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With so many stars gone, who are the Mariners to keep an eye on this year?

Mariners shortstop J.P. Crawford was one of the MLB's top prospects a couple years ago. (AP)

Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has made it clear that Seattle’s 2019 season is about taking “a step back” to rebuild the roster, as opposed to making moves to become a contender right away. This offseason, that meant trading away stars like James Paxton, Jean Segura, Robinson Canó and Edwin Díaz, and bringing in young talent.

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The idea of entering a rebuilding year can leave Mariners fans with more than a few questions: Is there anything to be excited about in a season that won’t be focused on a World Series bid? Who are these new players and when will fans actually see them in the majors? Will there be even more trades?

Jake Heaps brought a few of these questions up in a conversation with Mike Salk on 710 ESPN Seattle’s Brock and Salk, and Salk tried his best to offer a bit of insight into Seattle’s upcoming season.

With all these new additions that have been happening in the offseason, what should we think about this team for this year?

“They’re not going to be that good, but I don’t want to say that today because I’m excited. I can kind of run through (the roster) and you can say, ‘Well, if this guy plays better, or if this guy has a better year, if they do this and that…’, but here’s the problem: if the veterans on this team play well, they’re going to get traded. Let’s say Edwin Encarnación comes out like a house of fire and hits 20 home runs before the All-Star break. Guess what? He’s gone. They’re going to trade him because a team that’s actually in the postseason hunt is going to want him and you’re going to get back another good, young player for him. He’s going to be hitting home runs, he’s fun to watch, he’s got a ton of swag… he’s entertaining, honestly. Just don’t get too attached, because the odds are he’s not going to make it through an entire season.

“The same is going to be true for a bunch of these vets. If Jay Bruce miraculously has a bounce-back year and plays really well, he’s probably gone. If Kyle Seager really crushes the ball this year and he’s playing good defense and somebody wants him, he’s gone. They want to move on from a lot of those established veterans. So they’re in a weird situation where playing well this year will never get them to the record you want, but you’ve still got to root for them to do well. They may not be great, but they should be fun.”

Which Mariner are you excited to follow this season?

“Let’s start with the big league team: the two names that I’m probably focused on to start the year are Mallex Smith, because of the speed and the on-base percentage. And Justus Sheffield, because we’ll get to find out whether or not he’s the real deal as a pitcher. At his height, he’s throwing 97-98 mph. If he can keep that together consistently to be a starter, that’s a huge help for him.

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“Eventually, in the next wave of players, I’m probably watching J.P. Crawford. He’s a young shortstop who’s bigger than you would think, and based on his size there should be some pop in that bat. He was a top five prospect a couple years ago. He seems like a good kid, he’s hardworking. Things didn’t go right for him in the games in Philadelphia, but he wasn’t considered a problem in any way as a guy.

“When it comes to players who are further down the road, this is where I’m going to give you two names you’ve heard and one you probably haven’t. The No. 1 name to know in this whole system is going to be Jarred Kelenic. He’s only 19, so he’s not a year away or even two; he’s probably three years away. But he’s the guy they’re looking at to be a game-changing player. They expect him to change the franchise — counting on the fact that that he has those kind of intangibles, that kind of leadership, to go with that kind of on-the-field ability. That’s the guy they’re banking on.

“No. 2 is Julio Rodriguez, an international signing who has some incredible pop from a corner outfield spot, but he’s still athletic, still has a good sense of the strike zone, still controls the zone, and the idea is to keep those two kids together and let them compete with each other to see who’s going to be the face of this franchise one day. Those guys are going to be in Class A this year, so don’t expect them now.

“I’m going to give you one more, and this is another young guy whose name has not come up a tremendous amount: Joey Gerber. He was the Mariners eighth-round pick this past year. He’s 6 feet 4, a right-hander out of the University of Illinois, and he’s atypical. What I’ve learned about atypical pitchers is that their ceiling is super high and their floor is super low. There’s a high bust rate on these guys… he doesn’t look perfect, but sometimes when you don’t look perfect, that’s when you end up with results that are surprising to hitters.”

Listen to today’s entire episode of Brock and Salk here, or listen live every weekday morning from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. 

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