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BRANDON GUSTAFSON

Mariners MLB Draft Preview: High school players to know

Jul 7, 2023, 9:28 AM

Seattle Mariners MLB Draft Kevin McGonigle...

Kevin McGonigle in the 2022 MLB-USA Baseball High School All-American Game. (Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

(Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

After five straight years of taking college players in the first round of the MLB Draft, the Seattle Mariners kicked that trend to the curb the last two years.

The M’s prioritized prepsters each of the last two years, selecting Harry Ford and Cole Young in the last two first rounds. It went further than that, though, with Jerry Dipoto and Co. taking shortstop Edwin Arroyo (since traded to Cincinnati for Luis Castillo) in the second round and right-handed pitcher Michael Morales in the third round back in 2021. In 2022, the M’s took right-handed prep pitchers Walter Ford and Ashton Izzi in Competitive Balance Round B and the fourth round, respectively.

As I outlined in my initial 2023 MLB Draft primer (link below), this is a great year for high school players at the top end of this draft, with 27 of MLB Pipeline’s top 50 draft prospects coming from the high school ranks.

Seattle Mariners 2023 MLB Draft Primer | College players M’s could take

Armed with three of the first 30 picks (22, 29 and 30), there’s a very high likelihood the Mariners take at least one prepster with their trio of early selections. If that’s the case, here are a number of guys to keep an eye on.

(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 courtesy of MLB Pipeline.)

Two-way player

Va. 1B/RHP Bryce Eldridge (23)

One of the more intriguing prospects in this year’s draft, Virginia prepster Bryce Eldrige is a big man at 6 foot 7 and 223 pounds.

The Alabama commit has a big right arm, touching the mid-90s with his fastball and pairing that with a 55-grade (above-average) slider and a solid changeup.

Eldridge is also a very intriguing hitting prospect with some notable pop from the left side and “some feel to hit,” per Pipeline.

Eldridge’s defensive home has been at first base when he’s not pitching, but Pipeline said he’s athletic enough to play right field, too.

It will be interesting to see which position (or positions) Eldridge will be drafted as, as well as where he winds up being taken.

Pitchers

This isn’t the best year for pitching if you’re looking to take college arms, but there are a number of prep pitchers who should be drafted early this year.

Mass. LHP Thomas White (24)

The Mariners haven’t taken a high-school pitcher or left-handed pitcher in the first round under Dipoto. If they decide to buck both those trends this year, Massachusetts southpaw Thomas White may be the guy.

White, a Vanderbilt commit, has size that scouts are looking for as he’s 6-5 and 210 pounds.

Pipeline reports that White’s fastball, which they grade as an above-average pitch with a 60 grade, touched 96-97 over the summer. His best secondary option is a curveball with high spin that’s in the high-70s. He also has a developing changeup.

Pipeline also writes that White’s motion has “a lot of moving parts,” which can impact his command.

Fla. RHP Charlee Soto (28)

One of the younger players in this year’s draft is Florida prep right-hander Charlee Soto, who doesn’t turn 18 until the end of August.

Soto, like White, has intriguing size as he’s also 6-5 and 210 pounds. A former shortstop, Soto has a “very quick arm,” Pipeline says, and throws “everything hard.” He’s committed to Central Florida University.

Soto’s heater reportedly touched 98 over the summer circuit, and he uses a slider and splitter as his two secondary offerings, with Pipeline writing, “Both of his secondary offerings have the chance to be at least better-than-average, with a hard slider that features late, hard bite and a splitter he uses as a changeup.”

Tex. RHP Travis Sykora (40)

Texas prep right-hander Travis Sykora has some of the best pure stuff in this year’s class.

The 6-6, 232-pound Texas commit has the size of a prototypical starting pitcher, and he has a three-pitch mix to back that up, too.

Sykora’s fastball sits in the mid- to high-90s and can touch triple digits, and it earns a 70 grade from MLB Pipeline. He’s also got two above-average offerings in a 60-grade splitter and 55-grade slider, both of which sit in the mid-80s.

Pipeline calls Sykora “physical and athletic” with a “sound” delivery that he repeats well.

If he chooses to spurn pro ball for college, Sykora is already 19, so he’ll be draft eligible in just two years.

IL RHP Blake Wolters (41)

Another big righty, Illinois prepster Blake Wolters stands 6-4 and 210 pounds and is committed to play college ball at Arizona.

Wolters was a former hoops star before focusing on baseball, and his main pitch is a hard 65-grade fastball that’s touched 98 and 99 mph, Pipeline reports. His go-to secondary offering is a 55-grade slider in the mid-80s. He has a changeup, too, but it lags behind the other two pitches.

Wolters has average command at this stage and draws comparisons to top Dodgers pitching prospect Bobby Miller.

Fla. LHP Cameron Johnson (42)

Florida southpaw Cameron Johnson is another young hurler with eye-popping size as he already stands 6-5 and weighs 240 pounds.

An LSU commit, Johnson has powerful stuff with subpar command right now, led by a mid-90s heater and an above-average slider that’s typically in the mid- to high-70s.

Johnson also throws from a three-quarter arm slot, which makes him an uncomfortable at-bat, Pipeline writes.

Johnson had elbow tendinitis during his senior season, which could impact where he’s ultimately selected.

Calif. RHP Cole Schoenwetter (43)

The West Coast features an intriguing young arm in Cole Schoenwetter, a UC Santa Barbara commit.

Schoenwetter is 6-3, 190 pounds with solid command, and his fastball sits 92-94. He also has two very good secondary offerings with a 60-grade slider and a 55-grade changeup.

Schoenwetter has drawn comparisons to JR Ritchie of Bainbridge Island, Wa., who went 35th overall to the Braves last year. Pipeline thinks Schoenwetter may go in the 30s.

Another high school bat for the Seattle Mariners?

Tex. C Blake Mitchell (14)

The most recent name MLB Pipeline has mocked to the Mariners at No. 22, Texas’ Blake Mitchell would be the second prep catcher Seattle has taken in the last three drafts (Ford in 2021) if he’s indeed the pick.

Mitchell, an LSU commit, is a strong hitter with power to all fields from the left side who also grades out well defensively behind the dish, in large part because of a huge arm (70 grade) that could help him move to right field, should the need arise.

Fla. OF Dillon Head (27) 

If you like speed, Florida prep center fielder Dillon Head is a name to watch for.

The lefty-swinging Clemson commit has top-of-the-scale 80-grade speed and plays a darn good center field, too.

Head also makes a lot of contact and is viewed as a plus hitter. That paired with his speed certainly makes Head an intriguing prospect, even if there’s likely little in the way of him becoming a home run threat.

Ohio SS/3B Colt Emerson (29) 

If you’re a frequent reader of mock drafts like I am, you’ve likely seen Ohio infielder Colt Emerson going to the Mariners, be it 22nd, 29th or 30th overall.

Emerson, who hits from the left side, “is an advanced high school hitter who makes repeated hard contact with a pretty left-handed swing,” Pipeline writes.

Pipeline gives the Auburn commit a 60 grade for his hit tool, 50 grades for his power, glove and speed, and a 55 grade for his arm. The site writes that Emerson mostly hits gap to gap, and that he has 20-homer potential if he can pull the ball more.

Pipleine also writes that Emerson will likely move off shortstop as he develops, and his arm could have him destined for third base.

Col. SS Walker Eaton (30)

Colorado prep infielder Walker Eaton is one of those guys who’s just solid across the board, earning 50 grades for his hit tool, glove, arm and running and an above-average 55-mark for his power.

The lefty-swinging Arkansas commit is a two-sport athlete, shining on the gridiron as a quarterback. Pipeline says Eaton, who is currently 6-2 and roughly 190 pounds, has room to grow and could either stick at shortstop or move to third base.

If he’s selected early as expected, Eaton would be the first Colorado high-schooler selected in the first three rounds of the MLB Draft since 1997.

Fla. SS/3B George Lombard Jr. (31)

George Lombard Jr. is the son of a Detroit Tigers bench coach who was a second-round pick back in 1994 before enjoying a 16-year pro career, and the younger Lombard may have a chance to outdo his pops’ draft position.

It’s easy to see why scouts would like Lombard. In addition to having grown up around the game, he’s got pro size at 6-3 and 190 pounds, and he also just turned 18 last month.

A Vanderbilt commit who swings it from the right side, Lombard’s two best tools are his power and arm, and since it’s likely he’ll fill out as he matures, it’s easy to see him as a future professional third baseman.

NY SS Sammy Stafura (32) 

Another speedy prospect is Sammy Stafura of New York.

A right-handed hitting Clemson commit, the 6-foot, 188-pound Stafura draws high grades (65) for his speed and he’s seen as a shorstop defensively, earning 55 marks for his glove and arm.

There are certainly tools to like with Stafura, but the bat will need some work as Pipeline grades his hit tool as below-average at 45 with average (50) power. But he’s a plus athlete who could certainly develop into a very good all-around ballplayer.

Penn. SS/2B Kevin McGongile (33) 

Pennsylvania isn’t exactly a hotbed for top prep baseball stars, but the Mariners didn’t seem to care last year by taking Cole Young 21st overall. Could they go back to the the Keystone State for another infielder in Kevin McGongile?

McDongile’s favorite player growing up, McGongile said, was former Phillies star second baseman Chase Utley. Like his hero, McGongile is a lefty-hitting middle infielder who does everything well.

Pipeline grades McGongile as solid across the board, giving him 50 grades for his power, running, fielding and arm. His main tool, like Young last year, is an above-average hit tool, which earned him a 60 grade.

Pipeline says McGongile has some of the best bat-to-ball skills in all of this year’s draft. And like Young, the site thinks there’s more power and extra-base hits to McGongile’s game as he develops, and he receives high praise for his baseball IQ.

Calif. C/1B Ralphy Velazquez (34)

California catcher/first baseman Ralphy Velazquez, like Emerson, is a name often tied to the Mariners in mock drafts.

Like Emerson, Velazquez throws right handed but hits from the left side.

Velazquez is a big guy at 6-3 and 215 pounds, and the Arizona State commit is viewed as someone who could be a middle-of-the-order bat, receiving 55 grades for his hit tool and power.

Velazquez, Pipeline reports, has the arm, athleticism and leadership to play behind the plate, but he could be a long-term fit at first base as a bat-first prospect.

Fla. SS Adrian Santana (38)

Adrian Santana is another blazing fast prospect, earning an 80 grade for his wheels.

The 5-11, 155-pound Miami commit also earns high marks for his glove and arm, which Pipeline rate as 60 grade tools.

The switch-hitting infielder is a twitchy athlete and where he goes in the draft will largely depend on how teams view his bat, which Pipeline grades as below-average at 45 for his hit tool and 40 for his power.

Va. OF Johnny Farmelo (39)

A former shortstop, Virginia prep outfielder Johnny Farmelo has the tools to play center field long-term.

The 6-2, 205-pound Farmelo is a left-handed hitter who currently has 50 grades for his hit tool and power, but he’s very strong and a good athlete, so he should hit the ball with more authority as he matures.

While Farmelo is certainly an intriguing prospect for his size, speed and athleticism, Pipeline says the big potential issue with him is a strong commitment to the University of Virginia.

The Mariners having three top-30 picks and the seventh-highest pool total could mean they’re a prime player to be able to sign Farmelo.

Ariz. SS Roch Chowolsky (44)

Roch Chowolsky is another two-sport standout who has spent his falls playing quarterback for his high school. But the UCLA commit’s future may be on the diamond, and for good reason.

Chowolsky’s dad is a former pro ballplayer, and the younger Chowolsky has a high baseball IQ and has shown he can be a pro shortstop defensively, earning 55 grades for his arm and glove and a 60 grade for his speed. Offensively, he’s hit over power, but that could change as he develops.

Chowolsky is committed to UCLA for both baseball and football, so signability may be an issue.

Miss. SS Cooper Pratt (45)

Pipeline likens Cooper Pratt to current Orioles standout rookie Gunnar Henderson, which is certainly a good place to start.

The 6-4, 195-pound Pratt is a right-handed hitter who has shown the ability to hit with wood bats already, which isn’t always the case for prep hitters.

Pratt earns 55 grades for his bat, glove and arm, and Pipeline reports that despite being a taller prospect, he may have the chops to stick at shortstop long-term.

An Ole Miss commit, there’s tools to like and a lot of projectables with Pratt’s body and game.

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