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. Earlier this week we dove into some first-round picks we’d like to see. Today we throw out a few names of guys who most likely won’t hear their names called on Day One of the draft (if at all), but who have captured a piece of our hearts nevertheless:
SS/2B Ako Thomas, Michigan
The Mariners were active in the Big 10 conference last year, and there’s plenty of talent to choose from there this year. I like Michigan’s Ako (Ah-kay-yo) Thomas, a hyper-athletic second baseman and the Wolverines’ leadoff hitter. Ako is described by his coach at Michigan as “a catalyst, a glue guy, a positive life force that makes us go.” Sound familiar? Ako grew up on the South Side of Chicago, and came to baseball when he saw a flyer at his inner-city elementary school, parlaying his love of baseball into a spot at Chicago’s all-boys Mount Carmel High School. Thomas, who is a solid student off the diamond, earning All-Big Ten Academic honors, plays much bigger than his 5’8” stature might suggest:
Defense is Thomas’s calling card, but he also works hard to get on base, with a 29-game on-base streak to start the season, and he’s walked more than he’s struck out in his career at Michigan, 86 times to just 62 strikeouts. He’s a pest on the bases as well, successfully stealing 15 of 17 times this season (less than last year’s mark of 23 out of 28 attempts, but with a better percentage).
RHP Eli Villalobos, Long Beach State (or C Trevor Casanova (CSUN), but I don’t want to seem desperate).
Catchers, as well as the catcher-pitcher relationship, fascinate me. So when a catcher leaves the spot behind home plate to take the mound as a pitcher, there must be something to be gained. Eli Villalobos, a junior at Long Beach State, is a catcher turned pitcher who dominates well enough on the mound with a classic windup and high ¾ delivery. Though his walk rate increased dramatically between 2017 and 2018, his strikeouts also increased significantly and he’s kept a positive K-BB% throughout 2018, where he spent 7.2 more innings on the mound than the previous year and in higher leverage situations. Having Villalobos in our system, which can and does have the capacity to produce excellent pitching, can prove to be valuable in the coming years. I also want to make the case for Trevor Casanova, who is also a pretty adept catcher and utility man. The M’s drafted him last year, but he decided not to sign and returned to Cal State Northridge (my alma mater, bias is bias). It’d be great to see him in the system, but drafting the same guy two years in a row just seems desperate.
1B Kyle MacDonald - Arkansas State
With the Mariners selecting offensive players with each of their last five first round selections, and given the current state of the organization’s pitching prospects, it’s hard for me to hitch my wagon to any prospect that isn’t a pitcher. That said, one guy I can certainly get behind as a day two or three pick is Canadian slugger Kyle MacDonald. The 6’3” first baseman tips the scales at 240 pounds--the same frame as Anthony Rizzo--and actually replicates the Cubs slugger’s swing pretty closely.
Following two seasons with Crowder Community College during which he swatted 20 home runs, MacDonald landed at Arkansas State, where his .346/.464/.665, 15 home run season got lost in an otherwise unsuccessful 11-19 season for the Red Wolves. The lumbering left-handed hitter posted a successful campaign in the wood bat Canadian Western Major Baseball League during which he batted .284 and slugged five homers in 23 games. A Mississauga, Ontario native, MacDonald also contributed to two prep hockey squad provincial championships in addition to playing golf, badminton, basketball, volleyball, and lacrosse during his high school years. The Mariners have actually taken some interesting first base prospects in recent drafts (White, Filia, Zammarelli, Costello), but when you see a potential bargain in the draft, you jump on it and figure out exactly how he fits into the organization later.
Last night @AStateBaseball Kyle MacDonald belted his 11th HR of the season. First time a Red Wolf has done that since 2007. Today we caught up with the power hitting first baseman https://t.co/KfEavFik6t @Region8News pic.twitter.com/6hm5Jc7SQi— Jason Hurst (@JHurstKAIT8) May 10, 2018
SS/INF Nander De Sedas - Monteverde Academy (FL)
When Kate, Ben, and I conducted our quasi-mock draft roughly two months ago, De Sedas was a top-15 prospect that I snagged fourth-overall. As is the nature of the draft, however, De Sedas saw his stock slip after an underwhelming senior high school season, and has been pushed to the 2nd round or further by many evaluators. That’s just fine by me, as the M’s second pick at 54th overall is in range to possibly snag one of the draft’s most fascinating high schoolers. De Sedas is a switch-hitting shortstop from the same high school that produced Francisco Lindor, but his journey is even more endlessly fascinating. De Sedas moved to the United States at the age of 15 after growing up in Panama and speaks both English and Spanish fluently.
His intangibles draw rave reviews from teammates and coaches, and his physical projection shows a 6’1 frame that can add easy power as an infielder. The Mariners have no shortage of positions begging for a high-upside prospect but middle infield is among the thinnest. The tools that made De Sedas a top pick are still there, much like MY GUY SS Brice Turang from the first round, and we’ve seen both perform well against top prep competition. Unfortunately, signability concerns (he is committed to Florida State University) have made scouts and teams trepidatious about Nander.
Should Seattle go with an infielder like Turang in the 1st round, I’ll add RHP Dominic Pipkin out of Pinole Valley HS (CA) to this grouping as well. 6’4 frame, easy low-to-mid 90s velocity with low-effort delivery, and a fantastic baseball name. It’s no Taijuan Walker, but until proven otherwise I will assume he is NorCal Taijuan Walker.
C/DH Albee Weiss - Cal State Northridge
If I was a scout, Albee Weiss would check all my boxes:
- Not a high school pitcher (biceps the approximate size of a HS pitcher, though)
- Not a high schooler (but as broad as two of them side-by-side)
- Looks capable of withstanding mild-to-moderate winds (his forearms alone could halt a tornado)
- Provides organizational depth at a much-needed position (technically yes, though he’s primarily been a DH. Some catching experience is better than none at all. The bar for catching within Seattle’s system is very, very low, isn’t it, Joe?)
- Displays a modicum of human emotion (“I think we are a bunch of adults playing a kid’s game. When I step between the lines, it’s all business,” Weiss said. “But there needs to be some fun in there too.”)
- Hits baseballs very far
His swing needs a little work and his plate discipline/pitch recognition are abysmal, but the easy power he’s displayed for years guarantees a team will draft him at some point in the later rounds. He’s a prime candidate for re-working his approach, and the kind of player I think would thrive within this organization. It’s tough not to root for a guy who professes to be an aspiring playwright, and who chose Northridge over better programs so that he could be within a 20 minute drive of home and continue to support his mom after his father passed away from lung cancer in 2013.
If you love power, feeling small, and worrying about the frequency of a grown man’s sunscreen application, Albee Weiss is certainly a prospect to follow during the draft.
OF Matt Vierling - University of Notre Dame
Hello. Did you want Jarred Kelenic? Did you fail to get him because your team doesn’t like prep bats, or because he got taken before the 14th pick? Well let me show you this off-brand Jarred Kelenic, from a midwestern college instead of a high school. Vierling does everything Kelenic does--hit for power, play center field, play right field, steal bases--but he does it a little less well while being a few years older. The power is real--check him out going opposite field here--and the arm is strong enough to play in right field--Vierling has pitched at Notre Dame, with a fastball in the low 90s. Depending who you ask it’s possible he could stick in center field; see these efforts.
Drafted by the Cardinals in the 30th round out of high school, he chose to attend Notre Dame and actually already has a Mariners connection, as the Missouri native has spent at least some offseason time working out at P3, a St. Louis-based baseball clinic co-founded by Mariners bullpen coach Brian DeLunas. Vierling isn’t an elite college bat, but he’s a very good one who has produced in a difficult ACC despite Abysmal coaching (see the 17-run, 55 minute half-inning against Clemson in the ACC tournament) who brings enough other skills to the table to find a way to contribute in the major leagues. Am I a Notre Dame homer? Yes. Is Matt Vierling probably our next Mitch Haniger? Also yes.