Drayer: Dipoto says top-level Mariners prospects ‘are so close’ to majors
With the Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline now a thing of the past, the month of August is now a virtual trade-free zone for the Mariners and the rest of Major League Baseball.
Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto used to be extremely active in August, making deals both to fill future needs and take the occasional flyer on a player of interest. But with MLB trades no longer permitted in August, what is one of baseball’s most prolific traders to do?
“I feel like I fell off the wagon a little bit,” Dipoto said with a laugh during a recent conversation on the Mariners pregame show. “I’m picking up new habits.”
In truth, the extra time has come in handy in a development year for the Mariners where player evaluation has extra importance.
“It’s actually been quite refreshing to focus on what we do every day,” Dipoto said. “It’s given me an opportunity to review our systems and player development with (Mariners director of player development) Andy McKay in a way that is deeper than we typically get to do because we are not worried about Major League roster transactions and that’s been refreshing. It’s the first time in my GM career I’ve really been able to do that.”
Dipoto has made a number of trips to the minor league affiliates in August and September, most recently spending two days with the Double-A Arkansas Travelers as they began their Texas League semifinal series against the Tulsa Drillers. For the better part of the season, the Travelers’ roster has been populated by at least half of organization’s top 30 prospects. This isn’t by coincidence – the desire to keep a core group of young talent together through the minor leagues was expressed from the get-go when Dipoto first articulated the rebuilding plan in a post-season press conference last fall.
With the goal of keeping the players together and taking the extra step of getting them to the playoffs accomplished, Dipoto likes what he has seen develop with the young group from Arkansas.
“When you get to play together as a unit and you trust and rely on the players next to you and you play for them as much as you are playing for you, you start to feel responsible for the community around you. That’s a really big deal,” he pointed out. “That’s when you will see the environment and the culture here turn.”
What Dipoto is talking about cannot be measured by the numbers. There are no analytics to put the value of a core that grows together versus pieces that are added from the outside into perspective. It’s an X-factor of sorts, but one that is unmistakable on teams that have it. It also appears to be a vital part of a strong foundation, something that MLB national columnist Richard Justice, who is based in Houston, has seen with the Astros.
“You go through this, you have a window. It’s not just being good. It’s having a player like (Astros outfielder) George Springer who sets a tone the way he plays, the joy,” Justice said. “The thing they ask me here in Houston is, do they really have that much fun? They are really like kids. It comes from Springer’s energy, (Astros third baseman Alex) Bregman being a fanatic about the game, a perfectionist. Sometimes you get the mix exactly right.”
Dipoto hopes he has the same thing with the group in Arkansas and a few others who are not far behind. Players like Justin Dunn, Kyle Lewis, Evan White, Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodriguez, Logan Gilbert, Cal Raleigh, Donnie Walton, Sam Delaplane and Art Warren.
“These players are so close,” Dipoto said. “So many of the guys we just mentioned, some time in the next 6-8 months are going to play for the Mariners, some in the next 6-8 days. It’s going to be a lot of fun to see them matriculate.”
In that 6-8 month category, perhaps a surprise is Logan Gilbert, the Mariners’ No. 1 pick in the 2018 MLB Draft. He has performed well in his first professional season, posting an ERA of 2.13 in 26 starts across three levels of the minors while striking out 165 batters and walking just 33. With what the Mariners now have at their disposal in data, technology and evaluation of biomechanics, mature pitchers – meaning those who played in college – would appear to have the chance to move through the ranks quicker than ever before.
“Definitely,” Dipoto agreed. “I think Logan is the first representation of that. When I talked with him (about being shut down last year after hitting his first-year innings limit), I told him he’s going to pitch in the big leagues for us in 2020 unless something goes wildly wrong. I think we are going to see similar-type moves for guys like (2019 draft picks) George Kirby, Brandon Williamson and Isaiah Campbell. Whether they are as successful as Logan so quickly, that’s going to be a tall order because Logan had a phenomenal season. These guys are doing great things at Short-A, I suspect they’re not going to play at just one level next year. We are going to give them a chance to move.”
While Dipoto did not assign an arrival date quite as succinctly for his young position players, namely the 20-year-old Kelenic and 18-year-old Rodriguez, it appears they will be afforded the chance to move quickly as well.
“They are mature kids,” Dipoto answered when asked what the difference-maker is with this group. “They take all of the instruction we give them. They are professionals when they come to the ballpark every day. They’re gifted. They are playing against older competition and thriving and they are not allowing it to change their routines. They are still doing all of the things we want them to do to learn the smaller lessons that are typically critical at the lower levels. We feel good about pushing them and giving them the opportunity to come up and play as a group and to time the final roster, the way it is going to look when our team is done here. Get them here in some window together.”
That window could begin to open as soon as spring training 2020, and we should get our first glimpse in the coming days.