Why Mariners could go new route with first-round draft pick

Jul 5, 2024, 11:21 AM | Updated: 11:24 am

Seattle Mariners 2023 MLB Draft...

A view of the stage before the 2023 MLB Draft in Seattle. (Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

(Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

When it comes to this year’s MLB Draft, the Seattle Mariners’ scouting department knows one sure thing: It will need to be ready to think on its feet.

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After having a whopping three first-round selections in a top-heavy draft last year, the Mariners hold the 15th overall pick in 2024. Exactly who will be available when Seattle is on the clock will be quite the mystery, even to the organization’s dialed-in scouting department.

“This was a different one,” Mariners director of amateur scouting Scott Hunter said about this year’s draft on Wednesday. “It’s going to be more of a challenge. I think we’re gonna have to do a lot of heavy lifting and figuring out (how to extract) the players that really we believe in for what the Mariners do.”

The 2023 draft was stocked with talented high school position players, which resulted in Seattle going that route for all three of its first-round selections. According to Hunter, this year’s draft – which begins with the first and second rounds July 14 and runs through July 16 – doesn’t have near the caliber of depth at the top.

“The depth of the draft is a lot different. It’s a weird class,” Hunter said. “… It’s a little thinner than last year’s at top of the draft. I think there’s about nine or ten players we think are going to be off the board before we pick, and then after that, we’re pretty much saying it’s dealer’s choice for what organizations are going to do.”

A different route for M’s?

Over the past several years, Hunter and his staff have hit on a number of early-round picks. First it was a run of college pitchers picked in the first round in consecutive years, starting with Logan Gilbert in 2018, then George Kirby and Emerson Hancock. In the three drafts since, Seattle has shifted its focus to high school bats, selecting catcher Harry Ford in the first round of 2021, shortstop Cole Young in 2022 and infielders Colt Emerson and Tai Peete and outfielder Jonny Farmelo in 2023.

Gilbert, Kirby and Hancock have all reached the majors. (Hancock is currently in Triple-A, which is more of a testament to Seattle’s pitching depth than Hancock’s talent). Ford, Young, Emerson and Farmelo are all rated as top-100 prospects by either Baseball America or MLB Pipeline, or both.

With that type of success, it appears Seattle is doing something right when it comes to scouting high school bats and college arms. However, they may have to go a different route with their first-rounder this month.

“There’s a lot of high school pitching, which I know we haven’t really done much at the top of the draft, but it’s actually really in play for us because we have to consider every demographic in the draft,” Hunter said. “And we don’t want to make poor decisions, but we also want to make sure we’re giving our best ourselves the best chance to make a good decision. Sometimes the high school pitcher could be that guy.”

Seattle hasn’t taken a high school pitcher in the first round since Hunter was hired following the 2016 season. The highest prep hurler taken during that stretch was right-hander Sam Carlson going in the second round at N0. 55 in 2017. Carlson’s career has been hampered by injuries, but Seattle is seeing some good early returns  from a recent high school pitcher it drafted. Michael Morales, a third-rounder in 2021, is with Double-A Arkansas at just 21 years old and is the Mariners’ No. 12 overall prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.

Hunter said the injury risk and time it takes to reach the majors are some of the cons of taking a pitcher out of high school. However, he also noted that high school pitchers are starting to have more success early on in the minors than in the past, and they’re entering pro baseball with better raw stuff and understanding of analytics than ever.

“If you pick the right high school pitcher, you usually have a lot of success,” Hunter said, “but there is a lot of landmines and risk that goes into that.”

More on the Seattle Mariners

• Servais confident Mariners offense ‘will turn it around’
• ‘Classic slump’: MLB insider diagnoses what’s wrong with Julio’s swing
• How much will Gregory Santos’ arrival to bullpen help the Mariners?
• Video: Mariners Breakdown – Is AL West now a two-team race?
• Seattle Mariners sign former All-Star reliever, make roster move at catcher

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