By Jared Stanger
The 2023 MLB Draft starts tomorrow, and in light of new comments coming out from Mariner Director of Amateur Scouting, Scott Hunter, I think I need to make another attempt at predicting the M’s haul. Actually, this might be my first attempt at predicting what they do, after previously primarily focusing on what I would, personally, do.
The first thing that became clear from Hunter’s comments, I think, after going high school players with three consecutive picks to start the 2021 Draft, this year Seattle goes back to their bread and butter, and best successes, in drafting a college player, who will most likely be a pitcher.
Another point that I talked about before, and which became more solidified from Hunter, there is a high likelihood the player Seattle drafts will be the one that falls in the draft. Now, it’s a fair, and important, question to determine what big board from what TIME in this draft cycle you use as determining a player’s point in ranking that could then determine if he’s falling vs fallen. A player considered top 10 in February, at the beginning of the college season, may today be considered in the 25-30 range in the most up-to-date, last-minute rankings. Especially because of the next point.
I’m really coming around to the idea that Seattle’s first pick may, in fact, be one of the many pitchers that is coming back from an injury. If the thinking is that modern medical science is that a pitcher can not only fully recover from, say, Tommy John surgery, but in many cases they come back stronger than before it…and if your timeline says you have enough young, talented pitching on the roster and in the high minors to bide you over…maybe you create value by drafting a high-upside pitcher that in time will return to a top-10 talent, while getting him at #21 due to present injury.
So who fits the profile of 1) college player, 2) falling in the draft, 3) missed time and coming back from injury? I think the #1 target will be:
#1.21 – LHP, Alabama, Connor Prielipp
The backstory on Prielipp is that he had an insane, albeit brief, debut as a college freshman. He started 4 games, pitched only 21.0 innings, gave up ZERO earned runs (5 unearned), only 5 hits, 6 walks, and struck out 35 before Covid shut everything down. That’s a 0.00 ERA, 0.524 WHIP, 15.0 SO/9, 5.83 SO/BB. All incredible numbers. And that’s a point in a career when a guy is usually not great and having struggles adapting to the bump in play after leaving high school.
Then, in 2021, he pitched 5.0 shutout innings versus McNeese State with 8 strikeouts to open the year on February 19, then he was shutdown for two months. He came back on April 17th and pitched one inning, and shutdown again for another month. His last appearance was May 16th…another one inning start. Shortly after that he underwent Tommy John surgery.
Connor missed the entire 2022 college season, but has re-habbed to the point where he’s been able to throw a couple of “bullpen” sessions for scouts at two different events over the last month or two. At those events his fastball was already back up into the 94-95mph range, and it’s probably a fair assumption he will be able to pitch some innings this summer in the minors for his drafting team. In terms of the injured pitchers, Prielipp might be the best-case-scenario as far as timeline. (*You could also argue Kumar Rocker who had a shoulder surgery in late 2021, but threw 20 innings over 5 starts for an independent league team this Spring.)
Speaking of Rocker…I could totally see the M’s go there. They seem to sorta love a buzz or media guy. I have my apprehensions about him personally, but we digress. To his credit, Rocker in the indy league this year posted 1.00 ERA, 0.750 WHIP, 14.4 SO/9, and, my favorite note, only 1.8 BB/9. In his three years at Vandy Rocker averaged 2.6 BB/9, including a 2.9 BB/9 for 2021. So I definitely like him more if he’s throwing more strikes.
The other guys I think come in to play here: RHP Cade Horton (who missed his TJ year in 2021), RHP Blade Tidwell (missed the first month of the season with milder injury), maybe LHP Carson Whisenhunt (missed the year on suspension).
I still love Cooper Hjerpe but I tend to think he’s not considered to have enough “upside” for the M’s. I still like Jackson Ferris but tend to think high school is off the board.
#2.58 – RHP, Don Bosco, Caden Dana
There are a ton of sort of low-ceiling college pitchers ranked near this range (Adam Mazur, Jonathan Cannon, Drew Thorpe, Jake Bennett, Brycen Mautz) but the upside comes more from high school or the JUCO guy, Jacob Misiorowski. High school righty Cole Phillips was up to 100mph before needing TJ surgery in April, and I really like the high-pitchability prep lefty Bradley Loftin. But already having one lefty in the bank from the first round, I’m going for HS RHP Caden Dana. He’s 6’5″/215lbs and the fastball is already at 95mph.
#2.74 – SS, Virginia Tech, Tanner Schobel
It’s always important to find up-the-middle guys. I don’t hardcore love any of this crop of college shortstops for sticking at the position and hitting, but I think there are a few that are capable enough to play another position fulltime and do spot-duty at short. Schobel is one of those. He hit .362/.445/1.134 with 19 homers, 74 RBI’s, and 35 to 40 BB to SO. I love the bat-speed.
#4.126 – RHP, Central Michigan, Andrew Taylor
Taylor is one of the younger true Juniors in this draft class. He ticks a lot of boxes for me…6’5″/218lbs, 3.21 ERA, 1.048 WHIP, 13.5 SO/9, 4.67 SO/BB. Fastball in the 93-94 range at present, but I think there’s easily room for more. I love the easy delivery. I hope you can get him at this point. May need to go overslot with eligibility remaining.
#5.156 – C, St Joseph’s, Andrew Cossetti
Cossetti is ranked nowhere near this spot. I’m putting him here as a Senior signing. But I think he’s a legit player. He hit .327/.454/1.167 with 19 HR, 65 RBI and 34 to 30 BB to SO in the college regular season. He’s also taking part in the currently running MLB Draft League where he’s hitting .403/.478/1.088 over 27 games. M’s have had pretty good early returns drafting a 5th round catcher last year in Andy Thomas, and then they pulled RHP Andrew Moore out of the 2021 MLB Draft League in the 14th round. Good precedents and holy crap they’re all named Andrew.
#6.186 – IF/RHP, East Carolina, Zach Agnos
The most interesting comment from Scott Hunter’s presser was his, seemingly, random discussion of two-way players. The quest for Ohtani. Now, an actual Ohtani…a guy that is throwing many elite innings as a starter every fifth day, and then DH’ing or playing a position all the other days…is kind of an impossible seek. But a guy that plays a position every day and then throws out of the bullpen every few days…that I can find.
You can find more two-way candidates in the high school ranks, but I kind of don’t like the double projection game of doing that. But one guy I did consider taking at an earlier round was SS/RHP Nazier Mule. He’s a solid fielder and up to 99mph on the mound, but only 17 years old. I just don’t fully trust the bat on him.
From the college ranks this year, you could find two-way talent in Campbell SS Zach Neto, OkState 3B Nolan Mclean, the aforementioned Cade Horton, and East Carolina IF Zach Agnos. Agnos played 55 games at shortstop, 20 games at second, 6 games at third, and also pitched in 19. He hit .330/.405/.884 with 7 homeruns, and he pitched to a 2.31 ERA, 0.771 WHIP over 23.1 innings.
#7.216 – LHP, Central Florida, Hunter Patteson
Patteson is sort of my pet project. He’s another from the list of injured college pitchers, so he may not pitch in the minors until 2024. But I think, once healthy, he will move fast. He’s 6’5″/200lbs, threw to a 1.82 ERA, 0.910 WHIP, 12.4 SO/9 over 30 innings this year before the injury.
#8.246 – IF, Florida, Colby Halter
Halter had a bit of a down year in 2022 in the SEC. He hit .240/.338/.718 with 8 HR over 65 games. But more recently in the Cape Cod League he’s hitting .322/.438/.978 with 5 HR in 26 games with the wood bats. Another very versatile defender, Halter split time about 61% second base, 31% third base, 7% shortstop in 2022.
#9.276 – RHP, Kentucky, Tyler Guilfoil
This is my pick to take a reliever. There’s a handful I’ve got my eye on, but I’m taking Guilfoil if he’s still there. He’s 6’4″/215lbs and posted season numbers of 1.59 ERA, 0.863 WHIP, 14.1 SO/9, and 4.71 SO/BB. I really like the repertoire. He might, actually, be able to start, or he might be a new Matt Brash.
#10.306 – 1B, Xavier, Luke Franzoni
Part of me wanted to go with a more athletic 1B here, like Josh Hatcher who played 1st in 2021 for Mississippi State before transferring to Kennesaw State where he played CF this year, but ultimately I went with the elite power of Franzoni. He hit .354/.485/1.306 with 29 homeruns, 78 RBI’s, and 53 BB to 64 SO. Franzoni is listed 6’2″/220lbs and, to his credit, he has played some RF in the past.
#11.336 – OF, Tulane, Ethan Groff
Groff is a nice well-rounded OF listed 6’0″/200lbs that hit .404/.503/1.211 with 9 HR, 35 RBI, 24 BB to 26 SO in 41 games before an injury ended his season a little early. Groff plays a solid outfield…probably better served on a corner spot, but he could definitely give you the occasional game in center. He’s got a very good throwing arm, as well.
#12.366 – RHP, Iowa, Duncan Davitt
Davitt is a 6’3″/235lb righty that I only discovered late in the process when I noticed his work in the Draft League. He was a guy that started 4 games, and relieved in 15 for the Hawkeyes this year. That only gave him 40.0 innings which means he doesn’t really qualify for end of the year statistical sites. But in his 40 innings Duncan averaged 3.38 ERA, 1.125 WHIP, 13.7 SO/9, and 4.07 SO/BB. I think you give him a shot at starting and see what happens.
#13.396 – RHP, Portland State, Brett Gillis
Gillis is a guy I found pretty early in this process, and I keep sticking with him. He’s originally from Everett, and this year at Portland State he really took off as a pitcher-only, after spending his first three years in college playing two ways. He had a 2.24 ERA, 1.103 WHIP, 12.3 SO/9 over 14 starts this year.
#14.426 – 2B, Nevada, Josh Zamora
Zamora first popped up in my analytics study of hitters. As a 23 year old fifth year senior you may be able to get him even later than this. There’s a lot of this sort of player profile this year: over-aged but showing advanced approach at the plate. Zamora hit .362/.470/1.145 with 16 HR, 69 RBI and way more walks than strikeouts (40 to 27).
#15.456 – RHP, West Virginia, Trey Braithwaite
Braithwaite is one of the older guys in this draft. He got a late start in college ball, then pitched 4 years at the Naval Academy, before finishing up this year at West Virginia and the Draft League. He’s listed 6’3″/220lbs, and the fastball has been clocked at MLBDL as fast as 100mph. In the Draft League he currently has 1.29 ERA, 1.214 WHIP, and 16.7 SO/9. You only make this pick if you think he can move fast through the organization.
#16. 486 – IF, LaTech, Taylor Young
Young is ironically not that young, but he has one of the most interesting profiles in the class. He was a college Gold Glove winner at 2B in 2021 before moving to SS this year where he still played some very good D. He hit .364/.506/1.151 with a respectable 12 HR, 51 RBI, 28 SB in 30 tries, and 58 BB to 45 SO. I’d move Noelvi Marte to either 3B or promote him to AA, and let Young go straight to Everett after signing.
#17. 516 – LHP, New Mexico State, Sammy Natera
At this point in the draft you don’t need to be looking for perfect profiles. You can look for traits. Natera is a 6’4″/195lb lefty that struggled as a starter to the tune of a 6.92 ERA in 7 starts, but he struck out 15.2 batters per nine while throwing in the high-90’s as a southpaw. If you can move him to the pen and let him focus on his two best pitches, and simply getting three outs; maybe you get an MLB piece out of him.
#18.546 – C, Western Michigan, Connor Charping
Although they don’t really seem to get much love outside of Harry Ford; I kinda like the catching depth in the M’s farm system. Jose Caguana hitting .333 in rookie ball, Andy Thomas is at .270/.404/.864 in A+, Ty Duvall at .261/.407/.820 across multiple levels, Charlie Welch had 7 HR in 35 games for A+ before injury, Matt Scheffler is hitting .260 at AA after a pretty aggressive assignment since signing as undrafted player in 2020 (*covid year with no minor league season). But you still want to try to find multiple catchers in each draft class.
Charping is a 6’0″/215lb catcher that can also play oufield. He hit .348/.440/.923 for WMU with only 3 HR, 23 RBI, but interestingly he stole 26 bases in 53 games, plus he walked 22 times to 20 strikeouts. He also was very solid throwing out basestealers.
#19.576 – OF, Louisville, Levi Usher
Usher has been a bit of a disappointment at the plate in his college career, but he’s this year’s Gold Glove winner in CF, and he stole 36 bases in 39 tries. Draft the glove and see if the bat evolves.
#20.606 – RHP, Houston, Ben Sears
There’s something missing from Sears’ performance to this point. He’s a 6’5″/208lb closer with a 95mph fastball and very good slider, but he’s only striking out 6.5 per 9. But if you can get him this late there’s no pressure to make much out of him, but there are elements there that say you might be able to.
My mock is probably light on outfielders, but I’m sort of counting on the fact that there will be OF talent still available in undrafted free agency. I prefer locking up the infielders in the actual draft. I think I’m missing a true, future shortstop. But if JP Crawford bridges to Noelvi Marte and/or Edwin Arroyo…we’re probably fine. This class is stronger at 3B and 2B, which is probably where the big club needs reinforcements more urgently.
I’m pretty happy with the balance of pitchers righty/lefty and starter/reliever. Could be 2-3 shots at ace material, and a few guys that could make the backend of the rotation. Bullpen would be pure octane adding this group.