Full disclosure: I’m not sure there’s a person on staff here who follows the minor leagues and the draft less than me. Most of my MiLB consumption consists of cursory glances at Rainiers’ box scores and an occasional reading of Top Prospects lists. I simply do not have the time nor energy to keep up with the farm teams when the big-league boys are already so exhausting. Sure, I’m vaguely aware of the biggest names at each level of the Mariners’ system (mainly through interactions with our more minors-inclined writers). With work, real life, and my non-baseball interests all competing for attention, I have never found the time to watch a minor league game, and if we’re keeping it all the way 100, I don’t really plan to.
That said, one of my favorite things about baseball is its minor league system. Not from an entertainment standpoint, or a morality standpoint, but because of the layers of intrigue it adds to MLB. Player on the 25-man roster get hurt? Call up someone from the Triple-A squad. Trying to swing a trade for a big name without diminishing your current team? Throw in some shiny teenage prospects. Unlike, say, football, baseball’s minor league system provides layers of intrigue beyond an organization’s top team. I like that trades can be made involving future major leaguers, and dark times for the big club can be brightened with the arrival of rising suns.
I look at the minor leagues like a fire extinguisher. I’m not very familiar with it, but it’s comforting to know it’s there.
The reason I say all that is because we’re here to discuss the 2016 MLB Draft, an event that has not produced a single big-league player for the Mariners yet. Because of that, I do not know much about Jerry Dipoto’s crop of picks in his first draft as the team’s GM.
Knowing that this was Jerry’s first chance to grocery shop for his new home, we can speculate that he was looking for things he can cook with, aka dudes that control the zone. The first three picks were all spent on position players, who came from a wide range of schools. Each member of the trio posted walk rates north of 10 percent in their first season of pro ball. The front office mostly stayed away from high school players, selecting just two in the first 20 picks. We, err, I, will have a clearer idea of these players as they start to elevate through the ranks and post larger samples against better competition.
First round (pick #11) – Kyle Lewis, OF, Mercer University
The crown jewel of 2016 was a right-handed hitting outfielder from Mercer University in the Southern Conference. In his last year at the smallish school, Lewis clubbed an absurd .395/.535/.731 with 20 home runs in 61 games. This resulted in the Golden Spikes Award and a $3.2 million signing bonus. And then…
Mariners first-round pick Kyle Lewis will miss rest of season with torn ACL as well as medial and lateral meniscus in right knee— Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) July 20, 2016
Just a month after being drafted, the injury bug burrowed, colonized, and destroyed Lewis’ knee. As a result, he appeared in just 30 games with the AquaSox, but showed some promising potential (.299/.385/.530 with a 152 wRC+). As of today, he has played nine games for the 2018 Modesto Nuts.
Second round (pick #50) – Joe Rizzo, INF, Oakton HS
Rizzo is also chillin’ in Modesto, plugging away with a .252 batting average buoyed by a .350 BABIP. His average, OBP, slugging, walk rate, and wRC+ have all dipped since his first year of rookie ball, and Rizzo’s K% has risen as he ascends the minor leagues. A downgrade in production for a 20-year-old facing the best pitchers of his life with each promotion should be a bit expected, but it’s not super encouraging for a player taken so high. As someone who has literally never seen him play, I can’t tell you anything in terms of scouting, but I can tell you that anyone named Joe Rizzo probably has a spectacular lasagna recipe.
Third round (pick #87) – Bryson Brigman, INF, University of San Diego
Brigman is the lone player from this draft that I knew about prior to his selection. I am fascinated by Bryson, mainly because we went to the same college, but also because of his childhood hockey days, and the fact that he sorta kinda looks like me had I applied myself to athletics rather than internet-based frivolities.
Anyway, Brigman is a middle infielder currently tearing up the Cal League thanks to a ridiculous .426 BABIP. The San Jose native was originally nabbed by the A’s in the 40th round of the 2014 draft. Rather than sign with Oakland he chose to follow in the footsteps of accomplished industry leaders like Kris Bryant, James Pazos, and Matthew Roberson, and enroll at USD. Brigman enjoyed a fabulous freshman season, leading the Toreros to the WCC Championship and landing a spot on the all-conference team. A sports hernia held him out of commission early in his sophomore year, but he recovered to hit .372 over 47 games.
He is capable of manning both second base and short stop, and after some modest struggles last season with the LumberKings he appears to be back on track. Brigman profiles as a selective hitter (10.16 BB% across three minor league levels) with above average speed. While blocked at both of those positions – for now – on the major league club, we’re still looking at a couple of seasons before the 23-year-old is ready for the show.
2016 also blessed the Mariners’ family of affiliates with some people whose names you may be acquainted with.
Seventh round (pick #207) – Matt Festa, RHP, East Stroudsburg University
· Working himself into an intriguing bullpen prospect in Double-A Arkansas
Arkansas wins; Matt Festa with the 5-out save. Festa has a four-pitch mix and showed a v. nice changeup in addition to his slider/curve, but can also throw gas when he needs to. Here he strikes out DJ Peters, who was swinging for the fences the whole AB, on a fastball to end it. pic.twitter.com/fP1we2spgW— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) May 21, 2018
Eighth round (pick #237) – Nick Zammarelli III, 1B/3B, Elon University
· Nicky Three Sticks is rocking an .803 OPS in over 800 minor league AB’s
20th round – Eric Filia, OF, UCLA
· Raked in Modesto, helped the team win a championship, led the AFL in hitting, got suspended
24th round – Trey Griffey, football player, University of Arizona
· Training with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are not a baseball team
Somewhere in America there is a lacrosse team gearing up for a weekend tournament, wondering where their captain Adley Rustchman is. Someone should probably tell them that Adley was taken by the Mariners in the 40th round but elected to play at Oregon State.
It is far too early to tell. Watch the Modesto Nuts and form your own opinions.