Mariners draft: Superlatives for all 6 selections from 2020 MLB Draft
Although the Mariners made just six selections in this year’s 2020 MLB Draft, they are obviously excited about what those players will bring to the organization for years to come.
Though it will likely be a while before we see what any of these guys can do as professionals, it’s always fun to take guesses as to what their careers could turn out like, and that’s exactly what I did here by giving each of Seattle’s six draft picks a superlative before they embark on their professional careers.
Emerson Hancock: Most likely to make an All Star team
There are a number of things that right-handed pitcher Emerson Hancock is more likely to do than the rest of his fellow 2020 draft classmates. I think of the six picks, he’ll likely be the first to make their MLB debut, make an opening day roster, and be the first to crack both the top 10 and top five on Seattle’s prospect lists.
But let’s look even further ahead, and Hancock, by far, has the most pure potential of any of the Mariners’ six draft picks by far. At 6 foot 4 and about 215 pounds, Hancock already has a quality four-pitch arsenal that’s headlined by his mid-90s fastball and a hard slider that’s his go-to strikeout pitch. His curveball and changeup both have chances to be plus pitches in the majors. If he puts that all together, you’re looking at a front-of-the-rotation starter and a potential All-Star, which is something he has a much better chance of accomplishing than any of his other 2020 draft classmates.
There’s a reason Hancock was the early favorite to go No. 1 in the 2020 draft after earning First-Team All-SEC and Second-Team All American honors after posting a sub-2.00 ERA in 2019 – the stuff is electric and he oozes potential even while being an incredibly polished prospect already. He’s a bit of a prototype of the ideal pitcher in terms of size and body type, a live arm, good command and an arsenal of pitches should help him make one of the better pitching prospects in the minor leagues.
Like Seattle’s 2018 and 2019 first-round picks Logan Gilbert and George Kirby, Hancock should be a fast-rising right-handed pitcher that we’ll see on the mound at T-Mobile Park and maybe even during an All-Star Game for years to come.
Zach DeLoach: Most likely to ride a hot streak to his MLB call-up
Mariners fans may remember the 2013 season when shortstop Brad Miller made his MLB debut and ended the season as one of Seattle’s best hitters over the last few months of the year.
An early 2011 draft pick, Miller started the year in Double-A, put up impressive numbers, and ended up playing in just 26 Triple-A games before getting the call. A big reason for that promotion was a 22-game hitting streak that Miller was on, and the Mariners wanted the hot bat in their lineup.
The reason I bring that up is that one of the common scouting report traits you’ll read about 2020 second-round pick Zach DeLoach is that the outfielder is a bit “streaky.” That can be, obviously, both good and bad.
The bad was on display during DeLoach’s sophomore year at Texas A&M, when the left-handed hitter had just a .200 batting average with three home runs in 56 games. But he was red hot during 37 games in the Cape Cod League last summer, ending the brief season hitting .353 with five home runs and 23 RBIs. He followed that up with an impressive 18-game junior year at A&M, hitting .421 with six home runs and 17 RBIs.
Did something click with DeLoach’s swing in the Cape Cod? It’s likely. But DeLoach has a track record of going hot and cold and he seems like the type to have a Miller-esque hot streak in the minors that propels him to the big leagues. And who knows, maybe he’ll be the Mariners’ third outfielder in the future alongside top prospects Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez.
Connor Phillips: Most likely to pull an Edwin Díaz
To say “pull an Edwin Díaz” doesn’t necessarily mean become arguably the game’s best closer for a year (maybe for longer if he gets back on track with the Mets), but rather that a lack of a reliable third offering could have right-handed pitcher Connor Phillips turn into a potential weapon out of Seattle’s bullpen rather than a guy who takes the ball every fifth day.
It’s easy to see why the Mariners liked Phillips, who at just 19 years old deploys a great fastball between 92 and 96 MPH that will touch 98 and 99 while flashing an above-average curveball that can generate swings and misses.
As was the case with Díaz, who has an electric fastball-slider combination, Phillips’ third offering of a changeup lags behind the other two pitches. After starting his career as a starting pitcher and making his way to Double-A, Díaz moved to the bullpen in 2016 and after just a few outings made the jump all the way to the big leagues. It didn’t take long after some impressive outings that he assumed the role of closer, too. He carried that over to 2017, and in 2018 he was an All-Star who saved 57 games with a 1.96 ERA.
The Mariners, unlike when Díaz shifted to the ‘pen, now have some quality reliever prospects such as Joey Gerber, Aaron Fletcher, Sam Delaplane, Art Warren, Taylor Guilbeau and Wyatt Mills, so the team can and likely will be more patient with Phillips in terms of giving him every chance to be a starting pitcher. But if the changeup doesn’t develop into a better offering, he may go the route of Díaz, and again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Kaden Polcovich: Most likely to play multiple positions in a single series
Before anyone takes this the wrong way, I love Shawn O’Malley, the former Mariners utility man from the Tri-Cities who is now Seattle’s Double-A hitting coach. Having said that, after the Mariners used their third-round draft choice on Oklahoma State infielder Kaden Polcovich, I started doing research on him and what I saw with Polcovich was O’Malley with a better chance of being an everyday player due largely to his bat.
Both are switch hitters, shorter than most ballplayers (O’Malley is listed at 5-11, Polcovich is 5-8 on his Oklahoma State profile), played mostly middle infield heading into their pro careers, are quick and athletic enough to be used across the field, and don’t generate too much power at the plate.
O’Malley played all over for the Mariners, with most of his time coming at shortstop or center field while also seeing time at second base, third base and the corner outfield spots. Polcovich was listed as a second baseman, but he also played third base for the Cowboys. According to his Baseball Reference page, he played mostly center field in the Cape Cod League in 2019, so the athleticism to play anywhere on the diamond is clearly there.
Having versatility is certainly a plus, and if you can hit – which Polcovich showed he can both at Oklahoma State (.344 average) and in the Cape Cod League (.305 average) – you’ll play. Look at guys like Ben Zobrist for the Cubs and Rays, Marwin Gonzales for the Astros and now the Twins, or, for Mariners fans, Mark McLemore, who manager Lou Piniella played everywhere in order to keep his bat in the lineup.
Also helping Polcovich is that while he doesn’t have a ton of power, he can get the ball out of the yard, which is something O’Malley didn’t do much of as a pro. He hit 15 home runs in two junior college seasons, and he had two home runs for Oklahoma State in 18 games in 2020. He also had four in the Cape Cod League in 40 games last summer.
Don’t bank on much power production from Polcovich at the highest levels of pro ball, but as far as just getting hits, getting on base and causing some havoc on the basepaths (he had eight stolen bases in 18 games in 2020), Polcovich has a chance to make an impact. His versatility as a fielder should help him carve out a role as a pro and if he hits anywhere close to how he did in college, the Mariners will find ways to get him in the lineup, even if they have to be creative.
Tyler Keenan: Most likely to change positions going forward
This is kind of similar to what I described for Phillips, but Phillips will still be pitching even if he moves to the bullpen. In the case of Ole Miss third baseman Tyler Keenan, the big left-handed hitter may ultimately have to move to first base after initially beginning his professional career at the hot corner.
Would it be great for the Mariners if Keenan, who hit 31 home runs in his three-year college career and had an average over .400 with 33 RBIs in just 17 games in 2020, was able to stick at third base for his entire career? Of course. But Keenan is 6-4 and weighs around 240 pounds, and according to scouting reports, he’s not too fast and doesn’t have much range at third base. Unless Seattle is OK with that and has an above-average fielding shortstop with great range, Keenan will likely need to move across the diamond.
The potential problem with that would be that the Mariners have one of the top first base prospects in the game in Evan White. And while White is certainly athletic enough to move to outfield, that would be taking him away from first base, where he’s an exceptional fielder. Some have said White could be a perennial Gold Glove winner at that spot and that he may be the best fielding prospect regardless of position in all of baseball. White also signed a long-term deal this offseason and whenever play resumes, he figures to be Seattle’s starting first baseman.
Third base, meanwhile, will likely have an opening at the big-league level in the near future as Kyle Seager’s contract expires after 2021 and with the Mariners implementing a “youth movement” of sorts, Seager may be on his way out. Seattle has Austin Shenton, a 2019 fifth-round pick, as their 17th-ranked prospect on MLB Pipeline. Also in the system is former second-round pick Joe Rizzo, who played in Double-A last year. He is Seattle’s No. 22 prospect.
But neither has the offensive upside of Keenan, whose best trait is his power. Perhaps a “move to first base” while really being a designated hitter, which is likely what will be happening with Daniel Vogelbach in 2020, is in the cards for Keenan’s future.
Taylor Dollard: Most likely to have a better career than you’d think
After two solid seasons out of the bullpen for Cal Poly, right-handed pitcher Taylor Dollard moved to the rotation as a junior and impressed in the four games he pitched to the tune of a 1.67 ERA with 36 strikeouts and four walks in 27 innings.
Now a fifth-round choice of the Mariners, Dollard seems like a guy that, whether he starts or is in the bullpen, could end up having a longer, better career in the bigs than most would think.
Dollard’s stuff doesn’t jump out at you, as he sits in the high-80s and low-90s with his fastball and uses a slider and changeup as his main secondary offerings while also using a curveball. The slider, per MLB Pipeline, “flashes plus at times.” But while he’s not overpowering, he shows great command, as evidenced with his 121 career strikeouts to 27 walks. Additionally, he gave up just six home runs in 111.1 career college innings and his career WHIP was under 1.00.
When I see those numbers and watch some videos of him pitching, I see someone that will come out to the mound, compete, and throw a ton of strikes. While teams will always be captivated by the big-time velocity players, those guys often are unpolished and need far more work to refine their craft. There’s something to be said about a guy that knows what he has and can command and pitch to his strengths while avoiding hard contact. That seems to be what Dollard could be throughout his professional career.