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Third team’s the charm for Luis Rengifo?

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From Seattle to Tampa Bay to Los Angeles, speedy infielder can hit

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Houston Astros Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Seattle Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto has been that one guy in your fantasy league who wakes up early Sunday mornings trying to trade a number four starter for a bench bat that will be on waivers Tuesday morning.

Since being fired by the Los Angeles Angels in 2015, and subsequently hired a month later by the fellow American League West denizen Seattle Mariners, Dipoto has become a trade machine during his tenure with Seattle.

Though many —especially Mariners fans— have had issue with a lot of the free-and-easy GM’s trades, it’s hard to argue with the current state of the big league Mariners. Yet the sting of losing top prospects for Tyler O’Neill and Luiz Gohara for nothing (sorry Marco Gonzales) has to sting.

One of his smaller trades was a few days past the non-waiver trade deadline last season when he acquired pitcher Ryan Garton and catcher Mike Marjama from the Tampa Bay Rays for prospects Luis Rengifo, Anthony Misiewicz and a player to be named later (Osmy Gregorio).

None of the three are high-tier minor leaguers, but a deal for two minimal role players wasn’t going to require such a package. Still, Dipoto hasn’t let any prospect attachment keep him from making a deal.

(In a league where many deals fall through because nine out of 10 players are untouchable no matter what, there’s something admirable in Dipoto’s loosey goosey practice.)

Of the three youngsters dealt, Rengifo stuck out. Signed as a 16-year old out of Venezuela in 2014, he’s a switch-hitter who can play more positions than one hand can count.

After a sluggish rookie year in 2014, he smashed a .336 average and registered a .405 OBP along with 19 steals in 2015. He walked and struck out an equal 22 times while playing a crisp middle infield.

He arrived stateside in 2016 and played 34 games for the Arizona League Mariners. He didn’t hit much but stole 22 of 25 bases. He also started playing third base but was slightly error-prone in the infield. In 2017, he was tried at all three outfield positions.

His versatility was certainly something that piqued the interest of the Rays when they had their pick of prospects come trade time in August.

Before the trade, Seattle pegged him for Low-A Clinton to start the year. He hit .250 there and set a career-high in the first half of the season with 29 steals and 43 attempts.

He also hit 11 home runs with Clinton in 102 games, having totaled just four long balls in his first 158 games across three rookie ball seasons. Not so much a power surge as a very young prospect filling out.

After the trade, he reported to the Rays Low-A affiliate, Bowling Green, for 23 games.

In the off-season, just prior to the start of the 2018 regular year, he was once again traded. Returning to the AL West, he was tabbed the player to be named later in the Rays-Los Angeles Angels deal that sent C.J. Cron to Tampa in February.

Rengifo was the sole return for Cron, a former first-rounder with the Angels who had run out of literal options amidst a revamped L.A. depth chart.

The Angels may be the last stop for Rengifo, because the toolsy, versatile prospect is starting to put together some hard-to-ignore numbers.

He began the year in High-A, a level he had never achieved before. With Inland Empire, he rewarded the organization’s immediate faith with league-leading statistics.

He played 41 games in the hitter-friendly California league, slashing .323/.426/.466, the latter two both career-highs to date. He walked more times (27) than he struck out (22), stole 22 bases and collected 16 extra-base hits (11 doubles, three triples and two home runs).

Still just 21, with only those 41 games under his belt at High-A, the Angels doubled down on their new prospect and promoted him to Double-A Mobile.

His breakout year has consequently reached a fever pitch. So far, in 22 games with the BayBears, Rengifo is hitting .330, the highest he has ever hit. He’s also slugging a hearty .568 and already has four triples in 22 games, not to mention his seven doubles, 29 hits, and how about 20 runs scored?

Defensively, shortstop has been the focus this season for Rengifo. 55 of his 60 appearances between Inland Empire and Mobile have been there, with the other five across the bag at second base.

Outfield is currently out of the equation, but not because his infield defense is starring. His arm plays well at short (or the outfield), but the glove will obviously need to catch up.

However, his bat has made quick leaps and bounds, propelling him up the Angels minor league leaderboard and forcing those around the league —particularly in Tampa Bay and Seattle— to remember his name.