What Jerry Dipoto is seeing from Mariners’ 3 biggest early standouts

Apr 28, 2022, 11:21 AM

Mariners J.P. Crawford...

Mariners shortstop J.P. Crawford celebrates his home run against the Rays on Wednesday. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

The strong 11-7 start to the 2022 Mariners season has so far been headlined by three players.

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When it comes to the lineup, current Co-American League Player of the Week Ty France has been one of the best run producers in baseball early on, while shortstop J.P. Crawford has been hinting at a breakout offensive campaign by leading the team in WAR through Seattle’s first 18 games.

As for on the mound, second-year right-hander Logan Gilbert has been the big standout, making himself the top candidate to win AL Pitcher of the Month for April by allowing just one earned run in his first four starts.

Every Thursday morning on Seattle Sports Station’s Jerry Dipoto Show, the Mariners general manager and president of baseball operations joins Mike Salk for a 20-minute conversation about the team, and as you might expect, the most recent edition covered those three players. Here’s a look at what Dipoto had to say about each of them.

J.P. Crawford

The stats (entering Thursday): .349/.455/.587 slash, 1.042 OPS, 3 HR, 3B, 4 2B, 9 RBI, 9 R, 10 BB, 5 K, SB, 1.5 bWAR

The three home runs so far by Crawford are a bit of a new development, especially since they’ve all been no-doubt shots pulled to right field. At 27 years old, is the former top Phillies prospect making “the leap” at the plate, as Salk asked Dipoto?

“I think we saw it happening, evolving over the last couple of seasons,” Dipoto answered. “It was very evident last year, especially in the middle of last season when you really start to (see) him step up offensively. J.P. has always had the tools to do the things he’s doing right now. He’s just been a little slower to evolve as a major league player than some, and it’s been worth the wait.”

Crawford first started to realize his potential when he won a Gold Glove at shortstop in 2020, and he added strong on-base ability to that last season at the plate. That was enough for Seattle to sign him to a long-term extension at the start of this season, and he’s making that deal look even better by slugging much more than in the past.

“He’s doing all the things that you would imagine him doing,” Dipoto said. “I wasn’t planning on 400-foot pull homers – you know, that’s not naturally something that we expected – but he’s doing so many things the right way. It’s contact, it’s swinging at the right pitches, he plays hard every day, you get the steady defense, and (we’ve) talked about his leadership skills. It’s part of the reason why we wanted to make sure we kept him here for the foreseeable future, and fortunately he wants to be here as well so we got that taken care of.”

Ty France

The stats: .366/.446/.620 slash, 1.066 OPS, 5 HR, 3 2B, 11 R, 21 RBI, 8BB, 9 K, 1.2 bWAR

A huge homestand that included his first career five-hit game was eye-opening, but is the power that France showing really something that can be expected to last for an entire season?

“It’s hard to slug the way he’s slugging now over 162 games – that’s unique,” Dipoto said. “But the power is legit. Ty is just a great hitter. I know you’ve heard me say it before – nothing will shock me with Ty. Is he a 30-plus homer guy? Sure, he has that ability. Does he have the chance to go out and win a batting title? We’ve talked about that before – he’s just an awesome bat-to-ball hitter. He swings at the right pitches, he handles all kinds of different pitches. He’s good at the straight breaking ball, he’s good at handling velocity. Ty’s exit velocities are never going to jump off a page, or (they) rarely jump off the page. He just knows how to barrel the ball, and he’s as good at doing it as anybody in our lineup. Nothing would shock me with Ty. I just think he’s that good of a hitter.”

Two things from that response piqued Salk’s interest – that France has 30-homer ability (he hit 18 in 152 games last year) and could win a batting title. That led to him asking Dipoto if France could do both at the same time, which would be an MVP-caliber season.

“I don’t see why not,” Dipoto said, “because he doesn’t sell out to get to his power. There are a lot of guys that have to sell out, to cheat for a pitch or sit on a single pitch to hit it out of the ballpark, and Ty doesn’t have to do that. I don’t know if you’ve seen or noticed this when he hits, but he’s such a rhythm hitter. Some guys load their swings in multiple parts, and if you slow it down you can see the swing happening in almost a robotic load. Ty just rocks and rolls. He’s got a natural sway to him, he’s got a feel to hit… Identify a pitch and hit it where they throw it. It’s why I think he’s generally so good in two-strike counts. He’s not sitting on a single pitch, he’s not protecting against something or guessing. He’s just seeing the ball, rocking, and he’s going and hitting it.”

Logan Gilbert

The stats: 3-0 record, 0.40 ERA, 0.851 WHIP, 4 GS, 22.1 IP, 22 K, 4 BB, 2 R, ER, 897 ERA+

One criticism of the Mariners’ roster going into this season was the state of the starting rotation, with Seattle opting to go with rookie Matt Brash at the No. 5 pitcher rather than acquire a veteran starter. Dipoto said part of the reasoning was that in addition to signing 2021 AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray and returning veterans Marco Gonzales and Chris Flexen, the M’s “really believed” that Gilbert “was going to rise.”

“And I think we’re seeing that,” Dipoto continued.

Gilbert has been dominant in the early going, with improved secondary pitches paired with the high-velocity fastball that explodes out of the 6-foot-6 hurler’s hand making him that much tougher for hitters to figure out.

“He went home in his offseason (and) he focused on refining his changeup and his breaking balls,” Dipoto said. “All three of his secondary pitches are well ahead of where they’ve ever been – since he entered the organization – through a lot of hard work. He’s always had that mid, upper-90s fastball, it rides at the top of the zone, and he has that advantage of a 6-6 frame with crazy extension as he releases the ball, and his 95, 98 (mph) plays much, much harder than that – and it’s already really hard. So he’s a tough guy to square up, he really is a tough guy to make contact when he’s on and at the top of the zone. And now those new pitches that have created room for him to operate both horizontally and vertically in the strike zone, and above it, that just makes it a really hard combination to hit.”

Dipoto said he’s as encouraged by what Gilbert has done in the first month as anything from the Mariners in their first 18 games.

“So many positive things have happened for us early in this year, maybe none as – I don’t want to say expected, but as routine, it feels like, as Logan Gilbert. I think he’s been the best pitcher in the American League this month, and it’s it’s hard to believe that he’s started fewer than 30 games in his career at this point.”

The Jerry Dipoto Show airs at 8:30 a.m. every Thursday during Seattle Sports Station’s Mike Salk Show. You can listen to this week’s full episode in the podcast below or at this link.

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What Jerry Dipoto is seeing from Mariners’ 3 biggest early standouts