SEATTLE – The Seattle Mariners will report for spring training with few expectations they’ll be preparing for a winning season.
This spring, and this season, is another stage of Seattle’s rebuild. The team hopes the conversation will have changed a year from now and the Mariners might then be expected to make a little noise in the American League.
“Our goal remains to give our young players the opportunity to play,” general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “The only way 2020 makes sense for the Mariners is if we set ourselves up for 2021 by having given a lot of these guys that have zero to 50 days of major league service the opportunity to get comfortable in the big leagues and to watch their skills flourish.”
That means spring training for the Mariners, which begins Feb. 12 with pitchers and catchers reporting in Peoria, Arizona, will be focused on the young faces and prospects who will be pivotal to the success of of the rebuilding plans.
“With the group we have right now it’s more of everybody understanding where they’re at. They’re all trying to prove themselves. They are very hungry and anxious to get on with their careers,” manager Scott Servais said. “This is what they’ve been waiting for their whole life. Get an opportunity at the major league level where somebody’s gonna let me play and see how good I can really be against the best in the world.”
It was a relatively quiet offseason by Dipoto’s standards. Trades and signings were at a minimum as Seattle focused more on the development of its own prospects. The biggest move was sending catcher Omar Narvaez to Milwaukee, followed by signing right-handed pitcher Kendall Graveman in free agency. Younger players who made an appearance a year ago will be getting a shot in the lineup from the start of the season.
Rookies to watch
Get ready for outfielders Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez. Depending on the ratings system, Kelenic and Rodriguez are among the top 20 to 30 prospects in all of baseball. Kelenic has yet to play above Double-A; Rodriguez hasn’t seen anything beyond Single-A. But both are generating buzz and are the centerpiece of Seattle’s rebuild. A lot of other players will be part of Seattle’s youth movement, but most eyes this spring will be on Kelenic and Rodriguez and how they stack up now knowing in a year the Mariners hope one – or both – might be ready to start helping the big club.
As long as Seattle doesn’t face any unexpected injuries, its infield going into this season should be set. Tom Murphy will take the lead behind the plate, although he’s likely to share time with Austin Nola. Evan White will be given every chance to win the starting first baseman job, and is likely to earn it based just on his fielding. Seattle’s been upfront this offseason that it wants to see if Shed Long Jr. can be an everyday second baseman, relegating veteran Dee Gordon to more of a utility role. J.P. Crawford will be the starting shortstop after a solid performance last season at the plate and in the field, and veteran Kyle Seager will continue as the starting third baseman.
Seattle’s bullpen was a problem most of last season. It’s not looking much better going into spring training. The addition of righty Carl Edwards Jr. should help stabilize the middle innings and picking up lefty Nick Margevicius off waivers from San Diego helps. But most of the potential arms are unproven and there’s no obvious closer.
Much of the focus during their time in Arizona will be on the minor league invites to camp who could be playing with the big club by the end of the year. Kelenic, Rodriguez, pitchers Logan Gilbert and George Kirby and catcher Cal Raleigh are all high on Seattle’s prospect list. Ultimately, that group should be starting the year in the minors while the major league club opens the season on March 26 hosting the Rangers.
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