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Dipoto likes athletic mix in Mariners' outfield

Gamel, Haniger, Heredia join competition for corner spots
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

SEATTLE -- While the Mariners again will feature a core of proven veterans built around Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Felix Hernandez and Kyle Seager next year, general manager Jerry Dipoto is taking a different approach in the outfield, where his team will be considerably younger and more athletic.

Though it's wise to never say never with Dipoto when it comes to making further moves, the Mariners' architect of change insists he's set now with an outfield that will see newcomer Mitch Haniger and 2016 additions Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia competing for playing time in the corner spots, flanking returner Leonys Martin in center.

SEATTLE -- While the Mariners again will feature a core of proven veterans built around Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Felix Hernandez and Kyle Seager next year, general manager Jerry Dipoto is taking a different approach in the outfield, where his team will be considerably younger and more athletic.

Though it's wise to never say never with Dipoto when it comes to making further moves, the Mariners' architect of change insists he's set now with an outfield that will see newcomer Mitch Haniger and 2016 additions Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia competing for playing time in the corner spots, flanking returner Leonys Martin in center.

The left-handed-hitting Gamel, acquired from the Yankees last August, will likely be given a shot at winning the everyday job in left field, which was held last year by Norichika Aoki. Haniger -- a right-hander acquired from the D-backs in the Taijuan Walker trade -- figures to be in a platoon mix with southpaw-swinging Seth Smith in right field.

Cruz and new first baseman Danny Valencia are also capable of playing right field, but the athletic Heredia -- signed out of Cuba as a free agent last spring -- is more in the mold of what the Mariners are looking for as a consistent backup in the corners.

Video: TEX@SEA: Heredia cuts down Desmond at the dish in 3rd

"We really like our depth and potential for impact and feel good about where we are with our outfield," Dipoto said. "It's a nice, young athletic group of plus defenders who all have an interesting skill set. Some with power, some with speed, some with both."

Dipoto wanted to get more athletic in the outfield upon his arrival last season in Seattle, but the transition has taken time. While Martin helped immensely in center, the corners were an issue defensively as Aoki struggled in left and the club also needed to use Smith for 91 starts, an aging Franklin Gutierrez for 55 starts and Cruz for 48.

So while some fans clamor for an expensive big-name offensive addition like Jose Bautista, Dipoto likes the quiet arrival of Haniger as another piece to a puzzle that fits around the veteran core already in place.

"We feel with Mitch, like so many of the guys we've acquired dating back to last year, there's not much left for him to do in the Minor Leagues," Dipoto said. "You can't have a better year than he just experienced. He was the Diamondbacks' Minor League Player of the Year, an All-Star at two levels, [posted] close to a 1.000 OPS with 30 homers and got on base roughly 40 percent of the time. And he plays above-average defense with plus makeup.

"He came to the big leagues, and after a 10-15 at-bat stretch to start his career that was less than middling, he really got it going and we saw him hit the ball hard. We love the athletic skill, we feel he's ready to transition to the big leagues, and we're going to give him an opportunity to win playing time."

Video: What Haniger brings to the Mariners

The same holds true for Gamel, a 24-year-old who flashed outstanding glove work in his brief time with the Mariners in September and hit well for average and on-base percentage in the Minors coming up with the Yankees.

Dipoto also hasn't shut the door on the athletic Boog Powell, acquired from the Rays last offseason, though the 23-year-old has five more games remaining on the 80-game suspension he drew last year after testing positive for a banned performance-enhancing substance while with Triple-A Tacoma.

Toss in utility candidates Taylor Motter and Richie Shaffer, acquired from the Rays last month, as well as versatile returners Shawn O'Malley and Mike Freeman, and the battles should be interesting this spring.

"Competition is a good thing," Dipoto said. "We feel we've acquired a handful of really solid prospects who are ready to go. Somebody is going to win a job, and somebody is going to wind up in Tacoma. We'll open the gates in Spring Training and watch these guys fight it out.

"Haniger really fits us. And we feel with Gamel, Heredia, Martin and potentially Boog Powell, this is that athletic outfield we were looking for 14 months ago. Now the picture is starting to come into better focus."

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

Seattle Mariners, Ben Gamel, Mitch Haniger, Guillermo Heredia, Leonys Martin, Seth Smith