-season comeback. Both resulted from overcompensating during rehab.
“Every surgery sucks,” Haniger said. “They're never fun, and it's never something you want to go through. But I think I'm better for having gone through it. And I knew that getting both procedures -- my adductor tear and my back -- only is going to set me up for more success now, and I feel better than ever now. So that's kind of how I just choose to look at it. I think injuries can derail your career. But at the same time, I think you can come back stronger from them, if you put in the time and learn your body better and kind of understand why those things happen. And I think I've had a good handle on things.”
Haniger now faces a Spring Training that Mariners manager Scott Servais says the club will approach with some caution. At this time last year, Haniger had lost 20 pounds of muscle mass, then he was away from the team during the quarantine shutdown, and he never truly returned because he was on the 60-day injured list, which prohibited him from working out with the club due to health and safety measures.
So, in a sense, the Mariners are returning a player they haven’t seen in some time -- and one they need if they hope to take an offensive step forward.
“The easy identification is, when Mitch Haniger is healthy, he is our best player,” Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “Mitch is a multi-skilled, well-rounded, diverse player who, when we've seen him at the top of his game, is really one of the more complete players in the American League. And if we can get some version of that Mitch Haniger back on the field, it really changes our arc.” ((D Kramer - MLB.com - Feb 1, 2021)
- As of the start of the 2021 season, Mitch's career Major League stats were: .267 batting average, 62 home runs and 353 hits, with 189 RBI in 1,320 at-bats.
Mitch has a very strong arm—plenty enough for right field. And his throws are accurate with good carry.
His arm can stop the running game, and he really likes stopping the running game.
- Haniger probably doesn't have quite enough speed to be an everyday center fielder in the Majors. But he covers good ground in right field.
Haniger's best tool is his plus arm, allowing him to handle either corner-outfield position as an average defender with fringy speed.
- Mitch is an average runner. He has good instincts on the bases, though.
July 6, 2012: Haniger was on the D.L. when he tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his knee.
June 21-July 23, 2014: Mitch was on the D.L. with hamstring and elbow problems.
August 1-22, 2014: Haniger was on the D.L. again with hammy and elbow deals.
April 26-June 11, 2017: Haniger was on the DL with strained right oblique.
July 30-Aug 19, 2017: Mitch was on the DL with a laceration to the upper lip.
On July 29, Haniger suffered a lacerated lip after being hit in the face by a 95-mph fastball from Jacob deGrom.
"Obviously anytime something like that happens, it's a little bit scary," Servais said. "He's got no fractures, his teeth are OK. He's got a pretty severe laceration on his upper lip, and he's getting some work on that now. But it could have been a lot worse."
Haniger was down on the ground briefly at home plate before being helped quickly off the field by Mariners athletic trainers Rick Griffin and Rob Nodine while holding a towel over his face.
"You never want to hit anybody in the face," deGrom said. "It's not easy to pitch after you do that. I was trying to go inside there and it just sailed on me. I definitely feel bad about it. It was not easy to stay out there and re-concentrate."
deGrom gave up two runs later that inning and wound up having his eight-game winning streak snapped.
"It got away from deGrom obviously," said Servais. "He's got a great arm. I don't think Mitch ever saw it. But he was never unconscious or anything like that. When I got out there, he was talking. You hate to see that happen to anybody. We're just thankful it's not any worse than it is."
June 6-Sept 30, 2019: Mitch was on the IL with ruptured testicle.
Jan. 23, 2020: After missing the final four months of the 2019 season following a ruptured testicle, Haniger had a setback in the offseason that will require surgery.
GM Jerry Dipoto said Haniger could miss the start of the regular season following what he described as “core surgery” for a sports hernia.
Feb 14-Nov 2, 2020: Mitch Haniger's difficult run of health issues hit another bump, as he underwent his second surgery in a month to deal with ongoing problems with his lower back. Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto clarified that Haniger had a microdiscectomy, which is a small repair of a vertebra.
Haniger missed the entire 2020 season.