The Major League Baseball draft starts tomorrow. This is not usually news that excites many people, but if you haven’t noticed, there are no sports right now! So if you’re looking for something that at least resembles following baseball, check it out.
Like everything else right now, this draft is going to be weird. The MLB draft is a little strange no matter what, since, in no particular order, fans don’t know the draftees, they take 40 players, most of them won’t make the big leagues, and the ones that do won’t be there until 2-6 years later. This year the draft has been cut to five rounds by the owners, which is unfortunate for nearly everyone else involved. I’m not going to really get into all of that. Go read Baseball America or Fangraphs or something if you want opinions or details. There’s enough else to think about, so I’m going to pretend this draft is otherwise normal, that baseball isn’t on the edge of not having a season, and that we’re not in the midst of the craziest year in decades.
I’m going to break this into some categories, because it’s easier to write and easier for you to read. Also, I haven’t written one of these in a long time and I’m out of practice!
Where do the Mariners stand in all of this?
After their horrendous 2019 season, the Mariners pick sixth overall, their highest pick in quite some time. It’s a shame to lose 35 rounds of picking sixth in each round, but such is life. The sort-of silver lining is that they’ll likely either roll that pick slot over to 2021 if no season happens, or they’ll probably have an even higher pick if they play, because they will be very bad this year. 2021 could be a ridiculously deep draft class, with many players who would have been picked in rounds 6-40 returning to college. Also, the Astros have no first round pick this year because they’re cheaters, so that’s nice.
Anyway, this is purported to be a good class, deep in pitching especially. The Mariners will have a great shot at getting an impact player at #6, and with the way the draft slotting system works, they should have good money to find a high upside talent in the second or third round, if they so choose. Real quick, each pick has a dollar value assigned to it, and those values combined make up the team’s draft pool. They can spread the money around their picks however they want, so long as they sign the pick. If they don’t sign someone, that pick’s slot value disappears from the pool. Sometimes a team will draft a guy they know they can sign for cheap, so they can devote most of that pick’s slot value to another guy who wants more money to sign.
The Mariners have just over $10,000,000 for six picks, with a little wiggle room if they want to pay taxes. If they go too far over that though, they’ll lose picks next year. They’ll pick sixth in each round, with a bonus pick after the second round they received for Omar Narvaez.
How has the lack of baseball this year affected the draft?
The answer to this remains to be seen. The main issue is that amateurs had next to no season, if they played at all. It makes scouting more of a guessing game. Teams are mostly going by last season, and whatever they can glean from a few games this year and interviews over the computer. The MLB draft is a mystery in a regular year, so who knows what this draft will look like down the road. I don’t envy the scouts who’ve had to prepare for this, but it’s impossible to say yet how the actual draft picks will turn out.
On the professional side, the biggest effect is the shortening of the draft. Owners are worried about money, for good reason, although some are probably also being cheap. With likely no minor league season at all, it kind of makes sense, but things could look very strange on the player development front in a season or two. I should also note that teams can sign undrafted players, with a bonus limit of $20,000, which is nothing. It’s a shame for the players and will put stress on colleges who are going to be short on scholarships, not to mention being short on money to pay for the scholarships. It’s all a mess.
There’s also talk that some teams won’t be able/willing to spend their full bonus pools and will draft accordingly. That would have a huge effect on the draft and be great for teams that can spend. No one really knows if this will actually be an issue though.
Enough of that. Who are the Mariners going to draft?
This is a draft generally regarded as having six standouts at the top, which is nice since the M’s have the sixth pick. That being said, I have no idea what the Mariners will do. They’ve leaned heavily toward college pitching the last couple of years, and there’s a deep crop of it in this class. They’ve also said this spring that they’re looking for up the middle impact players, so who knows what they’ll do. I’ll get into individual players more below.
Teams don’t really draft for need in baseball, but these are the areas I see the M’s needing help in the future, loosely in order:
Infield: The M’s have basically one non-1B infield prospect (18 year old Noelvi Marte), and a few guys who could possibly develop into something. They badly need some impact guys, especially at shortstop. A third baseman would be nice as well.
Top of the Rotation Upside: Obviously every team needs this, and it’s easier said than done. The team has really restocked their rotation depth, but lacks a guy with true ace potential. Logan Gilbert looks like the best bet, but most forecast him as a good #2 type.
Catching Depth: I’m not saying they need to look for a starting catcher this year, but outside of Cal Raleigh, there’s very little catching in the system with big league potential.
So Who Are They Going To Draft?
As I said, there are six guys considered to be the top tier, but really there are three that stand out from that group. 1B Spencer Torkelson is nearly a lock to go first, and 3B/OF Austin Martin and LHP Asa Lacy should follow in that order. I think there’s a tiny chance Martin could drop, but we’ll plan on those three being off the board. If Lacy drops, it’ll be because of injury concerns that would likely push him down further than the Mariners.
I’ll rank the remaining options, based on my preference. Please remember this preference is not based on any scouting acumen of my own. I just listen to people who know more than I do, and watch a video on Twitter occasionally. The M’s could very easily pick someone else, and it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad pick.
- Nick Gonzales, 2B/SS – Gonzales is a little guy who hit .423 last season, with good power. He sounds a little like Dustin Pedroia. He likely won’t stick at shortstop, but otherwise he’s a perfect fit for the Mariners. I’d be ecstatic if he fell to them. He’s a fun guy to watch and maybe the best all-around hitter in the draft, and fills a huge hole in the M’s system.
- Zac Veen, OF – Veen has shot up draft boards this spring and is likely the only high schooler the M’s are considering. The lefty has potential to be a monster in the line up. He probably won’t stay in center field, but that’s okay. There had been nothing linking him to Seattle until the last couple of days, which makes me wonder if they’re trying to hide their interest. Regardless, I think he’ll be off the board when they pick, but there’s a good chance he or Gonzales are available.
- Emerson Hancock, RHP – A big righty from the University of Georgia, Hancock was the favorite to go number one overall six months ago. He’s (reportedly) dropping because of lackluster performance in his limited starts this season. There’s also concern he may not have a true out pitch. What he does have is 4 good or better pitches, lots of velocity, good command, and proven performance in the SEC. He’s no guarantee, but he could easily be atop a rotation in four years.
One of these three (or the three mentioned above them) will be available when Seattle picks, and I’d love to have any of them. There are concerns with all of them, but each has clear potential to be an all-star.
Of course, the Mariners might go a different direction. Max Meyer should go right around this area. He’s a shorter pitcher with possibly the best fastball and the best slider in the draft. I like him, but there’s a real risk he ends up in the bullpen. Heston Kjerstad is a slugging college outfielder who would save them a little money for later picks. I don’t think they’d take him over Gonzales or Veen, but if they’re gone, he’d likely be the next hitter on the board. I don’t love him, but there are worse picks. There are other college pitchers they could go with, but none I like better than anyone already listed. An interesting name to watch is Mick Abel, a high school pitcher from Oregon. He’s probably the top high school pitch in the draft, and may end up being the best pitcher overall. High school pitchers are incredibly risky, but I wouldn’t be at all mad if he were the pick.
So there you go. Assuming baseball resumes someday, the Mariners are actually stockpiling a lot of talent. It’s a shame they’ll only add six players, but they should be six good players. The Mariners have actually become good drafters, so don’t worry too much. We’ll just hope whomever they pick will see the field before next summer.