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MLB Draft 2017: What will the Mariners’ draft strategy be?

With just one draft in the Dipoto era, we don’t have a ton of data to work with

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Introduce Josh Hamilton
tfw you had to give up your draft pick
Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

Michael Cook over at Minor League Ball did this excellent breakdown of each team’s tendencies in picking high school vs. college prospects, and arms vs. bats. Working with data from 2012-2016, Cook found that, historically, the Mariners do not have a strong tendency to pick a prep vs. a college player, but do have a much stronger likelihood of picking a bat over an arm early on. We know that Jack Z loved his right-handed power bat but also loved to target specific player types early in drafts (see: Austin Wilson, D.J. Peterson, and Tyler O’Neill, all right-handed hitters drafted with the first three picks in 2013, or Andrew Moore, Nick Neidert, and Dylan Thompson, all right-handed pitchers drafted in the first four rounds in 2015). We don’t know as much about Jerry Dipoto’s draft strategy, though, as he didn’t have first-round picks in his first two years as GM of the Angels, as the team had signed Albert Pujols/C.J. Wilson and Josh Hamilton as free agents. We know that Dipoto prefers college players, and beyond that, we don’t know much more. And the Mariners’ first-round selection from 2016 doesn’t provide much of a black box to help us look deeper.

Last year, MLB’s draft guru Jim Callis predicted Kyle Lewis would go to the Braves with the third pick, while assigning the Mariners a prep arm, LHP Braxton Garrett. “Seattle is believed to prefer a bat,” he wrote, “which could be tough if the top three college hitters and top three high school position players go in the first 10 picks.” Luckily, Lewis fell to the Mariners with the 11th pick. Bleacher Report had an even higher valuation on Lewis, listing him just days before the draft as the second pick overall. In that scenario, Seattle was also predicted to take a bat, Corey Ray, the outfielder out of Louisville. Baseball America had Lewis going 8th, and CBS had him 6th, to the Athletics. (Everyone take a minute to throw that salt over your shoulder.) It was surprising when Lewis fell to the Mariners, and selecting him was a no-brainer; he was widely heralded as the “steal” of the early rounds. But had he not been there, which way would the Mariners have gone with their selection?

While the Mariners were believed to prefer a bat, the dearth of top-flight hitting prospects outside of the top ten complicated the scenario. Baseball America, Bleacher Report, and CBS all projected the Mariners to take Justin Dunn, a polished college arm, who the Mets drafted instead when the Mariners pounced on Lewis. The M’s did go for prep bat Joe Rizzo in the second round, and added glove-first infielder Bryson Brigman in the round right after, waiting all the way until the sixth round to snag solid, unspectacular DII pitcher Brandon Miller as their first starting pitcher of the draft. Lefty reliever Thomas Burrows, a fourth-round pick who was tabbed to be a quick mover, has already been traded away in a move that feels eerily prescient. Did Jerry draft trade bait, hoping to be able to flip the polished Burrows to get a usable piece into the system? Is Jerry really playing chess while the rest of us are reading mock drafts until our eyes cross?

With Jerry Dipoto only in his second year of helming the Mariners, it’s too early to assume that the pattern of 2012 - 2016 will hold. And taking Lewis as a first-round pick, an elite talent who somehow fell to the Mariners, doesn’t provide a ton of usable feedback. Looking at the Angels’ data from their Dipoto-run teams doesn’t provide any useful clues either, as their tendencies are mostly neutral across the board, very close to the “coin toss” z-score. Further complicating the issue is the fact that this draft class is seen as very shallow, with few marquee talents. As John Manuel notes at Baseball America, “scouts do not expect to look back at the 2017 draft with fondness.” No one can predict how this class will perform down the road, but a view that many of the talents are interchangeable further muddies the waters and makes writing an article ostensibly about “what draft strategy will the Mariners employ?” even more of a longform shruggy emoji. Sorry if I tricked you with the title of this article. I honestly have no clue what they’re going to do. I’ve read that the Mariners are tied to college players, and specifically the names I’ve seen multiple times are Jake Burger, who Ethan wrote up a while ago, and LHP David Peterson out of Oregon, who Todd Sorenson from Addicted to Quack wrote about in his UO preview, both of whom should be around when the Mariners pick at 17. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess.