By Jared Stanger
The Mariners finished their 2021 draft on Tuesday after selecting 20 new players. From that group they ended up with three coming from high school, two coming from junior college, and 15 from four-year colleges. They drafted three catchers, three shortstops, three outfielders, one third-baseman, and ten pitchers (all right-handed).
As I watched the picks being made, and even more so looking at them deeper in hindsight, there is something odd about this draft. And it’s more than just the obvious: that they drafted three high school players in the first three rounds, after being college-heavy to the extreme in the first six years under Jerry Dipoto. I’ve been advocating for them to be more considerate of HS players for years now, but in hindsight of this draft, plus the HS picks from the prior 4-5 years, they may simply not be good at evaluating prep talent.
M’s recent top 10 round players drafted from high school:
Michael Limoncelli in rookie ball: 1.80 ERA but 1.80 WHIP with 10 BB to 8 SO.
Adam Macko in rookie ball: 5.96 ERA, 1.632 WHIP, 6.0 BB/9.
Sam Carlson in low A ball: 4.68 ERA, 1.620 WHIP, 5.9 BB/9.
Jorge Benitez in low A ball: 5.13 ERA, 1.633 WHIP, 6.8 BB/9.
Joe Rizzo in AA ball: .216/.310/.687
Nick Neidert: Traded, made MLB
Dylan Thompson: Traded, retired 2017
Cody Mobley: retired 2018
Another thing that quickly showed up this year was the way Seattle didn’t draft anyone that was ranked in the top 250 players from this cycle after the 4th round. In theory, every pick from round 1 through 8 can be from the top 250 without any unusual circumstances as there are 252 picks total for all teams in those rounds.
We may find, once the draftpicks are all signed, that Seattle had to go overslot for their three HS picks in rounds 1-3, which could have forced them to start looking for underslot players starting earlier this year than usual. This could be an explanation for the lack of consensus top 250 guys they chose. I think it’d be a bit of a copout, as you should be able to get both underslot and top 250 in one or two more picks rounds 5-10.
I don’t think there’s anything particularly strange about the college hitters they drafted. I look at them as a group and there’s a pretty consistent theme: average power (to a man they hit between 8 and 12 homeruns this year), with very solid plate discipline (an average of 11.8 BB% to 15.4 SO%, with the worst SO rate being 22%), and every single bat posting at least 30% extra-basehit rate.
So what is the unusual part of this draft class? It’s the pitchers. There is a striking randomness to this grouping of arms. There’s no heavy preference for starter vs reliever. There’s no pattern of picking guys with high K-rates. They aren’t generally consistent strike-throwers with high control. You could suspect there’s an element of pitching analytics at play (spin rate, velo, extension, flat vertical approach, etc), but in the past they looked for those things PLUS many of these other result-based metrics. Why punt on those elements now when they’ve been part of the formula up till now? That doesn’t track.
If you really look at this group of 2021 pitching draftees; the biggest commonality between these guys is……almost every single pitcher was a better performer in 2020 than they were in 2021.
Could it be possible the team decided to direct a majority of their 2021 scouting visits to focus on finding bats, while trusting more of their scouting reports on pitchers from the 2020 cycle??
This becomes more interesting in light of two things: 1) Seattle’s heavy drafting of more pitching than hitting from 2018-2020, 2) the carryover in scouting restrictions from COVID from mid-2020 college season to this year.
In addition to asking “what” was different about this draft cycle, I think it’s important to ask “why”. Why would they change how they scouted and drafted pitchers when they’ve been pretty successful doing it these last few years? One possible answer is that they didn’t. If you change the “when” of scouting these pitchers, the “what” actually looks less unusual.
I still don’t think any of the reasoning I’ve laid out here is an acceptable excuse for putting together a poor draft. Which I think three-four years from now we will all see this class as being. I’ve generally been pretty happy with the Jerry Dipoto era draft classes, and the farm system has been well-regarded since those collective classes. But I have my doubts this year. There are some obvious changes they made this year, and I suspect some unobvious changes, which also means it changes the assumptions and expectations we have that they will succeed.