The MLB Draft will begin NEXT WEEK, from June 3rd-5th. We’ve got oodles of coverage for you, which you can find in our MLB Draft 2019 section! To get us prepared, as we have in years past we’ll take a look back at the drafts of the past five years, giving ourselves a sense of how these things can go. Sometimes drafts that look great at the time pan out as expected. Sometimes... they do not.
The 2019 Mariners are on track for their worst season since 2013. The 71-91 Mariners of that season earned Seattle the 6th overall pick in the draft, marking the most recent time Seattle has picked in the top-10. This draft was flush with gambles at the time, but it has panned out as a true disaster. The underwhelming 2015 Mariners got Jack Zduriencik fired, but the 2014 draft might be equally damning under a historical lens.
First round: Sixth overall pick: Alex Jackson, OF/C
Things are looking up for Alex Jackson. This time last year, he looked like a young bat-first prospect without certainty on a position. But as young players so often do, he improved. As dismal as some selections were in this era, the story that followed Jackson is one of poor coaching and poor attitude in response. That frustration was what led the Mariners to move their top pick in this draft despite Jackson being once one of the most advanced power bats a high schooler had ever presented. Now 23, Jackson was added to the Braves 40-man roster and has put his power on display when he makes contact in AAA, with a .232/.321/.556 line while working behind the dish. He’s even made his MLB debut, though he’s hitless in 11 PAs. A-Jax remains limited defensively, but he’s made the bigs. The pick was laudable at the time, but the player development was not up to the task.
Competitive Balance Round B, 74th overall: Gareth Morgan, OF
Seattle had no 2nd-round pick as a result of the Robinson Cano signing and famously swung as big as they could with their competitive balance pick. Gareth Morgan set Jack Z’s heart aflame with his light tower power and projectible frame. He would go on to set records for strikeouts and unfortunately be released this spring. Last year he managed 180 Ks in 334 PAs, a truly unbelievable 53.9% rate that undercut any hope of utilizing his truly incredible power. 19 of his 47 hits on the year were homers, and he managed a remarkably optimized 51.8% FB rate, with one in three of those fly balls leaving the yard. The unfortunate conclusion was the one many scouts predicted when they scoffed at this pick. He was unlike anything the minors had ever seen, but the 23-year-old is now gone from the system.
Third round, 80th overall: Austin Cousino, OF
Cousino was Morgan’s shadow, an alter-ego in every way with a reputation for defensive wizardry not unlike Braden Bishop, and a noodle bat with a flat University of Kentucky swing to match. Unlike Bishop, Cousino was unable to make adjustments and push himself to the bigs, dropping out of organized baseball in 2016.
4th round, 111th overall: Ryan Yarbrough, LHP
The most successful member of this class, Yarbrough has become the poster child for a pitcher following an Opener. His long relief/spot starter role came together despite unassuming numbers and projections as a below-slot college signee to offset the big swings at the top of the class. Dealt to Tampa in the infamous Drew Smyly trade, Yarbrough is the jewel of this draft, though he’s adorning another team’s necklace. Even he has struggled this year, posting a 6.38 ERA despite a 3.98 FIP in 24.0 IP this year after throwing 147.1 innings and a 3.91/4.19 ERA/FIP in 2018.
5th round, 141th overall: Dan Altavilla, RHP
Only one player in this entire draft has made the majors for Seattle - dapper Dan. Altavilla has followed the path most expected after being selected from Mercyhurst College. His size and high-effort motion always projected him towards the bullpen. There, aided by his fierce work ethic, Altavilla’s velocity jumped to triple digits and his strikeout numbers skyrocketed. Sadly, his command has been eminently peccable, and a combination of walks and ill-timed homers have kept the 26-year-old from sticking in the bigs.
Also drafted this year, still in the system: 1 player. ONE.
14th round: Chris Mariscal, SS: As Kate noted in today’s middle infield depth overview, Mariscal has made contact and scrapped for playing time at every level. By virtue of his ability to hang all over the infield, he’s hung on in the minors, and tore up AA this year, earning a promotion to Tacoma. At 26, it’s tough to see him as a prospect but he’s literally the only remaining player in the system besides Altavilla.
On a technicality, DeAires Moses was taken in the 31st round but didn’t sign, but he was successfully signed after being taken again in the 2016 draft and remains a part of the AZL Mariners roster as of this moment. Still, as he was unsigned in 2014, it can’t be counted.
Hero of the Draft:
Also drafted by the Mariners this year, still active in affiliated ball: 3
Trey Cochran-Gill (17th round), and Tyler Herb (29th) both remain part of MLB organizations, both having been parts of minor trades. Herb is closest to the bigs, making AAA with the Giants last year after being dealt for Chris Heston. He’s with the Orioles this year, but posting a 5.26 ERA in 102.2 IP combined at the level. Cochran-Gill is working out of the bullpen in AA for Oakland, keeping the Evan Scribner trade alive, but his numbers are no better than Herb’s.
Number of picks who went unsigned: 4
Biggest ‘What If?’: If Gareth could hit.
There are no shortages of options here, especially since Aaron Nola, Kyle Freeman, and Michael Conforto were three of the next four picks after this. But that’s true retrofitting of history - the A-Jax pick was seen resoundingly as a logical and commendable selection. That the Mariners couldn’t or didn’t make it work is a failure on multiple levels, but the initial idea was sound enough. No, the greater issue was Gareth Morgan being unable to realize the potential here, as Seattle went a combined $1.9 million over slot to sign Jackson and Morgan - most of that the $2 million committed to Morgan despite just $760k granted to it. That NEITHER player panned out for Seattle sunk them in a draft where they pushed all their chips in on them.
Overall draft impressions: Seattle got little and less out of the draft than many teams in recent years, but it’s hard to look at this crop and not see a thru line to the limitations of the rosters of the past couple seasons. Even the 2013 draft, where the M’s whiffed on D.J. Peterson and Austin Wilson in rounds one and two, still yielded seven MLB players (three for Seattle) and players who became prospects that were dealt for other MLB talent (most notably Tyler O’Neill became Marco Gonzales, Emilio Pagan became Ryon Healy, Zack Littell became James Pazos). From 2014, Seattle has gotten scraps and less, a situation marred greatly by injuries to Drew Smyly, Max Povse, and Rob Whalen. They cannot miss like this again.
Draft grade: When I reviewed this draft a couple years ago, I wanted to avoid hyperbole. Though things looked bleak, I endeavored to reserve an F designation for something truly disastrous. Instead, a mere D- was offered, and yet things have only worsened. Seattle will have a similar opportunity to infuse their farm with top talent next year as they are headed for a pick at the back end of the top-10 or top-15. They must do better than this. Overall: F