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Mariners hope to help Kivlehan polish skills in AFL

Former football player, 2012 Draft pick impressed in '13 with power swing, consistency

Special to

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- After dedicating four years to the Rutgers football team, Patrick Kivlehan needed a little time to recover his swing when he walked onto the baseball team almost two years ago.

"I was the last one on my team to actually get a hit. It took probably three or four weeks until I finally got a knock," Kivlehan said.

That one knock seemed to open the spigot. Kivlehan, a third baseman, has not stopped hitting since. The Mariners took Kivlehan in the fourth round of the 2012 Draft, and 200 games and 76 extra-base hits later, assigned him to the Arizona Fall League to finish his first full pro season.

Kivlehan, the highest Draft choice out of Rutgers since Todd Frazier in 2007, was the short-season Class A Northwest League's MVP with 12 homers, 52 RBIs and a .301/.373/.511 slash line after signing in June 2012.

He continued his offensive assault at two Class A stops in 2013, Clinton and High Desert, where he combined for 16 homers, 90 RBIs and a .303/.366/.464 slash line. Kivlehan had 13 homers and 59 RBIs in 68 games at High Desert after his midseason promotion to the Class A Advanced California League.

Even though Kivlehan has 42 doubles and 28 home runs with the Mariners' organization, he doesn't call himself a power hitter.

"I guess it is part of my game. I just try to do whatever I can that at-bat, and if the power comes, it comes," said Kivlehan, 23. "I guess it is just something that has been a part of my game. I don't really think about trying to hit home runs, obviously just trying to make contact and hope for the best. If I connect with it, it will go."

Peoria manager Jim Pankovits, who has guided the Mariners' Double-A Jackson affiliate the last three seasons, likes the tools Kivlehan brings.

"Obviously, his power is one. He's a big, strong kid, so he has some really good power," Pankovits said. "He makes all the plays. He may not look aesthetically pleasing, but I think a lot of that is due to his lack of playing experience. We'll polish him up. He'll get better. He has a strong arm, pretty good hands. When it is hit to him, he catches it, throws them out. He has some really good power, and he also has the ability to make consistent contact for a power hitter. He's got everything you need."

Even if it took a little while to rise to the surface.

Kivlehan was a two-sport star in West Nyack, N.Y., but chose football after Rutgers offered him a scholarship and no college baseball program followed suit. He spent four seasons as a defensive back under current Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano with just enough free time to study, let alone think about playing a second sport.

When football ended, however, Kivlehan asked Scarlet Knights baseball coach Fred Hill if he could walk on to the team. An injury to the projected starter at third base provided an opportunity, and Kivlehan's athleticism and natural aptitude did the rest.

Kivlehan, 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, went from walk-on to the Big East's Most Valuable Player, while becoming the league's first triple crown winner, hitting .392 with 14 home runs and 50 RBIs. He had 24 multi-hit games.

The Mariners are anxious to see how Kivlehan responds to his second promotion of 2013. In the AFL's 21 seasons, approximately 60 percent of players have gone on to see time in the Major Leagues, so the quality of play is quite high.

Kivlehan has hit 5-for-21 (.238) with two RBIs in his first six games with the Peoria Javelinas.

"It's a challenge for all these guys, but especially the players who have not played above A ball, to see really good pitching on a consistent basis," Pankovits said. "All these guys eventually have to perform at the higher levels. Some are closer than others. It will be a really good experience for [Kivlehan]."

Mariners hitters in the AFL
Since being taken in the fifth round of the 2012 Draft, all Mariners No. 5 prospect Chris Taylor has done is hit. The infielder from the University of Virginia reached Double-A in his first full season, and he has put together a nifty .316/.411/.449 line so far as a pro. Taylor has seen time at both second base and shortstop, a trend that has continued in the AFL. His ability to swing the bat hasn't changed, either; Taylor went 9-for-22 (.409) over his first six games with Peoria.

Stefen Romero, ranked No. 7 on Seattle's prospect list, is another Mariner who has seen time at multiple positions. After playing second and third in his first full season (2011), he played second almost exclusively during a breakout 2012 campaign. He settled into the outfield in 2013, reaching Triple-A for the first time. He spent most of the year with Tacoma, hitting .277/.331/.448 over 93 games there. The left fielder started slow in the AFL, going just 4-for-29 over his first eight games, making up for some lost time at the start of the season due to a strained left oblique.

Mariners pitchers in the AFL
Brandon Maurer broke camp in the big league rotation following an outstanding Spring Training. After 10 starts, he was demoted to Triple-A. He made 10 more starts with Tacoma before returning to Seattle, where he pitched out of the bullpen before getting four September starts. He threw 136 2/3 innings total in 2013. He's allowed four earned runs on seven hits over 5 2/3 innings in his first two starts for Peoria.

The Mariners have done a solid job developing relievers of late, and Carson Smith seems poised to be the next in line. A starter in college, the big right-hander's sidearm style was better suited for the bullpen, and he's flourished there. He spent 2013 in Double-A and finished the year with a 1.80 ERA, .183 batting average against and 71 strikeouts in 50 innings. A ground-ball machine who saved 15 games, he's likely not a closer at the next level. But he could be an outstanding setup man, with the AFL serving as a springboard to get him to Seattle's bullpen in 2014. He's allowed two runs over his first four innings with four strikeouts.

The New York Yankees drafted lefty Kyle Hunter in 2010, but he returned to Kansas State. That's worked out for the Mariners, who took the southpaw in the 31st round in 2011. He reached Double-A in 2013, posting a 1.80 ERA in 42 outings, all but four coming out of the bullpen. He's been tough to hit, especially for left-handed hitters. He's started twice and had one relief appearance in the AFL, giving up 13 hits and five runs in his first seven innings of work.

In his first full season with the Mariners, 2012 draftee Dominic Leone pitched at three levels, starting in the Class A Midwest League and finishing in Double-A. Along the way, the Clemson product saved 16 games (second in the organization), struck out a batter per inning on average and finished with a 2.25 ERA. He picked up another save in his first AFL outing, and he didn't allow a run in his first four appearances, spanning 5 1/3 innings. He struck out eight and walked none in that stretch.

Jack Magruder is a contributor to

Seattle Mariners, Kyle Hunter, Patrick Kivlehan, Dominic Leone, Brandon Maurer, Chris Taylor