Mariners’ Jerry Dipoto: Potential call-up for bullpen, value of Jarred Kelenic in playoff race

Sep 9, 2021, 12:10 PM | Updated: 12:12 pm
Mariners OF Jarred Kelenic...
Jarred Kelenic had some big hits for the Mariners during the recent road trip. (Getty)

The Mariners have Thursday off, and having won seven of their last 10 games, Seattle sits just 2.5 games back of the Boston Red Sox for the second American League wild card spot.

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The man behind the Mariners’ roster is Jerry Dipoto, who is now president of baseball operations after a recent contract extension and promotion. On 710 ESPN Seattle’s weekly Jerry Dipoto Show Thursday, which airs at 8:30 a.m. during The Mike Salk Show, he discussed his team’s play and some key players in particular.

Kelenic and Raleigh getting key ABs

Two of the youngest players on the Mariners’ roster are rookies Jarred Kelenic and Cal Raleigh, both of whom are getting their first taste of MLB action in what are now very key games as Seattle remains in play for the postseason.

Both Kelenic and Raleigh have had their share of struggles at the plate, with Kelenic slashing .165/.245/.291 with eight home runs and 28 RBIs in 71 games while Raleigh is slashing .156/.205/.248.

Mike Salk asked Dipoto what the two rookies are gaining from getting at-bats in the thick of a playoff race.

“You’re starting to get a sense for it with Jarred. He, especially over these last two or three days on this road trip, has really started to contribute in big spots,” Dipoto said.

Kelenic is in his second MLB stint of this season as he was demoted back to Triple-A after he struggled mightily in his first run in the big leagues. As is apparent with his slash line, Kelenic hasn’t quite put it all together yet, but he is swinging the bat much better of late.

During the Mariners’ six-game road trip, Kelenic hit .269 and had a home run, two doubles, drove in five runs and worked two walks. In a win in Arizona, Kelenic hit a home run and drove in the go-ahead run in extra innings. And in the Mariners’ win over the Astros on Wednesday, Kelenic had two hits, a walk and drove in the tying run in the seventh inning.

“He’s getting key experience at times where your heart rate is pumping, when you know the game is on the line, and he’s learning to slow it down. And that is meaningful,” Dipoto said.

“I would say the same for Cal,” Dipoto added. “He hasn’t yet found that success that Jarred is starting to find, but it will come.”

With the Mariners in the playoff race, a case could be made for playing more veteran players over the two rookies since both have struggled overall this year. Dipoto doesn’t see that happening.

“These are talented players and for us to rob them of these opportunities now would roughly be to forsake everything we’ve done in the three years leading up to this point,” he said. “They are part of what helped us get to this point and they are going to be part of what helps us get to the end of the road, which we hope is October of 2021.”

Yusei Kikuchi’s roller coaster year

Yusei Kikuchi was the Mariners’ lone All-Star selection after a great start to the southpaw’s third MLB season, but things have not gone nearly as well lately.

In his first 16 starts, Kikuchi was 6-4 with a 3.48 ERA in 98 1/3 innings. But in his 10 most recent starts since the All-Star break, he’s 1-4 with a 6.04 ERA. In his most recent start Monday in Houston, Kikuchi allowed six runs (four earned) while recording just five outs.

Dipoto was asked by Salk to describe Kikuchi’s 2021 campaign.

“Very up and down. The first half, I think we saw tremendous stuff and the best run of command of that stuff that we have seen,” Dipoto said. “Obviously since the All-Star break, Yusei has not been as consistent. And that is roughly on par with the ups and downs that we’ve seen from him before.”

While the struggles are apparent, Dipoto does see some encouraging signs from the lefty.

“The physical stuff will be overwhelming on a given day, and when Yusei is out there and in attack mode, he’s as good as anybody,” he said. “We just have to find a way to help him get there more consistently. We’ve got three weeks of games to play and hopefully a postseason, and we don’t have a pitcher with any more physical talent than Yusei has. And our goal is to get him in one of those good grooves because when he is in those good grooves, he has the chance to drive the rotation for a period of time, which he’s done here. We just have to get back to that place.”

Top arms on the farm and a potential call-up

If you’re looking for the best collection of pitching prospects in the minor leagues, Seattle’s Double-A affiliate would be at or near the top of the list.

Five of the Mariners’ top 10 prospects, per MLB Pipeline, are in that Arkansas Travelers rotation (though it’s worth noting that 2020 first-round pick Emerson Hancock, the team’s No. 4 prospect on MLB Pipeline, was shut down for the year this week due to shoulder fatigue).

Dipoto and his front office have accumulated a lot of prospect talent since the Mariners began a rebuild after the 2018 season, and the Arkansas rotation is a standout group for the farm.

“The rotation in Double-A is so intriguing because they’re polished, they throw strikes,” he said. “George Kirby is about as polished of a young pitcher as you’re going to see with big-time weapons. We think he’s really at the doorstep.”

Kirby, the Mariners’ 2019 first-round pick and their No. 3 prospect on MLB Pipeline, is well known in prospect circles because of his status as a top pick, but Dipoto said another arm could be the first of that rotation to make his MLB debut. And that debut could happen very soon.

“The guy who might be closer than any of them right now is Matt Brash,” he said.

Brash, Seattle’s No. 10 prospect on MLB Pipeline, is a 23-year-old right-hander who the Mariners acquired from the San Diego Padres last year at the trade deadline in exchange for reliever Taylor Williams. The 2019 fourth-round pick by the Padres is 6-3 with a 2.06 ERA and 131 strikeouts to 41 walks in 86 1/3 innings over 18 games (17 starts) between High-A Everett and Double-A Arkansas.

That success could land Brash in a Mariners uniform before the season ends.

“We picked him up last summer and it is tremendous stuff,” Dipoto said. “He has pitched a full minor league season of innings, so we are not likely to see him start here (in MLB) in these last three weeks, but we’ve at least had the discussions about the potential for adding him in the bullpen if things stay as interesting as they are now. It is dominating stuff.”

Brash, Kirby and Hancock aren’t the only top arms in that rotation, either.

“Brandon Williamson has really steadied his ship,” Dipoto said of the 2019 second-round pick who is the team’s No. 7 prospect on MLB Pipeline. “… It’s tough to find holes. He’s really improved with everything we’ve asked. He’s a lefty that gets into the mid-90s with an excellent curveball and a developing change and great angle.”

“Levi Stoudt is a strike thrower with excellent delivery,” Dipoto said of the 2019 third-round pick who checks in as Seattle’s No. 9 on MLB Pipeline. “… He operates in the mid-90s with what we think is four above-average pitches.”

So how soon could we see all five of those pitchers in the big leagues?

“It’s just a fun group to be around and think about what they can develop into,” Dipoto said. “We think they’re all in that six to 12-month window of their major league debut.”

Listen to the full Jerry Dipoto Show at this link or in the player below.

Follow Brandon Gustafson on Twitter.

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Mariners’ Jerry Dipoto: Potential call-up for bullpen, value of Jarred Kelenic in playoff race