Inbox: Breakout candidate for the Mariners?

Beat reporter Greg Johns answers questions from fans

July 21st, 2020

With Opening Day just around the corner on Friday, we’ve got time to open the Mariners Inbox one last time before things get real. If you have more questions, keep them coming during the season. Email me at [email protected] or hit me up on Twitter, and we'll try to get you on the next one!

With so many youngsters and new names on the Mariners this year, who might surprise us even with just the 60 games to prove themselves?
-- Rocky L., Ellensburg, Wash.

While top prospects Kyle Lewis (Mariners' No. 10, per MLB Pipeline) and Jarred Kelenic (No. 1) have understandably gotten lots of attention in Summer Camp -- and I expect good things from Lewis this year and Kelenic for many years to come -- the rookie quietly flying under the radar has been first baseman and No. 4 prospect Evan White. Fans will love what White can do defensively at first base, and I expect he might surprise folks with the bat as well, as he’s very sound fundamentally and is developing some pop as well. It’s a big jump straight from Double-A Arkansas, but Lewis did it last September, and White is another really level-headed youngster with a ton of upside.

Pitching-wise, keep an eye on free-agent addition Kendall Graveman, the former A’s Opening Day starter who has looked very good as he returns from a two-year recovery from Tommy John surgery. Austin Adams also appears to be fully back following right knee surgery, and he will be a big factor in the bullpen.

Are the Mariners still planning to unveil an Edgar Martinez statue at T-Mobile Park this year?
-- Vince D., Indianapolis, Ind.

Great question, which comes one year to the day since Martinez was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Unfortunately, the pandemic has delayed more than just the start of the MLB season. The installation of Edgar’s statue outside T-Mobile Park has been pushed back to next season, when the unveiling can presumably be held under normal circumstances and fans will be able to enjoy the new addition.

Can Julio Rodriguez be replaced in the 60-man player pool by someone else now that he’s sidelined by his fractured left wrist?
-- Mike A., Edmonds, Wash.

The 19-year-old outfielder could be replaced, but only if he is placed on the 45-day injured list and then sent away from camp to rehab elsewhere. Teams are only allowed 60 players in camp, whether they’re healthy or not, which is why Mitch Haniger isn’t with the team and is rehabbing in California. Otherwise, Haniger would be taking up a spot in that limited group.

At this point, the Mariners have kept Rodriguez, their No. 2 prospect, in camp to work with their training staff and use the weight room facilities. The same is true with reliever Gerson Bautista, who strained his right elbow early in camp.

Is Ichiro Suzuki still allowed to work with the team?
-- Yuma A., San Francisco, Calif.

Because of the limited number of coaches allowed to participate in Summer Camp and the upcoming season due to the social distancing protocols, Ichiro and some of the other former player assistants like Mike Cameron and Franklin Gutierrez aren’t part of the group that is working with the team. Ichiro is currently back in Japan.

Any news on the structure of the Minor League prospects playing in Tacoma? Will they be split into set squads for games or play at the discretion of whoever is in charge down there?
-- Gregory G., Colorado Springs, Colo.

Director of player development Andy McKay and his new assistant, former Mariners utility man Kris Negron, will be running the Tacoma camp. Early word is the players from the player pool who are not on the active Major League roster will work out at Cheney Stadium three or four days a week and have intrasquad games two or three times a week.

Keep in mind, those intrasquad games will be more like situational pitcher vs. hitter matchups than normal 9-on-9 games, as that camp won’t have enough position players to form two teams. Once you take the 30-man Major League roster and three-man traveling taxi squad, there’ll only be about 12 or 13 remaining healthy position players working out in Tacoma, along with 13 or so pitchers.

And no, they can’t set up games against the extra players from other visiting teams, since there aren’t airplane or hotel accommodations for all those extra players and staff under the travel protocols in place for the Major League teams.

What do you think is a realistic goal for the Mariners this season?
-- Andrew F., Port Orchard, Wash.

If you’re talking about a win-loss record, they’d be doing well to win 25 games with this young squad. The real goal is to see progress and promise from the young nucleus of Lewis, White, Shed Long Jr., J.P. Crawford, Jake Fraley, Justus Sheffield, Justin Dunn and some of the relievers. That would set things up for 2021, when the team can start adding Kelenic, Logan Gilbert and others and begin supplementing with some free agents where it makes sense to really start pushing forward with a contending team.

Who is the Mariners' closer this year, and how many saves will he get?
-- Jack V., Tumwater, Wash.

They won’t have one set closer to start the season, but they will use right-handers Matt Magill, Dan Altavilla and Adams in their late-inning situations initially. None of the relievers will pitch back-to-back games right away with the short preparation time, so it’ll come down to matchups and going with the fresh arm if they have a late lead. Magill saved five games at the end of last year, but neither Altavilla or Adams has ever recorded a big-league save.

Yoshihisa Hirano, who had considerable closing experience in Japan, would have been in that mix, but he tested positive for COVID-19 and is just now starting to throw again. With the short season and divided opportunities, I wouldn’t expect any of these guys to rack up a big number of saves. Pretty sure Edwin Diaz’s club record of 57 is safe for this year.