Patrick Kivlehan opening eyes with rapid rise through Mariners’ system

Mar 5, 2015, 5:22 PM | Updated: 6:11 pm
Primarily a football player in college, Patrick Kivlehan has progressed quickly through the Mariners' minor-league system since being chosen in the fourth round of the 2012 draft. (Ben Van Houten, Mariners)
(Ben Van Houten, Mariners)

PEORIA, Ariz. – Ask Mariners prospect Patrick Kivlehan to name his most memorable college game and he brings up the one he played at Yankee Stadium.

“To have my last one at Yankee Stadium? To finish out my career there obviously was pretty cool,” said the Nyack, N.Y. native. “But to be a New York kid, too?”

Two months later he would begin his brief college baseball career. The game he played at Yankee Stadium was a football game, the 2011 Pinstripe Bowl.

“At that time I knew I was about to play baseball, so as we ran out the tunnel I kind of pictured myself going up to home plate,” he said. “It was pretty cool.”

Kivlehan very well could step up to the plate at Yankee Stadium at some point. He has opened eyes with his quick rise through the Mariners’ organization since being drafted in the fourth round in 2012. He has also made a good impression in his first two games this spring, playing both first and third base while going a combined 3 for 5 with the winning RBI single on Wednesday and a three-run homer on Thursday.

Not bad for a kid who was on the football field just three years ago, playing defensive back at Rutgers in New Brunswick, N.J. An assist from some hometown friends and a lucky break helped get him back to baseball.

Kivlehan, 25, played both sports in high school but chose to play football in college in part because of the full scholarship he was offered as opposed to the partial scholarships that are offered for baseball. He had a passion for football and loved playing at Rutgers in front of crowds of up to 60,000 on Saturdays, but he found that he missed baseball. The summer before his senior year he started thinking about the possibility of playing one year of baseball at Rutgers. A conversation with friends at his hometown hangout – a bar owned by a high school friend – got the ball rolling.

“One of our teammates from the year prior, Tommy La Stella, got drafted and my buddy said, ‘You are just as good as Tommy and all these guys who got drafted from our area. I think you could do it,'” Kivlehan recalled.

Kivlehan wanted to give it a try but didn’t know how to go about it. As luck would have it, help was only a few feet away.

“My buddy said he would talk to his older brother who played at Rutgers, so he called him over,” Kivlehan recalled. “He was working the door and he said, ‘Yeah, I will do it, but if I talk to them you have got to go through with it.’ I told him, ‘If you give me the in I will handle the rest.'”

The older brother reached out to the coaches at Rutgers and they got in contact with Kivlehan. He was given a tryout and was invited to join the team. He had been working out and putting time in the cages, but the last game he had played was the in the county finals his senior year in high school. He was happy to make the team but had no idea what his role would be.

“I really didn’t know,” he said. “I came to find out that they just kept me on the team as a pinch runner because they thought I was fast because of football. I didn’t have any expectations, didn’t know any of the guys on the team or what spots were open. I honestly just wanted to be on the team just to play again, to put on a glove and a uniform.”

The plan to use him as a pinch runner never came to fruition. Shortly before the season began, the starting third baseman suffered a knee injury. Kivlehan beat out another walk-on for the position.

“Things just kind of fell into place,” he said.

Things weren’t easy in the beginning. It took time to adjust to live pitching. Kivlehan was the last player on the Scarlet Knights to record his first hit that spring.

“I was the last kid on the team to get an average,” he said. “It was rough. Everyone was always looking at the stats and mine is always at the bottom, .000. Obviously, there were some doubts, was this the right idea? Should I actually have done this? Then I finally got the hit. It took a couple of weeks to get going and then I took off.”

Kivlehan took off and did not look back. He finished the season hitting .410 and accomplished the first triple crown in Big East history. Scouts had begun to take notice of Kivlehan about half way through conference play. There was interest but also questions about a player who played just one season of college baseball and had not played for three years before that.

“The scouts were showing up and I kind of had an idea that maybe I would get drafted, but some teams didn’t know enough about me because they really only knew about me for a month before the draft,” he said.

Kivlehan actually came across the Mariners’ radar a few months before the draft, catching the eye of area scout Mike Moriarty while he was out to see another player.

“We got to see batting practice and Kivlehan really opened our eyes,” said Mariners scouting director Tom McNamara. “We knew his background, we followed him and a few weeks later we flew into Notre Dame to see him play.”

Other teams were watching as well but Kivlehan wasn’t sure what they were thinking.

“I had an idea I would get taken, it was just kind of where,” he said. “I could have gotten taken in the fourth round like I did or, honestly, the 25th or 30th. Some teams liked the fact that I didn’t play a lot, some teams didn’t want to deal with me because I didn’t play a lot.”

McNamara was intrigued by what he saw.

“We kind of stumbled upon him,” McNamara said. “We did our homework – makeup, talked to coaches, everybody we talked to when we mentioned Pat, it was all makeup, the whole football experience. We’ve always had the attitude that two-a-days in August, minor league is a breeze compared to any two-a-day in August. The fact that he won the triple crown in the Big East? That was eye-opening. That had never been done before. There are a lot of Big East players in the big leagues and that has never been done.”

Kivlehan’s progression through the minor leagues has been surprisingly fast. He has improved at every level. He actually hit better at Double-A than he did in hitter-friendly High-A. Last year he finished with a combined 103 RBIs in 34 games with High Desert and 104 with Jackson. He put up good numbers against some of the best pitchers in the minor leagues in the Arizona Fall League last year. Each transition has been almost seamless.

“I thought he would struggle with breaking stuff, off-speed stuff because he hasn’t seen it,” McNamara said, “but he’s smart and he can track breaking stuff. He reads the pitch.”

“The athleticism and the strength helps,” McNamara continued. “He was playing against the best athletes in the country, playing in front of 60,000 on Saturdays, and I think he makes adjustments quicker than others because of that.”

Kivlehan has also demonstrated versatility in the field. He’s played first and third base and while he is listed as an outfielder in the Mariners’ camp, he has taken all of his reps with the infielders so far. He does have some games under his belt in left field and I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets a look in the outfield at some point this spring.

Manager Lloyd McClendon has told the young players in camp to enjoy their time and have fun. The purpose of this camp is to get the major-league team ready. They will get looks, however, and Patrick Kivlehan’s first look was a good one.

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