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Notes: Ichiro mentoring; Gilbert impresses

Former MVP taking Mariners' top prospects under his wing
@gregjohnsmlb
February 14, 2020

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Julio Rodriguez is pinching himself at every turn this spring, walking into the Mariners’ clubhouse as a 19-year-old, sitting at his locker, chatting with Major League players who are already living his dream. But the topper for Seattle’s up-and-coming outfield prospect? As one of the group of

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Julio Rodriguez is pinching himself at every turn this spring, walking into the Mariners’ clubhouse as a 19-year-old, sitting at his locker, chatting with Major League players who are already living his dream.

But the topper for Seattle’s up-and-coming outfield prospect? As one of the group of position players already in camp prior to official reporting day on Monday, Rodriguez has had the chance to meet and work with Ichiro Suzuki.

For a youngster looking to make his own mark someday in Major League Baseball, it’s impossible not to be a little blown away by a future Hall of Famer who now is working as special advisor for the Mariners and helping tutor the outfielders this spring.

“It is pretty cool,” said Rodriguez, who was born in the Dominican Republic three months before Ichiro made his MLB debut with Seattle in 2001. “When I was a kid, I used to play [video games] and all that. I always picked Ichiro as a player on my team every single time.

“I was talking with some of the guys, can you imagine yourself eight or 10 years ago taking BP from Ichiro or catching fungos from Ichiro? That’s pretty crazy. For me, it’s like a dream coming true. Meeting him and actually talking and learning from him, it’s pretty amazing.”

The Mariners have an impressive array of former MLB outfielders lined up to help this spring. In addition to their full-time coaching staff and Ichiro, former Mariners standouts Franklin Gutierrez and Mike Cameron will also be working as invited coaches.

Jarred Kelenic, Seattle’s other highly-touted outfield prospect, is also eager to absorb as much as he can from the guys who’ve already blazed the trail he’s just embarking on.

“That’s the biggest thing, especially coming into big league camp, there’s a lot of people -- not only coaches, but players, too -- you can pick their brains,” said the 20-year-old Kelenic. “It’s a really good time to be a sponge and just learn as much as we can.”

Gutierrez will spend about a month in camp, testing the waters to see if he might be interested in a full-time coaching position at some point. Cameron is taking on a larger role this year after being hired last April as a special assignment coach and roving instructor in the Minor League system.

And Ichiro? After retiring as a player after the Mariners’ two games in Japan to open last season, the 46-year-old signed on at the end of April as a “special assistant to the chairman” and worked with the team before home games, throwing batting practice and offering advice.

But he’ll expand that role further this spring, working more like a full-time coach.

“He’s been a big part of this the last few years,” manager Scott Servais said. “Now kind of sliding over into a full-time coaching role, he’s learning. He’s sitting in meetings and taking it all in. He’ll be involved with our outfielders and working with them. I want to get him involved in the baserunning stuff as well and see where it goes from there.”

It’s hard to find a better resource than a man who amassed 4,367 hits over nine years in Japan and 19 in MLB and was a 10-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner for Seattle.

“Players that have had those type of careers, they’re gifted, they do things naturally,” Servais said. “I don’t know if there is anything Ichiro hasn’t thought about. That’s just how he played this game. I think he could be a big, big asset for us as we go along. I’m really happy he’s here.”

Notes from Peoria

• There were a lot of eyes on 2018 first-round Draft pick Logan Gilbert when he threw off the mound for the first time Friday in his initial bullpen session of camp.

The 6-foot-6 Gilbert looked impressive with a lively fastball for so early in spring, but the Mariners won’t push him too quickly. Since he’s projected to start the year at Double-A Arkansas and the Minor League season doesn’t begin until April 9, well after the Mariners break camp on March 24, Gilbert will likely be limited to 2-3 innings in Cactus League outings and then stretched out further as the Minor League season approaches.

• No. 1 starter Marco Gonzales, newly signed Taijuan Walker and rookie right-hander Justin Dunn will be among the pitchers taking their first turn off the mound in Saturday's workout, which will be the final day of the first round of bullpens for the 33 pitchers in camp.

Each pitcher will then take another turn off the mound over the following three days before starting to throw live batting practice and then advancing to Cactus League play starting Saturday, Feb. 22.

• Servais expects all of the healthy position players to be in camp on time for Monday’s full-squad report day with the possible exception of Dee Gordon. Servais said the veteran second baseman could be a day or two late as his wife is expecting their first child momentarily.

• Outfielder Mitch Haniger is the other exception as he’s in the hospital in Los Angeles recovering from microdiscectomy surgery, which is a small repair of a vertebra in his lower back.

Manny Bañuelos remains the only pitcher who hasn’t reported as he’s still in Mexico dealing with a visa issue. Bañuelos, 28, is a non-roster invitee who recently signed a Minor League contract.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.