In Seattle, it’s dark and cold and rainy outside, and baseball is still far away, which means it’s the perfect time for dreaming. Years of poor drafting and development have kept the Mariners farm from ever enjoying a day in the sun, and the flurry of trades completed by Jerry Dipoto to prop up the MLB club have further thinned out an already threadbare farm system. This year the Mariners lost 36 players from the minors to free agency, the largest number in baseball by a good margin. 2016’s first-round choice Kyle Lewis has missed significant time with a devastating knee injury, and injuries also held out 2017’s first-round choice Evan White from extensive playing time. This combination of a thin farm and treating the top draft choices with kid gloves has made the Mariners system one that seemingly every analyst dreads writing about. Whoever the Mariners draft in 2018 will immediately improve the club’s stock, and with the 14th pick and a deep class of prep athletes, in particular, someone exciting is headed to the corner of Edgar and Dave. (WE HOPE.)
But what if the Mariners held the first pick in the draft? Or the seventh? Or the all of them? The all of them sounds good, doesn’t it? Ben, John, and I decided to do a mock first-round draft to see what kind of talent the Mariners could flood the farm system with if they were able to have every single pick in the first round. We worked irrespective of each other, with an eye towards what we considered top talent, not thinking about balancing things like position or level. At the end, we came out with:
- An even split between high school and prep talent;
- A slight edge to pitchers (16) vs. position players (15)—although one of the pitchers is a two-way prospect;
- Among the position players, a breakdown of: 3 OF, 3 C (4 if you count the two-way prospect as a position player), and 7 INF (two of those as 1B only).
Over the next week, we’ll reveal our picks, six at a time.
Pick One: Kate selects Ethan Hankins, RHP, Forsyth Central HS
There’s never been a high school right-handed pitcher selected first overall, but Hankins could well be the first. In addition to starring at various showcases including the Perfect Game All American Classic, Hankins’ stock shot up this summer with a dominant performance for Team USA. Standing 6’6” with a projectable frame, Hankins can regularly crank his fastball up to 97, and does so with a clean and easy delivery out of a 3⁄4 slot that looks repeatable and polished. While big velocity is becoming more and more common at the prep levels, what’s special about Hankins is his ability to command his big fastball to both sides of the plate, as well as the movement he gets on it. Beyond the pure nastiness of the stuff, Hankins is a smart pitcher who will toy with hitters’ timing with a slight Kuma-esque leg kick:
Love the way Ethan Hankins plays with his delivery — while working 94-97. pic.twitter.com/dVPFC3xWoJ— Michael Lananna (@mlananna) August 16, 2017
What pushes Hankins to the top of this draft class is the fact that he’s developed a sharp-breaking curve to pair with his nasty fastball, which is already inducing a lot of weak contact and ugly swing-and-misses. He’s working on a slider as well. It’s a lot of fun to watch Hankins pitch; he’s fearless on the mound and likes going right after hitters. Brady Singer is the popular, and maybe safer, choice to go first overall, but Hankins’ big, easy fastball and clean mechanics plus high upside make him the most appealing arm in the draft to me.
Pick Two: Ben selects Matthew Liberatore, LHP, Mountain Ridge HS
The selection of Arizona-native Matthew Liberatore here makes it back-to-back high schoolers to lead off the draft. Liberatore, who toes the rubber at at 6’5” and 200lb, already boasts the frame of a big leauger, despite likely being 5+ years away from reaching the big leagues. While none of his offerings are declared “big-league-ready” quite yet, MLB.com states he’s got the potential to develop three 60-grade pitches in time. His heater, which typically sits 89-94, takes a backseat to his changeup—which is considered a plus pitch already—and his high-spin rate curveball.
He typically comes at hitters with a smooth, rhythmic delivery from a 3⁄4 arm slot.
However, he’ll occasionally show off his advanced mental approach to pitching by accelerating his delivery to throw hitters’ timing off and catch them off guard, like he does here:
His size and advanced development of his secondary pitches at such a young age seem to leave little question as to whether he’ll be able to develop a starter’s arsenal and, if all goes right, follow in the footsteps of the trend of ace left-handers taking the big leagues by storm.
Pick Three: John selects Brady Singer, RHP, University of Florida
He was there, so I took him. If your MLB draft knowledge comes purely via whatever predictive flotsam floats into your field of vision each year, Brady Singer is probably the name you’ve heard of. Such is the experience of de facto No. 1 overall picks. Singer isn’t a Stephen Strasburg clone, but in a draft widely regarded as talent-rich and talent-deep, he is the cream of the crop for college arms.
Singer is in the eye of a perfect storm of checks and balances for talent projectors. Do the pitches look strong? Singer sat 92-96 on his fastball in 2017, which boasts significant movement. That fastball is backed up by a slider from 80-82, which factors heavily in two-strike counts and a decent changeup.
Definitely don't watch this Brady Singer K reel if you're squeamish pic.twitter.com/XoalgWt9dv— Michael Lananna (@mlananna) June 27, 2017
Worried about the level of competition? Singer dominated the SEC as a sophomore and led the University of Florida to a national championship in 2017. Concerned about physical projectability? Listed at 6’5, 180 by MLB Pipeline, if you let most scouting directors build a college pitching prospect, they’d look a lot like Singer. Questions about the program’s ability to develop MLB-quality pitchers? First round hurlers Alex Faedo and A.J. Puk have come from Kevin O’Sullivan’s Florida program in the past couple seasons, as well as reliever Paco Rodriguez in the second round back in 2012.
Like any prospect, Singer has flaws. His changeup is not yet a strong third pitch, and his mechanics could stand for some refining. Depending on your feelings about profanity, Singer’s infamous cursing rant due to a rain delay in last year’s Super Regionals could be seen as a plus or a minus.
I couldn't stop watching. pic.twitter.com/arq0Sr15Ei— Colin Deaver (@KAGS_Colin) June 12, 2017
Give me the kid who throws smoke with a fire in his belly.
Pick Four: John selects Nander De Sedas, SS/INF, Monteverde (Fla.) HS
We’re drafting serpentine-style, so I get the first back-to-back picks in our draft. With the 4th overall pick, I’ll take the first position player, a teenager with pop and personality at a premium position. Nander de Sedas can’t take a step out of his front door without being compared to Francisco Lindor, and there’s some sense in it. Lindor graduated from the very same Florida high school as de Sedas and was taken eighth overall in 2011. Both are switch-hitting shortstops with a penchant for enjoying the game and ensuring their teammates do too. Both even committed to playing at Florida State University, but De Sedas seems likely to pass on that opportunity if he sustains his top-15 hype.
The differences are there, of course. While Lindor had a completely unexpected power surge in 2017, at draft day, 2011, no scouting report I could track down gave his future power potential anything over a below-average/40-grade. The 6’1, 190 De Sedas already is showing more pop than a young Lindor, particularly from the left side, which he has only been hitting from for a year and a half. Moreover, there can be no challenging De Sedas’ commitment to baseball. Born and raised in Bethania, Panama, de Sedas moved to the United States at the age of 15 with the explicit intent of entering the MLB draft instead of dealing with international free agency. He speaks both English and Spanish fluently, and draws rave reviews as a leader.
Seeing how de Sedas stacks up as he faces tougher competition consistently will give a better sense of where he’s at right now, and his switch-hitting habits may be scrapped if his bat sputters professionally. Additonally, investing any top pick in a high schooler is frustrating, particularly given the extended timeline until that player is likely to contribute at the MLB level. While performances this spring are sure to send stocks rising and plummeting, at this juncture, de Sedas seems like one of the few prospects in this list who could actually fall to Seattle at 14th if they’re lucky.
He doesn’t in this mock, however. For projection and intangibles, give me Nander de Sedas.
Pick Five: Ben selects Shane McLanahan, LHP, University of South Florida
I’m a sucker for left-handed starters, and left-handed-hitting catchers (winces at memory of Jeff Clement), so no big shocker that I wound up grabbing another lefty starting pitcher here at pick five. McLanahan trails only Liberatore among left-handed pitching prospects in this draft class; however, his arsenal is probably a little more polished than his younger counterpart at the time being. He’s been known to sit 92-97 with his fastball, and backs that up with a dependable change and a slider that he throws in the 82-86 range.
As a redshirt freshman last season he showed off an ability to rack up K’s at elite levels even post-Tommy John surgery, posting 12.3 K/9 through 15 starts, which was the best among the 12 college arms listed in MLB.com’s Top 50 draft eligible players. That said, he also posted the highest walk rate among that group at 4.3 BB/9. As he continues to build up his arm strength and refine his mechanics post-surgery, a refined ability to command all of his pitches will go a long way towards overcoming his slightly undersized 6’1”, 173lb frame.
He has a tendency to overthrow his fastball occasionally, which you can see in this start from an intrasquad scrimmage back in October here:
His mechanics have been described as a little shaky at times, unsurprising for a guy who was unable to pitch for more than a year, which has called for some Chris Sale comps in some scouting circles.
A former 26th-round-pick by the Mets in 2015, a strong follow-up to an impressive debut collegiate campaign would go a long way to ensuring he hears his name called much, much earlier next time around.
Pick Six: Kate selects Nolan Gorman, INF, Sandra Day O’Connor HS
Nolan Gorman might sound like a supporting character in an Arthur Miller play, but he has the best raw power in the class. I was delighted to get him at six; scouts have put a 70 grade on his power, and he’s regarded by some as the best bat in the draft. At 6’1 and 210, Gorman will only get bigger, although he’s already built himself into a fairly imposing physical specimen for a seventeen-year-old, with huge shoulders and tree-trunk thighs (he takes fitness seriously; his Instagram is full of pictures of his workouts and healthy meals). Gorman has a balanced, smooth left-handed swing with a sharp uphill plane that sends balls into the stratosphere, but what boosts his raw power into a top-ten draft talent is his advanced approach at the plate. Even as a power hitter, Gorman shows good patience in hunting his pitch, and for a LHB, he’s especially good at hitting left-handed pitching. Gorman has played across the infield but seems to have a home at 3B, like similarly-sized Matt Chapman, as his strong throwing arm is well-suited for throws across the diamond. Gorman’s defense is a plus, with good, quick footwork to go with his powerful arm, and he has a good chance to stick at the hot corner in MLB, but his calling card is the power. Much elevate. Much celebrate.