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Mariners draft preview: High school players Seattle could take at No. 6

The Mariners haven't drafted a high school player in the first round since 2014. (AP)

While the Mariners’ two top prospects are outfielders barely removed from high school – Jarred Kelenic, who was drafted No. 6 overall by the New York Mets in 2018 out of a Wisconsin high school and Julio Rodriguez, who signed with Seattle as an international free agent at 16 years old – general manager Jerry Dipoto and his staff have never taken a high school player with their first-round pick, though they have used second-round picks on high schoolers like third baseman Joe Rizzo (2016) and right-handed pitcher Sam Carlson (2017) since Dipoto became general manager.

Drayer: High first-round pick gives M’s an edge in adjusted draft format

When the Mariners make their first pick at No. 6 overall in next week’s MLB Draft, could that trend change with Seattle taking a prep player in the first round for the first time since 2014? If so, there are a couple names to keep in mind.

High school players

(Note: All rankings and scouting reports are from MLB Pipeline. MLB Pipeline’s top 200 draft prospects list can be found here)

Just six of MLB Pipeline’s top 15 draft prospects are high schoolers, and only one is in the top 10. Based mainly on those rankings, it would seem that there are three high school prospects to watch when the Mariners are on the clock with the sixth pick.

The site’s top prep prospect and their seventh overall prospect is outfielder Zac Veen, who is from Georgia and is committed to the University of Florida. Veen, like UCLA outfielder Garrett Mitchell and Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad, who could each be in play for the Mariners with the sixth pick and are top-10 prospects on the site, throws right handed and hits lefty.

Veen is 6-4 and weighs around 190 pounds and MLB Pipeline says his build, swing, and power potential draw some comparisons to 2017 NL Rookie of the Year and 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Kyle Tucker, the Houston Astros’ former top prospect. Veen is a solid center fielder at this stage of his career, but MLB Pipeline says he likely profiles as a corner outfielder, which could especially be true as he adds more weight and strength.

In a story on the draft’s best power prospects, MLB Pipeline said Veen “employs a smooth but explosive left-handed swing from a spread-out stance that enables him to leverage the ball to all fields,” while adding that currently is more “hit over power,” which isn’t uncommon for prep bats.

Many mock drafts have Veen going fourth overall to the Kansas City Royals or fifth to the Toronto Blue Jays, but some think he could slide while teams focus on the college players. In Jonathan Mayo’s most recent mock draft for MLB Pipeline, he thinks Veen will go No. 8 to the San Diego Padres and will be the first high school player off the board. If the Mariners take him, that could set the stage for Veen joining a future Seattle outfield with Kelenic and Rodriguez, who are both top-20 prospects in all of baseball according to MLB Pipeline.

After Veen, the next top top high school prospects are both right-handed pitchers: Mick Abel and Jared Kelley, who are the site’s 11th and 12th overall prospects, respectively.

Abel is a 6-5, 190-pound pitcher here in the Pacific Northwest who lives in Oregon and is committed to the Oregon State Beavers. MLB Pipeline says Abel throws downhill, “flashes” three plus pitches, led by a 93-95 MPH fastball that has solid life to it that he pairs with a good slider and a changeup that the site says could be a “future plus” pitch as he sells it with good arm speed. He also has a more over the top curveball as well and is said to throw a lot of strikes. At 6-5 and under 200 pounds, he’ll need to build up strength to be more durable over a long professional season, and with that, he could add more consistent velocity. Mock drafts are all over the place with Abel, as some have him locked in as a top-10 pick while some have him sliding to the late teens.

If Abel isn’t the first prep pitcher off the board next week, there’s a good chance it will be Kelley, who is 6-3 and 215 pounds out of Texas. The University of Texas commit has a lot of velocity with “little effort” according to MLB Pipeline, as he sits in the mid-90s and touches 98 at times. The fastball also features a good amount of armside run according to the scouting report. Rather than a breaking ball, Kelly’s second offering is a sinking changup that the site says he’s willing to throw in any count. His third pitch is a slider that “lacks consistency” but should develop. The site also says he could reach the big leagues by the time he’s 21 (he’s 18 now) because of his “now stuff (and) feel for pitching” and because he pounds the strike zone.

Something to note with the MLB Draft that differs from the higher-profile drafts like the NFL’s and MLB’s is in some cases, players have leverage in the ability to go to college or, for college players who have a year or two of eligibility remaining, return to school.

If a team drafts a player out of high school and the player wants more money than that pick typically gets, or if other issues arise, that player can choose to honor their college commitment and go to school rather than embarking on a professional career. It’s not super common for first-round picks and their teams to not come to terms on a deal, but it’s always something to keep in mind.

The MLB Draft starts Wednesday, June 10, at 4 p.m. on MLB Network with the first round and continues on Thursday at 2 p.m. with the rest of the draft. Full details about the draft can be found at this link.

Follow’s Brandon Gustafson on Twitter.

More from our Mariners draft preview series

Who should the M’s take with No. 6 overall pick? (June 9)
College bats Seattle could take with No. 6 pick (June 5)
College arms who could be Seattle’s 1st-round pick (June 4)
Setting the stage for Dipoto’s highest pick as M’s GM (June 3)

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