Boog Powell is the prototype of the player that this new Mariners’ regime covets. He is young (23) and athletic, rarely strikes out and has an affinity for getting on base. As Powell says, “I fit in here.”
PEORIA, Ariz. – Boog Powell says it with feeling.
“I fit in here.”
He’s not just talking on a personal comfort level, though manager Scott Servais has taken pains to make the Mariners’ disparate group of new players go through various bonding exercises.
More to the point, Powell is the prototype of the player that this new Mariners’ regime covets. He is young (23) and athletic, rarely strikes out and has an affinity for getting on base.
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In an organization that preaches “control the zone” as the paradigm for both its pitchers and hitters, the message is already ingrained in Powell.
“I love it,’’ he said. “That’s what I’ve done my whole career, so I’m used to it already. Even with Tampa, that wasn’t their motto, but it was still mine. Coming here, it’s nothing different in my head.”
Powell, an outfielder, says matter-of-factly, “I like to walk. I don’t mind it,” though he’s committed to driving the pitches that call his name. Powell has a .401 on-base percentage in four minor-league seasons in the A’s and Rays’ organizations, which is a symphony to the ears of Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto.
So is Powell’s affinity for hitting with two strikes, a mindset drilled into him in the low minors with Oakland by Rick Magnante, the scout who signed him as a 20th-round draft pick out of Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, Calif. Powell has a .308 average in 1,082 minor-league at-bats.
“If it’s less than two strikes, right now I’m looking for that perfect pitch,’’ Powell said. “If that perfect pitch comes and I’m not ready, I’m not swinging. With two strikes, you know you’ve got to swing if it’s something close to the zone.”
Powell says he lets his instincts take over with two strikes, which is not in the comfort zone of most young players. Or many older players, for that matter.
“Most guys don’t like to hit, they panic, when they get to two-strike counts,’’ Dipoto said. “All you have to do is look at Boog’s track record to see that’s not him. There are a lot of players through history that have that low pulse, or slow heartbeat, with two strikes, and to me, those guys hit in the big leagues. When they get to the big leagues, they excel.”
Powell is also that rarest of commodities in Mariners camp — a real, live prospect with upside. Seattle’s minor-league system is largely bereft of upper-level talent at the moment, and Powell shot straight into their top 10 in most prospects rankings when they acquired him in a Nov. 5 trade with Tampa Bay.
It’s Powell’s name that drew most of the initial attention, but it’s his game that has the Mariners convinced Powell will be a huge part of the top of their lineup in the near future.
Not immediately, mind you. Noting that the Seattle outfield is virtually set with Leonys Martin in center, Nori Aoki in left, and some combination of Seth Smith, Franklin Gutierrez and Nelson Cruz in right, Dipoto said the “great likelihood” is that Powell starts the season in Tacoma.
But Dipoto added in the next breath, “I’d be more than surprised if by the end of the season, we hadn’t seen Boog Powell.”
Powell has been called a “dirt dog” type of player, which is fine by him.
“He’s probably not going to be your marquee-type player,’’ Dipoto said. “But to me, Boog Powells are the guys who drive the foundation of good teams. If you build a cache of players like that, they really make a difference.”
Servais says: “He wants to be out there every day. He wants to be in the mix. He wants to have his uniform dirtier than everyone else’s every day.”
One of the dark moments in Powell’s career occurred in July 2014, in the midst of a breakout season in Class A, when he was suspended 50 games after testing positive for an amphetamine. He came back for the Arizona Fall League and hit .300 for the Mesa Solar Sox.
Powell is a frequent bunter, but with just 57 extra-base hits in his career, he feels he still has some untapped power. He has been frequently likened to the Yankees’ Brett Gardner, who also began as a singles hitter but has hit 33 homers the past two seasons.
“That’s the least of our worries,’’ countered Servais. “He’s a table setter. Get on base. Boog knows who he is.”
If you want to get technical, he’s Herschel Mack Powell IV. So about that name …
One of the downsides of being traded twice in the span 11 months — first, to the Rays from Oakland in a package for Ben Zobrist, and then to the Mariners, with pitchers Nathan Karns and C.J. Riefenhauser for Brad Miller, Logan Morrison and Danny Farquhar, is that he has to keep retelling the story.
“It’s how it is,’’ he shrugged. “I like being called Boog and I’m sticking to it.”
Quick version: Powell’s grandfather is named Herschel and his dad is named Mack, so to distinguish the new arrival, they initially called him Little Mack. That didn’t stick, so his parents started calling him “Boog.” It just so happened that Boog Powell, the former Orioles slugger from the 1960s and ’70s, was one of his grandpa’s favorite players — but no relation.
To answer another common question: No, he’s never met the other Boog, who runs a popular barbecue stand at the Orioles ballpark.
“I’m waiting ’til I get to Camden Yards,’’ Powell said. “When I get there, I’ll go meet him.”
That moment seems to be coming quickly.