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Mariners to give youth a chance to shine in '19

MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

SEATTLE -- General manager Jerry Dipoto spent the past three months at the drawing board, reworking the Mariners' roster and vision for the future. Now it's time to see the plans begin to play out on the diamond.

As the Mariners prepare for Spring Training, there is no confusion about the direction Dipoto has taken. This year's camp will be about turning the page to a new chapter of development for a franchise that fell short of a postseason berth for the 17th straight year in 2018 despite going 89-73 with a veteran-laden core.

SEATTLE -- General manager Jerry Dipoto spent the past three months at the drawing board, reworking the Mariners' roster and vision for the future. Now it's time to see the plans begin to play out on the diamond.

As the Mariners prepare for Spring Training, there is no confusion about the direction Dipoto has taken. This year's camp will be about turning the page to a new chapter of development for a franchise that fell short of a postseason berth for the 17th straight year in 2018 despite going 89-73 with a veteran-laden core.

• Here's your guide to Mariners Spring Training

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Gone are stalwarts Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, James Paxton, Jean Segura, Edwin Diaz, Mike Zunino and others, replaced by an influx of new faces and young prospects who Dipoto feels put the club in better position to pursue extended success down the road.

When pitchers and catchers report on Monday to Peoria, Ariz., and take the field together for the first time Tuesday, the Mariners will be embarking on a season that will be more about growth and positioning for the future than competing for the postseason in 2019.

The Mariners certainly would welcome a postseason berth this year, but Dipoto hasn't hidden the fact he views this coming season more as a precursor to contending in 2020 and beyond. So the first steps this spring will be taken with the long road firmly in mind.

"We're just looking for progress in young players," Dipoto said. "To watch them evolve."

Video: Dipoto on his expectations for the 2019 season

After nine trades and five Major League free-agent signings, the Mariners' 40-man roster includes 20 players who weren't with the club last year, including 10 of the 21 pitchers who'll report on Monday.

"We may need name tags this year going in like we did in 2016," said Dipoto. "Of the three years I've been here, culturally my favorite was 2016 for that very reason. It was exciting. It was new. It was a bunch of players that had no expectation but to get to know each other. And that was a fun team. We won 86 games, but there was joy in that clubhouse really from Day 1. That's the way we'll be this Spring Training."

Japanese free agent Yusei Kikuchi figures as the most-prominent of the new pitching arrivals set to report Monday, along with highly touted prospects Justus Sheffield, Justin Dunn, Erik Swanson and Ricardo Sanchez.

• Mariners' Top 30 prospects

Video: Sheffield on joining a young Mariners team

Relievers Hunter Strickland, Anthony Swarzak, Cory Gearrin, Zac Rosscup and Gerson Bautista will begin making introductions in their new clubhouse, along with Rule 5 Draft pick Brandon Brennan.

And when they begin throwing on Tuesday, they'll work with new starting catcher Omar Narvaez -- acquired from the White Sox -- and holdover David Freitas. Two other veteran backstops -- Jose Lobaton and Austin Nola -- will also be in camp as non-roster invitees, along with young prospects Cal Raleigh, Joe DeCarlo and Dean Nevarez.

More introductions will be needed Friday when position players report and then take the field for the first full-squad workout the following day. That group will include a couple prominent veterans with three All-Star appearances apiece to their names -- outfielder Jay Bruce and designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion -- as well as a flock of promising newcomers like outfielders Mallex Smith, Domingo Santana and Dom Thompson-Williams, shortstop J.P. Crawford and second baseman Shed Long.

Video: Crawford was surprised by trade to Seattle

Even some of the Mariners holdovers will be experiencing their first Major League camps, including Kyle Lewis and Evan White, the club's first-round Draft picks in 2016 and '17. Those first-timers are targeted for Double-A Arkansas to start the year, but this exposure will be invaluable and offers the chance for both the fans and Mariners' front office to get a further glimpse at what they hope will be a bright future.

"What we were able to do was put a group in place that we feel makes us a very interesting, fun and athletic team to watch in 2019 while we watch our pitching grow," Dipoto said. "And by next season in 2020, a new and more robust farm system has a chance to crest and make us what we think will be a really interesting team in the second half of 2020 as we move into 2021."

That is the vision. And it will begin coming into focus starting next week in Peoria.

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

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