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Young Mariners: 'We're hungry for it'

@gregjohnsmlb
February 18, 2020

PEORIA, Ariz. -- For the Mariners, the future finally began to arrive on Tuesday with the first full-squad workout of the spring. There were young pups Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic running through outfield drills and taking their hacks in batting practice, with fellow rookie prospect Justin Dunn throwing the

PEORIA, Ariz. -- For the Mariners, the future finally began to arrive on Tuesday with the first full-squad workout of the spring.

There were young pups Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic running through outfield drills and taking their hacks in batting practice, with fellow rookie prospect Justin Dunn throwing the first live batting practice of camp and Evan White taking grounders at first base.

Kyle Lewis, with a full month of Major League experience under his belt, talked about what it’s like watching the younger guys in camp.

Major League camps normally have a potential rookie or two sprinkled among veterans. The Mariners have a veteran or two sprinkled among the kids.

This is a team that could start three rookies on Opening Day and have three other players in their first year as full-season starters, plus one or two rookies in the rotation and several more challenging for bullpen roles.

“We’re trying to build a foundation for a championship ballclub,” said manager Scott Servais, “and it starts today.”

It started with an infield group that had White, Shed Long, J.P. Crawford and Kyle Seager working as the likely first unit. Of those four, Seager is the only veteran, though Crawford -- at 25 -- acknowledged he feels like one of the old guys in camp now.

“It’s fun," said Crawford, who took over as the club’s starting shortstop midway through last season. “All the guys are ready to play. They’re all young and energetic. They’re making me want to get out there and start getting ready, too.”

Rodriguez is the youngest of the bunch at 19, already ranked as the No. 18 prospect in baseball, per MLB Pipeline. The teenager has come to his first Major League camp with eyes wide open and found himself talking hitting during batting practice with three-time All-Star Carlos González, who signed a Minor League deal this past week to provide some veteran leadership to the young outfield group.

“It’s been pretty cool, to be honest,” Rodriguez said after wrapping up his first official workout. “Just being around all those guys and having fun doing what you like to do, playing baseball. The first day of my first Spring Training, I’ll never forget this day.”

The best part, he said, was taking batting practice in the group with Gonzalez, Kelenic and Mallex Smith.

“I used to watch [CarGo] and think, ‘Wow, he’s really good,’” Rodriguez said. “So now having him in my group helping me to get better is just great.”

There were a lot of eyes on Rodriguez and Kelenic (the No. 11 prospect per MLB Pipeline), given their status as two of the top young talents in baseball. Neither is expected to make the Opening Day roster this spring, but the 20-year-old Kelenic has a shot to advance to the Majors at some point later this season and Rodriguez is likely a year behind him.

They’ll use this spring to soak up as much as they can and show the Mariners how close they might be to helping be part of the Major League club. But for now, they were just enjoying their first exposure to the big time and kicking off their own futures.

“It’s an exciting time for baseball,” Kelenic said. “First day, first full-squad practice. It was a lot of messing around, but staying focused on the field. We’re just ready to get going. It’s a very unique group. We’re all really tight knit. Everybody gets along. Everybody is so nice. It’s a really special group.”

Servais feels there’s a benefit to having so many young players arriving at the same time. Instead of fretting how they fit in with the veterans, this group can focus on just playing baseball. They can lean on each other and grow together.

“It’s fun to be around guys who are like-minded and in the same situation,” said Lewis.

There’ll no doubt be bumps in the road and plenty of rough days with such a young nucleus. But the plan is in place now and the future looks intriguing. And Tuesday, with the sun shining bright, that young group took its first steps together toward what they believe will be a very rewarding future.

The Mariners haven’t been in the playoffs since 2001, the year after Rodriguez was born. But he and his young friends have no doubt they’ll help get Seattle baseball back on the map and in championship contention soon.

“That’s definitely on our minds,” Rodriguez said. “Every single day we’re always talking about it. We know we’ll have that chance. We know we’ll have the team down here. That’s our dream and we know it’s going to come true. Because the city needs it and we want it. We’re hungry for it.”

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