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Jerry Dipoto Show: Mariners’ plans for spring training, rotation, fans at park

The Mariners will have to approach spring training differently in 2021. (Getty)

The Jerry Dipoto Show returned to the airwaves with the Mariners general manager joining 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny and Gallant on Thursday morning. While there was no breaking news since Dipoto’s pre-spring training virtual press conference Tuesday, he did give additional insight on a number of topics of interest.

Related: Who Dipoto expects in ‘next wave’ of prospects to join Mariners

Here’s a close look at three of the subjects he covered.

A different approach to spring training

While there is still a good amount of speculation that spring training could be pushed back a bit, the line from MLB is teams are preparing for an on-time start. For the Mariners, that is a Feb. 17 reporting date. It will not be business as usual, however, as in order to help keep numbers down at the training facilities, MLB has directed that major league and minor league camps be completely separate.

In a normal year, the Mariners’ complex in Peoria, Ariz., fills up quickly with a minor league camp running around the same time the major leaguers report, with the full minors reporting a few weeks later. A later report will of course mean a later start, but Dipoto said that they were hopeful that they would be able to play a standard 144-day minor league schedule even if it runs a further into the calendar than it normally does.

Dipoto confirmed that the Mariners will have the same number of players in camp – which in the recent past has been around 60 – and that top prospects Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodríguez would be among the invitees. Both were in camp last year and both should enjoy a similar start to camp.

What happens for the younger invitees as opening day approaches remains to be seen. There’s no minor league camp to send them to when rosters are trimmed. Conversely, there’s no minor league side to draw for when extra players are needed. Could we see shorter spring training games this year? That remains to be seen.

What about when spring training ends? It would appear those who do not make the 26-man roster will get a second spring training. Then what? There is expected to be a staggered start with the minors too but no dates set as of yet. How will this impact the hitters, how will it impact the starters? The Mariners have this in mind as they look to best take care of their young players.

“We have to be smart how we assign them,” said Dipoto. “We may be in a pushed into a situation where they are looking at a spring training that is extraordinarily long because there is no minor league season for them to go to. We do want to be aware of the challenges that lie ahead but most of them we are tackling the first time. It’s not like there’s a play book for this. We’re learning as we go but we will make decisions on each player individually, not just Jarred and Julio but all of our players.”

Looking ahead, the split spring training situation could make for an interesting dilemma for the Mariners. What if there is a young invitee who the team sees coming into camp as close to the big leagues but not quite ready and he absolutely lights it up in major league camp? Will they really want to wait a month to get them back in games? Something to keep an eye out for.

The Mariners’ rotation plan

Another topic of interest in the conversation was the six-man rotation, which the Mariners will employ for the second straight year. Going with the extra starter was not the original plan for the 2020 season, but with the long layoff between spring training and the start of the season, for Dipoto it seemed the smart way to go when baseball resumed.

“Our first goal was player safety purposes. Could we build a safer environment by not asking our starters to throw as often or ramp up too quickly?” he said.

It appears the move paid off with the Mariners starters managing to stay healthy for the most part, which was not the case for many across the league. Dipoto believes the six-man rotation had at least some benefit in that regard, which is one of the reasons why they will go with the extra pitcher once more. Another added benefit they discovered as they attempted to keep their starters healthy was the extra work day it afforded pitchers.

“When you are dealing with young pitchers with limited major league experience that you feel need to continue the developmental path, having the two work days is huge,” he said.

In a typical starter routine, a pitcher will throw his start, take two days off, throw a bullpen, take another day off, then make his next start. The Mariners were able to work in a second work day with the six-man approach, which gave the pitchers an opportunity for actual intensive work rather than just getting ready for that next start. Instead of just getting their pitches in, Mariners starters were able to work on pitch development and pitch shaping, do training on delivery refinement and command, and continue the development process at the big league level.

When will fans return?

The last topic that no doubt is of interest to Mariners fans is when they will be reunited in person with their team.

“That’s our hope,” Dipoto answered when asked if he was anticipating fans at T-Mobile Park this season. “We are planning at some point this year there will be fans in the stands. We don’t know what that number will look like or what that date will be.”

The return of fans will be determined state by state, county by county and city by city.

“For us in King County we will respond appropriately to the rules that govern us,” said Dipoto. “Our hope is somewhere, especially in the second half of the season, that we have that ability but we don’t know. We will have to adjust along the way just like we do with developing our players.”

You can listen to Thursday’s full Jerry Dipoto Show in the podcast at this link or in the player below. Dipoto joins at roughly the 27:45 mark.

Follow Shannon Drayer on Twitter.

More from Shannon: Did Mariners have to change their plan for 2021?

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