Insider on Mariners prospect’s fast rise: ‘He’s an extreme outlier’

Jun 3, 2024, 1:08 PM | Updated: 9:09 pm

Seattle Mariners Colt Emerson prospect farm system rankings...

Seattle Mariners prospect Colt Emerson on July 18, 2023. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

It’s not exactly news when it’s a first-round shortstop that is ranked as the Seattle Mariners’ top prospect.

The thing is, you then need to ask which one.

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Per Baseball America and, 2022 first-round pick Cole Young is the No. 1 ranked player in the Mariners’ farm system. But it’s a different story when it comes to ESPN baseball insider Kiley McDaniel, who has Seattle’s first-round pick from last year’s MLB Draft, shortstop Colt Emerson, as his top-ranked M’s prospect. Not only that, but while Young is the No. 34 overall prospect per Baseball America and No. 26 on, McDaniel has Emerson as his No. 12 overall prospect.

The rise of the lefty-hitting Emerson has been a bit of a surprise. He was the No. 22 overall pick in the last MLB Draft, but the 18 year old has quickly risen above players taken ahead of him in the eyes of some insiders, McDaniel being the most notable.

In a conversation on Monday’s Extra Innings on Seattle Sports, Curtis Rogers caught up with McDaniel and got the story behind why Emerson’s stock is rising so quickly after being drafted out of high school in Ohio.

“He was a guy that I saw over the summer a year before, so the 2022 summer for the 2023 draft, and he was good,” McDaniel said. “He was a name you write down to keep track of. In the spring in Ohio, he kind of took a step forward where the sort of physicality, the strength, the hit tool, everything seemed to take a bit of a step forward. But he wasn’t facing the best competition – he wasn’t in Florida, Georgia, Texas, California, where all the best competition and all of the scouts kind of are. And so there’s a little bit of hesitation to put him really high up in the draft.”

McDaniel said his discussions with some scouts prior to last year’s draft started to get him thinking differently about Emerson.

“As the draft got closer, in the 2023 draft the group of high school position players was really deep. I think there were 24 that went in like the first 40 picks,” he said. “It was like a crazy number for what should be like exactly one-fourth proportionately of the draft class. Him and George Lombard Jr. that the Yankees took a couple of picks later, those are the two guys that teams that were, like, not going to take them were like, ‘I think he might be really good, though. We have a couple guys that don’t like him and so I can’t get him across the finish line,’ or ‘We have some other guy we’re going to take.’ They were like the secret back of the first round guys that all the scouts I thought were smart really liked. I had already turned in my rankings and I think (Emerson) was like 22nd – almost exactly where the Mariners took him. And I was like, ‘I kind of want to make him 15th now because it seems like him and Lombard should move up like 10 spots.’ And usually that instinct – it will probably happen again this year – is really good.”

Emerson’s play in the minors has only continued to raise McDaniel’s opinion of him. Last year, Emerson slashed .374/.496/.549 for a 1.045 OPS with two home runs, 10 doubles and eight stolen bases over 24 combined games between the Mariners’ rookie-ball affiliate and Single-A Modesto. This year in 19 games with Modesto, Emerson is slashing .271/.441/.414 for an .855 OPS with two homers, four doubles and three steals, though he is currently working his way back from a fracture in his foot suffered on a foul ball in mid-May. He also missed time earlier in the season with an oblique issue.

“Right after he signs, he goes out and does all the stuff that those scouts that really liked him thought he would do,” McDaniel said, “which is excellent control of the strike zone, makes a ton of contact, hits for surprising power. And if you look at his home run total, it’s not that high, (but) how hard he was hitting the ball was really hard. And so then he was the biggest riser where some people thought if you were to redo that draft just two months after it happened, he would have gone sixth instead of 22nd, with those top-five players all being, like, an elite, elite group. Now I think he might go inside the top five because he’s continued doing what he was doing last year this season. He’s now got more walks than strikeouts, the power is even a little bit better than it was last year. And it looks like if he’s not a shortstop, he’s definitely an infielder, but most people think he’s a shortstop.”

For players to rise in the fashion Emerson has is something McDaniel said is especially rare.

“He’s one of those guys that every year I try to protect against missing so badly on a player that they immediately should have been in that conversation in the top five, (and) just a couple months later it becomes obvious. He is that exception, and there’s a guy like this every three or four years, so he’s an extreme outlier and that is why he is ranked so high, actually ahead of some of those guys that were in the top five of the draft last year.”

You can hear the full conversation with ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel, which includes talk about other key Mariners prospects and one name to keep an eye on for the M’s in next month’s MLB Draft, in the podcast at this link or in the player near the top of this post. Catch Seattle Sports’ Extra Innings from 7-9 p.m. each weeknight during the Mariners season when the M’s have the day off from games, and click here for podcasts of every full show.

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Insider on Mariners prospect’s fast rise: ‘He’s an extreme outlier’