The Mariners roster, even into the minor leagues, does not have a lot of clear answers. What is clear, is that the Mariners just need more players. Good players, if we can be picky, but in some cases, just more players in general would be a good thing.
Prior to last offseason, the Mariners had the worst farm system in baseball. There were few impact prospects and little depth. Some positions had no prospects with realistic chances of making the majors, which is pretty rare. The offseason trades of Diaz, Paxton and others brought in a huge amount of talent, but the system is still only middle of the pack. It’s tremendously better, but far from overflowing with talent.
Luckily, the MLB draft begins this Monday, and the Mariners will add 35-41 players to their organization (depending on how many they sign). I personally think the baseball draft is more interesting than the other more publicized NFL and NBA drafts, but I can understand why few people follow it. The Mariners will draft 41 players, and I will have maybe heard of three of them. Then they will all go to the minor leagues, and if we’re lucky four of them will be in Seattle in four or five years, and maybe a couple more will follow eventually, and the rest we will never hear about again. It’s a weird process.
Want to hear something strange and depressing? Kyle Seager is the only player on the Mariners current 25-man roster who was originally drafted by the team. Some of that is the result of Jerry Dipoto’s countless trades, but a lot of it is due to some really bad drafting. That simply has to change if the Mariners are going to contend anytime soon. Dipoto’s regime has had three drafts, and I’m honestly not sure how they’ve done. It’s still too early to judge any of them fully, but I’m going to run through real quick and see what we can find out.
First Pick: Kyle Lewis, OF
I was incredibly excited and surprised when Lewis dropped to the M’s at #11. He was expected to be a top 5 guy, with a power bat and the athleticism to play center. And for about a month he looked amazing. Then he destroyed his knee in a collision at the plate, and it’s taken nearly three years to get him consistently on the field again. Hope is far from lost, but he’s off to a slow start in double-A this season. I could just as easily see him regaining his form and being an all star in Seattle as I could see him never finding it and fading quietly into retirement. This was a good pick that has met nothing but bad luck.
Best Pick: Um, none?
This draft does not look great. 2nd rounder Joe Rizzo’s hitting okay in high-A this season, but right now he looks like a fringe big leaguer at best. There are some potential bullpen arms, led by Matt Festa, but no sure things. I’m not saying there’s no hope left, but it doesn’t look good. Interestingly, their last pick was Adley Rutschman, a catcher who went to Oregon State and will likely be the first player taken this week. I’m sure the Mariners drafted him knowing there was no way they would sign him, but it’s still a depressing what if to think about.
Best Late Pick (after Round 10): Reggie McClain, P, 13th Round
He’s the pick in part because his name is Reginald Kristen McClain. He’s also had decent success as a starter and reliever and is currently in Tacoma. He’s got a chance to make the bigs, which is more than we can say for most of these picks. If Eric Filia could stop getting suspended for (allegedly) smoking pot, he’d be the choice here.
Overview: Like I said, this draft wasn’t great. It’ll be okay if Lewis regains his form, but even that’s not really enough to save this class. At the time of Dipoto’s hire, I was surprised he retained Tom Allison, who ran the drafts for Zduriencik. The Mariners may very well end up with nothing to show for the whole draft, save a few decent relief innings from Festa and a couple of others. Hopefully, they get more than that from Lewis and/or Rizzo, but the odds aren’t great..
First Pick: Evan White, 1B
White was a slightly underwhelming pick at the time, because he didn’t have a ton of power and his calling card was athleticism and gold glove defense at first base. That’s a weird profile for anyone, much less a top 20 pick. It became clear the Mariners think he has more power in his bat, and his second half last season showed they might be right. He’s off to a slower start in double-A this season, but he still looks like the first baseman of the future. Whether he plays more like JT Snow or, I don’t know, Paul Goldschmidt is unknowable at this point.
Best Pick: White, so let’s talk about 2nd Rounder Sam Carlson
This draft may rest on whether Carlson can return and flourish after Tommy John surgery. A high school righty with a big arm and heavy sinker, Carlson has yet to throw a pitch for the Mariners. He might see action later this year. If he could return to his earlier promise, he could be a top of the rotation starter in four or five years. Right now he’s just another sign of the Mariners bad luck (or bad scouting).
Best Late Round Pick: Sam Delaplane, RHRP, 23rd Round
Delaplane, as of Wednesday, was third in the Cal League (High-A) in strikeouts. As a reliever. He’s striking out nearly two batters an inning. I don’t know if his stuff’ll play as he gets closer to the bigs, but you can’t do much more than what he’s doing.
Overview: This was the first draft run by Scott Hunter, who took over when Allison moved up in the organization. It’s not a bad draft, in part because Dipoto traded a good share of the players in the top 10 rounds almost immediately to build last year’s team. We can argue whether that was a good choice, but it’s one way to get production from a draft. There are some good arms in the farm from this class, but this draft will ride on how White and Carlson develop. Interestingly, the M’s picked up another first rounder from this class when they got Justin Dunn in the Cano/Diaz trade.
2018 (It’s way too early to evaluate this, but we’ll take a look anyway)
First Pick: Logan Gilbert, SP
Gilbert was a workhorse out of Stetson University. In keeping with Mariner tradition, he came down with mono after being drafted and didn’t pitch until this spring. This was probably a good thing, as he was a little overworked in college and his velocity had dipped, but it felt very Mariners-y. Gilbert looks like a phenomenal pick. He’s already gone through Low-A and is throwing well in High-A. He has four pitches and throws in the 90s. Barring injury, he looks like a solid big league starter. Whether he can become close to an ace might depend on whether his velocity bumps back up into the mid- to high-90s. I think he’s the system’s top starter prospect by far. 2021 is a reasonable ETA.
Best Pick: Probably Gilbert, but let’s say: Cal Raleigh, C, 3rd Round
Raleigh was a college catcher with good defensive skills. More rare is that he’s a switch-hitter with good power. He’s playing well in High-A right now and could very well be a starter in Seattle down the road.
Best Late Round Pick: Damon Casetta-Stubbs, RHP, 11th Round
The 11th and 12th rounds are where teams try to grab high upside high schoolers who may not sign. The reasons for this are complicated, but Casetta-Stubbs fits the bill. He’s a big time arm from the northwest, and I’m sure the M’s were thrilled when they were able to get him to sign. He’s made seven starts in low-A with mixed results at best, so I’m curious if they move him to Everett when their season opens. Regardless, he has one of the most projectable arms in the system and could move up prospect ratings quickly.
Overview: Again, it’s way early, but this class looks better. Second rounder Josh Stowers has already been traded, but he brought back Shed Long, so that looks good so far. The first 10 rounds have more upside than the previous few classes, while the later rounds are heavy on relief arms, with a couple of interesting bats thrown in. It might only look good because they haven’t failed yet, but I don’t cringe looking at this group, so that’s a start. It helps that they traded for #6 overall pick Jarred Kelenic, who is off to a monster start. The M’s say he was their top player in the class, which might just be talk, but I kind of think it’s true. He looks extremely good.
So that’s one terrible draft, one mediocre at best, and one with promise that hasn’t proven anything yet. The Mariners pick at #20 on Monday, but they do have 4 picks in the top 100 this year, so we’ll at least have some new names to talk about. The Mariners are past the point of their top pick immediately becoming their top prospect, but they still badly need to hit on this class if they want to continue to restock the system.