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Mariners rookie Mitch Haniger keeping ‘head down’ in push for starting outfield spot

Joining a new team is never easy, and that’s especially true when you are the linchpin in a blockbuster trade. But despite coming in with lofty expectations, Mitch Haniger has managed to meet or exceed them all and may be the leading candidate to start in right field for the Mariners on Opening Day.

Video: Rookie connects for massive 1st HR in Mariners uniform

Haniger has excelled at the plate throughout spring training, producing a .404/.462/.702 slash-line in 47 at-bats, which is second most on the team. The righty has also added two home runs, eight RBIs and a pair of stolen bases, as well as some solid defense. Haniger’s all-around tools showed earlier this month, when the 26-year-old made a running catch in right field, stole a base and came a home run away from the Cycle before being pulled from the game.

Haniger told “Danny, Dave and Moore” on Thursday that he’s been pleased with his play so far.

“I just try to focus on all the small stuff and don’t really worry about any of the end result or the big picture, and just keep my head down and keep working hard,” he said.

Haniger is not the only outfielder stinging the ball this spring. Fellow 26-year-old Guillermo Heredia is batting .415, with a .468 on-base percentage, while veteran left-handed speedster Jarrod Dyson has posted a .343/.415/.900 slash-line, plus five stolen bases. Despite Dyson and Heredia’s numbers and strong defense, neither offers the power potential of the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Haniger.

And that potential is shining through.

When 710 ESPN Seattle’s Shannon Drayer asked Scott Servais on Feb. 23 who stood out most in Mariners camp, the manager responded without hesitation: “Mitch Haniger. Very very professional approach. He has a plan. Every time he is in the outfield, he is on the bases, he is in the batters box, it is a very professional approach. He knows this is his time. He is going to get an opportunity to play here; he’s worked for it his whole life. We are going to give it to him and let it run. He’s taken it very very seriously.

“I like what I have seen. It is very impressive.”

Meanwhile, catcher Tuffy Gosewich said he thinks Haniger will be “special,” and Mariners radio play-by-play announcer Rick Rizzs said he believes the team wants Haniger to be a power bat just past the middle of the order.

Haniger said he isn’t really feeling the pressure.

“I’ve always had really high expectations for myself, so the external pressure stuff, I don’t really notice it or worry about it because I have such a high standard for myself,” he said. “… If I go out and play to what I’m capable of in my expectations, I think everybody would be pretty happy with what Seattle is getting as far as a player in me goes.”

How Haniger arrived in Seattle

Haniger came to the Mariners as a lesser-known piece of a five-player trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks in November, and his path to the majors was a bit unique.

The Brewers picked Haniger with the 38th pick overall in the 2012 draft out of California Polytechnic State University but was traded to Arizona for reserve outfielder Gerardo Parra two years later. Haniger explained that he asked to be sent down from a loaded outfield on the Diamondbacks’ Double-A squad to High-A in 2015 in order to get more at-bats and re-work his swing. It’s there that he made quantum leaps, hitting so well at Double-A the following season that Arizona advanced him through to Triple-A and, ultimately, for 123 at-bats in the majors. Haniger credited his new swing as the No. 1 reason for his recent success.

“In Double-A, I was starting to re-tool my swing when I wasn’t playing a lot and started to work on some things, and then when I went down to High-A I kept doing those things and started to work them into a game setting, and I definitely saw improvements throughout that season,” he said. “And then in the offseason I dug even deeper, and studied more guys, and studied myself more, and watched a lot of video with the hitting coach back home.”

Haniger said he and his fellow trade pieces – shortstop Jean Segura and pitcher Zac Curtis – are fitting in just fine so far.

“Just going off all of our morning meetings and stuff that (general manager Jerry Dipoto) and Scott (Servais) and the rest of the staff kind of preach, I think all three of us are really good fits for this organization,” Haniger said.