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Mariners draft preview: Who should they take with No. 6 overall pick?

UCLA's Garrett Mitchell is one of a handful of college players the M's could take sixth overall. (Getty)

The Mariners are about to make their highest draft pick under general manager Jerry Dipoto.

High 1st-round pick gives Mariners an edge in adjusted format

The MLB Draft kicks off Wednesday night, and the M’s will have their shortest wait in a long time before making their top pick, as they own the No. 6 overall selection in the first round.

Our own Brandon Gustafson has been on top of the story, detailing a look at all the directions the Mariners could go with the pick in a four-part draft preview series last week, and he joined 710 ESPN Seattle’s Bob, Dave and Moore on Monday to provide some more insight.

That insight included who he thinks the Mariners should pick after all the research he has done leading up to the draft. So who did he say?

“Nick Gonzales, second baseman out of New Mexico State,” Gustafson replied to the question from Bob Stelton. “Get a premium hitter at the top of your lineup like him. He’s a guy that could hit leadoff or second for you.” (Find out more on Gonzales below in this post.)

And while the Mariners have concentrated on college pitchers in the first round of the previous two drafts, that’s partially the reason why Gonzales makes so much sense.

“Just based off of math, he’s going to play more games for you than a starting pitcher would, and I think Seattle has some really, really good starting pitching depth with guys like Logan Gilbert and George Kirby, who were the last two first-round draft picks that (Dipoto) made,” Gustafson said.

There’s a pitcher that Gustafson said could make the Mariners think twice if he’s still available at No. 6, however: Georgia’s Emerson Hancock, who was expected by some to be the No. 1 overall pick heading into the year but has dropped below expected top selection Spencer Torkelson (first baseman, Arizona State) and fellow pitcher Asa Lacy (LHP, Texas A&M), among others, in most mock drafts.

“It sounds like some of the advanced metric stuff, maybe spin rate, doesn’t rate (Hancock) as highly as other guys, but I think if he fell to No. 6, Seattle would be hard-pressed to pass on him,” Gustafson said of Hancock.

You can listen to the full conversation beginning around the 33-minute mark in this podcast from Monday’s edition of Bob, Dave and Moore.

The MLB Draft starts Wednesday, June 10, at 4 p.m. 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 here.

Below, we’ve included the three parts of Brandon’s draft preview series that look at specific players the Mariners could consider with the No. 6 pick, broken down into three categories: college arms, college bats and high school players.

College arms

(Note: MLB Pipeline’s top 200 draft prospects list can be found here)

Based on the last four drafts, it wouldn’t be a bad bet to expect the Mariners to go the college route once again. If they decide to do that and draft a pitcher, there are four names to keep an eye on to join prospects Logan Gilbert, George Kirby, Justin Dunn and Justus Sheffield as potential pieces of Seattle’s starting rotation of the future.

The first is definitely the most unlikely, and that’s big (6-foot-4) Texas A&M lefty Asa Lacy, MLB Pipeline’s third overall draft prospect and the site’s top pitching prospect. Before the brief NCAA season began, he was typically seen as the second- or third-best pitcher in the draft and usually ranked between fourth and sixth in terms of overall draft prospects. Most mock drafts I saw have him go anywhere from fourth to seventh in the draft.

After a great sophomore year in 2019, Lacy dominated as a junior in four starts, going 3-0 with a 0.75 ERA and striking out 46 while walking eight in 24 innings. He has a fastball that ranges from 92 to 97 MPH, a plus slider, really good changeup and good curveball as well. Most mock drafts have him going No. 3 overall to the Miami Marlins, with the Detroit Tigers taking first baseman Spencer Torkelson at No. 1 overall and the Baltimore Orioles drafting Vanderbilt third baseman/outfielder Austin Martin at No. 2.

After Lacy in MLB Pipeline’s rankings, both in terms of pitchers and overall prospects, is Georgia right-hander Emerson Hancock. Hancock is another tall pitcher, standing 6-4 and weighing around 210 pounds. His fastball sits at 94-97 and can touch 99, per MLB Pipeline, and he pairs that with a hard slider while also mixing in the occasional curveball and a solid changeup.

Hancock was in consideration for the No. 1 pick before the season began, but the play of other top prospects pushed him down a bit. He posted a 3.75 ERA and struck out 34 while walking just three in 24 innings. Most mock drafts have the Royals at No. 4 taking a hitter, so whether the Mariners have a chance to take Hancock may depend on what the Toronto Blue Jays do at No. 5. Many mock drafts have Hancock going to Toronto, however.

If the Mariners miss out on Lacy or Hancock but still want a college arm, two more are in MLB Pipeline’s top 10: Louisville lefty Reid Detmers and Minnesota righty Max Meyer. They are the eighth and ninth prospects, respectively, per MLB Pipeline, and will likely be there when Seattle is picking at No. 6.

Detmers is 6-2 and 210 pounds and throws a lot of strikes. His fastball sits in the low 90s, which he pairs with a sinking changeup and a curveball that’s in the low to mid 70s. Detmers went 3-0 in four starts for the Cardinals in 2020, striking out 48 and walking six in 22 innings. He gave up just three runs for a 1.23 ERA.

Detmers has been a common pick for the Mariners in some mock drafts, such as this most recent one from CBS Sports. The Mariners have a history with “crafty” lefties, such as Marco Gonzales now and Jamie Moyer in the 1990s and early 2000s. Perhaps Detmers could be the next man up in that sense.

While Detmers is a command lefty, Meyer is more of a power righty. Though he’s smaller at 6 feet and 185 pounds, he has a 70 grade (20-80 scale) fastball that sits between 93 and 97 MPH and touches the high 90s. He also has what MLB Pipeline says is the best slider in the draft, which registers in the high 80s to low 90s. He also has a changeup that the site said showed “flashes” his junior year with the Golden Gophers. In four games, Meyer threw 27.2 innings with a 1.95 ERA, 46 strikeouts and eight walks.

MLB Pipeline says there are some concerns if Meyer can physically handle being an MLB starter due to his shorter frame, but they describe him as a good athlete who fills up the zone, so he could be OK in that role going forward. He has a bit of a tie to the Mariners, as well. At Minnesota he threw to catcher Eli Wilson, a 2019 Pirates draft pick and the son of Mariners Hall of Fame catcher Dan Wilson, who also played in college for the Golden Gophers.

College bats

There are three college hitters in MLB Pipelineโ€™s top 10 draft prospects who could be there when Seattle picks at No. 6.

The first is New Mexico Stateโ€™s Nick Gonzales, who stands 5 foot 10 and played both second base and shortstop for the Aggies during his college career. Simply put, the dude can hit. As a freshman, Gonzales hit .347 and hit nine home runs. He followed that up with a .432 campaign where he hit 16 home runs and drove in 80 runs while walking more than he struck out. And in a brief 16-game season this year, Gonzales hit .448 with 12 (!) home runs and, once again, had more walks than strikeouts.

While those stats are with metal bats, which typically inflate stats, Gonzales showed he can handle wood bats as well, posting a .351 average with seven home runs and 33 RBIs in 42 games in the Cape Cod League, a wood bat summer league for top college players.

MLB Pipeline says Gonzales projects more as an offensive-minded second baseman, which could mean that the decision to draft him boils down to how comfortable the organization is with Shed Long as the team’s long-term second baseman. Long got some looks last year and figures to be the starter in 2020 and 2021, but Gonzales may be too enticing to pass up, and his elite play at the college level could make him a candidate to be fast-tracked to the big leagues. He’s been projected in mock drafts typically between picks four and eight, so there’s a good chance he’s on the board when Seattle’s on the clock.

Seattle has two of the game’s top outfield prospects in Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez, a nice mix of younger veterans like Mitch Haniger and Mallex Smith, a former top prospect in Lewis, and lesser-known prospects like Jake Fraley and Braden Bishop, so maybe outfield isn’t the team’s top priority. But that could change, obviously, if they fall in love with a prospect. If they do and decide to take a college outfielder, the two to keep an eye on are UCLA’s Garrett Mitchell and Arkansas’ Heston Kjerstad. Both throw right handed and hit lefty.

Mitchell is 6-3, 200 pounds, and is described as “big and strong” while also possessing the ability to steal bases. He is MLB Pipeline’s No. 6 draft prospect and the draft’s top outfielder, according to the site. There are a few reasons he’s seen as a high-ceiling player that comes with some risks, however

The good: Across three seasons at UCLA, Mitchell stole 28 bags and hit .327. MLB Pipeline says he should be able to hold down center field defensively due to his 70-grade speed. At his best, he could be a top of the order player.

The concerns: Something to note with Mitchell is that he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes during the third grade and that’s been something he’s dealt with ever since. While that hasn’t stopped him from succeeding, it’s not out of the question for teams to have worries about his heath. Additionally, for being a bigger guy, he has hit only six home runs in 121 games for UCLA, all coming in 2019.

Mock drafts have Mitchell anywhere from the fifth overall pick to as low as the mid-teens due in part to his diabetes as well as his low power numbers. Based on what I’ve been seeing, he’s one of the hardest players to tab out of the draft’s top prospects, but it’s easy to see why he’ll go in the first round.

Kjerstad, 6-3 and 205 pounds, is MLB Pipeline’s 10th draft prospect and is someone that the Mariners already have some familiarity with, so that is definitely something to watch. The Mariners actually drafted Kjerstad out of high school in 2017 in the 36th round, though he opted for college ball with Arkansas, where he developed into one of the best hitters in the country.

While Mitchell is more of a speed guy, Kjerstad’s calling card is his bat and power. In his three years at Arkansas, Kjerstad hit 37 home runs and drove in 129 runs. He also has a career batting average of .343 for the Razorbacks. MLB Pipeline says that Kjerstad has the best left handed power in the draft and has the second most overall power in the draft behind only Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson, who will likely be the No. 1 pick. Kjerstad’s power and strong arm profile him to be a right fielder in the big leagues.

High school players

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 throws right handed and hits lefty, 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.

Veen is 6-4 and weighs around 190 pounds and MLB Pipeline says his build, swing, and power potential draws comparisons to 2017 NL Rookie of the Year and 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Kyle Tucker of the Houston Astros, a 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 and “flashes” three plus pitches, led by a 93-95 MPH fastball that has solid life to it. He pairs that 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 changeup 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.

Follow 710Sports.com’s Brandon Gustafson on Twitter.

More from our Mariners draft preview series

โ€ข High school players Seattle could take at No. 6 (June 6)
โ€ขย College bats Seattle could take with No. 6 pickย (June 5)
โ€ข College arms who could be Seattleโ€™s 1st-round pick (June 4)
โ€ข Setting the stage for Dipotoโ€™s highest pick as Mโ€™s GM (June 3)