By Jared Stanger
It’s a good time to be a Seattle sports fan. The Kraken had an incredible postseason in their second ever season. The Seahawks made the playoffs in their rebuild season, and followed that up with a draft that included four picks in the top 52 overall. And the Mariners broke the longest playoff drought in sports, and now it’s their turn to draft four times in the top 57 overall. Oh…and this year’s MLB All Star Game and amateur draft will take place IN Seattle this Summer.
How did the Mariners get to this point of, essentially, drafting three times in the first round? The #1.22 pick is the pick they earned from their 2022 season performance. The #1.29 pick they earned from a new MLB rule that awards a pick for a team opening the season with a top ranked rookie who goes on to win the rookie of the year (in this case Julio Rodriguez) called the Prospect Promotion Incentive pick. And the #1.30 pick is part of the annual competitive balance picks.
Now, looking at the 2023 draft player pool, and more specifically the college pool…it feels like college baseball is doing something to juice the baseballs they are playing with. Some of these offensive performances are out of control, and the pitching crop is putting up worse numbers than I can remember in the last, say, ten years. The NCAA has multiple guys pushing 30 homer seasons after 52-53 games. They’ve got a guy that is on the verge of a 100 RBI season. They have 28 unique batters that currently hold over a .400 average. So it’s tougher this year to evaluate college players on either side.
But, the Mariners changed their amateur scouting process two years ago, which includes being more open to drafting high school players than they were in their first handful of drafts. So the change in the college ball may not affect Seattle as much as it may some other teams. There’s also the recency bias where Seattle will ride the big league success of a guy like Bryce Miller, who was not a great college pitcher, and draft guys more like his profile, rather than the profile of a guy like George Kirby from a few drafts earlier.
In my personal opinion; Seattle needs to find a way to hold drafts that are more balanced. For whatever reason, they have drafts that are heavy in college players, drafts that are heavy in high school players, classes that they draft pitching well but not bats, and classes that they draft hitting well but not pitching. It doesn’t make sense. In the early years of the Dipoto regime they went very strong on college pitching and we’re seeing those results now with 3/5th’s of the MLB rotation encompassing in-house draftpicks. But there’s only one significant contributor on the big club that was our own draftee: Cal Raleigh.
Then you have the last two drafts where Seattle went high school bats with their first picks, and both of those seem to be coming along nicely in Harry Ford and Cole Young. 2022 was especially strong for the bats in general. Cole Young .279/.432/.867, Tyler Locklear .298/.396/.925, Josh Hood .279/.331/.772, Hogan Windish 6 HR, .218/.340/.853, Bill Knight .343/.405/.928.
Meanwhile…you probably can’t name a single high school pitcher that has been a “hit” for us.
2017 Sam Carlson, 2nd round, 10.45 ERA in A+.
2018 Damon Stubbs, 11th round, traded, 5.40 ERA in Independent ball.
2018 Holden Laws, 16th round, 10.03 ERA in low A.
2019 Mikey Limoncelli, 6th round, 60 day IL, hasn’t pitched since 2021.
2019 Adam Macko, 7th round, traded, 6.11 ERA repeating A+ level.
2019 Anthony Tomczak, 15th round, 4.63 ERA, 1.800 WHIP in low A.
2019 Tyler Driver, 18th round, 10.97 ERA, 2.250 WHIP in A+.
2020 Connor Phillips, 2nd round, traded, 4.02 ERA, 1.500 WHIP in AA.
2021 Michael Morales, 3rd round, 2.22 ERA, 1.315 WHIP, 4.4 BB/9 in low A.
2022 Walter Ford, 2nd round, has not pitched professionally yet.
2022 Ashton Izzi, 4th round, has not pitched professionally yet.
2022 Tyler Gough, 9th round, 9.00 ERA, 2.000 WHIP in low A.
From a bonus pool standpoint, as you might expect with three of the top 30 overall picks; Seattle has one of the bigger bonus pools in the league this year (7th biggest, I think). Dipoto has talked about this allowing them to get “creative” with their picks. But looking at last year’s draft…I kinda think it doesn’t really do anything for you outside of being on the board those three times early.
In 2022, every player drafted in the first two rounds signed (top 80 overall). Everyone in the top 59 overall got over $1million in bonus money, and it’s really the top 68 because one guy got $2,500 shy of a mill at #60. The low mark for a 1st round pick bonus was $1.7mill.
For the M’s specifically…they signed high schooler Cole Young for a rounded $3,300,000 which was just over his slot value of $3,292,900. College bat Tyler Locklear got exactly slot value in the 2nd round at $1,276,500. And then came Seattle getting “creative”. Walter Ford was a high school 2nd round comp pick with slot value of $887,400 and Seattle signed him for $1,250,000. Seattle lost their 3rd rounder for signing the qualifying offer Robbie Ray. Then they took high schooler Ashton Izzi in the 4th round…slot value $474,900 and they signed him for $1,100,00. The savings came mostly from underslotting their 5th round pick $333,900, and then underslotting picks in rounds 7, 8, 10 about $100k each. I’m not a huge fan of doing business this way as I feel like, even though the baseball draft has a VERY different format with different rules, you still should be trying to draft best player available.
Fortunately, with the draft capital Seattle has this year, they don’t need to tinker too much with bonus stuff. Their top four picks have slots worth: $3.5mill, $2.8mill, $2.7mill, $1.4mill. These values are probably strong enough to sign just about anybody away from going (or staying) in college. Occasionally you get a kid that really, really wants to go to college like Jack Leiter a few years ago. But those guys are generally transparent with their intentions, and teams will pass on them until the late rounds (Leiter drafted in 20th round in 2019 out of HS).
So, to me, the creativity in this draft is mostly just an ability to draft/sign more high school players. If you wanted to do it…if you found $466,800 in underslot savings at some point in the top ten rounds…you could sign three players at over $3mill bonus each. Technically, it’d be closer to one $3.5mill and two at $3mill each. If you found $283,700 in underslot savings, you could get a player at each of $3.5mill, $3mill, $2.75mill, $1.5mill. $263,600 in slot savings will get you up to five unique players signed at over $1mill bonus. As I said before…these big, round numbers over $1mill will get you MOST players signed.
But, I feel like you really don’t want to mess with anything going underslot until the 5th round. If you go underslot significantly in the 5th round, you instantly have $350,000 in savings, then maybe you do another underslot deal in the 7th to get you up to about $550,000 in surplus. That gives you a decent amount of flexibility so that you can sell players the prestige of getting “overslot”…which is really what this is about.
#1.22 – SS, Gulliver Prep HS, George Lombard Jr
Before talking about the pick, I just want to address a college bat. Using the same metric model I used in 2022 that identified Tyler Locklear; I came up with Nolan Schanuel as 2023’s top value college bat. Through 52 games; Schanuel is hitting .454/.614/1.504 with 18 HR, 61 RBI, 59 BB to 14 SO, and he’s 14×14 in SB. He’s got more HBP than he does strikeouts. That’s insane. He’s listed 6’4″/210lbs, bats left, throws right.
If there’s a downside to him; it might be that his swing path tends to be long because of his extreme hands-raised starting position. Also, though he’s played some outfield, he’s predominantly a first baseman. If the bat holds, you get lefty Paul Goldschmidt (college stats 2009: .352/.487/1.172, 18 HR, 54 BB, 29 SO), and that’s fine. Ty France has 2 years of arbitration years remaining with his UFA hitting in 2026. With Evan White’s constant injuries; there’s really no one coming through the farm in the next 2 years at first. Locklear has already been moved off of 3B to 1B, but he’s only in A+ ball. Plus, you have a DH slot that’s basically never fully occupied.
Okay, to the actual pick:
Seattle has done decently well in their last two drafts with their prep bat picks, so I’m giving them another one with the first of their three 1st round picks. Lombard is listed 6’3″/190lbs, currently plays shortstop, has MLB bloodlines, and is one of the younger players in this draft as he won’t be 18 until June 2nd. Biggest negative per the reports seems to be a question of his arm strength. But the athleticism is nice. He could easily handle an outfield spot…probably center…but I like his fielding actions on the infield too much to give up on him there for the immediate future.
The downside on Lombard might simply be his college commitment to Vanderbilt. We’ve seen Vandy be pretty strong on holding on to their commitments over the last few years. Or he may be off the board before this slot. We’ve seen MLB legacy players drafted early last year (1.1 Jackson Holliday, 1.2 Druw Jones, 1.17 Justin Crawford).
#1.29 – SS/3B, Aquinas HS, Eric Bitonti
Bitonti is already listed at 6’4″/205lbs and won’t be 18 until November. There’s already presumption that he’ll move off of short, and probably ends up at 3rd, but as is the case with most picks…future defensive position is secondary to the bat itself. I love the swing with this kid.
#1.30 – RHP, Florida, Brandon Sproat
Whether I like it or not…this may not be a good year to follow the projection model that was working in 2018-ish draft. You definitely don’t want to try the 2022 Mariner model. But maybe you can find a happy medium with the 2021 model that yielded Bryce Miller and Bryan Woo. To that end, I suggest Florida righty Brandon Sproat. In 2023 for Florida, Sproat has a 4.44 ERA, 1.123 WHIP, 11.5 SO/9, and 4.1 BB/9. In 2021, Miller was also an SEC pitcher with a 4.45 ERA, 1.500 WHIP, 11.1 SO/9, 5.9 BB/9. So you can see some similarity between the two.
Sproat is a bit bigger guy at 6’3″/210lbs, and obviously the mechanics are pretty different. Actually, Sproat’s delivery reminds me more of Luis Castillo. Brandon’s present fastball is already touching 100mph and sits pretty comfortably at 98mph, and he’s got a four-pitch mix with the change looking especially promising this year. He’s been drafted twice already without signing, and so there may be a way to get him underslot if you really wanted to.
#2.57 – RHP, Florida State, Jackson Baumeister
The breakdown on Baumeister will read very similarly to Sproat’s, so I’m not going to repeat it all. The fastball is up to 97mph, but generally more 95mph, but the late life on it is pretty sick. His primary secondary is currently a big curve, but as a former high school catcher who has really only been focusing in pitching the last two years…I think the M’s pitching analytics team might try to work on most of his secondary offerings to find something else that tunnels better with his fastball.
Much like you can find draft-eligible 17 year olds coming out of the high school ranks; you can find a handful of college players that are eligible this year at the age of 20. Baumeister is one of those until he turns 21 in July. And that may have some appeal as “upside”. That also goes hand in hand with him having multiple years of college eligibility remaining, which means you may need to go overslot by a decent amount.
3.92 – SS, Florida, Josh Rivera
I really didn’t intend to spend so much time in the state of Florida, but that’s literally where most of these first five picks come from in terms of current school ties. Even Lombard is from a Florida high school. But whatever. Logan Gilbert’s from Florida. Cal Raleigh’s from Florida. Walter Ford’s from Florida. We’ve had decent luck pulling from there.
Rivera is another guy that showed well in my projection model. He was actually the best out of the shortstop position. He’s listed 6’1″/215lbs and that’s the exact same size as the guy he kinda reminded me of…former Mariner and three-time All-Star, Carlos Guillen. Carlos was a switch-hitter and Josh is righty only, but otherwise remind me a lot of one another.
Rivera this year is hitting .370/.467/1.113 with 14 HR, 13 SB and is playing some improved defense at short. Guillen finished his career as a .285/.355/.798 lifetime guy, which you’d take all day from a 3rd rounder. Also worth stating now, after drafting two SS in the first five picks…after the last year-plus of amateur scouting the draft and international free agency, with the additions of Cole Young and Felnin Celesten…it’s not going to be any kind of big deal if Lombard, Bitonti, and/or Rivera get moved off of shortstop. Those options are built in to this mock.
Lastly, Rivera is another guy that could be negotiated off full slot as a college Senior. The slot is $736,400, but that could also be reason to draft another high school player and go overslot up to $1mill.
#4.124 – RHP, Wake Forest, Seth Keener
Seth Keener is a 6’1″/195lb righty sporting a 1.40 ERA, 0.818 WHIP, 11.4 SO/9, 4.33 SO/BB while kinda hidden by a pretty special Wake Forest weekend rotation of Rhett Lowder, Josh Hartle, Sean Sullivan. Keener has appeared in 18 games with 4 starts. He would be the safe play here, but it’s also the pick the Mariners seem more removed from making. Keener is neither an “upside” play that you’d overslot, nor is he a senior that you’d underslot. He’s kind of a high floor guy, but might be the least likely Mariner choice in this mock.
Really, this pick might more realistically be a high school player that has “dropped” and who you’ll need to create bonus pool for. Maybe a pitcher like Ashton Izzi last year. We won’t really know who that guy is until the day of. Maybe like a RHP Landen Maroudis, or Bishop Letson, or a LHP Alex Clemmey…all with high spin rate fastballs.
#5.160 – LHP, Stanford, Quinn Mathews
Every year I try to create balanced mock drafts. Balanced pitcher to hitter. Balanced lefty to righty. In my quest to find the best value LHP I looked at MANY names, and came away most interested in Quinn Mathews at roughly this round.
Quinn is listed 6’4″/192lbs presently topping out on the fastball at 95mph, and posting a 3.08 ERA, 1.136 WHIP, 11.2 SO/9, and 2.8 BB/9. Mathews would technically qualify for a “senior signing”, which often means you can go underslot, but I think he’s worth the full slot. In fact, he might be gone before this.
He’s got that sort of classic lefty arm slot that lends itself so well to a fastball, slider, curve mix
#6.187 – OF, Troy, Shane Lewis
Lewis is one of the more interesting back-stories in this draft. After committing to, and then redshirting for, Mississippi State in 2020; Lewis transferred once to Chipola College last year, and then this year to Troy University where he’s proceeded to hit 26 homeruns in 53 games.
Listed 6’2″/190lbs, Lewis is a switch hitter with an overall slash of .310/.461/1.243 who’s probably longterm projected for a corner outfield spot.
#7.217 – RHP, Dallas Baptist, Kyle Amendt
Something that often comes into play in the later rounds of day 2 of the MLB draft (rounds 3-10) is the attempt to draft players you can get for well under “slot” (with that surplus sort of retroactively being used to go over slot on earlier picks). These are predominantly college seniors who have run out of eligibility and are basically screwed by the process.
Kyle Amendt is a 23 year old closer for DBU that kinda reminds me of Tom Wilhelmsen. He’s 6’5″/237 while the Bartender was 6’6″/220. Both feature good fastballs (Amendt’s presently about 94mph), and a big 12-6 curveball.
#8.247 – RHP, Charlotte, Wyatt Hudepohl
After a couple years of pitching in relief for Kentucky; Hudepohl transferred to UNC Charlotte where he’s spent this year as a starter posting a 4.08 ERA, 1.156 WHIP, 11.0 SO/9, and 2.2 BB/9. He’s 6’4″/220lbs with some of the pitch breakdown in the tweet caption.
#9.277 – 3B, Maryland, Nick Lorusso
It may seem like I’m just cherry-picking the country’s leader in homeruns, then the leader in RBI, then…but that’s not exactly how I’m getting to these players. My model looks for a certain profile, and then I cross reference by defensive position to find the best OF, best SS, best 3B within my metric. So while Lorusso is the national leader in RBI (90 in 51 games…285 RBI in 162 game pace), he’s also simply the best 3B in my system.
Listed 6’2″/215lbs, Nick is also a senior-sign possibility as he played three years for Villanova before playing the last two for Maryland. In addition to the RBI total; Lorusso is also an XBH machine with 19 doubles, 1 triple, and 21 homeruns, and hitting .376/.449/1.205 on the year.
#10.307 – 2B, Maine, Quinn McDaniel
McDaniel represents a couple things here: 1) the top 2B in my model, 2) kind of the biggest splash of basestealing from this mock with 31 stolen in 36 attempts. And he’s an OBP monster hitting .348/.516/1.150 this year.
#11.337 – C, S Dakota State, Ryan McDonald
Normally I like to incorporate defensive numbers when I’m looking for catching prospects, but as of right now I’m not finding them published. Maybe they will come after the end of the college season. So since I’m missing a big chunk of the catcher study; I kinda pushed the position down my board. McDonald represents the best catcher value as a batter only in my current configuration.
#12.367 – SS/2B, Texas A&M, Hunter Haas
Haas is a 6’0″/180lb present shortstop that I kinda see moving to 2B. But he’s a very disciplined hitter with a .340/.455/.980 slash and 38 BB to 29 SO season line. Decent defender.