It isn’t just the Mariners who aren’t sure where Pat Kivlehan fits in their future plans. Ask Kivlehan himself to identify his best position, and he, too, hesitates.
“That’s a tough one,” he said. “I’m at the point now where I’m comfortable playing third, first and outfield.”
This much is clear, though, as Kivlehan, 25, prepares for his first invitation to big-league camp after 2 1/2 years in the minors following his selection in the fourth round of the 2012 draft:
“While we figure out a position,” farm director Chris Gwynn vowed, “we’re going to keep giving him at-bats.”
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Kivlehan has a .299/.366/.491 slash (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) in rising through the Mariners’ system. That includes 48 homers and 245 RBIs in 338 career games.
In short, a versatile right-handed hitter with pop.
“Kivlehan is interesting,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “This is the kid who played football at Rutgers, but he’s also a very intense, hard-working guy who has made up some time. A tough kid. He’s a good athlete.
“One thing that guys in the Arizona Fall League said about him is you don’t leave an RBI out there on the bases. He’s a guy who has a knack for driving in a run.”
That potential landed Kivlehan at No. 7 on our inaugural TNT Top 10, which ranks the organization’s best prospects entering spring training. We’ve also included a “Watch List” for prospects who just missed our rankings.
So what’s on tap for Kivlehan, who looms as a strong candidate to open the season at Triple-A Tacoma after spending most of last year at Double-A Jackson?
“We’re going to probably play him a little at first and more in the outfield,” Gwynn said, “and maybe at third if we have to because of an injury or something.
“But for the most part, he’s going to play a lot of outfield. He was a strong safety in college in football, so he has ball skills as far as tracking the ball.”
Kivlehan is, as Zduriencik notes, playing catch-up after attending Rutgers on a football scholarship as a strong safety. Spring football meant no baseball for three years.
“Coming out of high school,” he said, “I had to make a decision — football or baseball. And football was offering me a scholarship that baseball couldn’t. So I took that.”
But when Kivlehan played sparingly for the Scarlet Knights over four seasons, second thoughts couldn’t help creeping in.
“I kind of knew right away,” he admitted. “It wasn’t that I made a mistake, but I missed (baseball). I had that itch every year. Football, obviously, wasn’t going the way I wanted it to, but I didn’t back out or de-commit.”
“After my fourth year of football, I tried out for the baseball team. I knew I was getting in over my head, having not played for three years, but I had a really good group of core teammates who really helped me.
“I had a pretty good year and got drafted.”
Kivlehan was the Big East Conference player of the year; so the Mariners took a chance. And if they’re still trying to figure out what they have in him, he doesn’t mind.
“It’s kind of cool because it keeps it fresh,” Kivlehan said. “I’ll go into the day really not knowing where I’m going to play. There’s kind of excitement before I get there, `Oh, I wonder where I’m going to play today?’
“Then I’ll go out and do my early work at all of the positions to get better at all of them. It keeps the game from becoming monotonous.”
THE TNT TOP 10
1. Outfielder Alex Jackson (Bats right, throws right, 6 feet 2, 215 pounds, age 19, first-round pick in 2014). Generally viewed last year as the nation’s top high school player, he validated those views when selected by Baseball America as the top prospect in the Arizona Rookie League. A catcher who shifted to the outfield to accelerate his timetable, Jackson is a good bet to open the season at Lo-A Clinton.
2. Third baseman/first baseman D.J. Peterson (R-R, 6-1, 190, 23, first round in 2013.) A right-handed power bat who didn’t disappoint last year in his first full pro season when he batted .297 with 31 homers and 111 RBIs in 123 games at Hi-A High Desert and Double-A Jackson. Received an invitation to big-league camp but likely to start in the minors.
3. Shortstop Ketel Marte (S-R, 6-1, 180, 21, signed in 2010 as non-drafted free agent/Dominican Republic). A slick-fielding (though somewhat erratic) shortstop who closed last season at Triple-A Tacoma. Received an invite to big-league camp but will likely return to Tacoma. He could be a serious roster candidate in 2016.
4. Outfielder Gabby Guerrero (R-R, 6-3, 190, 21, signed in 2011 as non-drafted free agent/Dominican Republic). Reminds scouts of his uncle, former MVP Vladimir Guerrero, in the way he attacks pitches in and out of the strike zone. Some rough edges still apparent but must now prove himself at high levels.
5. Outfielder Austin Wilson (R-R, 6-4, 210, 23, second round in 2013). He oozes potential when healthy but…he’s had trouble staying healthy. Wilson battled Achilles’ tendon and elbow problems a year ago but had a .517 slugging percentage in 75 games at lower levels. Could make a big jump this season if he avoids injuries.
6. Right-handed pitcher Edwin Diaz (R-R, 6-2, 178, 20, third round in 2012). Still slender but no longer rail thin, Diaz flashes three usable pitches and draws raves from some scouts as the organization’s best minor-league arm. Just 20, he faces a real test this season since he’ll likely start at Hi-A Bakersfield in the hitter-friendly California League.
7. Utilityman Pat Kivlehan (R-R, 6-2, 210, 25, fourth round in 2012). See above.
8. Left-handed pitcher Luiz Gohara (L-L, 6-3, 210, 18, signed in 2012 as non-drafted free agent/Brazil). Got pummeled last season at Short-A Everett (0-6 with an 8.20 ERA in 11 starts), so it will be interesting to see how he bounces back. Still, there’s a lot to like: He just 18, can pitch in the mid-90s and shows a promising breaking ball and change-up.
9. Catcher Tyler Marlette (R-R, 5-11, 195, 22, fifth round in 2011). Gwynn calls him “an offensive catcher who is learning how to catch. He’s held his own everywhere he’s been as far as hitting.” Got an invitation to big-league camp but likely to start the season at Jackson.
10. Right-handed pitcher Carson Smith (R-R, 6-6, 215, 25, eighth round in 2011). It’s easy to argue he should be higher on this list after watching him dominate big-league hitters last year as a September call-up. His sidearm motion makes him particularly tough on right-handed batters. Unless he regresses this spring, look for him on the big-league roster.
WATCH LIST (alphabetical order): outfielder Austin Cousino draws high marks for speed and defensive skills and could make a big move if he reins in his free-swinging approach; outfielder Brayan Hernandez was viewed last year as one of the top international prospects but battled shoulder problems and might remain this year at the club’s Venezuelan academy…catcher John Hicks already has the catch-and-throw skills to play in the majors; left-hander Danny Hultzen, the second overall pick in the 2011 draft, could be the organization’s best pitching prospect if he rebounds completely from major shoulder surgery; first baseman/designated hitter Jordy Lara must show he can repeat last year’s breakthrough, when he came out of nowhere and joined Peterson as the system’s co-player of the year; outfielder Gareth Morgan, an oversign last year as a second-round pick, faces a key year after showing little in the Arizona Rookie League; outfielder Tyler O’Neill, another converted catcher, shows pop and could be poised for a breakout after holding his own last year as a 18/19-year-old in Lo-A Midwest League; right-handed pitcher Victor Sanchez is a linebacker-type who probably gets too little credit for going 7-6 with a 4.19 ERA in 23 starts last year at Jackson after making a two-step jump as a 19-year-old; and left-handed pitcher Ryan Yarbrough, tall and slender at 6-6 and 210 pounds, showed unexpected zip while posting a 1.27 ERA last year over 14 games in his pro debut at Short-A Everett and Rookie Pulaski.