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Pipeline report: Mariners camp

MLB.com @JonathanMayo

Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check in on the Mariners.

PEORIA, Ariz. -- There are few certainties when it comes to the inexact science of player development, but those who do that work for the Seattle Mariners can bank on one thing: It's never dull.

Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check in on the Mariners.

PEORIA, Ariz. -- There are few certainties when it comes to the inexact science of player development, but those who do that work for the Seattle Mariners can bank on one thing: It's never dull.

It's fairly well-known that general manager Jerry Dipoto likes to make trades. He's made a lot of them since he came to Seattle as he's tried to put together a winning team. The Mariners hung around the American League Wild Card race until the very end in 2016. The 2017 season didn't go quite as planned, but internally the Mariners thought they had a competitive team that was hampered by injuries during the year. So outside of the constant shuffling of depth charts, the player development staff doesn't mind the frequent deals at all.

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"I get asked about it a lot," Mariners farm director Andy McKay said. "It doesn't make the job any harder. Our job is still to help as many players as possible get to the big leagues. Jerry has done a great job of building a really strong lineup and a great bullpen. If some of those starters can stay healthy, that's a good team. I thought last year at this time, we were pretty well built to win, but guys got hurt."

No one denies that all the movement has thinned the system out to an extent and the Mariners have just one Top 100 player in 2016 first-round pick Kyle Lewis, who has struggled to come back from the knee injury he sustained during his pro debut. That doesn't mean there aren't players here preparing to hopefully contribute in the big leagues in 2018.

:: MLB Pipeline Spring Training reports ::

One thing departures create are openings. As Dipoto has continued to shuffle the deck personnel wise, players have stepped up to fill the void.

"Yes, we've traded away a lot of players, but we still have a lot of good ones here," McKay said. "And it's created opportunities for others, with many of them taking advantage of those chances.

"Look at Emilio Pagan. No one asked me a single question about him over the last few years, but he took advantage of opportunities, worked his way up and became a legitimate big league arm, one we were able to use to help get Ryon Healy."

One opportunity is already being taken advantage of this spring. Minor League Spring Training doesn't officially begin for a while, but many players are already here participating in a mini-camp. Not only does it give those players a head start on the season, it gives the Major League club extras needed for Cactus League action, especially early on. Evan White, the team's 2017 first-rounder has filled in at first with Dan Vogelbach and Healy getting banged up early. Several arms are soaking up innings as well.

"The mini-camp is two-fold," McKay said. "It's getting some of your younger players in early, keep your eyes on them, and providing enough support for the big league team. Last year, with the World Baseball Classic, the backups were huge. This year, with an odd schedule, we basically had like three days before there were games with the big league group. Those guys aren't ready to do that. We had an early split squad, when we had nearly 30 backup players went up to the two places.

"When a player goes over there and plays well in front of [manager] Scott [Servais], it goes into his memory bank. It's usually a player he'll ask about later. It's been good."

Following the first-rounders

Every team is obviously excited to see its first-round picks in action. Unfortunately for the Mariners, they haven't been able to do that too much.

The issues that Lewis, the 11th overall pick in the 2016 Draft, has dealt with following the knee injury that occurred during his pro debut have been well-documented and he's currently out after having his right knee cleaned out. He's expected back at the end of April and the Mariners are cautiously optimistic that this time they have finally taken care of things, with Lewis reporting that his knee feels good. Since signing, he's been able to play just 79 Minor League games, then two more in the Arizona Fall League.

Video: Bishop looks to build off last season in camp

"He really hasn't played as a Mariner," McKay said. "The impressive thing is that the few times he did get back on the field, in the California League and then in the Arizona Fall League, he had really good at-bats and you could see the tools. We just need to get him out and get a lot of at-bats, it doesn't matter what level. We haven't seen him play three weeks in a row yet."

The Mariners' first-round pick this past June, White, also dealt with an injury during his pro debut, though not one as severe as Lewis' injury. A quad issue forced the first baseman to be shut down after just 14 games last summer. But unlike Lewis, White is a full-go this spring. And because of some injuries to first basemen in big league camp, White has been able to grab some playing time.

"He's going to win some shortstops or third basemen some Gold Gloves one day," McKay said. "It's an unusual profile. You'll get 60, 65, 70 run grades at times and he's whatever the top of the scale is defensively. He'll take grounders at second and make the throw to third, and look like a premium shortstop doing it. It's not often you leave a game talking about the first baseman's defense."

Camp standout

One of the "under the radar" Minor Leaguers who got a chance on the big league side on that split-squad day on Feb. 27 was right-hander Michael Koval. An 11th-round pick in 2016 out of Cal Poly Pomona, the 6-foot-1 Koval pitched in relief in the Class A Midwest League in 2017 and while he had some success (2.84 ERA over 73 innings), he wasn't exactly on the radar with the big league staff. They probably know who he is now. Koval came into a recent Spring Training game to pitch the fifth and face San Diego's 2-3-4 hitters. Not Spring Training sub 2-3-4; he got to come in to take on Freddy Galvis, Wil Myers and Eric Hosmer.

He took care of all three on seven pitches, striking out Galvis and Hosmer on three pitches each while getting Myers to fly out on the first pitch.

"It was so good seeing him perform well over there," McKay said. "Sometimes you see guys get that opportunity and it doesn't go as well and you wonder, 'What happened to the guy we've been seeing back here?' But he went out, saw Hosmer standing there and said, 'Lets go!'"

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.