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Out of Right Field: The Mariners’ prospects are starting to look up

UPDATED: Sat., Sept. 5, 2020

Mariners shortstop J.P. Crawford, left, and center fielder Kyle Lewis celebrate a 2-1 victory against the Los Angeles Angels last Monday in Anaheim, Calif.  (Associated Press)
Mariners shortstop J.P. Crawford, left, and center fielder Kyle Lewis celebrate a 2-1 victory against the Los Angeles Angels last Monday in Anaheim, Calif. (Associated Press)
By Gene Warnick The Spokesman-Review

Two years ago, the Mariners had what most considered the worst farm system in baseball.

That’s when general manager Jerry Dipoto instituted his “step back” plan. With the club not quite good enough to reach the postseason for the first time since 2001 but also not bad enough to get high first-round picks, Dipoto dealt second baseman Robinson Cano, left-hander James Paxton and reliever Edwin Diaz, among others, and let designated hitter Nelson Cruz walk as a free agent.

The results haven’t been pretty at the major league level, but there are signs that Dipoto’s plan is working.

After acquiring outfielder Taylor Trammell from San Diego at last week’s trade deadline, the M’s have moved into the top five in pretty much all of the organizational rankings.

MLB Pipeline has six Mariners among their top 100 prospects, the most of any organization.

Outfielders Jarred Kelenic (No. 11 overall) and Julio Rodriguez (17) lead the way, followed by right-handers Emerson Hancock (36) and Logan Gilbert (40), first baseman Evan White (56) and Trammell (57).

White, the oldest among that group at 24, has been taking his lumps in the majors this season but has shown he is an outstanding defender and has started to figure out how to hit.

The rest are on track to make their T-Mobile Park debuts in the next couple of years.

While there might not be any future Hall of Famers like Ken Griffey Jr. or Edgar Martinez in that group – or even an Alex Rodriguez, who’d be in the Hall if not for his use of performance-enhancing drugs – there is plenty of promise.

Have the M’s had a collection of prospects this deep?

For the answer, you have to go back a long way.

To illustrate, I’ll give you little story:

A few years ago, a friend took me to lunch at a Los Angeles-area sandwich shop that was owned by former Dodgers catcher Steve Yeager.

Much to my surprise, Yeager and his wife were working behind the counter.

Introductions were made and it was mentioned that Yeager had finished his career with the Mariners in 1986.

He could have shrugged it off, having played 14 seasons in Dodger Blue before those final 50 games with the lowly M’s – who drew barely more than 1 million fans to the Kingdome that summer.

Instead, his eyes lit up.

“There was some really good, young talent on that team,” Yeager said before astoundingly rattling off most of the roster.

Indeed, that 1986 club included first baseman Alvin Davis (age 25), second baseman Harold Reynolds (25), shortstop Spike Owen (25), third baseman Jim Presley (24), outfielders Dave Henderson (27), Phil Bradley (27), Ivan Calderon (24) and Danny Tartabull (23), catcher Dave Valle (25), plus starting pitchers Mike Moore (26), Mark Langston (25) and Bill Swift (24).

All of those players came up through the M’s farm system with the exception of Tartabull, who was originally drafted by Cincinnati.

Of course, ownership was too cheap to keep that team together for long, and M’s fans had to wait five more years for the franchise’s first winning season and an additional four for the “Refuse to Lose” M’s of 1995 that saved baseball in Seattle, preventing a possible move to St. Petersburg, Florida.

This current group of M’s prospects might provide the most hope for the franchise since that mid-1980s collection.

Outfielder Kyle Lewis, who hit six home runs in his first 10 games after being called up last September, has been even more impressive this season, batting .319 entering the weekend and showing he can play center field. Pitchers Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn have held down spots in the starting rotation and, after slow starts, have started to win games. Shortstop J.P. Crawford has proven he can hit as well as field. Utilityman Dylan Moore has played well enough that manager Scott Servais has had to keep his bat in the lineup.

Just think, the 2022 M’s – or maybe even late 2021 – could feature a starting outfield of Lewis, Trammell and Kelenic, with Rodriguez waiting in the wings. Hancock and Gilbert could join the rotation headed by former Gonzaga standout Marco Gonzales, whose work ethic would be an outstanding example for the youngsters to follow. There remain questions behind the plate, at second base and for a successor to Kyle Seager at third, but Dipoto and friends are starting to build something to be excited about.

And it’s been awhile since M’s fans could say that.

Gene Warnick can be reached at (509) 459-5412 or at eugenew@spokesman.com

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