Meanwhile, 30 miles north at High-A Everett, Julio Rodriguez homered in four consecutive games over the weekend, and at the rate the vibrant, power-hitting outfielder is performing, fans in the Seattle area may not get the chance to see baseball’s No. 5 prospect there much longer.
And while he and Kelenic are rightfully the headliners of the farm system -- which was recently ranked No. 3 in all of baseball -- and are worth getting excited about, the bulk of the talent on the way is on the mound.
Here’s a dive into the state of Seattle’s farm:
How about those pitchers?
Gilbert is the first among a trio of uber-talented right-handed arms that all possess top-of-the-rotation potential, followed by George Kirby and Emerson Hancock. All three were college arms and Dipoto’s first-round picks from 2018-20.
But it’s that next tier that will be just as critical to the club’s long-term success. That’s No. 10 prospect Brandon Williamson, No. 11 Connor Phillips, No. 12 Isaiah Campbell, No. 14 Levi Stoudt and No. 15 Adam Macko, all of whom the club says are taking massive steps forward in their development.
“You can go on and on about our pitching,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “It's not just the two or three top guys that we talk about. It’s some kind of big bucket of guys that are very, very interesting. They're all performing and -- knock on wood -- we can keep them healthy, because it takes a lot of guys. But there’s a lot to be excited about right now in the farm system.”
Kelenic and Rodríguez could form a dynamic outfield with Kyle Lewis. But if the state of the game in 2021 suggests anything with offenses sagging, it’s that pitching is the ultimate path to success.
OK, but who’s next -- and why?
Catcher Cal Raleigh, the club’s No. 8 prospect, has been off to a stellar start at the plate for Triple-A Tacoma, hitting .286/.367/.548 (.915 OPS) with one homer and seven RBIs. He also has six doubles and a triple, making eight of his 12 hits for extra bases. All of that builds off a strong Spring Training, and Dipoto has lumped Raleigh in the wave of the next guys coming.
So, why not now instead of later, especially with Seattle’s catching tandem of Tom Murphy and Luis Torrens hitting a combined .156/.202/.305?
It’s a possibility, but behind the scenes, the Mariners would like to see a little more defensive development. There’s also the pressure to consider calling him up while the entire offense is in a rut. Sure, doing so would represent an attempt to improve, but it’s worth considering that Raleigh is just 24 years old and until two weeks ago had never played above Double-A.
“It’s important to stay where your feet are, be ready to go and just continue to play,” Raleigh said recently. “I understand what I need to do. I need to come [to Tacoma] and play well, and I need to just continue to do what I do. And all the other stuff is out of my control.”
What about Julio?
Can he surge his way to The Show this season?
“I don't want to suppose that that's likely to happen in 2021,” Dipoto said last week. “But Julio is the kind of player that can easily move multiple levels in one season, and it wouldn't be entirely shocking based on his personality and his toolset to see him jump 2-3 levels."
Dipoto is always intentional with his words, so this quote was telling. The Mariners will not put up a roadblock for the blossoming slugger, but the more likely scenario -- at least if J-Rod rakes the way he has at Everett, where he’s hit .322/.403/.695 -- is that he could climb his way to Tacoma by season’s end, which would put him on the big league doorstep for 2022. A promotion to Double-A seems imminent.
Beyond Julio and pitching, who’s the name to watch?
“It was just so raw,” Servais said. “And knowing that he needed games and he needed to kind of understand his swing and his strike zone and the timing issues and defense and how to get that internal clock right. And you can see the growth, you hear the stories, you see the box scores and what he's doing. So, really exciting player there.”
Marte is every bit of 6-foot-1 and 181 pounds, and though he’s playing shortstop at Low-A Modesto, where he’s off to a .375/.453/.589 start with three homers in 13 games, he could profile at third base long term.
Can the pipeline push Seattle over the hump?
Industry experts suggest yes, but it’s worth keeping all of this in perspective. Fans and front offices have been dreaming on prospects for decades because beyond potential, they represent hope. But they are also unproven, and to suggest that each of the Mariners’ Top 30 will pan out into everyday key contributors is wildly ambitious.
The Mariners will also need to spend to make this all work. They didn’t buy a bat last offseason, and their offense is paying for it now. Dipoto has long said that the club will strike in free agency when the time is right, and this winter seems as fitting a moment as ever given the trajectory of where the club is headed, which free agents will be available and how those players fit Seattle’s needs.
Francisco Lindor is off the table, but Trevor Story, Carlos Correa, Javier Báez, Kris Bryant and a loaded infield class will be there for the taking. Correa has said that he’s willing to play third, which will be vacant if the club, as expected, does not pick up Kyle Seager’s $15 million option.
Dipoto deserves credit for the coup of the trade market in recent years by acquiring Kelenic and Justin Dunn, and getting the final five years of Robinson Canó’s $240 million off the books. That financial flexibility was essentially the factor that launched this rebuild.
Now, the club is reaching the stage of needing to put it all together at the MLB level.
“I think it's just time to move on and accept that this is a new group,” Dipoto said. “Not a single player here has been responsible for past issues or developmental problems or years without playoffs. This is a new, fresh group. We're a young team. And we're growing and trending in the right direction.”