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Mariners ‘ahead of schedule’: Jerry Dipoto on Julio Rodríguez, catching plan and more

Mariners prospect Julio Rodríguez played in the MLB Futures Game last Sunday. (Getty)

The Mariners are five games over .500 coming out of the 2021 All-Star break, and the future looks very bright with the players the club has both now and will have in the future.

Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto: Kelenic returning to MLB Friday vs Angels

Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto joined 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny and Gallant on Thursday for the weekly Jerry Dipoto Show and shared some insight into both the present and future of the big league club.

First, Dipoto was asked by guest host Michael Bumpus about Seattle’s schedule in terms of player development as the team goes through its third season since starting a rebuild. Dipoto, simply put, is thrilled with where the organization stands in that regard.

“Player development, I feel like we are way ahead of schedule,” Dipoto said. “That has gone extraordinarily well since we’ve started this rebuild. From the time we started reshaping this major league roster at the end of 2018, I would have told you that this was our target time. We thought in midseason of 2021 that we would be in position to contend.”

And now, the Mariners sit at 48-43 as they prepare to start the second half of the year, putting them just 3.5 games out of the second American League Wild Card spot.

While mid-2021 was when Dipoto and the Mariners expected things to start turning around in terms of contention when they began the rebuild, it’s still a bit of a surprise they’re at this point due to all the challenges that 2020 presented.

“Frankly a lot has happened in the world, and we didn’t really know what (2021) would look like,” Dipoto said. “We’re all pleasantly surprised by where we are. I can’t qualify it as we’ve hit on our expectations because we tempered our expectations based on a worldwide pandemic, the loss of the minor league season and the different challenges that brought to a young and I guess growing team. But it’s hard to look at what we’re doing right now, especially over the last month or five weeks, (and not be pleased). We are scoring runs, we are pitching well, our bullpen has been terrific and we feel like this team deserves notice, and we’re giving it.”

The plan behind the plate

During this week’s Jerry Dipoto Show, the Mariners’ general manager announced that top prospect Jarred Kelenic would be returning to the big leagues Friday. Kelenic isn’t the only top Seattle prospect who’s been added to the club of late, as catcher Cal Raleigh made his MLB debut last Sunday in the Mariners’ final game before the All-Star break.

Now, Raleigh is on the roster along with fellow backstops Tom Murphy and Luis Torrens, both of whom have received plenty of playing time this year.

With Raleigh in the mix and the two more veteran players still on the roster, what’s the plan at catcher? Dipoto said the team will be creative with managing the roster coming out of the All-Star break with the catchers specifically and the roster in general.

“We’re going to carry three catchers and see how frequently we can get (Torrens) in there against left-handed pitching and get Tom Murphy some reps, and he does such a good job managing our pitchers,” Dipoto said. “But we also want to see Cal play on a regular basis. And as fun as it is to be in a position right now to dream of the second half and hitting the postseason, we also want to focus on the discipline of giving these young players (like Kelenic and Raleigh) their reps, because that’s just so important to what happens moving forward for us.”

The other top outfield prospect

There’s plenty of excitement about Kelenic, MLB Pipeline’s No. 4 prospect, being back with the Mariners, but Seattle has another very well-regarded outfield prospect in the system in Julio Rodríguez who, like Kelenic, took part in the MLB Futures Game during the All-Star festivities.

Rodríguez, MLB Pipeline’s No. 5 prospect, started the 2021 season in High-A Everett, but was recently been promoted to Double-A Arkansas. In 28 games for Everett, Rodríguez slashed .325/.410/.581 with six home runs, 21 RBIs and five stolen bases. In 12 games in Double-A, Rodríguez is slashing .262/.404/.452 with two home runs, eight RBIs and two stolen bases.

Rodríguez hit that second home run on Wednesday, blasting an opposite-field grand slam to right field.

“The ball that he hit to right field yesterday for a grand slam in Northwest Arkansas was just disintegrated,” Dipoto said.

As a whole, Dipoto is extremely happy with what the young outfielder has accomplished already in 2021.

“It’s so much fun to watch him play. I think he’s doing exactly what we would have hoped he’d do in challenging him with the promotion to Double-A,” Dipoto said. “… It’s been a phenomenal year for Julio at every level. The progress he’s making, really it’s making the future look much closer than we could have imagined in July of 2021.”

As fun as it is just to see the skills that Rodríguez has, he’s also one of the most exciting young players from a personality standpoint, which Dipoto loves.

“I don’t know if it was evident when the team showed up on the field at the Futures Game, but you can feel his personality before he ever does anything on the field. It’s so fun to watch him,” Dipoto said.

Listen to this week’s Jerry Dipoto Show at this link or in the player below.

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