Free agency officially begins on Tuesday. Assuming they're still available, the Mariners will place calls to representatives for Victor Martinez, Melky Cabrera, Nelson Cruz, Michael Cuddyer and every other available player capable of hitting a round leather ball with a wooden stick. So, of course, I'm writing tonight about a prospect.
To be fair, it is a prospect who's playing right now, and one with a chance to fill a need for the Mariners in 2015—not DJ Peterson, but Patrick Kivlehan. Most of you, I'd imagine, know the story—so I'll add some moving pictures. For those who don't, I'll fill you in.
As I mentioned, Patrick Kivlehan is playing right now—like, literally as I write this, in the Arizona Fall League. Entering tonight's game, he has a .896 OPS in 15 games and 61 plate appearances, good for 13th in the league. Having placed him in the AFL, the Mariners are looking to get him as much playing time as possible and accelerate his development. They have plenty of other players there, but why might they be especially motivated with Kivlehan, drafted in the fourth round of the 2012 draft? It's that story.
Kivlehan didn't play baseball for nearly all of college, instead choosing four years of football—primarily as a safety—at the University of Rutgers. After being a two-sport captain in high school, he came to Rutgers as a two-star recruit and played 43 games as a backup who saw most of his action on special teams—except when they played Army and Navy, when he'd come in as a triple-option shutdown specialist.
With his time on the football team winding down during the fall of 2011, he refused to let his athletic career end with that, deciding to explore walking on Rutgers' baseball team.
"I knew deep down that I wanted to do this — and that I could do it," Kivlehan told NJ.com back in April of 2012. "But I honestly didn’t expect to have this kind of an impact."
That impact? As a walk-on, Kivlehan won the Big East Player of the Year Award. Not only that, but he was the first player in the history of the league to win its Triple Crown. If rate stats are more your thing, he led the conference in average, on-base percentage and slugging as well. Now, it isn't the most prestigious conference for baseball, but recentBig East POYs include George Springer and Todd Frazier.
To hear him tell his own narrative, here's an interview he did with Jackson Generals broadcaster Chris Harris:
Notice the video starts with Kivlehan going the other way for a double. That's a key part of his game.
I go back to that NJ.com article, describing Kivlehan's initial foray into college baseball, when he reached out then to Rutgers assistant coach Darren Fenster, who's now a manager in the Red Sox' minor league system.
Kivlehan showed up for his first batting cage session with the team in September, a workout overseen by Fenster. Kivlehan had cleared his baseball pursuits with then-Rutgers football coach Greg Schiano, and Kivlehan had learned he was allowed two years of baseball eligibility, according to NCAA standards.
Fenster was immediately struck by Kivlehan’s physique — broad shoulders packed with muscle, his body toned from top to bottom. Then Kivlehan took some cuts, cracking baseballs. Fenster was impressed, but realistic. It was only a cage session. But Kivlehan kept showing up throughout October for more workouts on his off-days from football.
Then one afternoon, Fenster noticed Kivlehan hit most of his balls up the middle or to the pull side. Fenster interjected. He wanted Kivlehan to hit to the opposite field by letting the pitch get deeper, or closer to the plate, before hitting the ball.
"He was able to put that stuff together and do what a lot of people take months to learn how to do," Fenster said. "It took him maybe five swings to really adapt."
Kivlehan, as some have mentioned before around these parts, is a very quick learner. And for a visual look at the stats in that piece, one I encourage you to read, here's at where Kivlehan's hit the ball during his minor league career thus far, taking a look at his extra base hits via the excellent MLBfarm.com (a Daren Wilman joint).
Now, some actual video:
That isn't to say Patrick Kivlehan doesn't have any good old-fashioned pull-power. I mean, you can tell based on the spray chart—but it's more fun to watch, and you should definitely watch this.
Did you see where that landed? Here, let me help you out.
All that was en route to a 140 wRC+ in double-A Jackson last year, producing a .300/.374/.485 slash line, 10.2 BB% and 18.1 K%. With how the Mariners have moved him along and their need for a player like Kivlehan—"we're starved for right-handed bats," said AGM Jeff Kingston in an interview with Chris Harris—you'd expect him to be with the Rainiers to start 2015, just a short drive from Safeco Field.
The thing is, it isn't just the bat for Kivlehan, but the potential positional fit. While Kivlehan was drafted as a third baseman and is still listed as playing the hot corner, the Mariners are exploring their options. With Jackson, Kivlehan played twenty games in the outfield this year.
Kivlehan still has a ways to go, despite now being the Mariners' sixth-best prospect by MLB.com after not even making Baseball America's top 10 for the system at the beginning of the year, but if he keeps doing what he's doing in learning quickly, he might be in Seattle relatively soon.
As Kingston says in that interview, referencing a Jack Zduriencik philosophy, "These guys are going to advance on their own timetable...we'll let them dictate it."
Kivlehan keeps dictating it down in Arizona, and that will continue, surely, in spring training. By then, the depth chart above him will hopefully look a little more crowded, but after how he's battled for a career in baseball so far, I wouldn't bet against him continuing to climb it.