PITTSBURGH — An infusion of young talent has added intrigue and energy to the final days of a long, lost season for the Seattle Mariners.
That’s been true inside the Mariners clubhouse and, no doubt, for many fans paying attention at home.
And while September call-ups Kyle Lewis and Justin Dunn, among others, have provided a spark to the big-league club in the past week, there is still tremendous anticipation about what’s happening in the Mariners’ revamped minor-league system, about the kind of talent that could bring even more intrigue to Seattle in the coming years.
Put more simply: everyone is excited about Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez.
In a rebuilding year, Mariners manager Scott Servais said Wednesday he’s been paying attention to the development of Seattle’s top prospects more than ever.
“Because why wouldn’t you?” he said.
As teenagers, Kelenic and Rodriguez broke onto the scene with the Mariners in spring training, where they met for the first time, formed a fast friendship, began the the season together in Low-A West Virginia and blossomed into two of baseball’s top outfield prospects.
Servais said flatly he expected everything Kelenic or Rodriguez have done this summer.
“I’ve been around a lot of great players who are really young, and I’m not a guy who likes to compare players … (but) the first time I got to see those guys and how they handled spring training with (their) talent, watching what they’ve done throughout the season, seeing a video clip here and there, you see how they’re improving and how they’re making adjustments in their game,” Servais said. “So I’m really not surprised by any of it. I’ll be honest: I’m not. They’re that talented.”
Kelenic, acquired from the New York Mets along with Dunn in the Robinson Cano-Edwin Diaz trade last winter, advanced through three stops in the Mariners’ system, from Low-A West Virginia to High-A Modesto (California) and ending the season with the Double-A Arkansas Travelers — all while playing half the season as a 19-year-old. (He turned 20 on July 16.)
He finished his first full professional season with a .291/.364/.540 line (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage) with 23 home runs and 20 steals.
Baseball America, in its final list of the season’s top 100 minor-leaguers, ranks Kelenic as the game’s No. 24 prospect, after he opened the season ranked No. 68. MLB Pipeline ranks Kelenic No. 14 overall — making him Seattle’s highest-ranked prospect since Dustin Ackley (No. 11) in 2010.
Rodriguez, an 18-year-old, 6-foot-4, 225-pound right fielder, missed two months early in the season with a broken hand, but surged after a promotion to High-A Modesto — where he hit .462/.514/.738 in his final 17 games.
Rodriguez is ranked among baseball’s top-35 prospects by Baseball America (34) and MLB Pipeline (26) — after opening the season outside the top 100 rankings.
The Mariners’ Logan Gilbert (70), Justus Sheffield (74), Evan White (75) are also ranked in Baseball America’s top 100.
Both Kelenic and Rodriguez are participating in the revamped Arizona Fall League — a monthlong showcase for top prospects — playing on the same roster with the Peoria Javelinas.
Kelenic had his wisdom teeth removed this week and is scheduled to miss the first handful of games, said Andy McKay, the Mariners’ farm director.
The Arizona Fall League began Wednesday and runs through Oct. 26, and Servais said he plans to attend at least a couple games next month.
“We’re building for the future,” Servais said. “We knew when we left spring training our team, our (big-league) roster was in a transitional mode, that some guys weren’t going to be with us for the long-term. They knew that. So even after we got past the (July 31) trading deadline it’s been more of, ‘OK, this is who we are. This is the team we have going forward.’ There’s going to be more added to it, coming up from within, but I think we finally, hopefully hit a situation organizationally here where there his some consistency in the fact that we know who we’re coming to work with every day and guys get to know each other. …
“We want to create more stability and we want guys to feel good about being a Mariner. They came up in our system. They understand what’s important to us and that transcends into winning more at the major-league level.”