The second day of the MLB draft concluded today. You may have heard something about it. In addition to our as-it-happened draft coverage, here’s a rundown of who we picked and my best stabs at why, and the organizational approach to the 2018 draft.
Draft Rounds 1-10
|University of Louisville
|Florida State University
|Texas A&M University
|Joey Takashi O'Brien
|College of Southern Nevada
|Nova Southeastern University
|University of Illinois
|University of Georgia
- Logan Gilbert is obviously the big-time name here. What you think of this pick basically depends on what you think of his health. Stetson has something of a track record of abusing pitchers through overuse, and Gilbert’s usage pattern fits that bill. After a dominant summer in the Cape Cod League last year, a weaker opening to 2018 for Stetson had him sliding down boards, with reduced velocity and concerns mounting. However, a well-timed rainout midseason gave Gilbert a full week off and there is some consensus that his velocity and stuff have bounced back strongly. The only draftee still playing college ball, Gilbert has an agreement in principle with the Mariners and will sign when his College World Series trip ends. Given Stetson’s history, I sort of hope that’s soon. Sorry, Logan.
- Josh Stowers prompted a “who?” from most people, not because he’s unknown but because he was widely projected to go about a hundred picks lower than the Mariners took him at 54. Stowers should have the tools to stick in center field—the only real question is the arm—and took off late in draft evaluations thanks to a dazzling performance in the ACC tournament. Stowers seems to have made a significant swing change this past offseason and it’s possible his tournament performance was the result of those changes finally clicking. The Mariners took him at a high slot, but not an indefensible one by any means; an advanced hitter who ran a .477 OBP in 2017, don’t be surprised to see Stowers dominate in Everett this summer.
- Cal Raleigh entered the all-prospect name pantheon in my mind the moment I saw his name announced. The Florida State catcher is on the large side for a catcher at 6’3”, 225, but probably has the athleticism to stick behind the plate. There are some questions about his defense, but the framing at least appears to be pretty decent. What really puts Raleigh on the map, though, is the bat. After a weak sophomore year, Raleigh OPS’d 1.030 in his junior year, clobbering 13 home runs and drawing 8 more walks than strikeouts.
- Unlikely to be drafted at all before this season began, Michael Plassmeyer lost his starting spot at Missouri thanks to a rough sophomore season. A strong offseason boosted his fastball velocity, gave him a new out pitch thanks to a new curveball grip, and paired with his already pinpoint command he turned into the ace of the Missouri staff. In fact, he posted better K/9 and BB/9 marks this season than Florida ace and first round draftee Brady Singer, pitching in the same conference. Given his command, Plassmeyer looks like the kind of prospect who could move pretty fast if he performs, and the out pitch means he has a higher ceiling than some recent Mariners command and control prospects.
- Then we turn to the relievers. Nolan Hoffman pitched in multi-inning relief for Texas A&M this season, and he is... A SUBMARINEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEER! Unlike most college players, Hoffman has high quality video floating around in which you can see, plain as day, just how brutal the late break on that slider is. Unusually for someone with his arm action, the fastball also sits 92-93, which makes the slider that much more terrifying. Like many higher-drafted relief prospects, Hoffman can move fast in the system if he performs.
- Here’s my favorite prospect in the Mariner draft class. Joey Takashi O’Brien. As you may recall from our draft previews, I love me a toolsy outfielder. Well, O’Brien is all that—described sometimes as “five-tool”—and OPS’d 1.006 at the College of Southern Nevada, the JUCO where Bryce Harper spent a bit of time as a 17 year old. CSN uses wood bats, which makes the numbers more exciting, and O’Brien also swiped five bags and played the outfield. Here’s the thing: O’Brien also pitches. Arguably, he pitches better than he hits. He ran a 12.0 K/9 and 2.78 BB/9 marks in 51.2 innings in mixed starting and relief this season and is still learning the two seamer he adopted when he came to CSN. Why did he only take up the two seamer then? Because O’Brien is from Okinawa, and Japanese pitchers mostly throw four seamers. Yes. The Mariners drafted a two-way phenom from Japan. Ready your jokes. But seriously, O’Brien throws up to 96 and has a splitter, and feels like a classic “no one knows too much” kid who could—could!—seriously surprise when he starts appearing in games. I love this kid already.
- Jake Anchia is a Kate favorite. The son of Cuban immigrants, he comes from the school of noted power hitter JD Martinez but also holds that school’s record for home runs, with 37. Power seems like the best tool, but he also hits for average and plays pretty good defense. With any D-II kid, the question is going to be level of competition, but Anchia has done everything at Nova that could be asked of him.
- Then Seattle turned back to the bullpen, taking closer Joey Gerber from Illinois. Gerber has a funky action but a mid-90s fastball and biting, nasty slider that will look very familiar to Mariners fans, as it’s the same sort of combo utilized by several of our current big league relievers. Rated much more highly than his actual selection, many drafts had him in the 100-125 range overall, meaning the Mariners snagged nice value here on a player who should be in the big leagues—if he succeeds—within a year or two. Maybe even this fall, depending who you ask.
- Keegan McGovern seems like a wonderful young man and a pretty good player, but I sort of had trouble getting excited about him too much because of his position. A bruising corner outfielder at Georgia, defensive scouting rated him poorly coming into this year, but McGovern lost 25 pounds and may have altered that reality a little bit. McGovern still smashed 18 dingers on the season with decent walk numbers and a bit of a strikeout problem.
- Last but maybe not least, Matt Sanders confuses but also excites me. While he does play in a weaker conference, Troy is a pretty good baseball school and Sanders had a monster senior year. A true shortstop, Sanders had two just pretty OK years at the plate before exploding for a 1.001 OPS this year. Still with only five home runs in 2018, he’ll never be confused for A-Rod, but the defense combined with the breakout means that while he lacks the track record and conference pedigree of a Nick Madrigal, there’s still something interesting going on here. The Madrigal comparison is a natural one because Sanders is listed at 5’8”.
That’s where the Mariners stand right now. Looking at their picks as a whole, the big, obvious takeaway is that they didn’t take a single prep player. The organization has not been averse at all to capitalizing on value where available in years past—see the Sam Carlson pick last year—but chose this year to go for the more polished, accomplished players. Given the condition of the farm now vs. the last two years, I think it makes sense. Trades have boosted this roster into first place in the AL West (hey Astros), but also left the farm worse top to bottom than when Jerry Dipoto and crew arrived.
Given the need for major league options from the farm in the 2-3 year window, as well as the need to continue to bolster the roster through trades where necessary, drafting college players makes a lot of sense to get the higher levels of the system replenished as quickly as possible. It’s true—and a valid complaint—that those picks are mostly going to lack the upside of a Matthew Liberatore or a Kumar Rocker, both highly regarded prep arms available to the Mariners, but as we saw with Tommy Romero, these types of college picks do not have to perform for very long at all before you can turn them into something for your big league roster.
The other major theme here—which you may have gleaned from my quick-hitter summaries—is what are usually called “helium guys”—prospects who skyrocketed up the rankings as the result of a one-season breakout. Stowers, Plassmeyer, Sanders, and arguably O’Brien qualify in this category. I like this strategy a lot for any team, not just the Mariners—I’m far from an expert, but once you get past the blue-chips, hunting for guys who have a strong argument that they’ve raised their ceiling and pouncing on them before the conventional wisdom says to do so feels like the sort of market-beating move that a club like Seattle needs, badly. It could blow up in the Mariners’ faces, but if they’re good at their jobs, they have given themselves the opportunity to reap serious value from this draft in the next five years.
In the interest of speed, and because our other writers, especially Kate, have done such a tremendous job writing on these guys, I have failed miserably to cite my sources or include video. Most of what I relied on can be found in the posts or comments about the draft, but if you would like to know more about a player or a point that I made, please ask and I’ll happily share the background in the comments.