The MLB Draft is fast approaching (June 2-4) and the Mariners hold a pretty good draft position thanks to [checks notes] oh, right, the unspeakable horrors of 2017. We know that not all of you can get excited about the MLB Draft because it is a lot of effort to get excited about something where you might not see the payoff for five years, or ever, if the player doesn’t make the majors with the Mariners or the heat death of the universe wipes us all off the planet before then. So we are making it easy on you! Pick your favorite LL staffer, and ride or die with his or her pick. Except, a lot of the staffers don’t follow draft coverage either, so there’s a good chance this is a lot of nonsense. But that’s what the draft is for! Much nonsense.
RHP Logan Gilbert, Stetson University
As I am the well-documented Lindsey Caughel truther here on the site, you may laugh and roll your eyes at my White Whale for the first round of this year’s draft, but I promise my intrigue surrounding the 6’5” right hander goes beyond his educational institute of choice. By my count, the Mariners have failed to have a pitching prospect in the Top 100 since Taijuan Walker in 2013. Gilbert, who has improved every season in college, has shown an exciting combination of elite level strikeout stuff (13.0 K/9) without losing command (5.2 H/9) or control (1.9 BB/9) of his four pitch arsenal. If you’re at all worried about the weaker level of competition in the Atlantic Sun Conference, he actually limited runs and walks at an even better rate last summer playing in the prospect-laden Cape Cod League, where he posted a 1.72 ERA and 0.90 WHIP in addition to limiting walks to the tune of 1.2 BB/9.
He’s reportedly topped out at 97mph but typically works 91-94, while also possessing a slider and change-up that grade 55, and a 50 grade curve that’s a work in progress. He’s got the body, pitch mix, and track record to suggest he has every chance to follow in the footsteps of fellow-alumni Corey Kluber and Jacob deGrom as a front-of-the-rotation starter at the big league level, and was already linked to the Mariners at 14 in FanGraphs’ Mock Draft v2.0.
Not A High School Pitcher and, really, not a high school player at all. The lone exception is RHP Kumar Rocker, whose 6’4” 250 lb makeup reassures my fragile-teenager worries, and would have been my pick except that apparently John likes him, so sorry Kumar, you and your 98 MPH fastball, decent slider, and serviceable changeup can’t be my friend here.
But this org does need pitching, so * tilts head alllllll the way back * hey there RHP Sean Hjelle, nice to meet ya. The 6’11” right-hander from University of Kentucky would match Jon Rauch as the tallest player in major league history, assuming he made it to the majors. In my hyper-Mariners-focused mind he’s the fusion of two very happy associations - former Wildcat, James Paxton, and towering wizard-turned MLB front office man Chris Young. He clocks in at an alarming-for-his-frame 215 pounds, but when he throws it somehow doesn’t look like his limbs are flying everywhere which * consults prospect ranking guide * my sources tell me is a major plus for a pitching prospect.
RHP Ethan Hankins, Forsyth Central HS (GA)
Things get wild with the mock drafts the closer you get to draft day; guys who seemed like locks for the top ten two months ago slide off the board completely, especially in a draft year that’s heavy on fungible high-school talent, and especially when some of that talent plays in the Great White North in a year of severe weather. I still don’t think OF Jarred Kelenic is around at our pick, but I’m intrigued by the slide of another standout from the Perfect Game All-American Classic, RHP Ethan Hankins. A former consensus top-ten pick and my number one pick in the LL first round mock, a shoulder injury has pushed Hankins out of the top ten for most outlets--Keith Law has him all the way down at 33, and Jim Callis’s most recent mock has him at 31. Baseball America also sees him outside the top ten, although narrowly, and Jonathan Mayo for MLB has him in the back half of the first round. If he’s available, Hankins would be a steal at this spot. The 6’6” righty has drawn comparisons to Gerrit Cole thanks to his clean and repeatable mechanics, as well as his mid-90s velocity and ability to command to both sides of the plate. Even after the shoulder inflammation that hurt his draft stock, he’s back up to his previous numbers of a reportedly “easy” 93-96 on his fastball, and combines that with a curveball at 73-76 and a mid-80s changeup. Not only can he touch 97 on the fastball, but it’s got some heavy sinking action, plenty of armside run that bores in on righties and runs away from lefties, and some nasty late movement. That in and of itself is deadly, but the curve is also a legit weapon, with some Jose Berrios-like 2-7 movement that breaks sharply away from right-handed hitters. Hankins also likes to play with hesitation on the mound, showing a little Kuma-esque hitch in his delivery at times.
Unfortunately (for us, not for Ethan, who deserves to get real paid), a standout performance at East Coast Pro Day that was heavily attended by several of the top-ten drafting teams might have knocked him out of the Mariners’ reach at 14. However, Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser just posted an article detailing why clubs are hesitant to spend high draft picks on HS righties, pointing to the recent struggles of highly-drafted prospects like Riley Pint and Tyler Kolek. Hankins has an edge because his velocity, while impressive, isn’t the product of high-effort throwing for showcases, but rather the result of solid mechanics. Drafting a prep righty in the first round is a risky play, but the kind of play the Mariners need to make to turn their farm around.
SS Brice Turang - Santiago HS (CA)
Look, the Mariners NEED quality pitching from this draft something fierce, but a middle infielder who was being considered at the number one overall pick is not worth passing over. Turang’s stock has slipped due to some slight underwhelm in his senior season, but he’s picked right back up in summer ball against stiff competition. The 6’1 shortstop is an excellent athlete with strong sporting lineage. It seems likely he’ll be able to stick at shortstop, making the bar for his offensive production lower, but his contact profile has been relentless. A sweet left-handed swing and a frame that could add power have earned Turang some Corey Seager comparisons. As the league has recognized the easier pathway of developing your own position players and paying for pitching later, Seattle might be best served with a sky-high ceiling hitter like Turang or Jarred Kelenic in the first round, and loading up on pitching in the 2nd round and beyond.
OF Jarred Kelenic - Waukesha West HS
If you put the words “five tool” on a prep outfielder I am legally obligated to be devastated if that player does not become a Mariner. Recently profiled on the site after Keith Law projected him to the Mariners, Kelenic goes firmly in the “super fun” basket of potential draftees, having the speed to play center field, the arm to play right, blah blah, look he’s OBVIOUSLY GOING TO BE IN THE MAJORS BY 21 DRAFT HIM ALREADY. Prep bats can be scary (hello, Alex Jackson), but if you’re going to go after one, a guy like Kelenic with athleticism off the charts is the way to go, as even if the upside doesn’t pan out (oh, the upside) there are multiple paths to become a MLB asset.
There’s one other obvious comparison that I am loathe to mention but can’t leave out. The 2009 spring rains in New Jersey have reached near-legendary status as they meant few teams had the opportunity to really see an interesting outfielder playing weak competition by the name of Mike Trout. Well, as you may recall from the Mariners’ April, Kelenic has had a severely curtailed spring thanks to the midwest being a tire fire of snow and ice, and while he was already a partially known quantity thanks to time with team USA and on the camp circuit (more than Trout, to be sure!), a couple of weak performances when scouts WERE present left him potentially slipping to Seattle’s range in the mid-first round. Which seems odd, to me, but hey, whatever, let’s nab him. A Trout comparison is about the most unfair way to start your career, but honestly, the weather thing makes the connection so obvious it seems clear to me that he’ll be better than Trout if the Mariners get him. I mean, he’d be drafted higher. What more do you need to know?
OF Travis Swaggerty - South Alabama
Let’s be honest: if we’re picking favorite draft prospects, most of whom I know almost nothing about, then a prospect’s name might actually matter more than his talent. And with a last name like “Swaggerty,” we’re already off to a Hall of Fame start. But the more I looked into the Louisiana native, the more I liked. He was an afterthought as a recruit, joining the South Alabama program after being passed over for 40 rounds in the MLB Draft. And after a freshman All-American season, he added some crazy power in his sophomore year, slashing .361/.487/.567. He has great plate discipline, plus speed, and decent outfield defense, leading some to compare him to Andrew Benintendi. I’m imagining Jeremy Reed, but with more power, and also actually a good baseball player. That profile, of course, was good enough to be one of the top prospects in the game, and Swaggerty would instantly give the M’s another stud to dream on.
Of course, there is a drawback looming: Enough scouts like him that it seems unlikely he’ll fall all the way to the first Mariners pick at #14. If he makes it that far, perhaps he’ll be the next Kyle Lewis, a college bat whose selection was immediately heralded as a steal by just about everybody. Regardless, give me Swaggerty nicknames or give me a worse baseball prospect.