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Mariners happy to land Kelenic's talented bat

Seattle rated talented outfielder as top pick in 2018 MLB Draft
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

SEATTLE -- Most of the young players the Mariners have received back in general manager Jerry Dipoto's flurry of trades this offseason either have some Major League experience or are on the verge of being big league ready.

Dipoto specifically targeted players he feels can be part of a wave of talent that crests in a year or two and pushes the Mariners past the middle place they've been stuck in recent years in the American League West.

SEATTLE -- Most of the young players the Mariners have received back in general manager Jerry Dipoto's flurry of trades this offseason either have some Major League experience or are on the verge of being big league ready.

Dipoto specifically targeted players he feels can be part of a wave of talent that crests in a year or two and pushes the Mariners past the middle place they've been stuck in recent years in the American League West.

The one exception? That would be Jarred Kelenic, the prize prospect with the most upside of any of the newest Mariners, though the longest path still to the Majors. Kelenic is the reason Dipoto was willing to deal closer Edwin Diaz to the Mets along with Robinson Cano, and the reason many Mets fans are upset about the swap, given Seattle also acquired promising right-hander Jason Dunn in Monday's deal.

Dunn is a 23-year-old who pitched at Double-A last year, and he figures to be knocking on the Major League door soon, along with lefty Justus Sheffield, the former No. 1 prospect of the Yankees who came to the Mariners in the James Paxton deal on Nov. 19.

But Kelenic? At 19, he's just seven months removed from high school. The players he grew up watching and modeling his game after? That would be Bryce Harper, who is all of 26, and the "venerable" Mike Trout, who is 27.

Video: Bruce, Swarzak, Kelenic and Dunn on joining Mariners

And, yeah, Kelenic lists Cano, as well, as a player whose smooth game he admired from afar. Which made getting traded for the eight-time All-Star a little surreal for a teenager whose pro ball experience consists of 56 games at the Rookie League level.

"Cano is somebody I grew up watching, ever since he was with the Yankees," Kelenic said. "Who'd have ever thought you'd literally get traded for Robinson Cano? It's pretty special. To be involved in that same trade is pretty crazy and pretty humbling. It's a positive thing in my career and I'm excited for what the future holds."

The Mariners are excited about that future as well. According to Dipoto, the club earmarked Kelenic as the best player in the MLB Draft last June. On the outside chance Kelenic might fall to them with their No. 14 pick, they flew him out to Safeco Field for a workout two days before the Draft.

"It was impressive to say the least," Dipoto said. "Really intense competitor, great kid, very focused on being a big leaguer. We got to know him very well."

But the Mets snapped up Kelenic with the sixth selection -- the first high schooler taken -- and the Mariners wound up with 21-year-old right-hander Logan Gilbert out of Stetson University.

"Obviously picking where we were, we knew it would be a long shot," Dipoto said. "We had it narrowed down on our Draft board to he and Logan Gilbert. We really didn't believe either was going to get to us. We were fortunate that one did and now we're fortunate to get the other as well."

Kelenic grew up in rural Wisconsin and he forged a quick bond with Mariners manager Scott Servais, who hails from the same area.

"I sat in his office and talked to him for an hour probably," Kelenic said. "He's a great guy. Having him from my hometown is pretty special. He's a great guy and great manager and hopefully I can play for him pretty soon."

How soon is the obvious question. The Mariners won't want to rush Kelenic, who posted a .286/.371/.468 line with six homers, 42 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in his 56 games of Rookie League ball, while displaying a strong throwing arm and athletic ability in center field. Dipoto said he'll open in Class A ball next spring and see where that leads.

Video: Jerry Dipoto on trades with the Mets and Phillies

Without question, a Mariners' farm system regarded as one of the thinnest in the baseball has beefed up in a hurry. In the past four weeks, MLB Pipeline's Top 30 Prospect list for Seattle has added Sheffield (No. 1), Kelenic (2), Dunn (3), right-hander Erik Swanson (11), outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams (16), left-hander Ricardo Sanchez (23), outfielder Jake Fraley (27) and right-hander Gerson Bautista (28).

It's a group Dipoto believes will begin making its mark by 2020 and '21.

"The only player we've acquired in the past month who might be pressed to get on the front side of that window is Jarred Kelenic," Dipoto said. "Everybody else should be making their way toward Seattle, if not immediately, then certainly by midseason of 2020.

"That was the timeline we were trying to set up. And then they join a group of players we already have in house, guys like Evan White and Kyle Lewis and Logan Gilbert and the like. We feel we have a good group here that now is expanded and by midseason 2020, we feel this group will be fun, energetic and a lot of fun to watch."

As for Kelenic? Dipoto figures he might not be far behind.

"It might be a push to anticipate Jarred reaching the big leagues by 2020," the GM said, "but if you see him swing a bat, he might change your mind. Because he can really hit."

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

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