By Jared Stanger
At this time two years ago, we’d only be about six days away from the last day of the MLB Draft. This year; we are exactly six WEEKS away from the start of the 2021 Draft. Normally I only have a few weeks after the NFL Draft to cram for the MLB Draft. This year I’ll end up with a couple months. I’ve already had enough time to look through college and high school prospect lists to put together 10 rounds worth of Mariner mock draftpicks. The entirety of this year’s draft will only be 20 rounds (down from 40 rounds in 2019, but up from the 5 round class last year). So this represents a healthy portion of what will be this year’s class.
The Mariners this year will draft 12th overall, followed by single picks every round…no competitive balance picks this year. This will put them at #12, #48, #83, #113, #144, and then every 30th pick after #144.
Jerry Dipoto and his staff have never drafted a high school player in the 1st round since they’ve been here, and reports around the league suggest this year will be no different. I’m on record that I loathe this philosophy. Jarred Kelenic was the 6th overall draftpick in 2018 for the NY Mets. That same year; Seattle drafted Logan Gilbert with their 1st rounder at pick #14. Both players made their MLB debuts on the exact same day. The concept of college players being more major league ready is a fallacy when talking about early 1st round players. Certainly, you can break down the data to find the high school bats are better than the college players.
In general, I just find the upside of the high-end high school players worth the risk. Even if/when they take longer to develop; because you’ve started that clock earlier, you can still see dividends earlier on them than many lesser-talented college players. You create room for error when you get them in your program at 18 (or 16 for international players…see Julio Rodriguez and Noelvi Marte).
So my 1st round pick will be a college player to represent the Mariner philosophy, but I’m going to point out who I think they should take instead, as well.
#1.12 – LHP Matt Mikulski, Fordham University
I loathe having to draft at this spot. The upper tier of this draft is only like 8 players deep. So even if a top 8 player drops; are they really going to drop four spots?? Doubtful. Then you factor in that two probable top 12 talents had their seasons ended already due to Tommy John surgery, which shortens the college pool significantly. What you end up left with at #12 are a 5’9″ college outfielder, a 5’10” college shortstop that probably moves to 2B (and is arguably overrated here, anyways), and a college outfielder that has struck out 30% of the time in 2021. Those are the bats.
The college pitchers generally mentioned here:
RHP Sam Bachman hits 100mph and ticks a lot of the boxes on paper, but his throwing motion looks like a JJ Putz type reliever, to me.
RHP Ryan Cusick looks the part build-wise and has good stuff, but the control is suspect and yielded 4.11 BB/9 on the year and a 4.24 ERA. Doesn’t total feel like a Jerry guy.
RHP Michael McGreevy hits so many of the boxes on paper. 6’4″/200, 1.17 WHIP, 0.94 BB/9, 10.25 SO/9. But I watch the guy and I just don’t feel it. The mechanics are odd, to me, and I really don’t like his lack of down-mound extension. I wonder if he gets bumped off by the analytics group.
LHP Jordan Wicks. I could see this guy more than the others, in part just to balance out the RHP-heavy recent drafts. I’ve seen him listed at either 6’1″ or 6’3″. Sturdy build between 215-220lbs. Present fastball is decent between 90-93, touching 95mph, and the changeup is elite with sub-1600 spin rate. Marco Gonzales was the #19 overall pick in 2013, and Wicks is very much in the same mold. But I just find it difficult to knowingly draft a guy with 3rd-starter upside as my first pick. So what is the difference(s) between Wicks and Matt Mikulski?
Mikulski’s present fastball is a tick better sitting 93-95, and topping out at 98mph. Statistically, Mikulski has been far superior in 2021. Wicks: 3.32 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 11.32 SO/9, 2.70 BB/9…Mikulski 1.45 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 16.33 SO/9, 3.56 BB/9. Mikulski has given up a miniscule 3.82 hits per 9, to Wicks’ 8.41H/9. I also like that Mikulski only gave up 3 HR to Wicks’ 9 HR allowed. MLB has Mikulski ranked as their #43 overall prospect…M’s don’t pick again until #48…is it worth missing on him to try to wait until the 2nd? We’ll see.
The other couple reasons I’m leaning towards Mikulski…one is probably just anecdotal, one is practical. One: Mikulski was literally at TMobile Park on May 29th to see the M’s beat the Rangers in the Justin Dunn gem. Two: I’m looking for ways to go underslot with the 12th pick to allow us to go upside with later picks. When you’re, quote-unquote, reaching on a player in the 1st, be it college or HS; you probably have a shot at getting him to sign for closer to the amount of the pick where he was projected to be drafted. If I’m correct on my evaluation of this class in that the talent available from roughly pick #10 to pick #50 is close to the same; it benefits you to get the same talent who will sign for less money.
Now, the guys I’d like to potentially see over the college players: RHP Chase Petty, 2B Peyton Stovall, 3B Gavin Conticello.
Petty has been locked in to the 1st round for a while with his 100mph arm and already plus present slider. He’s similar to 2019 Jack Leiter except people aren’t wanting to see him add velo, but instead add pitchability.
Stovall has only recently been getting 1st round buzz, but it’s way more late 1st. I don’t see many holes in Stovall’s game. He’s an all-around smooth player…both at the plate and in the infield. Seems like A- to B+ across the board.
Conticello is more of a personal fave. He’s getting closer to 3rd round projection in most of the media I’ve seen, but when I watch him I see Cody Bellinger. Bellinger was a 4th round pick in 2013. Both have that long-levered, hard swung lefty approach. Only thing with Gavin is I don’t know where his glove ends up. I don’t love his actions on the left infield, but could he play some first base? Maybe. Power could play at first.
#2.48 – RHP Jackson Baumeister, Bolles HS
This was a very tough call. I’ve got a couple high school lefties I like here in Maddux Bruns and Brandon Clarke, I think Conticello could still be in play here, and I like 3B Colson Montgomery here, too. This range feels very strong in high school players. And if you’ve gone underslot at #12; you could easily afford to buy a prep player out of his college commitment.
Baumeister is listed 6’3″/210lbs with a free and easy fastball touching 96mph with room for more. And then he mixes that with a curve and change. I love how the ball pops out of his hand on the FB, and then he gets great armspeed to add deception on his curve. The interesting thing with Jackson is how late a start he had on pitching. He was primarily a catcher for years. So there is still some unknown upside to where he could go while now fully dedicated to the mound.
#3.83 – C Matheu Nelson, Florida State
After being very HS heavy in the 2nd, I’m back to college heavy in the 3rd. Some nice college pitching here, but I like Nelson so much more than the next group of catchers on my board I don’t want to miss on him. Plus, we’ve had decent success on catchers out of FSU recently. The other downside to many of the catchers in this class: I don’t think many will stick behind the plate. I see a lot of OF/1B projects. Nelson will catch.
Nelson had arguably the best power year of any player in the country in 2021: 22 Homeruns, 63 RBI in 49 games. His strikeout rate is almost 25%, which is higher than I want to see, but I’m going to overlook it in exchange for the power combined with over 40% caught stealing rate.
Nelson is considered a redshirt sophomore after the 2020 covid year, so it may take a little extra money to get him to sign this year, but you should still have some of that left.
#4.113 – LHP Ky Bush, St Mary’s
Bush, the former WSU Coug, has pitched himself into solid draft range. He reminds me a little of Carlos Rodon with his thick 6’6″/240lb build from the southpaw side. The fastball is up to 96mph with a developing 4-pitch mix, and much-improved control this year over his WSU freshman tilt. His 2021 went 2.99 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 12.87 SO/9, and down to 2.18 BB/9.
#5.144 – 1B/3B JT Schwartz, UCLA
This is one of the easiest picks in this mock for me. Schwartz is an advanced hitter slashing .397/.525/1.157 with 33 walks to only 21 strikeouts on the year. Only 7 HR, but you’re planning on more future power from his 6’4″/208lb frame. Good defender at first, as well. Another technical redshirt sophomore that you’re trying to coax into signing now.
#6.174 – 3B Riley Tirotta, Dayton
Tirotta represents very well the kind of player I’m making a concerted effort to locate in this class. He’s 6’3″/195lbs, hitting .323/.446/1.123, with 14 HR, 28 XBH, 12 SB on 14 attempts, and good defense. He’d technically be a senior signing, but that may not be as big of a concern this year with the number of 4th, 5th, 6th year seniors that will be available, and the draft bonus pool surplus.
#7.204 – SS Kurtis Reid, Hamilton HS
In what is a strong prep shortstop class; but in a franchise that doesn’t really do that early; I’m sorta trying to steal an upside SS here, in the 7th. Reid has good size at 6’2″/190lbs, a solid bat, but what I’m really interested in is his glove. In reality, this kind of pick may not happen until the 11th round or later; when you’re not obligated to bonus pool rules.
#8.234 – OF John Thrasher, Hartford
Thrasher represents a few different fun attributes. He’s arguably the best base-stealer in this class going 37 swiped in 37 attempts. He plays a hell of a catch and throw defensive centerfield. And he’s a .369/.470/1.150 hitter that could become a true leadoff man. Plus, his name is Thrasher, ffs.
#9.264 – RHP Jake Smith, Miami
Smith is a guy I liked in the 2020 draft when he was pitching in Junior College. This year he transferred to Miami and still looked quality vs the higher competition. His full season marks included 2.68 ERA, 1.008 WHIP, 12.2 SO/9, and 5.36 SO/BB across 17 appearances as starter and reliever. After opening the year in the Canes’ bullpen; Smith started in 6 of his last 7 games pitched, and in those games held a 1.08 ERA. He’s considered a redshirt sophomore after the covid asterisk. The highlight is the fastball up to 98mph out of the ‘pen.
#10. 294 – LHP Parker Harm, N Dakota State
Harm is a 6’2″/190lbs lefty closer for NDSU popping 16.26 SO/9 and a very low 5.52 H/9. He’s a little wild, but this is a pretty standard, 10th round, senior signing kind of player.
So there’s 10 rounds. If I had one self-criticism of it…it’s too balanced. They’re not gonna go C, 1B, 3B, SS, OF, RHP, LHP, closer. It’s possible this is the year they go way heavier on bats. It’s possible they finally break down and draft high school players with frequency. Whatever it is…there will be something about the actual draft class that is more slanted to some kind of theme. But there’s no real way to know ahead of time if they base that on organizational need, or the strength of the draft class, or just happenstance of how the draft falls if/when you draft BPA throughout.