Three men sat in a socially distanced grouping in the lower bowl of T-Mobile Park watching Tuesday afternoon’s workout as dark clouds rolled in over Seattle, bringing a chill that isn’t normal, but not unexpected, for early July.
Whether Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto, assistant general manager Justin Hollander or director of player development Andy McKay were grinning at what they were watching, smirking at their accumulation of riches or possibly drooling in the anticipation of years ahead, it was difficult to know. Those required masks are preventive in many ways.
But they certainly couldn’t have been disappointed seeing several of their top prospects, including outfielder Jarred Kelenic and infielder Noelvi Marte, participating in workouts and continuing their baseball development when so many other team’s prospects are stuck at home with the minor-league season canceled.
Given the Mariners’ 40-man roster setup, the “stepback” rebuilding plan in place and the focus on development of players at the MLB level, the organization was able to invite more prospects, including four players recently selected in the amateur draft, to participate in “Summer Camp” as part of the 60-player roster.
Kelenic’s invitation was a given. Rated as the No. 2 overall prospect in the organization by Baseball America and No. 12 in all of baseball, it’s easy to envision Kelenic playing every day in T-Mobile in the very near future.
He certainly looks at home in the batter’s box. Since arriving for Summer Camp, Kelenic has deposited baseballs all over the outfield seats. But Tuesday he delivered something different. Facing right-hander Ljay Newsome, his teammate with Class AA Arkansas at the end of last season, in a live batting-practice session, Kelenic gave a glimpse of why the Mariners made him the focal point of the trade that sent Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to the New York Mets.
Unleashing his frighteningly compact but violent left-handed swing, Kelenic turned a fastball from Newsome into a vapor trail to right field. The crushed baseball banged off the scoreboard facade of the Hit It Here Café. The explosive sound off the bat reverberated throughout the empty stadium, cutting through the blaring music.
After earning his first invitation to MLB spring training and expected to return to Class AA to start the season and push to AAA Tacoma by June, Kelenic seemed intent on accelerating his trajectory with a stellar spring. But the shutdown of baseball due to the spread of the novel coronavirus interrupted the plan. He spent the hiatus working out and hitting in Wisconsin and reported to summer camp looking noticeably more muscular.
“I think they just issued him a small T-shirt — that’s what happened,” manager Scott Servais joked. “He’s filling it out. He looked great. Anybody that’s been around Jarred knows how serious he is about his game and working to get better all the time.”
In terms of physical appearance, Marte, who is the No. 6 overall prospect in the organization, looks like he belongs. Marte looks much larger than the listed 6 feet 1 and 180 pounds, but he doesn’t turn 19 until October.
“He’s huge, and 18? I told him he was 28,” second baseman Shed Long Jr. said. “He’s got all the tools, and I think he’s going to be a good big-league player. He’s got to get older, but he’s definitely matured way quicker than a lot of guys. I’m excited to see what he brings to the table, for sure.”
Playing in his first professional season in the Dominican Summer League, Marte dominated, posting a .309/.371/.511 line with 18 doubles, four triples, nine homers, 54 RBI and 17 stolen bases in 65 games. He was rocketing balls all over the field Tuesday, including a handful over the fence during batting practice.
He did commit 30 errors at shortstop, but many scouts believe he will eventually move to third base because of his size.
Marte’s presence in camp is for development. The was likely going to spend the season with Low-A West Virginia or short-season Everett had there been a minor-league season. But instead he gets this Summer Camp and training at the alternate site in Tacoma once the season begins.
Of the Mariners’ top prospects, only outfielder Julio Rodriguez, rated No. 1 by Baseball America and No. 8 in baseball, is awaiting clearance to participate following his test for COVID-19.
- The Mariners and outfielder Jake Fraley got a scare when a fastball from hard-throwing right-hander Gerson Bautista struck him on the helmet during live batting practice. The ball didn’t hit Fraley’s helmet squarely, glancing off the top front. Still, he was escorted off the field by athletic trainer Matt Toth to be examined for a concussion. Fraley did return to the field later to take regular batting practice.
- After missing workouts Monday to undergo an X-ray on his left ankle after fouling a ball off it in Sunday’s workout, Tom Murphy was back on the field, catching the live bullpen session for Bautista and Sam Delaplane.
- Servais said the Mariners on Friday afternoon will begin playing intrasquad games nearly every day until the end of Summer Camp. The one exception will be for a full-roster off day July 17 as a midpoint break.