PEORIA, Ariz. -- Prospects are definitely looking up this year at Mariners camp. And we're talking about baseball prospects, the young players with big upsides who raise hopes and expectations for the near future.
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For the past few years, Seattle's Spring Training camp has been thin on promising young guys with big upside waiting in the wings. But 2019 is about laying a fresh foundation, and it's easy to see the potential building blocks being put into place.
Outfielder Kyle Lewis and first baseman Evan White, the initial two first-round Draft picks of general manager Jerry Dipoto's tenure, are in Major League camp for the first time, and the two are big both in stature and promise, having added considerable muscle in the offseason.
Among the flock of new additions, starting pitcher Justus Sheffield has opened eyes early in camp with two impressive bullpen sessions, infielder Shed Long wasted no time displaying his prowess at the plate and Justin Dunn, Erik Swanson and Rule 5 Draft pickup Brandon Brennan appear poised to add some intriguing pitching depth to the system.
Logan Gilbert, last year's top Draft pick, isn't even in Major League camp, but he's been clicking the radar gun at 96-97 mph at the Minor League mini-camp underway on the backfields, and the Mariners are eager to see young outfielder Jarred Kelenic in that arena as well.
The Mariners have made it clear their plans revolve around this new group and the handful of Major League-ready youngsters such as Mallex Smith, Domingo Santana, J.P. Crawford and Omar Narváez, who also were acquired this winter.
"It's definitely a young group, and we're hungry," said White, a defensive standout at first base who was drafted out of Kentucky in 2017. "We haven't had the opportunity to play at the highest level and that's exactly what we've been playing our whole lives to reach, so it's exciting that we get a chance to do it with guys who have been doing it for a while now. We're excited, we're hungry and we're going to have fun with it."
This Mariners' camp has its share of veterans such as Félix Hernández, Kyle Seager, Edwin Encarnacion, Jay Bruce and the inimitable Ichiro Suzuki, who is more than twice as old as the 22-year-old White and 26 years older than Kelenic. But the overarching theme is the new core that soon will be knocking at -- or knocking down -- the door.
"We can take this opportunity and run with it or else somebody else will," said Lewis, the 2016 first-round pick who is finally recovered from knee surgery that he had his first year in pro ball. "It's an opportunity that I'm going to do everything in my power to not let pass me by. I want to be one of those people that can help be the future of the franchise. I'm excited to be a part of it, excited to meet everybody and form relationships with everybody. It's just a blessing."
These youngsters are just getting their feet wet this spring. Lewis and White are likely targeted for late-inning duty in Cactus League games before being assigned to Double-A Arkansas to open the season. Even should he open the year in Triple-A Tacoma, Sheffield appears a threat to quickly gain a rotation spot and Crawford and Swanson are also on the Major League roster fringe.
The group is soaking things up the first week of camp while learning the Mariners' system and watching how the veterans work, but their collective presence is being felt.
"They're hungry," Mariners manager Scott Servais said. "Everything is new to them, so the energy level is up. The beauty of young players is they bring the energy every day."
Long, acquired from the Reds to provide infield depth at second and third base, said it's been a breath of fresh air starting anew with the Mariners. The 23-year-old from Alabama looks forward to being part of the next wave for a franchise that is investing heavily in analytics and mental skills training.
"It's a young group, kind of a new-school style," Long said. "When I was with the Reds, it was like an old-school style. But the Mariners are new-school style. I like it."
Lewis is relishing finally being healthy for his first Spring Training since being drafted. White has already been picking Bruce's brain about hitting, having watched him with the Reds while growing up. Long is an Energizer Bunny-type who bounces around on the field and in the clubhouse. Sheffield already commands himself with the air of a big league veteran despite having pitched just three games in relief last year for the Yankees.
"Any time you're in big league camp for the first time, all the sudden there's Jay Bruce or Felix Hernandez or Edwin Encarnacion, guys they've heard about, the Dee Gordons and Kyle Seagers," Servais said. "There's a little bit of, 'Do I fit?' A little awe.
"But I don't feel that from these guys because there's so many young players. It's one thing if there's four or five over here in the corner, but half the team is that way. That actually makes the transition a little easier."
Lewis has been pleasantly surprised by how smoothly the young group is coming together.
"So far, everyone is just genuinely good humans," he said. "I think that's step one to being a good ballplayer in a locker room setting and stuff like that. We're building on each other and challenging each other to continue to be good people first and give your best effort every day. If you do those two things, I think good things happen."