Mariners’ Dipoto: Crawford’s offseason, Ray in Year 2, Julio leading off

Feb 9, 2023, 12:10 PM

Mariners Julio Rodríguez...

Seattle Mariners' Julio Rodríguez pumps his fist as he runs the bases after hitting a solo home run on a pitch from Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Tyler Alexander during the first inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Seattle. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

(AP Photo/John Froschauer)

Ptchers and catchers report to Peoria next week for spring training and Mariners baseball is right around the corner.

As he does every Thursday morning, Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto joined Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk to discuss his ballclub and players.

This week, Dipoto shared some insight into three of the team’s biggest names. Here’s a bit of what Dipoto had to say.

J.P. Crawford’s offseason

The first two months of 2022 were exceptional for shortstop J.P. Crawford, who slashed .299/.391/.439 (.830 OPS) in 46 games in April and May. But after that, he struggled at the plate and in the field, resulting in an end of season .675 OPS, a career-high 14 errors and poor defensive metrics from the 2020 Gold Glover.

Dipoto and the Mariners have stated multiple times that Crawford was very banged up last season, and this offseason, he’s working on his body for the long haul of a full season.

“His offseason was spent working on his strengthening, especially lower-half strengthening, and developing more consistency with his bat path,” Dipoto said.

Crawford has spent a lot of time at Driveline in Kent this offseason to get that accomplished.

“J.P, I think last year in the second half, you saw he was just beat up. Playing shortstop 162 games a year is a really rough job, and by the second half, he had no base,” Dipoto said. “His legs weren’t under him, you could see how labored he was from time to time just moving side to side or coming on and off the field. I think he spent a ton of his offseason making sure that he’s as strong as he can be to try to avoid that outcome.”

Crawford does things well at the plate, Dipoto said, as he has a nice swing, a good eye and he swings at the right pitches. He won’t be a power hitter, Dipoto added, but Crawford will hit for average and doubles while using the whole field.

Having a stronger base should help him from a production-standpoint.

“When you lose your foundation, when you lose your legs, very often it crushes your impact, No. 1, and you wind up rolling over a lot of balls because you have to stay back to use the center or opposite fields, and you can’t do it when your legs aren’t there,” Dipoto said. “So a lot of his offseason has been spent building that strength and swing repetition. And I think he’s happy with the offseason he’s had – we’re thrilled with it. He’s a very important player for us in a lot of ways, and I’m thrilled that his offseason went the way it did.”

Expectations for Robbie Ray’s 2nd season

The Mariners made a massive splash last offseason when they inked reigning Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray to a lucrative five-year deal in free agency.

Ray wasn’t a Cy Young contender in 2022, but he posted a solid season with a 3.71 ERA and 212 strikeouts in 189 innings accross 32 starts.

Ray had a stretch where he shined in the summer, but his numbers took a big hit when facing the Astros, allowing 13 earned runs in three regular season starts. He also allowed a walkoff home run in Houston during the ALDS.

So what are expectations for Ray in his second season with the Mariners?

“In Robbie’s case, we know how good he can be. He was just the Cy Young Award winner in 2021 … and sans a handful of outings against the Astros, he was very good, especially during the heat of the summerm” Dipoto said. “When we got into late July, the month of August, you’d argue there was nobody better in the league. He has the ability to do that, and that’s transformational for a team.”

Dipoto said he’s been asked a lot this offseason how Ray will bounce back after allowing that playoff homer. He’s not worried about that at all.

“Robbie, he is central to our team’s toughness, his resilience. He is about as down the middle, even keel, don’t get too high and don’t get too low as it gets,” Dipoto said.

Ray is already in Peoria and throwing bullpens and is in great shape, Dipoto added.

“He’s going to come in and do the things that Robbie does. Year 2 for Robbie is going to be better than Year 1 because now he understands the environment, he’s adapted,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what happens for him because the quality of his fastball slider combo is irrefutably good. Now we just have to get to the point where what we saw, especially in that late summer, is more of what we see moving forward, and I think Robbie’s gonna make sure that happens.”

How long will Julio hit leadoff?

Despite a tough month of April, Julio Rodríguez turned in one of the best rookie seasons in MLB history.

The then-21-year-old center fielder won AL Rookie of the Year, a Silver Slugger Award and was named to the All-Star Game while competing in the Home Run Derby. Rodríguez hit 28 home runs and stole 25 bases while slashing .284/.345/.509 (.853 OPS) in 132 games.

Rodríguez’s power production would have many thinking he’s hitting third for the Mariners, but he spent more of the season as a leadoff hitter (58 games) than at any other position in Seattle’s lineup. He had an OPS of .940 when hitting first and he hit six leadoff home runs and OPSed 1.387 when taking Seattle’s first at-bat of the game, per Baseball Reference.

So how long will J-Rod hit leadoff for the Mariners?

“For as long as he wants to,” Dipoto said with a laugh. “Seventeen years if I had to plug one single number.”

Due to new rule changes such as the pitch clock, pickoff limitations and bigger bases, Dipoto expects speed to potentially change the game. That could impact how lineups ultimately are constructed.

“It might shift us back toward what leadoff hitters looked like 25, 35, 40 years ago. But right now, leadoff hitters oftentimes, they’re just your best hitters,” Dipoto said. “Get them the extra bat, hit them at the top of the order.

“Who’s our best guy at getting on base? Probably Julio. Who’s our best guy at cleaning it up? Probably Julio. Who do you want to get the extra at-bat every night? Probably Julio. If that’s the case, then you should probably just hit him lead off or (second).”

Conventional “baseball wisdom” used to suggest that your fastest guy should hit first, your best hitter should hit third and your biggest power threat should hit fourth, Dipoto said.

“Julio is kind of all those guys wrapped into one, and that’s a rare player in the game,” he said. “I remember during my years in Anaheim, we had Mike Trout. And when when that team was at its very best, Mike Trout was leading off and he was getting the (extra) at-bat every night. And I think Julio will do that, at least until such time as I think it makes sense to shift the lineup or (manager Scott Servais) feels more comfortable with a different dynamic. But he’s a pretty good leadoff hitter.”

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

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