Jerry Dipoto Show: Mariners’ post-lockout priorities, Julio Rodríguez, pitching plans

Mar 11, 2022, 10:45 AM | Updated: 12:43 pm

Mariners Julio Rodriguez...

Julio Rodriguez of American League Futures Team stretches before a game against the National League Futures Team at Coors Field. (Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

(Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

For the first time since prior to the start of the MLB lockout, we have heard from Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto.

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In his first media appearance since early-December, Dipoto joined Seattle Sports’ Mike Salk for the first Jerry Dipoto Show of 2022 Friday morning to talk about the lockout, what’s next and provide some updates on his players.

First things first, what did Dipoto do right after the lockout ended on Thursday? Naturally, he went to dinner. Then, the real fun began.

“Like you might expect, lots of phone calls, lots of text messages, had a couple of conversations last night with a few different teams and checking in with agents to re-establish connections because where we left off prior to the lockout was we thought we were in a good place in where these discussions were, but we have not been able to follow up at all,” he said. “So yesterday was a lot of ‘get to know you again’ phone calls. And I do suspect that this next week or 10 days will be pretty active.”

So what does that look like for the Mariners?

Bats are the priority

Dipoto made it clear to Salk that the priority this offseason is to add impact bats to lineup.

“We would like to add to our offense most specifically and improve our efficiency in our run scoring,” Dipoto said. “And whether that comes with (on-base percentage), whether it comes with power, we do feel like we would like to add a left-handed element to our lineup to create more balance. And we do want a power bat somewhere that resides near the middle of the lineup. So whether that comes via trade or free agency remains to be seen. We did a lot of work on the free agent front prior to the holidays and we feel pretty good about where we left off with a number of players. And now we just have to see where they are coming out of out of yesterday’s agreement.”

The Mariners were dead-last in batting average last year and in the bottom third of the league in runs scored.

“Right now, we look like a team that struggled to score runs,” Dipoto said. “That could change in about two weeks. And that’s the goal.”

Two players that could help in that regard are already in the organization. Those would be 2020 Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis, who is coming off another major knee injury, and top prospect Julio Rodríguez.

With Lewis, the Mariners were unable to get much of an update on his knee aside from videos of him posted on social media, but once the lockout ended the club was able to talk to him again.

“We are very encouraged with what it looks like,” Dipoto said. ” … We’re pretty excited about what Kyle’s feeling walking in the door. He makes us such a different team. And a lot of what we’re looking for to really juice our offense, a good deal that could come from Kyle Lewis.”

As for Rodríguez, who finished 2021 in Double-A, what would it take for him to break camp with the MLB roster?

“Light it up. And I suspect he will come ready to do that,” Dipoto said, later saying he is “very close” to debuting.

Rodríguez’s eventual debut will be heavily anticipated, but what has the young outfielder been working on ahead of that debut?

“One of the priorities for Julio and something I know he focused on based on the the interaction with him last night was focusing on his body, improving his run tool and what he was doing defensively,” Dipoto said. “He’s worked a lot over the last few months on on his defense, especially his center field defense. If we have Julio Rodríguez and Kyle Lewis and Jarred Kelenic who are all capable of being dynamic offensive players and manning center field, that gives us an incredible degree of flexibility and high impact. And the thing that’s most exciting about Julio is we put challenges in front of him and he knocks it down every time. My guess is over the next few weeks, he’s going to knock it down again.”

Pitching plans

Dipoto said the Mariners have four starters at the top of the rotation – Robbie Ray, Marco Gonzales, Chris Flexen and Logan Gilbert. So what about the No. 5 starter?

“We do feel like the front four in our major league rotation is good and we feel like the the young pitching prospects that are on their way are really good. And in between, we have a good deal of experienced pitchers who can contribute at the back-end of the rotation or even in the bullpen,” Dipoto said. “But most importantly, it allows us with (prospects) like (George) Kirby, (Brandon) Williamson and Matt Brash and maybe the guy that flies under the radar most in that group whose stuff is just outstanding Levi Stoudt. Those are a really interesting group of guys who are on the doorstep and we haven’t even gotten to guys like Emerson Hancock and Adam Macko and Connor Phillips and Taylor Dollard. We feel like we do have arms up and down our system.”

So what exactly does that mean as far as plans for the rotation?

“What that provides us is the ability to really focus our needs on can we acquire a pitcher like a Robbie Ray who fits closer to the top of rotation?” Dipoto said. “We’re probably not going to naturally rest on, ‘Alright, we’ve got a nice back of the rotation starter’ because we’d rather give that opportunity to our young guys and let them grow. But if we can find a pitcher who has  multi-function, a guy who has the ability to start who can make an impact in the bullpen, that is appealing to us, particularly if it brings a left-handed element to our to our staff because what we don’t want to do is when it’s time for George Kirby or Levi or Matt or Brandon to get their innings in the big leagues. we do want to give them that opportunity because we feel like the best team that we are building toward includes those guys. The more experience we give them, the better off we’re going to be.”

Of those prospect arms, Kirby is among the top prospects in baseball. Dipoto offered an exciting update on the 2019 first-round pick.

“He could not be further along,” Dipoto said. ” … In bullpens, live BP and simulated game setups, he is up to two innings in sim games and his fastball has touched (100-plus mph), he effortlessly sits in that 96-97 zone. It’s just a ton of strength. His his breaking stuff, particularly his changeup, has come a long way. George, unless something goes wildly wrong this year, George is going to impact our big league rotation and we feel like his his upside is top-of the-rotation. And I don’t think we’re keeping a secret by suggesting that. I do think there are many others in the industry who feel the same way.

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

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