ARLINGTON -- Julio Rodríguez has already emerged as the face of the Mariners’ farm system, but he’s quickly becoming one of the most prominent faces of the entire Minor Leagues.
Rodríguez was listed as the No. 2 prospect in all of baseball in MLB Pipeline’s midseason rankings revealed on Wednesday. But the most notable development, by far, was that 19-year-old infielder Noelvi Marte climbed from No. 80 to No. 11. That represented the largest leap of any prospect in the Top 100. Marte, who is having a breakout season, was not even on the list ahead of the regular season.
Right-hander George Kirby also climbed to No. 35, checking in right ahead of fellow righty Emerson Hancock, who was at No. 36. Both were recently promoted to Double-A Arkansas, where they are expected to finish the 2021 season.
There, they joined Rodríguez, who ranks behind only Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman, the No. 1 overall pick in 2019.
Mariners getting creative with DH
Mitch Haniger was back in his standard spot in the lineup for Thursday’s series finale against the Rangers, batting second, but Seattle’s slugger was positioned in the DH role instead of in right field.
Such has been the case in each of Seattle’s past three series finales, which have represented an opportunity to get the 30-year-old off his feet amid the gauntlet of the six-month season. Haniger has a .624 OPS in August as he attempts to steer back in a positive direction at the plate.
Beyond Haniger, the DH spot has slowly become a role that allows manager Scott Servais to get creative with his roster allocation, particularly with the club opting for a versatile and deep pitching staff.
Gone are the days of Nelson Cruz and Daniel Vogelbach, sluggers whose bat proved to be too valuable not to include every day but whose defense wasn’t strong enough to play the field regularly.
“It’s valuable to have the flexibility where you can give different guys a day,” Servais said. “And it's huge. A lot of these guys, they look at the DH day kind of as an off-day. They're off their feet. They don’t have to focus on defense."
The Mariners have started 13 players in the DH spot this season: Luis Torrens (30 games), Haniger (27), Ty France (26), Kyle Seager (eight), Jake Fraley (five), Jose Marmolejos (four), Jacob Nottingham (four), Jake Bauers (three), Tom Murphy (two), Kyle Lewis (two), Sam Haggerty (one) and Donovan Walton (one), Jose Godoy (one).
And if Lewis returns in the final six weeks, he will certainly be a regular there as he eases back from a torn right meniscus. Torrens has become the most-used DH over the past two months simply because his .845 OPS since returning from a Minor League demotion has necessitated that he play regularly. Servais has been able to carry three catchers because of Torrens' success.
“I think a lot of teams are looking at the way we are going the route of kind of rotate your guys through it,” Servais said. “If you've got a rotation going with four outfielders, you got an extra infielder in there. We carry three catchers right now, and it allows you to kind of rotate through some different things. And it's pretty valuable as you get going through the entirety of it of a season.”
The DH could be headed for the National League soon, too, which could either create 15 more jobs for elite sluggers whose defense isn’t quite as strong or prompt more teams to shift their overarching approach.
Standard off-day for Kelenic
Jarred Kelenic was held out of the lineup Thursday for the first time since returning to the big leagues on July 16. He’d played in every inning except one over Seattle's 30 games since he’d been called back up.
“He's learning at a young age what the weekly schedule is all about, the travel and how much time we spend in airplanes, it’s important,” Servais said. “It is your diet, you're drinking enough fluids and just keeping your strength up. So even though he's young, he's learning a lot here every day."
Kelenic is hitting .192/.298/.346 (.644 OPS) since returning from the Minor Leagues, but he’s been on a particularly solid stretch of late, hitting .231/.359/.481 (.840 OPS) over 16 games in August. He should be back in center field on Friday in Houston.