PEORIA, Ariz. — Outfielder Boog Powell is that rare commodity from the Mariners’ talent-thin minor-league system as the club prepares to open its Cactus League schedule Wednesday against the San Diego Padres at Peoria Stadium.
Powell, 23, is getting a genuine look-see this spring with an eye toward the future. He faces long odds to break camp with the big-league club — long, but not impossible — but he’s viewed as much more than mere organizational depth.
General manager Jerry Dipoto makes it clear that Powell, acquired in a Nov. 5 trade from Tampa Bay, represents a step toward fashioning future rosters and, as such, a move toward re-priming the organization’s pipeline.
“The thing that appeals to us most about Boog is his top-of-the-lineup skill set,” Dipoto said. “The patience, the hitability and the speed are really attractive to us, as well as the athleticism in the outfield.
“He’s checked all of the boxes. He controls the strike zone. He’s hit everywhere he’s gone. He runs the bases. He plays defense. And he’s polished in what he does.”
Rival scouts characterized Powell, at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, as “fearless” and a “ball of energy.” One pointed to a game last year at Triple-A Durham when Powell made a head-first dive into the stands while pursuing a foul ball.
Powell was among the group of 15 prospects invited to an offseason hitting seminar in Peoria. Overseen by hitting coach Edgar Martinez, it sought to emphasize the organization’s new emphasis on controlling the strike zone.
“It was great,” Powell said. “Getting in the cage with Edgar Martinez. Wow. A future Hall of Famer right here. … That’s what I believe in: getting on base and working counts. That’s me.
“It’s all been in my mind since I got drafted. That’s the game I play.”
Powell is a four-year pro now with his third organization in four years. He made steady progress for two-plus years in the Oakland system before getting derailed by a 50-game suspension in 2014 after testing positive for amphetamines.
“Once all of that happened,” he said, “I put it all behind me and just moved forward. That’s all I can do.”
The Athletics then sent Powell to Tampa Bay in a Jan. 10, 2015, trade that netted utilityman Ben Zobrist. The Rays welcomed Powell with an invitation to big-league camp, which set the groundwork for a productive season.
“A good experience,” Powell said. “Hanging out with (All-Star pitcher) Chris Archer and all of them. Learning the big-league side of things. I’ve learned to be myself and know my role.
“That’s the most important part: Knowing my role and doing the things I need to do.”
Powell is a left-handed hitter who profiles as a prototypical leadoff man. He has a .401 on-base percentage in 294 minor-league games, including .360 last season at Durham after a late June promotion from Double-A Montgomery.
“He now comes to a new organization that values what he does,” Dipoto said, “and we’re going to give him a chance to do it. He gives us a top-of-the-batting-order (player with) speed and on-base (skills) and a center-field option.
“We should receive a lot of returns from Boog for years to come. Whether it be in 2016 — in April, July or September — at some point we feel Boog Powell becomes a pivotal piece of that trade for us.”
As matters currently stand, there’s no place for Powell on the projected 25-man roster. The Mariners figure to carry five outfielders, and the unit appears set. Newcomers Nori Aoki and Leonys Martin will play left and center, while Seth Smith and Franklin Gutierrez project as a right-field platoon.
Then add Nelson Cruz, who will play the outfield when not serving as the designated hitter. But things happen. Four of the Mariners’ five outfielders are 33 or older. Aoki, Gutierrez and Cruz each battled health issues in 2015.
And Martin, who turns 28 in March, is the only true center fielder in the group.
“Boog Powell will come to spring training with the opportunity to win a spot,” Dipoto said, “but nothing is etched in stone. If he wins one, great. If not, he’s right there in (Triple-A) Tacoma, ready to go get when we need him.”
So, yes, Powell is getting a long look.
“The camp is very important for me,” he said. “I’m hoping to be with the Mariners for a long time. During the year, I hope I get called up and get a chance to play my game.”