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Why Mariners saw 2021 MLB Draft as time to go ‘big upside’ with top 3 picks

The first three of the Mariners' 20 selections in the MLB Draft were high school players. (Getty)

After four years of drafting college players early in the MLB Draft, the Mariners went the other route in 2021, selecting high school players with each of their first three picks.

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First up was Harry Ford, an extremely athletic catcher/outfielder from Georgia, who Seattle took with the 12th overall pick.

In the second round, the Mariners drafted Edwin Arroyo, a switch-hitting and switch-throwing shortstop from Florida.

And with their third pick, the Mariners went with Michael Morales, a right-handed pitcher from Pennsylvania who had committed to Vanderbilt.

Someone instrumental in Seattle’s decisions to draft those three players is Scott Hunter, the Mariners’ director of amateur scouting. He joined 710 ESPN Seattle’s Wyman and Bob last week to discuss why Seattle went the high school route early on in this year’s draft.

Hunter joked that he had people around the league texting him after the selection of Ford, asking if general manager Jerry Dipoto was OK of if he’d left the room when the selection happened. That’s largely because the Mariners have only taken two high school players combined in the first three rounds of their drafts since 2016, Dipoto’s first with the organization.

“It’s so funny everyone thinks Jerry Dipoto is so conservative like that, but over the last four or five years he’s probably more aggressive than I am,” Hunter said. “… He has taught me that when you get into a draft room – and he related it to my playing days – if you get a 3-1 count, you take the swing, and if you don’t get the 3-1 pitch you’re looking for, don’t. And over the last three or four years, we were extremely disciplined in not forcing anything, which allowed us to be in a position to take chances and take some opportunities and go for big upside.”

Hunter noted that a few years ago, the Mariners had what was considered to be the worst farm system in baseball. That’s now changed as most publications rank the Mariners in the top five. A big part of that has been making successful picks early in drafts.

Because of where the Mariners’ system current stands, that allowed Seattle to be a little more aggressive with its first three selections.

“When we got to this point this year in the 2021 draft, we saw an opportunity – it was a high school-heavy draft at the top – to really build the next wave of future Mariners because we did feel our system is in a position that our upper levels are really moving right now,” Hunter said.

College players tend to rise through the farm systems quickly, and we’re seeing some of the Mariners’ top picks from recent years cracking the highest levels of the team’s system. Hunter pointed to 2018 first-round pick Logan Gilbert’s successful rookie campaign to date as well 2018 third-round pick Cal Raleigh making his MLB debut last weekend.

“When you start seeing that upper level push from Double-A to Triple-A to the big leagues, you really start looking for that next wave and now we can really start building from the very bottom of our system, and that’s a true representation of Harry Ford, Edwin Arroyo and Michael Morales with our first three picks,” Hunter said.

We’ve covered Ford a lot over the last week, such as this story about why Dipoto was so high on the young catcher, but we haven’t heard too much on Arroyo or Morales. Luckily, Hunter had plenty to say about both of them.

“I think he’s the youngest high school player in this draft … this kid’s normally a junior in high school at his age,” Hunter said of Arroyo.

With Arroyo, it starts with the defense.

“He’s a polished kid defensively. He’s a plus shortstop – he’s going to play shortstop for a very young time,” Hunter said. “He’s got plus range and plenty of arm for the position. He’s got the live action and soft hands.”

Hunter also said that Arroyo is a “plus runner” with “raw power.” The offensive profile is very intriguing but there’s a lot of work to be done.

“The biggest thing for him is just to continually polish up his offensive approach where he can swing it from both sides, he’s got power (but) he can get a little too pull-happy when he does go out there to let it eat,” Hunter said. “… He does have some polish that is needed for a young kid that’s going to start facing better players and better pitching on a consistent basis … He is a kid that we’re truly excited about. We know it’s going to take a little time offensively, but defensively he could probably go and play some defense for us right now if we wanted and needed it.”

As for Morales, Hunter said he can talk all about pitching for a long time and that a pre-draft Zoom call blew him away.

“He is a very scientific kid. He knows everything about the new-age spin rate, pitch development, all the usage of technology,” he said. “He’s going to fit in very nicely in our organization.”

All three are prepared to sign, Hunter said. Arroyo and Morales are expected to be in Seattle next week to take physicals and sign their contracts while Ford is likely a week behind. All three are expected to then go to the team’s facility in Arizona for the next step of their pro careers.

Listen to the full interview at this link or in the player below.

Follow Brandon Gustafson on Twitter.

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