I keep intending to write about the Mariners, who are having what could be called their best season in five years. This season could also be called incredibly frustrating and disappointing, so I guess perspective matters. Anyway, every time I think about writing about the M’s, they’re in the middle of a game or coming off a few losses or whatever, and I just don’t feel like doing it. I still don’t feel like doing it, so I’m going to write something tangentially related to the Mariners and hopefully get a real M’s post out in the very near future.
Anyone remember a few weeks ago when the NFL teams drafted a whole bunch of players? That was called the NFL draft. Major league baseball will do the same thing in a week and a half (June 6th), with even more players involved but a whole lot less fanfare. Baseball has taken steps in the last few years to increase the draft’s popularity, putting some of it on TV and cranking up the coverage on MLB.com, but it’s just never going to happen. Unless one is really into college baseball, most of these guys will be unidentifiable, especially past the first round. I’ve been reading draft coverage for month and I still couldn’t name more than 20 guys or so.
Still, for whatever reason, I love the MLB draft. The sheer length of it (40 rounds) leads to more stories to discover, and the obscurity of the players takes away most opportunity to judge the selections immediately. Fans are forced to just sit, learn about the players, and trust (or not) that their team made a good decision. The results won’t show up for 2-7 years, which is weird but not terrible.
Luckily, drafting is one of the areas where the Mariners are good. The major league production by some of their prospects casts doubts on how good the drafting has been, but they’ve also turned out a ton of talent. Guys like Seager, Paxton and Taijaun Walker were excellent picks in the second to fourth rounds, and they’ve added quality depth and arms lower than that. They’re not the best drafting team in baseball, but they’re comfortably in the top half or better.
This year they pick sixth overall. The draft has a weird salary set-up that sometimes makes picks even more unpredictable than usual. Basically, each pick gives the team a pre-determined amount of money they’re allowed to spend, but that total goes into a pool that can be distributed in whatever amounts to all the team’s draftees. Exceed the total pool amount, and there are fines and potentially the loss of future draft picks. This sometimes leads teams to draft players who want less money so they can sign more expensive guys later, but I don’t get the impression this strategy will come into play too much for the M’s first pick.
Generally the very top of the draft is pretty well decided by now, but this year no one seems sure who will go first, let alone top five. I have no idea whom the Mariners will select, both because of the uncertainty and because they rarely let information leak. The good news is this is seen as a fairly deep and talented draft. The bad news is there isn’t likely to be a power-hitting outfielder worthy of the sixth pick, and a couple of the better college pitchers were injured this season. I’ll divide some potential picks into categories below, but be aware the M’s could pick someone totally different, and that wouldn’t make it a bad pick. As always, I’m no scout. I just read a lot.
Tough to pass up if they fall
With top college arm Jeff Hoffman recently needing Tommy John surgery, a top four seems to be emerging: college LHP Carlos Rodon, HS C/OF Alex Jackson, and HS LHP Brady Aiken and RHP Tyler Kolek. I would think the Mariners would love for any of them to drop. Jackson is the clear best bat at this point. He’s been catching in high school but might move to outfield. Without ever seeing him, that’s a move I’d make immediately. From all reports, he has the bat to make an impact regardless of the position and the athleticism to be at least decent in the outfield.
Aiken is drawing comparisons to Clayton Kershaw, with perhaps more polish. Prep pitchers are always risky, but he sounds like the complete package. Kolek is a fireballer, regularly hitting 100 mph with good secondary stuff. Rodon entered the year as the presumed top pick, but a lackluster season has taken some of the shine away. He’s still the odds-on favorite to go #1 to the Astros, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him fall a bit too. If he somehow made it to the Mariners, he’d be a no-brainer.
Jackson has the best chance to be a middle of the order guy, but there are a couple of college outfielders who could be good but not elite bats. Semi-local guy Michael Conforto from Oregon State is the name that gets mentioned, but most people I read think the M’s will have better options available. He’s the best bat on the nation’s best team, but he isn’t good defensively (to the point of maybe being a first baseman eventually) and his bat isn’t likely to be top of the line, just above average. San Francisco’s Bradley Zimmer is getting the press of late. He’s much better defensively, although probably not good enough to play center regularly. He sounds a little like Michael Saunders as a tall, long guy who doesn’t consistently have the power one might expect. He could move somewhat quickly and be an above-average starting outfielder, but again, he’s not likely to be a standout with the bat. The other college bat getting talk this high is Casey Gillaspie, but he’s a first baseman, not an outfielder. I guess I should also mention college SS Trea Turner, since he could easily be the pick. He’s lightning fast, a good defender, but the bat leaves something to be desired this high in the draft. I hope they don’t pick him, but he’s interesting, especially if someone can fix his swing a bit.
The recent buzz has the M’s going shortstop or pitcher. I don’t really trust the buzz, but college pitcher seems logical. RHP Aaron Nola, from LSU, is the darling of this area in the draft. His stuff and size are not top-of-the-line, but he knows how to pitch and gets tremendous results. He might not be a future ace, but he could be an above-average starter who reaches the majors quickly, barring injury. Leftie Kyle Freeland is a recent riser, with good velocity and command and solid secondary stuff. The aforementioned rightie Hoffman could still be in play despite the surgery. He likely would have gone before the Mariners’ pick without the surgery, and with the high rates of TJ success, it wouldn’t be a crazy pick. I don’t expect it, but it could happen, and might save the M’s some money for later picks. There are quite a few other names that could fit in this group, so don’t be surprised by any college pitcher picked.
High school upside guys
High schoolers often have more potential, but they also take longer and are more likely to fail. SS Nick Gordon, brother of Dee and son of Tom, is the current hot name. He should be a good shortstop and could develop into a solid or better bat, in the Derek Jeter mold (but nowhere near that good). There are a few other bats, like SS/3B Jacob Gatewood or M’s blogosphere favorite CF Michael Gettys, who aren’t expected to go this high but could be plays for big offensive upside. On the pitching side, rightie Touki Toussaint has some of the best stuff in the draft, to go with a great name and backstory. He also needs a lot of work and is the type of pick who routinely fails.
So that’s a lot of names, and there are quite a few others who could be the pick. My preference probably goes Jackson, Aiken, Rodon, Kolek, with Nola and Freeland as maybe my top picks of the guys likely to be available. Gordon seems like he could be the guy though, and while I don’t like it especially, I wouldn’t be surprised if he turns out pretty well. We’ll know soon enough who the pick is, but because it’s baseball, we won’t know if it’s a good pick for a very long time.