BRANDON GUSTAFSON

Mariners ‘aggressive,’ target ‘big upside’ to open 2023 MLB Draft

Jul 9, 2023, 9:36 PM | Updated: 9:36 pm

Seattle Mariners MLB Draft...

A general view of the MLB Draft stage as the Seattle Mariners select Johnny Farmelo. (Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

(Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

The Seattle Mariners used to be a team that almost exclusively took college players in the first round MLB Draft. But starting with Harry Ford in 2021, they’ve gone the high school route early three years in a row now.

Seattle Mariners 2023 MLB Draft Tracker: Every M’s pick

On Sunday, the Mariners went with high schoolers with each of their first three picks as the draft took place on their doorstep, taking infielder Cole Emerson (No. 22 overall), outfielder Jonny Farmelo (29) and shortstop Tai Peete (30) at Seattle’s Lumen Field.

“This is the stuff we’ve really worked for over the last six or seven years to put our organization in position that we could shoot for big upside,” Mariners director of amateur scouting Scott Hunter said after Day 1 of the draft. “And with three picks in the first round, we still had to wait around and see what would come to us, but to take three high school picks like we did that have middle-of-the-field, excitement, athleticism and tools was really exciting for us.”

“This year, we really identified the high school class as the group that we should take a chance on,” Hunter later added.

Hunter said Emerson, an Ohio native, has been on the Mariners’ radar for a while, especially last summer when he played for Team USA. Emerson also drew some comparisons to a current Mariners prospect.

Seattle Mariners select Ohio infielder Colt Emerson with 22nd pick

“There were a lot of comps to Cole Young,” Hunter said, referring to another shortstop who was Seattle’s top pick last year. “I’ve even heard a left-handed version of David Wright.”

“We did a lot of due diligence (on Emerson), to say the least,” Hunter said later. “And everybody came back and said, ‘This is not only a good player, there’s a special kid off the field leadership-wise, professionalism, maturity-wise.'”

Emerson was someone the Mariners were really hoping would fall to 22nd overall, and that almost didn’t happen, Hunter said.

“I got a text message from another scouting director who said, ‘You’re lucky. I almost cut a big deal with him’ about 10 picks higher than where we picked him. And I thanked him for that. So it’s better to be lucky than good sometimes.”

Typically, high school prospects face a long road to MLB action because of their age and where they’re at in terms of their development. With Emerson and Farmelo, Hunter isn’t too worried.

“A kid like Colt Emerson and Jonny Farmelo have seen so much time away from home in these big circuits and doing the national scene that they’re pretty much prepared. We actually consider those guys more like college guys than we do high school,” he said.

Peete is a little different, with Hunter calling him the Mariners’ “wild stallion.”

Seattle Mariners draft HS bats again with Farmelo, Peete at 29 and 30

“We’re really excited about (him). Big smile, energetic and we’re just going to have to really guide him in the right direction to get the best out of him on the baseball field since he’s not as far along as those two guys,” he said. “But tools and upside-wise and personality, I’m sure you guys are gonna really enjoy him. He’s a fun one to be around.”

What stands out with the three early picks is how athletic they are.

“With Tai, he could probably go to center field because of his speed,” Hunter said. “Jonny Farmelo is a top of the class runner right now. I think he tested at the combine as the second-fastest kid there.”

Emerson, Hunter said, could play any of shortstop, second base or third base.

Peete, who is still growing, looks like he could play another sport.

“He looks like an NFL wide receiver,” Hunter said.

All three being hitters wasn’t a coincidence, either.

“After the first six years when our organization was pretty thin, I turned to (Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto) today and said, ‘Man, we were really disciplined the first few years to really build this thing up,'” Hunter said. “‘And it’s put us in this opportunity to take some real shots. Our pitching program has done so well and we have more pitching coming. It’s time to really start getting our hitting program going and getting some of our homegrown players to the big leagues that help us offensively.'”

Shifting to high school kids

As noted, the Mariners were college heavy for a while. Hunter thinks the organization being in a “strong” place allowed the scouting department to go after high schoolers with big upside these last few years.

That the Mariners have changed their approach has certainly caught eyes around the league.

“It’s funny, I get texts around the league (from guys saying), ‘What are you guys doing? Oh my God, you just took three high school players.’ And I got a lot of phone calls and text messages saying, ‘You just took our guy,'” Hunter said. “That’s always a good feeling. I don’t want to hurt anybody else’s feelings, but it is nice when you’re taking players ahead of other teams that are itching to get them.”

Ben Williamson in the second round

The Mariners finally took a college player with their second-round pick (No. 57 overall) in William & Mary third baseman Ben Williamson.

Despite Williamson not being listed highly on most draft sites and lists, Hunter said he is “a real prospect for us.” He also helps the Mariners financially with signing their three early picks.

“When we were so aggressive up top, we needed to look for a (college) senior,” Hunter said. “… We think Ben Williams is a real major league third baseman. He has come on the scene a little later than most kids in the college ranks from a mid-major, but we were really targeting him. Probably Day 2, but with the opportunity to take those three high school upside guys, Ben was in a good situation to not only help his own draft stock out but help us out financially.”

No signability concerns for Seattle Mariners

A big part of drafting players early is getting them to sign pen to paper. That’s especially true with high school players.

Hunter isn’t concerned about that at all.

“I think two of the three are already done, and we’re still working through one of the younger kids so far,” he said. “But I think we’re pretty confident it’s gonna get done because the conversations when I (called the picks on) FaceTime, they seemed pretty happy to be Mariners.”

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