Mariners Young Core Have No Interest in a ‘Step-Back’ Season

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 19: Mallex Smith #0 of the Tampa Bay Rays at bat against the Texas Rangers in the top of the second inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington on September 19, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 19: Mallex Smith #0 of the Tampa Bay Rays at bat against the Texas Rangers in the top of the second inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington on September 19, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /
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“If everyone takes a step forward, we could shock a lot of people.”

New Seattle shortstop J.P. Crawford addressed the media beside teammates Mallex Smith and Justus Sheffield Thursday morning during the Mariners Pre-Spring Training Media Day. When all three were asked about the idea of a step back, they showed no interest in buying into a ‘win-later’ mentality.

“Step back.” The term is one that General Manager Jerry Dipoto has continually used throughout the offseason. And regardless of whether it is used in substitution of ‘rebuild’ or actually merits a contrasting definition, players in Seattle’s young core want to focus on how they can win now, instead of looking towards the future.

New Mariners center-fielder Mallex Smith, who came to Seattle from Tampa Bay in the Mike Zunino trade, told reporters he will put all of his effort into the upcoming season. “We’re not worried about 2020. 2019 is here, and that’s what we’re going to focus on.”

JP Crawford went on to say that he “hates losing” and wants no part in a mindset that puts a priority on future seasons. Former Yankee Justus Sheffield agreed with his new teammates, telling the media that “we’re going out there to handle business.”

The attitude from all three new Mariners is encouraging for fans, who haven’t seen their hometown M’s in the postseason since 2001. With the departure of franchise veterans such as Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano, the future of the organization may very well lie in the hands of the new young core, including Smith, Crawford, and Sheffield.

When asked about the pressure that brings, all three players said they are up for the challenge.

Mallex Smith seemed particularly excited to begin his Mariners career. “No pressure. We’re gonna come out here and have fun and apply youth to the game and see where that takes us.”

Whether 2019 will truly be a year for contention is up in the air, considering most of the prospects the Mariners received this offseason will begin 2019 in the minor leagues. Justus Sheffield and JP Crawford will likely begin the season in Tacoma and quickly work their way into Seattle.

Other prospects, including Seattle’s #2 overall prospect Jarred Kelenic, are still multiple seasons away from debuting in the major leagues. Kelenic is scheduled to begin the season in Class-A West Virginia but could progress ahead of schedule with 5-tool potential. Before he was moved to Seattle with 4 others in exchange for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz, scouts warned that the Mets would make a huge mistake in trading him.

The development of important prospects is the primary rationale to GM Jerry Dipoto viewing 2020-21 as Seattle’s true window for contention. With much of their young core still in development, it is unlikely to see the Mariners make a run similar to Oakland’s magical second half of 2018, as they went on to win 97 games and clinch a Wild Card spot.

Regardless of win-loss record, the Mariners (and their fans) will have several important questions answered in 2019: how can Yusei Kikuchi add to Seattle’s young core as part of the rotation? How will Marco Gonzales fare as the ace of the franchise? Which Mariner will become a fan favorite?

Next. Mariners Ballpark Promotions 2019. dark

2019 may not lead to a magical World Series run, but it will be a season to remember in a unique way. Seattle’s young core has no interest in a step-back, which is the approach they need when the fate of the organization depends on them.