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Mariners set for MLB Draft
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Mariners draft: High 1st-round pick gives M’s an edge in adjusted format

The Mariners will take part in an MLB Draft next week that will have a new look. (AP)

With or without an agreement on a 2020 MLB season, the MLB Draft will begin with the first round at 4 p.m. next Wednesday and followed by the Competitive Balance Round A and then rounds 2-5 taking place on Thursday.

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The Mariners will pick sixth overall in the draft, which has been shortened from 40 to five rounds, and in addition to its five usual picks will have an extra selection it gained in the trade of Omar Narváez to the Brewers last year, a Competitive Balance Round B pick that will follow the second round.

Nothing about the upcoming 2020 draft would fall into the “normal” category. Due to the coronavirus pandemic and the shutdown of baseball, the decision was made by MLB to shorten the draft by 35 rounds, leaving just 160 picks in total as compared to 1,217 in 2019. Teams have been limited to what they have been able to get when it comes to looks at players, with many organizations pulling their scouts off the road shortly before the shutdown of baseball as the coronavirus began to take hold in the US.

Like the NFL, MLB’s draft rooms will be limited to those of the virtual variety, with organizations and the league hooking up via video conference. A different landscape on all fronts but a challenge Mariners director of amateur scouting Scott Hunter believes his team is well prepared for.

“It’s actually been a little smoother than I thought it would be, not knowing the dynamic would end up not being in the same room, seeing facial expressions and things like that,” Hunter said of holding critical pre-draft meetings electronically rather than in person. “Getting the energy of the room is a little different at times but for the most part our guys have done a god job in adjusting to the situation.”

As for the preparation and input that has been presented, according to Hunter the majority of the work for the 2020 draft took place eight to 10 months out. Like the rest of baseball, the Mariners have tried to fill the gaps in what was lost with the shutdown by watching videos and getting to know players through Zoom or FaceTime calls. Despite the challenges, a number of factors could stack up in the Mariners’ favor to give them a bit of an edge over others in the upcoming draft, starting with their draft position.

“We really targeted a smaller pool of players because we pick so high,” said Hunter. “We didn’t need to go into this going, ‘OK, there’s 25 guys we could take with our first pick.’ We had a pretty good idea of 10 names that we were really focused in on.”

A decision a year ago to spread their focus and deploy the five supervisors rather than keep them in a certain region could also pay off as that has given the Mariners looks that they may not have been able to get prior to March in any previous year.

“Getting the depth of looks we wanted to get out of this, getting our looks deeper in the draft really helped us,” said Hunter. “I don’t want to say we were prepared for it but doing it that way put us in position to probably have a little more information than some clubs being a little bit better position to make selections further down the line.”

Of course the line ends in 2020 when the fifth round is complete. There will be a pool of undrafted players who will be willing to sign for the $20,000 maximum signing bonus, but the focus on Wednesday and Thursday will be on the upper tiers of draft eligible talent. This year it is considerable, especially in a favorite draft target for the Mariners – college pitching.

“Picking so high, we have narrowed it down to a select group of arms we feel fit that area of the draft,” Hunter said, “but it wouldn’t shock me if we are staring at our second- or third-round pick and a really good college arm that we thought could have gone a lot higher surprises us just because of the amount of depth in this draft.”

With an extra pick and a crop of big league-ready players (or close to it), Hunter will not be limited to selecting for need or players with arrival dates that project to be sooner than later.

“We are going to take the best player available who can have the most impact,” he said of the first three rounds. “Once we get into the fourth and fifth rounds, obviously signability for some of the high school guys will take over and we will work our way through that. We are going to go for as much upside as we can that will impact our organization not only in the present moment but also thinking big picture if the opportunity arises with high school players we believe in and think can help build our system even that much stronger. We will take that opportunity, take that chance.”

Flexibility is a luxury in a draft that is condensed from 40 rounds to just five, and Hunter, who will be leading his fourth draft for the Mariners, is grateful to have it. While focusing on the positives in what he and his scouting group have been able to do in the most unusual of times, it is impossible to overlook what has been lost. Games that have not been seen, second year looks for high schoolers who showed promise the previous year and fewer looks for the cold-weather players. The situation is what the situation is. Difficult no doubt, and adjustments have had to be made. So much will be different with the 2020 draft but the objective is the same.

“This has brought a new challenge,” Hunter acknowledged. “Not seeing players, that’s the uneasy part of it. There’s going to be certain players we may pick in the draft even I didn’t see this year. That could be our first pick. The trust that we have built as an organization, with each other and the various departments that help with the draft give me comfort, but I don’t feel the pressure of it than any different year because I look at it as an opportunity to get to select a player to help our organization get stronger and eventually affect our big league team. It’s something I pride myself on, taking on that challenge and enjoy it.”

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Shannon Drayer on Twitter.

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