Drayer: Mariners draft class a combo of quick impact and big upside
For the Mariners, it was hard to know what to expect heading into the 2020 draft as the five-round draft was uncharted territory for everyone involved. Like any draft, however, preparation would be key regardless of circumstances.
“We were really in a position to adjust to the game and it’s a credit to the staff,” said Mariners director of amateur scouting Scott Hunter. “The preparation over the last 2 1/2 months being at home, watching a lot of video and having our national meetings earlier this year really put us in a position to be prepared.”
As with any draft, there were adjustments to be made on the fly. With just five rounds, those adjustments need to be made even quicker.
“In a draft like this where you really can’t get a feel for how things are going to start falling in place,” Hunter said, “we really looked to jump up top and make big plays Thursday on Zach DeLoach and Connor Phillips, and then just as it did throughout the day be prepared to take the next best players.”
The “next best players” amounted to an interesting mix for the Mariners. A couple who could be of impact sooner rather than later, a few with potentially big upside – and with all of the picks, they come from the college ranks and have been unseen for the last three months due to the coronavirus shutdown. Hunter and his staff were not flying blind, however, thanks to collaboration with other departments.
“Everybody on our board had something that our guys brought to the table no matter if it was analytics, swing change, a scouting look or high performance look,” Hunter pointed out. “We put those pieces together and tried to make educated decisions and that’s how Zach DeLoach really ran up our board on day 2.”
The situation was so unique this year that Hunter said on a video call with media members a week before the draft that he was allowing for the possibility of picking a player he personally hadn’t seen that due to the shutdown. It is hard to imagine that happening with one of a team’s top five picks in a typical year, but this year has been anything but typical.
“I didn’t see Emerson (Hancock) this year or last summer, which is a bold move for all of us,” Hunter said with a smile about Seattle’s first-round pick, “but we were so confident in what we saw on video.”
As it turns out, Hunter only saw two players in person: DeLoach, who they took 43rd overall in the second round, and competitive balance round B pick Connor Phillips (64th).
“That’s a credit to our staff,” he said. “I get to sit in the chair that makes the decisions but it is a group decision every time we make a pick. I just represent the guy who gets the privilege to make the call at the end of the day but every decision we make is a group decision and a lot of hands, a lot of thoughts and a lot of opinion goes into that. It’s a lot of people putting a lot of time and effort and energy in making the right picks for the Mariners.”
Time will tell if these were the right picks but at a minimum they should give a boost to a farm system that has made great strides in the last two years. In Hancock they have a potential future top-of-the-rotation starter who according to Hunter should catch up quickly with the Mariners’ young wave of pitching that includes Logan Gilbert, Justus Sheffield, Justin Dunn, George Kirby and Brandon Williamson. Phillips and fifth-round pick Taylor Dollard are expected to help supplement a second wave of talent.
On the offensive side there is excitement for potential in the bat of DeLoach. They will take time to figure out if infielder Kaden Polcovich can stick at second base or perhaps be the true super utility player that Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has been looking for. In lefty-hitting third baseman Tyler Keenan, they are bringing on board a player that Hunter said embodies “the trend in what we look for in hitters.”
All six players are expected to sign once they are able to undergo physicals.
A closer look at day 2
Here are some bullet points from Hunter’s media availability on Thursday night on each of Seattle’s picks from rounds 2-5.
Zach DeLoach, OF, Texas A&M (second round, No. 43)
• Can play all three outfield positions, will start pro career in center field.
• While he struggled at the plate his freshman and sophomore year, the Mariners have had eyes on him since well before college. Has always been a ‘control the zone’ hitter and has displayed power since a swing change made a year ago in the Cape Cod League.
• Hit .472 with 19 runs scored, three doubles, four home runs, 11 RBIs and five stolen bases in his shortened junior season.
Connor Phillips, RHP, McLennan CC (competitive balance B, No. 64)
• Hunter describes Phillips as one of the most upside players the Mariners took on Thursday.
• Has four pitches, been up to 98 mph with the fastball.
• While some have suggested he might ultimately end up in the bullpen, the Mariners see him as a starter. The stuff is there; he is still learning to harness it.
• Draws comparisons to Trevor Bauer.
• While the Mariners were going for best player at each pick, Hunter said he was targeted on day 2.
Kaden Polcovich, 2B, Oklahoma State (third round, No. 78)
• Will start at second base but could ultimately be a super utility player.
• Father Kevin played a combined 165 games for the Pirates in 1997-98.
• Mariners like the bat. Hit well in the Cape Cod League, has good power at 5 foot 8.
• Has plus speed.
• “He’s got tools, he gets everything out of his body and the game and he’s the type of kid that brings that to the ballpark every day. There’s real tools and a real hitter there.”
Tyler Keenan, 3B, Ole Miss (fourth round, No. 107)
• At 6-4 and 240 pounds, surprise, he has big power.
• Has shown power to all fields.
• The hope is he can stick at third base. If not then they will take a look at first base.
Taylor Dollard, RHP, Cal Poly (fifth round, No. 137)
• “He just abused the Cape Cod League last year.”
• Has primarily been a reliever but the Mariners see him as a starter.
• Has made four career starts and was able to maintain his stuff.