By Jared Stanger
The Mariners have used their first round draft pick on a college pitcher in each of their three most-recent drafts. More specifically, they have each been a righthanded college pitcher. The standard talking point for baseball drafts is that you should never draft for need due to the time and uncertainty it takes to develop baseball draftpicks. But you have to suspect there will still, inevitably, be some filtering away from things a team does NOT need.
With that said, a college pitcher may not be their first choice for their first choice, but if they play the strict BPA game; a college pitcher may end up where they end up. Regardless, they will pick college pitchers at some point, and it will probably be two to three times in their first 7-8 picks.
Over the last few years of studying how Jerry Dipoto and his staff draft pitching; I’ve discovered I can isolate a few traits that I suspect they tend to prefer including stats, stuff, and tape study, and I can put together a list of around 12 players I think they’ll like, and I’ll hit between 2-4 names from that list. In 2020 I pulled two, but considering the draft was shrunk to 5 rounds, I still think that was pretty solid.
This story is sort of an expansion on the methodology that went into that tweet last year. But we’ll get into some finer points of when each pitcher could be found.
The prevailing rumor in this year’s draft media is that Seattle prefers a bat in the 1st round. Is that based on actual intel, or is it just the logic of what one does after going pitching for three consecutive years?? I don’t know. When Seattle has been linked to a first round pitcher; I’ve generally seen only two names: Sam Bachman and Michael McGreevy. Bachman just seems to be the pitcher ranked highest on most draftboards at or after where Seattle drafts at #12 (MLB.com has him ranked at #14). McGreevy feels a little more scientific, as he is one of the biggest strike throwers in the country this year, with a profile that reminds me a lot of George Kirby two years ago.
I don’t really like either of these guys due to their mechanics and somewhat limited starting potential. Bachman just looks like a bullpen guy to me (kind of like this year’s Garrett Crochet), and McGreevy looks like a third starter at best if everything goes perfect. I think you need to hunt aces at #12. So the first name on my list goes to ECU righty Gavin Williams.
Williams stands at a very well-built 6’6″/232lbs with strong lower half. His stuff already has him reaching 100mph with his rising fourseam that shows nice armside run, and a full four-pitch mix where all four pitches look at least average. While Gavin isn’t as much of a strike-thrower as McGreevy; he’s been no slouch (Williams 2.32 BB/9 to McGreevy’s 0.97). But Gavin was the harder to hit at 6.31 H/9 to 9.65 H/9 for Michael.
To put a finer point on it: Gavin Williams is the best mix of Bachman’s velo with McGreevy’s strike throwing. Williams was 5th in the country in strikeouts per nine to Bachman’s 7th, and he was 32nd in the country in SO/BB to McGreevy’s 2nd.
MLB lists Williams as their 31st overall player, so Seattle would need to draft him at #12. (This is not a mock draft. This is a projection of the best-fit pitchers at each Mariner draft pick.)
#1.12 – RHP Gavin Williams, ECU
Here’s a really nice video showing Williams repertoire. He’s getting swings and misses on fastball, but also I think on the change and curve:
To my eye, this is an unusually strong class of college lefthanders. Jordan Wicks is the consensus top projected LHP, but he didn’t score high marks on my Mariner metrics. The highest-scoring LHP on my Mariner board is the former Coug, who I’ve had Seattle drafting in each of my mock drafts: Ky Bush.
Bush is a 6’4″/200lb’er with a fastball touching 96mph and already improved control. In 2021 his strikeouts improved to a new best of 12.87 per nine, and he cut his walks by more than half from 5.13 to 2.18 BB/9.
In previous mocks I had him coming to Seattle in a later round, but in their most recent draft board update; MLB has moved Bush all the way up to #66 overall. So M’s would need to snag him at #48.
#2.48 – LHP Ky Bush, St Mary’s
The other high-scoring, highly projected LHP on my list is Matt Mikulski and with good reason. Mikulski led the country in SO/9 with 16.33 per, and hits allowed per nine with 3.82 (just nosing out Jack Leiter at 3.84). The only negative on Mikulski’s profile is his lack of prototypical size. Personally, I think Matt makes up for some of that with very strong down-mound extension. The strength and flexibility in his lower half (seen below) have already helped him to see his fastball tick up to 98mph this year. Mikulski was recently dropped from #43 to #48 on MLB’s board, so a little uncertainty how early you need to draft him.
#2.48 – LHP Matt Mikulski, Fordham
After the 2nd round, there’s a pretty big gap between high-scorer’s on my college pitching ranks. There’s a good solid two rounds where they may be best-served drafting bats before coming back to pitching in the 5th.
In the 5th round; the highest scorer is Stanford RHP Brendan Beck. Beck is a quality, athletic, high-pitchability righty with present velo only touching 93mph, but enough stuff to carry him to a 0.95 WHIP and 11.48 SO/9. His tape reminds me of Mariner 2019 draftpick Isaiah Campbell, with the way he works well down in the zone. He’s not as big or as hard a thrower as Campbell was coming out, but that could combine to allow him to be available later.
You draft him in the 5th and hope you can perk up his fastball with a pro training regimen. MLB has him at #164 overall, and Seattle picks at #144.
#5.144 – RHP Brendan Beck, Stanford
Another pitcher that ranked well in the 5th round range was Georgia lefty Ryan Webb. Sort of like Mikulski, I’d rank Webb higher for Seattle’s potential interest in him if he were bigger. Listed at only 6’1″/196lbs, Webb holds a present fastball that touches 95mph, with very solid H/9 of 6.49 and a quality 12.37 SO/9 even as he got stretched out into a starter from his previous role in the Bulldog ‘pen. Seattle has drafted a Georgia starting pitcher in each of the last two drafts.
MLB has Webb, I think, underrated as their #152 overall player. An SEC lefty that touches 95mph is probably more 3rd round-ish, so this would be great value for a guy reminiscent of a different kind of Bulldog: Marco Gonzales.
#5.144 – LHP Ryan Webb, Georgia
Sitting somewhere later in the 5th, maybe a 6th if it falls as rankings have him, is LHP Dylan Dodd. Listed at 6’3″/210lbs, Dodd is a good combo of stuff and pitchability. Fastball touches 95mph and his SO/BB number this year was over 7.00. In his outing early this year versus the #1 ranked Arkansas Razorbacks; Dodd pitched 6 innings of 2-run ball, allowing only 3 hits (2 HR), 2 BB, while striking out 10. A college Senior, this could also be the range you start looking for bonus pool saving signings, and Dodd coming out of SE Missouri State could fit the bill.
#6.174 – LHP Dylan Dodd, SEMST
A lot of times doing studies like this, you already have some ideas of players that will end up on the final list because you know the inputs and you naturally look for them on a more superficial basis throughout the year. But sometimes the data reveals something entirely new. That was the case for RHP Gordon Graceffo.
Graceffo is a 6’4″/210lb righty out of Villanova with a bit of a hitchy delivery and not a ton of strikeouts. But there’s enough in his stuff (fastball up to 95mph) and makeup that he held opponents to a 1.54 ERA, and 0.96 WHIP over 82 innings this year. MLB has him on their board at #205, so my data is potentially pointing towards something.
As he currently looks on tape, I think he might be destined for a bullpen move, but if these mechanics can be tweaked…I wonder if there isn’t something more here that can be unlocked. Either way, at 7th round value, he looks like he could be a useful piece in some capacity.
#7.204 – RHP Gordon Graceffo, Villanova
I have a few more names that showed through the study, but none of the remaining are also on MLB’s most recent list of the top #250 prospects. So placing them in a round is less obvious. Instead, I will list them in order of how strong they performed in the study.
Tier 1 – RHP Aaron Brown, Middle Tennessee
Brown was actually one of the top scorers overall alongside Gavin Williams. He’s a 6’4″/220lb former Vanderbilt recruit that moved down to Middle Tennessee undoubtedly for a better shot at starting on the mound, and proceeded to strikeout 113 to only 15 walks in 85 innings this year. Strangely, he gave up almost as many homeruns as he allowed walks (13 to 15). I don’t know if that is ballpark related, but it is something to monitor, and perhaps why he doesn’t get drafted before the 8th round as a senior sign.
Tier 2 – RHP Elliott Carney, Wofford
Carney holds a couple of interesting distinctions on this list…neither of which are that he smells like cabbage: 1) he threw the first no-hitter in Wofford school history in April, 2) he’s originally from Eastlake HS in Sammamish, and then Edmonds Community College.
At 6’3″/205, Carney has decent size, but it’s unclear where his present stuff sits. However he’s doing it; Elliott held opponents to a very good 6.34 H/9 while striking out 10.94 per. Plenty to hope on here from a guy you can get rounds 9-12ish on a hometown discount/senior signing.
Tier 3 – RHP Kevin Kopps, Arkansas
Easily the best-known of the “unranked” names; Kopps has had an incredible season in 2021. Pitching primarily out of the Razorbacks’ bullpen; Kopps still acquired enough innings to qualify for season-ending efficiency stats. Of those, he won the national title in WHIP with his 0.76 mark. He also finished top 10 in total strikeouts, even though the scouting platitudes suggest his stuff won’t play at the major league level. The two other down marks on Kopps’ report: he is undersized and overaged. Only 6’0″ and already 24 years old…it will be seen how much of a discount teams will want before drafting him.
On the upside…and I hate to put this comp on him, but oh well…he kind of reminds me of Mariano Rivera. Rivera made the HOF with a single pitch: his 89 to 93 mph cutter that he simply just moved around the zone. Just a thought.
Tier 3 – RHP Pierson Ohl, Grand Canyon
Another guy that kind of came out of nowhere…Ohl presents a high-strike thrower with ultra-clean mechanics that scored well across the board. Statistically, he led the country in complete games…which suggests either a high efficiency worker that lets his defense work behind him, or a coach that just let him throw forever.
Tier 3 – LHP Russell Smith, TCU
The final name culled from this study was super tall TCU lefty Russell Smith. With a fastball topping at 93 mph presently, but a 6’9″/235lb frame that could add some velo in time; Smith has a ton to work from. And he wouldn’t be the first LHP from TCU drafted by the Mariners as that was the same bio for Brandon Williamson when he came to us in 2019..
12 Pitchers up, 12 pitchers down. 2021 MLB Draft begins three weeks from today.