SEATTLE — The Seattle Mariners will report for spring training Thursday in Peoria, Ariz., with few expectations that 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 that the Mariners might then be expected to make some 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 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 Narváez to Milwaukee, followed by signing 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 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 them.
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 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 better going into spring training. The addition of Carl Edwards Jr. should help stabilize the middle innings and picking up left-hander 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 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, Logan Gilbert, George Kirby and Cal Raleigh are all high on Seattle’s prospect list. Ultimately, that group should be starting the year in the minors as the major league team opens the season March 26 hosting the Rangers.
Mariners at a glance
Manager: Scott Servais (fifth season).
2019 season: 68-94, fifth place.
Training town: Peoria, Ariz.
Park: Peoria Stadium.
First workout: Thursday for pitchers/catchers; Tuesday for full squad.
He’s here: RHP Kendall Graveman, RHP Carl Edwards Jr., RHP Yoshihisa Hirano, INF Patrick Wisdom, LHP Nick Margevicius.
He’s outta here: RHP Felix Hernandez, LHP Wade LeBlanc, LHP Tommy Milone, C Omar Narvaez, OF Domingo Santana, INF Ryon Healy, RHP Chasen Bradford, OF Keon Broxton.
Going campin’: Year 2 of the Mariners rebuild project is in full swing. Last year was expected to be filled with bumps and it was as Seattle finished in last place even after starting the season 13-2. Last year was about giving some of Seattle’s top young prospects a taste of the majors late in the season. This season is about throwing them in the deep end and seeing how they can handle a full season. First baseman Evan White, outfielder Kyle Lewis, second baseman Shed Long Jr., outfielder Jake Fraley, left-hander Justus Sheffield and right-hander Justin Dunn are just a handful of the youngsters Seattle intends to give a chance at being steady contributors this season. Seattle still has a handful of key veterans including third baseman Kyle Seager and left-hander Marco Gonzales. The Mariners continue to have high hopes that outfielder Mitch Haniger can rediscover his All-Star form from 2018, but the start to his season will be delayed by core muscle surgery. The focus will be on the youngsters, in the majors and also what is developing in the minors with top prospects Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez, both of whom will be in big league camp.