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Dipoto: ‘Get on board’ with young Mariners, who are here to stay

RHP Justin Dunn is one of many young players the Mariners will roll out in 2020. (Getty)

When the Mariners open their season on March 28, they will likely be the youngest team in the American League. That’s totally fine with Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto, who has dramatically changed the makeup of the organization since the end of the 2018 season.

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It’s been a big jump since 2018, when the team won 89 games and just missed the postseason while being one of the oldest teams in all of baseball.

Now, after a flurry of trades and hitting on early draft picks and international signings, the Mariners have gone from one of the worst farm systems in the MLB to having one of the best in just over a year. As a result, the team has some exciting prospects who will either break camp with the big league team or could be joining Seattle in the near future.

Dipoto joined 710 ESPN Seattle’s Tom, Jake and Stacy on Thursday and talked about what fans can expect in 2020 and when some of the team’s most exciting prospects could make their major league debuts.

“We can expect to see exciting young athletes, we can expect to see mistakes and we can expect to see successes I guess in a romantic way, first-time successes that go a long way towards establishing players in a marketplace,” Dipoto said on what fans will likely see this season. “We have personalities, guys like (second baseman) Shed Long and (MLB Pipeline’s Mariners’ No. 1 prospect, outfielder) Jarred Kelenic really stand out. We have huge potential guys like Kelenic, (No. 2 prospect, outfielder) Julio Rodriguez, (No. 10 prospect, outfielder) Kyle Lewis, and so many are descending on Seattle that either arrived at the tail end of 2019 or we expect to be here before the end of 2020.

“Get on board and watch these guys. They’re going to be here for a long time.”

Another player with a unique personality is pitcher Justin Dunn, the team’s No. 5 prospect, who made his debut late in the season and made a few starts as an opener. Dipoto said Dunn is one of many young players the team is hoping to build around.

“It’s huge (getting guys with unique personalities), and in Justin’s case, Justin is one of our more intellectual players. He’s a smart guy,” Dipoto said. “He was one of the guys that we had identified along with Kyle Lewis and one other player we didn’t get in (the 2016 draft), and we got to know him very well … I think his season last year was clearly his best as a pro. The fact that he got to the big leagues and especially after his first outing, which was a struggle, he got back on track and I think showed the character and resiliency you want to see from young players.”

The Mariners’ outfield situation

Dipoto announced Thursday in the Mariners’ pre-spring training press conference that outfielder Mitch Haniger suffered a setback in his recovery from a ruptured testicle injury that cost him nearly all of the 2019 season. He has a lower core injury that will almost certainly require surgery and prevent him from participating at all in spring training.

“We anticipate Mitch is going to have a surgery to repair the core issue, it’s likely to keep him out six to eight weeks,” Dipoto said. “I don’t know yet quite what that looks like, but we expect he’ll miss most or all of spring training, so his start of the season will be delayed, but we feel that the bulk of the season, he’s going to be there with us.”

Haniger’s injury opens the door for guys like No. 14 prospect Braden Bishop and No. 8 prospect Jake Fraley, who were going to be fighting for the big league club’s fourth outfield spot. Dipoto was especially excited about Fraley, who made his major league debut in 2019 but has battled injuries throughout his professional career.

“I can’t wait to see what a healthy, ready to go Jake Fraley looks like on the first day of spring training,” Dipoto said. “We feel like he’s a catalyst waiting to happen.”

Another wave on the way

Lewis, Dunn, Bishop and Fraley were just a few of the team’s top prospects who made their MLB debuts in 2019. Expect a similar type of season in 2020 in that regard.

“This next year, I think we’re going to see a group at least that big,” Dipoto said. “You’ll see (No. 4 prospect, first baseman) Evan White, I do believe we’ll see (No. 3 prospect, pitcher) Logan Gilbert likely in the second half of the season. I do believe there’s a strong chance we’ll see Jarred Kelenic because his talent is that big that he will force his way in and we want to make that happen.”

White, who signed a rare long-term contract extension this offseason despite never appearing above Double-A, is the favorite to start at first base on opening day.

“Evan White really stands out,” Dipoto said. “It would have to be a really rough spring training for us to not break camp with Evan White.”

Other players like catcher Cal Raleigh, the team’s No. 7 prospect, as well as reliever prospects Joey Gerber (18), Wyatt Mills (20), Aaron Fletcher (26) and Sam Delaplane (30) could all be with the Mariners sooner rather than later.

“I’m excited to see what they do because on a team that is (already) very young … we do anticipate introducing even more youth,” Dipoto said.

Overall, most of the team’s top prospects, like Kelenic, Rodriguez and Gilbert, could be on the big league roster by the midway point of 2021. Kelenic will be pushing to get established in 2020 at age 20.

“His talent combined with his desire and confidence, it’s really a pretty good cocktail,” Dipoto said of his top prospect. “He is ready to be great and he doesn’t want to be an average player. He wants to stand out and he’s not afraid.”

The Mariners’ veteran

One veteran holdover that will play a big role for Seattle is third baseman Kyle Seager, who has been the Mariners’ starting third baseman since 2011. Seager appeared in trade rumors throughout the offseason, but Dipoto sees Seager staying for the remainder of his contract, which runs through 2021 with a club option for 2022. If he is traded, the option for 2022 becomes guaranteed, which provides a significant hurdle to any trade of Seager.

“I think he’s our third baseman. Kyle at some point midway through (his injury-shortened 2019 season) kind of morphed back into Kyle Seager after a little bit of a departure,” Dipoto said. “Throughout his time in Seattle he’s been a metronome. You can rely on him to do the same things … Kyle has been that steady force here and I imagine he’s going to be that at least through the end of his contract.”

Dipoto also talked about the departing Félix Hernández, the Houston Astros cheating scandal and more. Listen to Dipoto talk with Tom, Jake and Stacy in the player below.

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