BRANDON GUSTAFSON

College players to keep an eye on with Mariners’ first 3 draft picks

Jul 6, 2023, 10:34 AM

Seattle Mariners Chase Davis...

Arizona outfielder Chase Davis at the plate during the Pac-12 Baseball Championship game on May 27th, 2023. (Zac BonDurant/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

(Zac BonDurant/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

After five straight years of taking a college player in the first round of the MLB Draft, the Seattle Mariners have gone with high schoolers each of the last two years.

What to know about the Seattle Mariners in the 2023 MLB Draft

But with the M’s armed with three of the first 30 picks (22, 29 and 30 overall) in this year’s draft, there’s a very good chance they come away with at least one top college prospect in the first round.

If so, there are a number of prospects in play for the M’s, especially on the hitting side.

Here are some of the names you should keep an eye on when the Seattle Mariners are on the clock at 22, 29 and 30 come Sunday, July 9.

(Note: The number next to each prospect’s name is where they rank on MLB Pipeline’s top-200 draft prospects list. All scouting grades on the 20-80 scale are also courtesty of MLB Pipeline.)

College hitting prospects

TCU 3B Brayden Taylor (15)

TCU’s Brayden Taylor has a sweet swing from the left side and was a major reason the Horned Frogs made a deep run in this year’s College World Series.

Taylor slugged 23 home runs and drove in 70 runs in 67 games this year while walking 54 times and striking out 60 times. Defensively, Taylor has played some shortstop and second base at TCU, but he profiles as a third baseman and he has the arm and glove to stick there.

Something else to note with Taylor is he posted an OPS of .941 in 11 games in the Cape Cod wood bat league last summer. That’s a league the Mariners have utilized a lot when it comes to drafting college players.

Maryland SS Matt Shaw (16)ย 

When in doubt, take up-the-middle talent. The good thing for the Mariners is there’s aย lotย of talent up the middle this year, especially at shortstop.

One of the better shortstops in this class is Matt Shaw from the University of Maryland.

Shaw posted an OPS over 1.100 with 24 home runs for the Terrapins and swiped 18 bases, too. He also walked 43 times and struck out just 42 times.

Shaw was also the Cape Cod MVP last summer, OPSing 1.006 with five home runs and 21 steals in 36 games.

Shaw’s arm is fringe-average, so second base may ultimately be his better defensive home.

Stanford SS/3B/2B Tommy Troy (17)

A personal favorite of mine, Tommy Troy rakes and had a monster postseason, so it’s looking less likely he’s there at 22 for the Mariners. But if he is, Troy would be a great pick.

Troy slugged 17 home runs and had an OPS of 1.177 for Stanford this year and he had 35 walks to 42 strikeouts.

MLB Pipeline say’s Troy’s best tool is making consistent hard contact from the right side of the plate, and also lauded him for not having much swing and miss to his game or chasing out of the strike zone.

Troy has played shortstop, but played third base for Stanford this year. MLB Pipeline said there’s belief he could be a long-term second baseman.

Ole Miss SS Jacob Gonzalez (18)

Unlike Troy and Shaw, Gonzalez is a lefty-swinging shortstop who starred at Ole Miss.

Gonzalez had a stellar three-year career at Ole Miss, posting a career OPS of .988. In 2023, Gonzales OPSed .999 with 10 home runs and 51 RBIs, and he walked (35) more than he struck out (28) in 54 games.

Gonzalez is a below-average runner with a strong arm, so third base or second base may be his eventual defensive home. But the carrying cards are his bat and pop, and MLB Pipeline thinks he could be a 25-home run threat at the MLB level.

Miami 3B Yohandy Morales (20)

If the Mariners are looking for a corner infielder with thump, look no further than Miami’s Yohandy Morales.

Morales is a large man at 6 foot 4 and 225 pounds, and he absolutely mashes from the right side, slashing a ridiculous .408/.475/.713 (1.187 OPS) with 20 home runs, 70 RBIs and 30 walks to 55 strikeouts in 61 games for the Hurricanes this past spring.

Morales is aggressive at the plate, Pipeline says, and his best tool is 60-grade power from the right side.

While some of these other college hitters are more polished, Morales is a masher who has some swing and miss and chase to his game.

Vanderbilt OF Enrique Bradfield Jr. (21)

While Morales is a middle-of-the-order masher, Vanderbilt’s Enrique Bradfield Jr. is the opposite.

Bradfield is maybe the fastest player in this draft, being given a top-of-the-scale 80 grade for his speed along with a well-above-average 70-grade for his fielding in center field. Both were on display during this web gem.

A left-handed hitting outfielder, Bradfield doesn’t provide much, if any, thump, but he profiles as a pretty traditional leadoff hitter. Bradfield hit .279 this past year, but he had more walks (45) than strikeouts (40) and swiped 37 bases in 44 attempts while earning a Gold Glove for his play in the outfield.

Bradfield will never be a slugger, but he did hit 14 home runs over his final two seasons, suggesting there’s more to his game than being just a light-hitting speedster.

Arizona OF Chase Davis (22)ย 

When you watch Arizona’s Chase Davis swing the bat, tell me it doesn’t remind you of former Colorado Rockies star Carlos Gonzalez.

Davis has one of the sweetest swings in this draft from the left side and a plus arm, too. He played left field at Arizona, but played some center field in the Cape Cod League.

Davis blasted 21 home runs for the Wildcats this spring while driving in 74 runs and posting a 1.231 OPS with 43 walks to 40 strikeouts.

Wake Forest 3B Brock Wilken (25)

Wake Forest’s Brock Wilken is a pretty traditional power corner infield prospect.

Wilken has huge power (60 grade) and a massive arm (65 grade), but he receives below-average marks for his overall hitting (45) and fielding (45) and well-below-average marks for his running (30).

Wilken is a big dude at 6-4 and 225 pounds, and he blasted a ridiculous 31 home runs in 2023 while driving in 82 runs.

And despite earning a 45 grade for his hitting, Wilken had a monster slash line of .345/.506/.807 (1.313) and walked more times (69) than he struck out (58) in 2023. He was also Cape Cod MVP back in 2021 when he hit six homers and had an OPS of .950 in 36 games.

FAU 1B/OF Nolan Schanuel (26)

If you wanna look at dominating the strike zone, look no further than what FAU star Nolan Schanuel did in 2023.

The 6-4 lefty-swinging hitter walked more than he struck out in three college seasons with FAU, and his final year on campus was just absurd.

In 59 games, Schanuel slashed .447/.615/.868 (1.483 OPS). He walked 71 times and struck out just 14 times.

Yup.ย Fourteen strikeouts to 71 walks.ย 

Schanuel raked all three years he played at FAU and has a very advanced approach at the plate. He played first base in college, but Pipeline said scouts believe he could be a corner outfielder, too.

The site gives him a plus grade of 60 for his hitting and 50 for his power, which saw him hit 19 homers in 2023 and 46 in 172 career college games.

Virginia 3B Jake Gelof (35)

Gelof is another pretty traditional corner infield prospect, receiving a 60 grade for his power and 55 for his arm and just 40 for his running.

But Gelof was a very good college hitter for the Virginia Cavaliers and one of the nation’s top run producers. In 2023, Gelof slashed .321/.427/.710 (1.137 OPS) with 23 home runs and 90 RBIs. That came after posting an OPS over 1.200 while homering 21 times and driving in 81 runs back in 2022.

The 6-1, 195-pound Gelof is known for being aggressive and driving in runs, but that didn’t translate to a lot of swing and miss in his college career. In 2023, Gelof walked 48 times and struck out 50 times in 65 games. He struck out 130 times and drew 104 walks in 161 college games at Virginia.

Virginia Tech OF Jack Hurley (36)ย 

Virginia Tech’s Jack Hurley does a bit of everything well, and MLB Pipeline thinks he could be a five-tool player as a pro.

Hurley is a 60-grade runner with a 55-grade fielding tool and 55 arm who played center field for the Hokies in 2022. He also got a 55 grade for his hitting and 50 for his power from MLB Pipeline.

Hurley slashed .320/.414/.714 with 17 homers and 49 RBIs for Virginia Tech this past season in 45 games. He also picked up 20 walks to 40 strikeouts. While he received high marks for his speed, he stole just four bags in 2023.

Michigan State SS Mitch Jebb (46)

Another top-of-the-order speedy threat is Michigan State shortstop Mitch Jebb.

The lefty-hitting infielder is an aggressive hitter with plus (65 grade) speed along with a 60-grade hit tool. He slashed .337/.438/.495 and swiped 14 bases in 50 games for the Spartans in 2023. Jebb also walked 32 times and struck out just 28 times.

Power isn’t a big part of his game as he hit just one homer in 2023 and seven in his college career.

Jebb was also a Cape Cod standout last summer, slashing .356/.429/.490 (.919 OPS) with 26 steals in 38 games.

Pipeline thinks a move to a different position such as second base may be in order for Jebb, but he’s certainly an intriguing offensive talent.

SDSU C/SS/OF Cole Carrigg (47)

Few players in this draft are more versatile than San Diego State’s Cole Carrigg, who played all around the diamond during his Aztecs career, including behind the plate. He’s also a switch-hitter.

But Carrigg spent most of 2023 as a center fielder, and he slashed .303/.357/.458 (.815 OPS) in 42 games with 17 steals.

His best tools are his speed (60) and plus-plus arm (70).

As noted earlier, when in doubt, go with up-the-middle talent.

Well, Carrigg can catch and play shortstop and center field. That’s quite the talent.

Pipeline said some MLB scouts think Carrigg’s best career path is to stick behind the plate as a switch-hitting catcher, especially due to his cannon of an arm. He reportedly hit over 100 mph at the MLB Draft Combine.

Tennessee SS Maui Ahuna (48)

Another explosive athlete is Tennessee’s Maui Ahuna, a lefty-hitting shorstop who earned a 65 grade for his speed and 60 grades for his arm and glove.

Pipeline graded Ahuna’s offensive game as below average with 45s for his hitting and power, but he had a nice offensive season in 2023 for the Volunteers, slashing .312/.425/.537 (.962 OPS) with eight home runs, 42 RBIs and 20 doubles.

While he has great speed, he stole just four bags last year.

Mississippi State Colton Ledbetter (49)

Another SEC standout, Mississippi State’s Colton Ledbetter is another lefty-hitting prospect to keep an eye on.

After two good years at Samford, Ledbetter joined the Bulldogs in 2023 and still raked against top competition, slashing .320/.452/.574 (1.025) with 12 homers, 52 RBIs, 17 steals in 18 tries and 47 walks to just 36 strikeouts in 53 games.

Pipeline views Ledbetter as a solid all-around player, giving him a 55 grade for his hitting, 50 grades for his power, running and fielding and a 45 for his arm, suggesting his long-term home is left field.

Any college pitchers the Seattle Mariners may draft?

If you’re looking for pitching in the back-end of the first round of this year’s draft, the college ranks really aren’t for you.

Three of the 10 best prospects in this draft, per MLB Pipeline, are college pitchers. After that, it’s a bit of a dive.

But, there are two that could be in play for the Mariners with their three early picks.

Florida RHP Hurston Waldrep (19) — https://www.mlb.com/prospects/draft/hurston-waldrep-694462

Hurston Waldrep was a big part of Florida’s championship runner-up squad, pitching more than 100 innings this year and striking out 156 with a 4.16 ERA.

The stuff is dynamic, with a mid- to upper-90s heater leading the way along with a devastating splitter that’s his best secondary pitch. Waldrep also utilizes a slider that could be a very good out pitch, too.

The issue for Waldrep this year was command, as he walked 56 in 101 2/3 innings, equating to roughly five walks per nine innings pitched.

MLB Pipeline rates his command as 45, but the fastball a 65, the splitter 60 and slider 55.

The Mariners took someone a few years back with some below-average command projections in Bryce Miller, and that’s sure worked out.

Waldrep has all the tools to be a plus big league pitcher if he can be a more consistent strike thrower.

Kent State LHP Joe Whitman (37)

The Mariners haven’t taken a lefty in the first round since Danny Hultzen way back in 2011. If they buck that trend with one of those three early picks, Kent State southpaw Joe Whitman is likely the guy.

A tall, long pitcher at 6 foot 5, Whitman sits in the low-90s with the heater and has a quality changeup. But his best pitch is a low-80s slider with great movement.

After two real rocky years at Purdue, Whitman really blossomed at Kent State this spring, posting a 2.56 ERA in 81 innings while striking out 100 and walking 29 and allowing just two home runs. The walk rate was a big improvement as he walked more than seven per nine innings in 2022 compared to 3.2 in 2023.

Again, it’s not a great year for college pitching outside the top 10, but if the Mariners feel like they need to grab one, Whitman should be available at 22, 29 and 30.

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