By Jared Stanger
The 2022 MLB Draft begins exactly 9 weeks from today (edit: yesterday) with two rounds on night one, rounds 3-10 on night two, and closing with rounds 11-20 on the final night. The Mariners lost their third round pick as penalty for signing the qualifying offered Robbie Ray, but then they gained a late-second round pick in the second competitive balance section. Their draft board goes: #1.21, #2.58, #2.74, #4.126, and then every 30th pick after #126.
This will be the latest Seattle has made their first round pick since taking Taijuan Walker at #43 overall, in the compensatory section, of the 2010 draft. It will also come during a very unusual year in terms of draft prospects. In recent history, Jerry Dipoto and Scott Hunter have gone hard on college pitching with their first round pick in three of the last four drafts. But in 2022, a shocking number of the highest-regarded college pitchers are in some stage of recovery from injury, with most being Tommy John surgery.
This creates so much mystery at the top of the draft. Which teams will be willing to take the chance on TJ guys, and how early will they do so? Will it be teams further back in the process of rebuilding that can take more time with players, and therefore find extra value in getting a better player that happens to have a longer timeline to MLB arrival? If so, one would think Seattle will not be one of those teams. But, then again, 2021 marked the first time they drafted a high school player in the first round. Do they feel comfortable with the ETA on the next wave of their prospects, thereby striking TJ recovery from any list of disqualifying attributes? No one knows.
For my mock draft, I’ve decided to avoid the TJ guys until at least day 2 of the draft. I think there will come a point on their board where the M’s are okay with drafting a pitcher currently injured, but it will be closer to round 6-7. Maybe earlier if the pitcher otherwise would have had a 1st or 2nd round grade. Maybe look for a two-round discount if nobody else has made the move on them.
After the college pitching question, we have to consider the butterfly effect of how it effects the rest of this draft. Will teams reach on the next tier of college pitchers? Will they be more forgiving of the more-volatile high school pitching? Will they simply try to focus on bats from either HS or college early? My, personal, answer is simply to take the best player available regardless of category.
As I peruse the landscape of current national mock drafts; I find that most of the college bats available at #21 are outfielders; which doesn’t interest me terribly. The college arms might be down to a couple from around the Northwest: Gonzaga RHP Gabriel Hughes, or Oregon State LHP Cooper Hjerpe. Both rank amongst the top 10 in the country in strikeouts per nine, and check the box Seattle likes of guys that don’t walk many batters. But I’m not THAT excited about either. Moving to the prep ranks, there are three names that kind of pop for me: SS Mikey Romero, LHP Jackson Ferris, and RHP Ian Ritchie.
Romero is a very smooth player. He’s got smooth actions in the field, he’s got a smooth lefthanded stroke at the plate, and he’s smooth in interviews suggesting a good baseball IQ. The one negative I have here is that Seattle has never really seemed to draft players in the Dipoto era that one might label a “reach”. Romero would probably be a reach at #21. MLB.com have him as their #58 overall prospect at the moment (which, incidentally, is exactly where Seattle drafts next in the 2nd). I tend to think this isn’t a great year for prep shortstops, and Romero won’t last until #58, but I don’t know that Seattle would force the issue this early.
Ferris is, to my eye, one of the better high school arms in this class. He’s got a nice 6’4″ frame, a fastball that reaches 97mph and one of the best curveballs in the class. Plus, he’s a southpaw…which is inherently considered less risky than prep righthanders. All of these things suggest Ferris won’t be there at #21, but if we see teams forcing bats early maybe it happens. It’s not like we’re talking about a massive fall for Ferris. It’d be like a 5-6 pick drop. Not unheard of. Kyle Lewis “fell” that far. George Kirby “fell” about that far. It’s close enough to talk about.
Finally, we have the local product (Bainbridge HS) Ian JR Ritchie. Probably the most likely pitcher to still be on the board, but from the least desirable part of the pitching class: prep righties. Ritchie is more of an athletic 6’2″ body type, but like Ferris is already touching 97mph. He’s got a four-pitch mix, and I love on tape how all of his pitches have great movement. I love the armside run he gets on his fastball, and then his slider is really coming along quickly that he can bury inside to lefties.
#1.21 – LHP, IMG Academy, Jackson Ferris
I’m sort of looking at this draft in terms of the pockets of talent from the same position groups that you tend to see form the more you study the overall class. In the 2nd round, I really like the pocket of college pitching that I could see available. There could also be a nice pocket of college outfielders at the end of the 2nd into the 3rd round: Michigan’s Clark Elliott, Oregon State’s Jacob Melton, Mercer’s Colby Thomas.
With two picks within 16 slots of one another; Seattle could really play it more by ear on draft day of whether one position group or the other becomes earlier priority.
I’ve decided to take an outfielder now, and the guy I’m taking is Melton. I like the potential in his game for 5 tools. He’s 6’3″/208lbs, he’s taken control of the centerfield spot for the Beavs, his batting line goes .383/.454/1.182, 13 HR, 20 doubles, 3 triples, 66 RBI, 19/20 in stolen bases in 48 games.
#2.58 – OF, Oregon State, Jacob Melton
I was originally planning to take a college pitcher with one of the 2nd round picks, but as I’m writing this; I don’t know that the guys I’d target in the 2nd have Ace upside. Are they theoretically significantly better than some of the select pitchers I’ve got targeted on my board for day 2? While this draft is short on aces due to all the injuries; it feels like there will be a lot of 2nd-4th starter types well into rounds 6-7, maybe 8.
Instead, I’m going to take the guy I had penciled in as my 4th rounder as my published 2nd-CB pick. This is Tennessee 3B Trey Lipscomb. He’s 6’3″/200lbs, hitting .347/.415/1.170 with 20 HR, 14 doubles, 3 triples, 70 RBI in 52 games, and I just don’t think he lasts as long in the draft as others in the media seem to.
#2.74 – 3B, Tennessee, Trey Lipscomb
Catcher is sort of one of those positions you really want to take one fairly early every year. To find someone I liked this year, I went through many draft big boards and college stats spreadsheets, then cross-checked through whatever tape I could find, to come up with a backstop with a good combination of bat and receiver skills. This year I came up with Penn State’s Matt Wood. Listed at 5’11″/195lbs, and having an impressive year at the plate going .416/.508/1.222, 10 HR, 12 doubles, 3 triples, 29 walks to 19 strikeouts in 45 games.
After intentionally steering into bats in the first four rounds; now is when I really like making a run on college pitchers. I’m starting with Texas LHP Pete Hansen. At 6’2″/205lbs, Hansen is 8-1 with a 3.08 ERA, 0.924 WHIP, 10.3 SO/9, and 1.5 BB/9. Super clean mechanics, with low 90’s fastball and a gorgeous curve.
#5.156 – LHP, Texas, Pete Hansen
Rolling right along and into Stanford RHP Alex Williams. Listed 6’3″/210lbs, he’s posted a 7-1 season with a 1.75 ERA, 0.944 WHIP, 8.8 SO/9, and 2.1 BB/9. I like the stuff more than what his strikeout numbers might suggest.
#6.186 – RHP, Stanford, Alex Williams
Up next I’m going to a smaller school, senior signing starter in Coastal Carolina RHP Michael Knorr. At 6’6″/215lbs and a paltry 1.4 BB/9 Knorr fits very in-line with the profile Dipoto has drafted the most. The Cal State Fullerton transfer has also posted 2.51 ERA, 0.959 WHIP, and 11.5 SO/9.
#7.216 – RHP, Coastal Carolina, Michael Knorr
All of this next stretch of picks will be senior signings. Trying to find value at shortstop; I found Georgia State’s Griffin Cheney. He turns 23 next week, so he may be forced to take a lower signing bonus with little negotiating power to threaten going back to school. For the year; Cheney has hit .349/.444/1.101 with 15 HR, 8 doubles, 34 RBI, 11 SB in 15 attempts.
#8.246 – SS, Georgia State, Griffin Cheney
There’s almost always a senior signing bullpen arm (if not two) late on day 2. I’m going with Houston closer, RHP Ben Sears. At 6’5″/208lbs, Sears has a great build, and at 94mph fastball and 84mph slider, he’s got good stuff. I’m betting on elements of his profile playing up better at the next level as the 6.7 SO/9 is a bit out of character for a quality closer. The rest of his profile looks better with a 2.68 ERA, 0.969 WHIP, 1.2 BB/9, and 12 saves in 26 appearances.
#9.276 – RHP, Houston, Ben Sears
Portland State starter Brett Gillis is a senior originally out of Everett. He has been very good this year for PSU. At 6’2″/190lbs; he has gone 9-1 with a 1.52 ERA, 0.987 WHIP, 11.9 SO/9, 3.3 BB/9.
#10.306 – RHP, Portland State, Brett Gillis
Tulane outfielder Ethan Groff is a personal fave of mine. At 6’0″/200lbs, Groff is a senior currently dealing with an injury, but prior to that he was hitting .404/.503/1.211 with 9 HR, 15 doubles, 2 triples, and 35 RBI in 41 games. Tulane generally hit him leadoff due to his on-base skills more than his speed (7×12 in SB). His profile looks like a nice 4th OF’er with the ability to play all three spots, but could also start at a corner spot. Hell of an arm, too.
#11.336 – OF, Tulane, Ethan Groff
Finally, for this mock, I’m taking another catcher. Zach Morgan is more of a contact, on-base hitter than a power bat. He’s 6’0″/180lbs and has posted a slash of .372/.452/1.008 with 5 HR, 19 doubles, 1 triple, 25 BB to 16 SO.
#12.366 – C, Fresno State, Zach Morgan
There you have it. I was originally intending to stop at the 10th round, but I got there and still had a couple names I liked that had later rankings, so I added them in.
There were so many guys that I really liked but couldn’t quite make fit in with everyone else. I really like UCF lefty Hunter Patteson who was recently injured. I think it might be TJ, but I haven’t seen confirmation. I had his talent in the 5th round, but who knows with the injury. I like OkState 1B Griffin Doersching a lot with his best-in-class power, and he’d be an exciting pick anywhere after, say, round 4. I think UConn OF Erik Stock would make for a very nice senior-sign pick somewhere late on day 2. From the high school ranks; I think I like RHP Grayson Saunier more than most. And I’ve got quite a few relievers that could sprinkle in anywhere from late day 2 to anywhere on day 3: RHP Bennett Flynn, RHP Landon Harper, RHP Kyle Crigger.