Mariners’ Dipoto: Lewis’ hot start, updates on Kelenic and Rodríguez
The Mariners snapped a four-game losing streak with a Wednesday night 7-6 win over the Angels to move to 5-8. And while the record isn’t great, there have still been plenty of bright spots for the youngest roster in MLB.
Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto joined 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny and Gallant, as he does every Thursday morning during the season, to discuss his team. Safe to say Dipoto has had a lot of fun through the season’s first 13 games.
“It’s everything I dreamed we could do over these last five years in bringing in a roster that is young and athletic,” he said. “I love the way we run the bases and disrupt other teams in that kind of way.”
Dipoto covered a lot during his conversation with Danny O’Neil and Paul Gallant. Here’s what he said about key topics surrounding the organization.
Kyle Lewis’ torrid two weeks
When talking about the 2020 Mariners, center fielder Kyle Lewis is usually at or near the top of the conversation. He leads MLB in hits with 20 and has at least one hit in all but one game this season. He also has three home runs and 10 RBIs, has shown off some speed on the bases and is holding down the middle of the outfield defensively as well.
— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) August 5, 2020
“I pinch myself everyday. This is what we thought Kyle was capable of back in 2016 (when the team drafted him) and we never really wavered through his time and player development and tried to be supportive of him both in helping him get back physically and emotionally from really tough injuries,” Dipoto said, referencing Lewis’ recovery from multiple knee injuries suffered in the minor leagues. ” … He’s been unbelievable in his focus through time and he deserves all the good things that are happening to him right now. Frankly, he’s hitting center to right field so consistently you forget he’s capable of hitting 120 mph to his pull side.”
The latest on Kelenic and Rodríguez
The Mariners’ two top prospects are in very different stages of their development in Tacoma right now.
No. 1 prospect Jarred Kelenic is doing what he typically does, and that’s hit the baseball hard.
“Kelenic is working on hitting homers,” Dipoto said, laughing. “He’s down there, as expected, raking. It’s two or three hits a day … He is an exceptional prospect and can really hit and has real power.”
Kelenic hit 23 home runs and stole 20 bases between three minor league levels last season and has put himself seemingly on the fast track to his MLB debut with his stellar play. But with no minor league season in 2020 and a few other factors, Dipoto said the team is still doing what it can to take things slow with the talented outfielder.
“We remain committed to the idea of not rushing him faster than is reasonable and we’re watching him every day to see how he develops,” he said.
But Dipoto didn’t close the door on Kelenic making his debut this year.
“The timing of his arriving in Seattle remains to be seen, but it’s inevitable, whether it’s late this year or early next,” he said. “We don’t see the positive outcomes in rushing it. We understand where we are in our growth, we understand that he has had under 100 plate appearances above A ball and that is a real fast track and that might be asking for trouble.”
Julio Rodríguez, another outfielder and Seattle’s No. 2 prospect, hit a slight roadblock in his 2020 development during summer camp when he injured his wrist during a drill. He suffered a fracture, which required a cast, but he should be back at full speed as soon as next week.
“He gets his cast off Tuesday of next week and can start resuming full baseball activity,” Dipoto said. “Right now, he’s working his butt off in the weight room, he’s taking one-handed swings and going through all the same educational and I guess developmental non-baseball, skill-oriented work that the rest of the guys are.”
Overview of the pitching
The first time through the Mariners’ starting rotation, the starters didn’t get very deep and typically were hurt by one big inning. That wasn’t the case the second time through, with veterans like Marco Gonzales and Taijuan Walker now having reached into the sixth and seventh innings and Yusei Kikuchi throwing six scoreless his last time out. Dipoto said there was a clear difference from their first starts to where they are now.
“It’s just more aggressive strike throwing, and particularly early in the count,” he said. “That was certainly true of Taijuan and Kendall Graveman. And I think Justus Sheffield’s second start gets lost in the weeds. It was much, much better than the final line shows and for that same reason, he did attack the strike zone and got after it. And Justin Dunn getting through four after a really rough start, which is part of being a young pitcher and growing in this league.”
While the rotation has seen some bright spots, especially recently, the bullpen has been maybe the team’s biggest weakness so far. It’s likely that many of the relievers being used now won’t be with the club long-term, and Dipoto said it’s a sort of scouting period in a way.
“What you’re trying to find are guys that fit,” he said. “Some of it is going to be implementing the younger players, guys like Erik Swanson, Joey Gerber, Anthony Misiewicz, who I think have all done a great job in their brief time. And trying to find from that group who have had major league service that are trying to find consistent success, guys like Taylor Williams and Dan Altavilla … We’re just trying to use this to sort through it and see who has staying power.”
The good news for the Mariners is the organization has a ton of talented young arms in the fold at the secondary location in Tacoma, and two of the franchise’s top pitching prospects are starting to get up to speed.
“Yesterday was (2019 first-round pick) George Kirby’s first outing and he sat 97 to 99 (mph) with his fastball and that was fun to see,” Dipoto said. “And so is the development of some of the young relievers. We’re seeing, like we did with Joey Gerber (who made his MLB debut this week), Aaron Fletcher has been better and better each outing, we’ve seen a couple of really good days back to back from Art Warren. And next week, we will see the first professional inning from (2020 first-round pick) Emerson Hancock, which is also something we’re really looking forward to.”
Listen to Dipoto’s conversation with Danny and Gallant at this link or in the player below.