BRANDON GUSTAFSON

Mariners Draft Preview: College pitchers who could be top M’s pick

Jul 14, 2022, 11:17 AM | Updated: Jul 15, 2022, 11:13 am
Kumar Rocker Mariners draft...
Kumar Rocker of Vanderbilt pitches against Mississippi St. in the 2021 College World Series. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Who will the Mariners draft this year to add to one of the game’s best farm systems? That question will be answered beginning this weekend with the 2022 MLB Draft.

More Mariners First-Round Draft Previews: College hitters | High school players

Before this year’s draft starts Sunday, we’re diving into players at both the college and high school levels that could potentially be in play for Seattle when it makes its first-round selection at No. 21 overall. This is Part 2 of our draft preview, this time looking at college pitchers who should be on the Mariners’ radar.

College pitchers

The Mariners took college arms in the first round three years in a row before last year, and two of them – Logan Gilbert and George Kirby – are contributing to the starting rotation in 2022. Could a future rotation member be taken in the first round this year?

Lefties

Cooper Hjerpe, Oregon State: One of the players most commonly going to the Mariners in mock drafts, Hjerpe is a 6-foot-3 standout for the Beavers. MLB Pipeline’s 34th-rated prospect, he posted a 2.53 ERA across 103 1/3 innings for Oregon State this year with 161 strikeouts to 23 walks.

Hjerpe is a three-pitch guy from the left side with a fastball in the low-90s, an average changeup and a curveball/breaking ball he can alter the shape and velocity of. Hjerpe has some funk to his motion but still pounds the zone. He could be a fast-rising southpaw who can enter an MLB rotation fairly quickly.

Connor Prielipp, Alabama: While Hjerpe is a more traditional “crafty lefty,” Prielipp has some plus stuff, throwing a mid-90s fastball with some run and tilt, and one of the best pitches in the draft in his hard mid- to high-80 slider. He also mixes in an occasional changeup.

MLB Pipeline’s No. 25 prospect, Prielipp is a bit of a wild card in this draft in general as he underwent Tommy John surgery last year and didn’t pitch this season for ‘Bama. If healthy, Prielipp would likely be an easy top 10 selection, so the Mariners may be able to land one of the draft’s best talents at 21 overall. The organization has shown they’re not scared by Tommy John, either, as evidenced in the last few years by Andrés Muñoz, Ken Giles and Kendall Graveman.

Watch video of Prielipp

Righties

Justin Campbell, Oklahoma State: While Hjerpe is one of the most commonly-mocked players to the Mariners over the last month, Campbell is a close runner up in that department. It’s easy to see why a team would dream on Campbell, as MLB Pipeline’s No. 36 prospect can touch 97 mph with his fastball while displaying two breaking balls and good feel for the changeup.

Campbell’s height (6-7) and length make it easy to compare him to Gilbert, who is 6-6 and also uses elite length and extension, particularly with the fastball. Campbell’s also a very good athlete who hit for the Cowboys in his first two seasons. He threw 101 innings last season with a 3.82 ERA and 141 strikeouts to 25 walks.

Gabriel Hughes, Gonzaga: The Mariners have one former Gonzaga Bulldog in the rotation, so how about another? While Marco Gonzales is a 6-1 lefty, Hughes is a 6-4 righty. Hughes, MLB Pipeline’s No. 26 prospect, sits in the mid-90s with his fastball with a hard slider and changeup mixed in.

Hughes threw 98 innings for Gonzaga in 2022, posting a 3.21 ERA with 138 strikeouts to 37 walks. Hughes has a chance to be the first Gonzaga first-round pick since St. Louis took Gonzales in 2013.

Watch video of Hughes

Kumar Rocker, no longer in college: While Rocker isn’t enrolled at a university, he was a standout for Vanderbilt for three seasons before being taken in the first round by the Mets last year after more than a year of speculation that he’d be selected in the first three to five picks in 2021. Rocker and the Mets disagreed on the status of his elbow and shoulder and he went unsigned, so now he’s one of the 2022 draft’s biggest wild cards.

Rather than return to Vanderbilt, MLB Pipeline’s No. 38 prospect worked out on his own and made a handful of appearances for an independent league team, where results were reportedly very good. Rocker is a big guy at 6-4 and nearly 250 pounds, sitting in the mid-90s with the fastball and also employing a very good curveball, solid changeup and a devastating mid-80s slider that’s his go-to secondary offering. Rocker could wind up the steal of this draft if enough teams overthink it.

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