BRANDON GUSTAFSON

Mariners Draft Preview: High schoolers who could buck Seattle’s college trend

Jul 10, 2021, 9:13 AM | Updated: 9:33 am
Mariners MLB Draft...
The Mariners haven't drafted a high school player in the first round under Jerry Dipoto. (AP)
(AP)

The Mariners haven’t drafted a high school player in the first round in five drafts under general manager Jerry Dipoto. Heck, they’ve taken only two high schoolers in the first two rounds since 2016.

Draft Preview: Who to watch for if M’s make it 4 straight college pitchers

But there’s some reason to believe that that trend could change this year when the Mariners pick 12th overall in the 2021 MLB Draft.

First, this is a very talented high school draft class, which frankly wasn’t the case last year in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ten of MLB Pipeline’s top 20 draft prospects are prep players.

And if that’s not enough for you, here’s what Dipoto told 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jake and Stacy last Friday about picking early in this year’s draft:

“We always approach the draft as take the best available player. And I could refocus that or refine that by saying we approach it as take the best available player with the athletic upside, the potential in the top 100 picks,” Dipoto said. “That’s where you will see us go for the biggest upside we can find … At the high-end of this year’s draft, maybe more unique to this season than year’s past, we are hyper-focused on the upside and athletic talent in this draft because we think there’s a lot of athletic ability in this class that isn’t present in all classes. That excites us, so you might see a more upside-y play from the Mariners than you’ve historically seen.”

That would be a bit different than what the Mariners have done in the first round under Dipoto, with Seattle nabbing high-floor and fast-rising college players.

So, let’s look at some of the high school kids to keep in mind when the Mariners are on the clock at No. 12 on Sunday.

(Note, all draft board rankings and tool grades are from MLB Pipeline’s draft prospect rankings.)

The nab if slide guys

Really, there are five high school players that the Mariners would likely jump at the opportunity to nab, and most play shortstop. Unfortunately for Seattle, it looks unlikely that any of those players will make it to 12.

As mentioned, this is a very, very good draft class when it comes to prep players who should go in top of the first round, which really wasn’t the case last year when only four high school players were selected in the first 15 picks.

When looking at this draft and the prep players most likely to be taken early, you’ve got to start at shortstop, where four of MLB Pipleine’s top eight prospects – Marcelo Mayer (No. 1 on MLB Pipeline), Jordan Lawlar (No. 3), Kahlil Watson (No. 4) and Brady House (No. 8) – fit that bill.

Mayer, a California shortstop, possesses a ton of tools across the board, especially at the plate (60 hit, 55 power). There’s virtually no shot he slides to 12, and he very well may be the No. 1 pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates, which he is where he’s projected to go in this June 30 MLB Pipeline mock draft.

Lawlar, a Texas shortstop, is in a similar boat to Mayer as he is seen as a five-tool player, drawing comparisons to top Royals prospect Bobby Witt Jr. He likely goes in the first five to seven picks, and Pipeline has him going sixth overall to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Watson, from North Carolina, was someone who earlier in the draft process appeared to be a potential option for the Mariners at 12, but he’s been on fire this year and all the tools have been on full display, which has very likely caused him to shoot up draft boards. There are some reports out there that he may have done enough this year to go in the top five. Pipeline’s June 30 mock draft has Watson going No. 5 to the Baltimore Orioles.

And the final shortstop is maybe the most famous, and that’s House, a Georgia shortstop who has a massive arm and big-time power at the plate who’s been on MLB teams’ radars for years now. Of the four shortstops, House may have the best chance of falling to the Mariners at 12, but that seems really unlikely as well given the big and loud tools he carries. That June 30 mock draft has House being selected eighth overall by the Colorado Rockies.

And the fifth prep player of note in this category is Jackson Jobe, a 6-foot-2 right-handed pitcher who possesses one of the best breaking balls in this entire draft class (a 70-grade slider) to go along with a 60-grade fastball, 60-grade changeup and 55-grade curveball. He’s rated as No. 7 on MLB Pipeline, but he also could be a top-five pick this year. Pipeline mocked him No. 3 to the Detroit Tigers.

Again, there’s little to no chance that any of these guys are around when the Mariners are on the clock with the 12th pick. But if they are, Seattle would be hard-pressed to pass on any of them.

Two athletic prep OFs M’s may “kick the tires on”

The Mariners would obviously love if one of the five players above slide to 12, but as noted, that’s unlikely. So if those five guys are gone when the Mariners are on the clock, who are some guys to watch?

Let’s start in the outfield with two players who certainly fit the mold of “upside” and “athletic talent.”

First off is Benny Montgomery, an outfielder from Pennsylvania who is MLB Pipeline’s No. 15 prospect in the 2021 MLB Draft.

It’s easy to see the athletic upside with the 6-4, 200-pound Montgomery, who has 70-grade speed to go along with 60 grades for his arm and glove. At the plate, there’s some work to do as Pipeline grades the hit tool from the right side of the dish as slightly below-average (45), but he hit well and made consistent contact in the summer circuit, per Pipeline.

Montgomery also possesses above-average power (55), which may be even better, as evidenced by him winning the Perfect Game All-American Classic Home Run Derby.

Montgomery has reportedly drawn comparisons to former Phillies and Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth and has drawn rave reviews for his work ethic. Between his work ethic and his elite athleticism, Montgomery could be a very fun center fielder to watch. Pipeline mocked Montgomery to the San Francisco Giants at No. 14 in their June 30 mock draft.

Speaking of elite athletes in the outfield, there’s Will Taylor.

Taylor is a three-sport star from South Carolina (baseball, football and wrestling) who is committed to play both baseball and football at Clemson.

Like Montgomery, Taylor possesses 70-grade speed. He also has what Pipeline describes as an “aggressive” mindset on the bases as well as in the outfield.

Th 6-0 Taylor is average (50) with his arm and hit tool – though he made consistent contact from the right side with his “loose” swing on the summer circuit, per Pipeline – and below-average (45) in terms of his pop, but he’s an elite athlete who hasn’t committed himself to baseball full time like nearly every other top prospect in this draft class. Taylor has all the ability in the world to have those tools tick up as he devotes himself to baseball full time after he’s drafted, should he choose to sign. If everything comes together, Taylor could be a very fun center fielder. Pipeline didn’t have Taylor going in the first 29 picks in their June 30 mock draft.

Something important to note with these two outfielders is that in Pipeline’s June 30 mock draft, the site mentioned Taylor and Montgomery by name as prep outfielders the Mariners may “kick the tires on” with the 12th pick, though the site had the Mariners selecting UCLA shortstop Matt McLain rather than a high schooler or any outfielder.

The premium athlete (currently) at a premium spot

Georgia’s Harry Ford can make the case that he’s the best athlete in this draft class. And right now, he’s a catcher.

That’s right. Ford, MLB Pipeline’s No. 13 prospect, is an elite athlete at 5-10 and 200 pounds who is a plus (60) runner with 55 grades for his arm and glove, making him a very intriguing catching prospect. Ford will likely be the second catcher drafted after Louisville’s Henry Davis (No. 5 prospect on MLB Pipeline).

Ford’s athleticism jumps off the page, and he could handle other spots across the diamond, but Pipeline reports that Ford receives high marks behind the plate for his receiving as well as his arm, which could get even better as his mechanics and footwork improve. But still, Ford’s athleticism and speed along with his strong arm make it easy to see that he could probably make the transition from catcher to the outfield or maybe even an infield spot, which is an area that the Mariners don’t have much high-end depth in the farm.

While Pipeline grades Ford’s hit and power tools as average (50), the site makes it clear that he has “some of the best bat speed” in the entire draft, but Ford’s tendency to try and do too much can cause some issues. With some coaching and fine-tuning at the minor league level, it would be surprising if Ford’s tools at the plate don’t tick up soon, especially given just how athletic he is.

Ford, like Taylor and Montgomery, screams athleticism and upside like Dipoto mentioned last week. Ford looks like someone who could play a premium spot for the Mariners going forward. The key question with Ford once he’s selected is whether that team wants to keep him behind the dish or let his athleticism play out at another spot.

The potential-oozing arms

Jobe is the clear top prep arm in this class, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t pitchers who scream potential that Seattle could look closely at with pick No. 12.

Two high school hurlers that stand out are Anthony Solomento, a left-handed pitcher from New Jersey and Andrew Painter, a righty from Florida. Part of why those two stand out is, well, they’d stand out in a crowd given how big they are.

Starting with the southpaw, Solomento is MLB Pipeline’s No. 17 prospect and stands 6-5 and weighs roughly 220 pounds. His funky delivery from the left side has caused comparisons to top Padres prospect Mackenzie Gore as well as All-Star southpaw Madison Bumgarner. Solomento utilizes a high leg kick like Gore, but he has a three-quarter release like Bumgarner. That causes deception, which allows his stuff to play up.

Solomento is solid across the board with his stuff on the mound, with 55 grades on his fastball (throws it 90-94 with good life) and slider and a 50-grade changeup. His control is also above-average at 55, per Pipeline. The aforementioned June 30 mock draft by MLB Pipeline has Solomento going No. 19 to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Painter, MLB Pipeline’s No. 18 prospect, is another big pitcher to keep an eye on.

At 6-7 and 215 pounds, Painter is a physical presence who obviously has plenty of potential at that size.

Not only does Painter have the physical size that teams may clamor in a frontline starter, but he’s pretty polished as far as high school arms go.

Painter possesses a 60-grade fastball that sits 93-95 and he uses both a 2-seam and 4-seam fastball in order to pitch at the top and bottom of the strike zone. He also has above-average offerings (55) in a changeup and curve, as well as a slider that’s developing but is currently average (50). His last name of Painter also fits as he has above-average control that likely will get better as he develops in the minors.

And while some taller and skinnier pitchers aren’t the best athletes, that’s not an issue with Painter, who Pipeline says is “extremely athletic” and repeats his delivery well despite being a pitcher with long arms and legs.

That June 30 MLB Pipeline mock draft has Painter going No. 13 to the Philadelphia Phillies, one spot after the Mariners pick at 12.

Follow Brandon Gustafson on Twitter.

More Mariners draft coverage

Draft Primer: What to expect when Mariners pick at No. 12

College hitters Mariners could target in 1st round

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