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, picks 7-12 are here, picks 13-18 are here, and picks 19-24 are here. Today we close out the first round and total up the picks. We also do a little reflecting on who jumped out at us on deeper dives and what early favorites faded, what kind of talent this class boasts, and what strategy we’d prefer the Mariners to take with their 14th overall pick (sadly the only pick they will actually have in this round.)
Pick 25: Kate selects Joe Gray Jr., OF, Hattiesburg HS (MS)
Man I am a sucker for an outfielder named Junior. “Jo Jo” is 6’3”/200 with room to add muscle mass to a lean, long-limbed frame. Offensively, he has quick hands that he keeps in close to his body, which keeps his Gumby limbs from getting too long in his swing. Comparing videos from this time last year to the work he did over the summer, it looks like he’s smoothed his swing out and cut out some of the jerky power transfer, and although this isn’t yet a right-handed swing you describe as smooth or beautiful, his follow-though is violent; he’s swinging to do damage. When he makes contact it tends to be with solid cracks, as the hand-eye coordination that helps him be an excellent defender helps him out in the batter’s box as well; his strike zone judgment needs refinement and overall he needs more time developing his plate approach, but there’s raw power to be tapped here. Gray also plays a mean centerfield with great closing speed, quick-twitch instincts, and a rifle arm that’s one of the best in this class (PG clocked it at 98 mph). He’s the definition of toolsy but raw, and with strong development, it’s not hard to see a high-ceiling, Byron Buxton-type player here, just based on pure athleticism. Consensus seems to be Jo Jo will be around in the second round; I picked him late but wouldn’t be unhappy at all to sub him in for some of my earlier safer but lower-ceiling picks. I think people are sleeping on JGJ.
Pick 26: Ben selects Triston Casas, 1B, American Heritage (Fla.) HS
I hedged my bet on Seth Beer with this pick by selecting another guy with high power upside that may end up slipping in the draft on account of some holes in his game. Casas is huge for a high schooler at 6’4” 238lb., and he uses every bit of that frame to drive the ball out of the ballpark. While MLB.com gives his power skill a grade of 55, this Baseball America article mentions “his carrying tool and calling card is his power and ability to hit, translating 80-grade raw lefthanded power into consistent game power.”
Casas actually moves pretty well for a guy his size, and projects to be able to handle the duties of first base as a pro no problem after spending time there in addition to third and pitching for American Heritage.
You’ll notice a fairly pronounced leg kick in Casas’ swing, which no doubt contributes to the power he generates with the bat, but it also might be the culprit for what some scouts have identified as some holes in his swing that may lead to difficulties making contact at times. After award-winning performance as the MVP of the World Baseball Softball Confederation U-18 Baseball World Cup, played with wooden bats, he he’s left little doubt as to whether his power will translate to the professional levels.
Pick 27: John selects Sean Hjelle, RHP, University of Kentucky
Do you like tall drinks of water? What if those drinks of water brought their taller friend? That friend’s name would be Sean Hjelle. Pitchers have always been judged by their height, but Hjelle (pronounced like jelly) is another level. At 6’11, he would be, and hopefully one day will be, the tallest player in MLB history, tying Jon Rauch. In case that reference is tough to envision, I’ll take this moment to break out one of my favorite graphics.
Hjelle is more than a piece of potential trivia, however. He started his college career as a reliever before having success in the rotation as a sophomore last year. Working a fastball in the low-90s as well as an advanced curveball and changeup, Hjelle looks far more natural than many pitchers his size do in their delivery. He’s also performed well against top competition, and you can see his curve/fastball/changeup on display here:
With his velocity trending upwards each year since high school, it seems that the slender righty has been focused on strength. That is important, considering his legs are skinny enough that he’s not allowed to run outdoors in mid-August for fear that he’ll spark a fire with such good kindling. A lot of players of Hjelle’s size continue to receive chances based on their physicality but never can put it together. Hjelle seems like a solid bet to reward that interest.
Pick 28: John selects Mason Denaburg, RHP/C, Merrit Island (Fla.) HS
While these other two chumps wrestled between selecting a pitcher or position player with their final choice, I went ahead and took both. Denaburg is currently committed to the University of Florida, where it is expected he may both pitch and catch. It’s not the most sustainable two-way model, but Denaburg has the athleticism, the power, and the arm strength to handle pitching and perhaps even some outfield as he develops. More likely, he’ll be focused on pitching, where his low-90s fastballs with sink from the 18 year-old are accompanied by a power curve and a decent change. The pitches are low-effort, but his motion could either be interpreted as “simple” or “basic,” depending on your perspective.
Denaburg’s knocks stem mostly from a lack of polish. He’s been a multi-sport athlete in addition to multi-positional, playing football and baseball. Between his physicality and versatility there’s a lot to like in Denaburg’s profile. He strikes me as a better pitcher than position player at this stage, but mostly what he needs is time dedicated to baseball specifically. A project might not be the best fit for the Mariners right now, but his repertoire could improve dramatically once baseball is his lone focus.
Pick 29: Ben selects Steven Gingery, LHP, Texas Tech
Gingery probably won’t instill loads of excitement in any fan base of the team that drafts him, but he’s thought to be a pretty safe pick. He doesn’t necessarily have your ideal build for a big league pitcher at 6’2” 210lb, but regardless, he has produced. He managed to produce a sub-two ERA, sub-one WHIP, and K/9 north of 10 as a sophomore for Texas Tech last year.
As a guy who doesn’t particularly throw gas—his fastball sits 88-92mph—he succeeds by working off of a fading change-up that has been suggested as the best in the entire draft class (on display below at the 0:20 mark). He also possesses a curve that, while nothing to write home about, he locates well.
Pick 30: Kate selects Slade Cecconi, RHP, Trinity Prep HS (FLA)
I get to open and close the draft, and am doing so by bookending right-handed high school pitchers who throw some high cheese. Cecconi doesn’t get quite the attention some of the other power arms in this draft do, but he’s an 18-year-old who throws in the mid-to-upper 90s with a loose, easy arm action out of a 3⁄4 slot. At 6’4” and lean, there’s room to add even more power as he bulks up.
Slade (there are some extremely white boy names in this draft but SLADE might take the cake) might not crack the top half of this first round for high school pitchers, as it’s especially loaded this year and there are questions about whether he can develop an effective enough arsenal to be a starter (right now he’s a fastball/slider guy with his curveball coming in behind that, in the eyes of scouts), or if the bullpen is his ultimate destination; that being said, he’s probably at the top of the line to move up if any of the top talents suffer a burnishing of their stars and could sneak into the 15-20 range with a strong spring.
While our actual picks came down to about an even split, one thing jumped out immediately: the prep talent in this first round is both high-ceiling and deep, especially for pitchers. There’s a question, as with any high school talent, about who can be pried away from their college commitments, and it’s important to note things like the fact that the “Peach State Big Three” of Rocker, Hankins, and Banfield all have commitments to Vandy and might decide they want to continue being teammates. Some names we’d heard a lot about didn’t excite us on a deeper dive into their stats and film, and other players who we picked almost randomly (who can resist a 6’11” pitcher) looked even more intriguing on a deeper dive. How these players perform over the next few months will probably further impact how we feel about them, but it’s wise to remember that there are scouts who have been watching some of these guys since they were pre-teens; what they do between now and the draft is just a small slice of the overall player.
Mariners Dream choice: With my top faves (Hankins/Liberatore, Gorman/Kelenic) most likely off the board by 14 (if they decide to forego college at all), I am firmly in the “draft Will Banfield” camp. MLB projects him going at number 20, which feels criminally low to me for someone who is so young yet so advanced defensively and with such good raw power. The Mariners have zero catching depth and Banfield’s floor, even at 18, looks like “MLB backup catcher.” He shouldn’t be available at 14, but if he is, and if he can be pried away from Vandy, I would throw a parade. Give me Baby Zunino, right now, please.
Would be disappointed by: A college bat that doesn’t belong to Nick Madrigal. There is a lot of high-ceiling prep talent in the draft that also boasts a fair amount of polish, and even if it takes a little longer to reach the majors, I’d prefer to gamble on a superstar, something Seattle desperately needs in its system.
Mariners Dream choice: I swear I’m not just saying this because it’s Lindsey Caughel’s alma mater, but I would be thrilled if the M’s selected Stetson University RHP Logan Gilbert. For an organization with no truly elite pitching prospects since the demise of Danny Hultzen, selecting a polished right-hander with a major league body out of the college ranks seems like a safe bet.
Would be disappointed by: Any of the high-school arms that will actually be available when the Mariners pick. While I am all for using this pick on a pitcher, with a farm system that consists mostly of guys who are already major league ready or close to it and James Paxton likely up for free agency in 2021, it would be nice to have a true front-line starter for the torch to be passed on to. Any guy picked out of high school this summer likely won’t be reaching the bigs until 2022 or beyond.
Mariners Dream choice: The Mariners have a lot of foibles they’ll have to overcome in the next few years, but there’s no way I can look at this draft and see how they can afford to come out of it without one, perhaps even two pitchers for their starting rotation in three to four years. While that type of narrowcasting could be especially dangerous in some drafts, this is a class full of rotation options. With that in mind, Kumar Rocker is my top target who I think will be available. Seattle has young, controllable pitchers in the organization, but next to none have the type of upside we saw from the infamous Big Three just half a decade ago. If it must be a college arm, Ryan Rolison would be delightful as well at 14th overall. Nonetheless, the Mariners are flush with high floors. Give me a high-ceiling.
Would be disappointed by: A 1B or a high-floor outfielder (side-eyes Seth Beer and Griffin Conine). Mariners fans who love prospects have been treated so poorly it’s difficult to complain about any infusion of new talent, but if there are any places Seattle is flush it is athletically limited hit-first infielders and defensively superb outfielders with questionable bats. Any well-regarded SS, C, pitcher, or upside OF would be palatable. If the Mariners truly trust their player development, it’s time to infuse that system with talent they believe in.
That’s it for us for now! We’ll have plenty more draft coverage as high school and college ball starts up again, leading up to the June draft. Let us know your thoughts, predictions, preferences, and if there are players you’d like to learn more about.