This week, Ben, John, and Kate are previewing the first round of the MLB draft with a thought-experiment: what if the Mariners had every pick in the first round of the 2018 draft? Picks 1-6 and a general intro are here; today, picks 7-12.
Pick Seven: Kate selects Nick Madrigal, INF, Oregon State
“All he does is hit” is the phrase that pays to draw my attention to a prospect. I love the hit tool, and I thought about taking personal favorite Jarred Kelenic—who I think has the best hit tool in the HS class—here, but after taking two prepsters earlier, I wanted to go with the safety of collecting what might be the best bat in the college class. At 5’7”, Madrigal is a slightly taller Altuve, and at 20, he’s a little younger than Altuve was over his first full pro season, when he batted .290/.340/.399 with seven home runs. Scouts aren’t sold on Madrigal’s ability to hit for power like his similarly-sized MLB counterparts (Altuve or Dustin Pedroia, also a popular comp), but Madrigal’s advanced plate approach plus his defensive abilities, speed, lightning-quick baseball instincts, intangibles, and overall contact-monster-ness means the floor is very high for Madrigal as a leadoff hitter despite questions about his power. The elite hand-eye coordination Madrigal displays on the infield translates to incredible bat speed; watch how fast his hands fire and he drops the hammer:
The leadoff hitter can set the tone for an entire game. Madrigal is someone I’d happily pencil in atop my lineup anytime, and many Mariners fans would be happy to see another Beaver stay home in the PNW.
Pick 8: Ben selects Casey Mize, RHP, Auburn University
Mize becomes my third pitcher in three picks, but I couldn’t pass him up here. If it weren’t for a tired arm and a flexor strain in his forearm that knocked him out of duty last spring and again during his time with Team USA during the summer (but not until after he threw eight scoreless innings), he may well be regarded as the top college arm in this year’s pool of eligible draftees.
When I checked out some of his highlights from last season, I immediately noticed what looked to me like a fairly violent pitching motion that consisted a lot of shoulder and arm in a very over-the-top delivery.
After being snubbed for a spot in Baseball America’s Top 500 draft prospects coming out of high school, Mize got to work in the weight room, putting on 35 pounds of muscle since landing at Auburn, and the results have been on display as he’s added several tics to his heater, which regularly sits in the mid-90’s after topping out at 92 coming out of high school. His arsenal also consists of a mid-80’s splitter that’s got some serious sink to it and currently grades out at a 60, as well as a 55 slider that also sits in the mid-80’s.
Even while ramping up his velocity, Mize hasn’t sacrificed his command one bit, a skill that landed him atop the NCAA last season as a sophomore in K/BB ratio (12.1) and fourth in BB/9 (1.0).
The key for Mize is going to be health. You’ve heard stories about guys losing flexibility as they bulk up, which can make players more susceptible to injury. If Mize is able to put together an extended run of success this spring and show that his forearm woes are behind him, he should hear his name in the top 10 no doubt, but his draft stock—and perhaps his future as a starting pitcher—could take a serious hit if he posts another season marred by injury.
Pick 9: John selects Jackson Kowar, RHP, University of Florida
It appears I have a type. After snagging the top college arm in the draft in Brady Singer, I went back to the swampy Everglades-adjacent well for his teammate, Jackson Kowar. He’s no afterthought, however. Kowar was Florida’s No. 3 starter most of 2016, behind last year’s 18th overall pick, Alex Faedo, and Singer. He threw the final pitch of the 2017 College World Series, showing off palm tree legs and 94-98 mph fastballs with excellent run. At 6’5, 180 lbs, Kowar has room to grow and excellent extension. The appeal of any college arm is the potential to move more quickly through the minors, as well as, in theory, improved signability over one of the many prep arms in this year’s class.
Here’s a link to film of Kowar’s start against TCU - a warning, around 45 seconds in it becomes almost insultingly poor video quality, to the point where I expected a poltergeist to jump out of the screen at me.
While his velocity is arguably the best in the draft, Kowar is thus far not quite as polished a product as his teammates were on their draft day. His control is fine, but not exceptional. His changeup is a legitimate pitch, but he’ll have to work on his slurve/slider to fool pro bats. Of the college arms in consideration this spring, Kowar’s production is one that I’ll be most curious to watch. He’ll face top-notch competition in the SEC and need to translate his elite tools. His delivery could stand to be cleaned up as well, but there’s no denying the mid-rotation potential.
Pick 10: John selects Jarred Kelenic, OF, Waukesha West (Wis.) HS
College pitcher, high school hitter. With my second set of picks I’m going a similar route as my first. This time the prep bat is an outfielder, and the L/L Kelenic has the type of tri-positional defensive profile the Mariners have seemed to covet in outfielders in recent years. What Kelenic also has, however, is five-tool upside, which is always in style, no matter the position.
Players from northern states are tougher to gauge at any age, high schoolers particularly, due to the limited window of playing time. Kelenic’s toughest competition has been against top amateurs around the world as part of the U.S. U-18 national team. What he’s displayed is quick hands and an impressive swing path that utilizes much of his not-insignificant raw power. In games, he’s been a contact monster. He’s also grown six inches in the past two years, and works out with J.J. Watt. In a draft defined by the depth of prep pitchers, Kelenic might well be the best positional talent of the class.
Pick 11: Ben selects Logan Gilbert, RHP, Stetson University
After going undrafted out of high school, Gilbert ended up at Stetson, the same school the produced the likes of Corey Kluber, Jacob DeGrom, and current M’s farmhand Lindsey Caughel. That said, Gilbert has been the best of the bunch during his time as a Hatter, coming off a sophomore season—his first as a full-time starter—in which he posted a strikeout rate pushing 11 (10.8 K/9) and an ERA just a hair over two at 2.02.
He’s got a four-pitch-mix that consists of a four-seamer that’s been known to hit 97, a circle change, curveball, and hard slider that gets in on left-handers in a hurry out of his 6’5” frame.
If Gilbert goes in the first round, he’ll be the first player from Stetson to do so in 15 years, and he certainly strengthened his case this past summer when he dominated the Cape Cod League, racking up 31 K’s in 31.1 innings over seven starts against some of the college ranks’ top talent.
Pick 12: Kate selects Brice Turang, SS, Santiago HS
I was torn between Madrigal and Turang in this round and was pleased to be able to get both. I took Madrigal first because I believe in his bat more—or at least, I think his bat is the safer bet. But there’s a good argument Turang is the best shortstop talent in the draft. Brice comes from an athletic family—his mother Carrie was a softball star who played in the College World Series and his father Brian actually played with the Mariners, and his four older sisters played softball, soccer, and volleyball at their respective colleges.
Brice has a simple, but effective, plate approach: he doesn’t chase bad balls, grinds out at-bats, and looks for balls he can drive up the middle. At the Perfect Game All-American Classic this summer, he faced off against power-throwing Kumar Rocker. After falling behind 0-2, Turang worked a ten-pitch at-bat against the big righty, finally getting a ball he could make hard contact on (he flew out, but it was a good display of his approach at the plate). What he currently lacks in power he makes up for with speed and solid baserunning instincts, showing a willingness to take the extra base and an ability to read and react to the ball and kick into high gear. Turang isn’t huge—6’0”/160—but he is a true shortstop, with excellent range, a fairly strong arm, and lightning-quick reaction times. He would be the best Mariners shortstop prospect since...look don’t worry about it okay. A strong showing for Turang this summer with Team USA didn’t do anything to drop his top-ten status, although like Madrigal, scouts would like to see his power develop more. His range and electric play at short, combined with his advanced plate approach, have him currently projected as a top-five pick, although he may find himself passed by in a deep prep-heavy draft if the bat doesn’t develop a little more.