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.
2016 was the first year Jerry Dipoto got his twitchy fingers into the Mariners’ farm system dirt, and three years later, half the players we signed in the draft are still in the system. We have this draft and the previous year’s to thank, via trade, for the gift of Dee Gordon. As a nod to Ken Griffey Jr, the Mariners used their 24th round pick to draft his son, Trey Griffey, who did not sign because he plays football and hasn’t played baseball since he was 11 years old. Lastly, you may recognize our final draft pick, Adley Rutschman, who - are you prepared for this devastating news? - did not sign, opting instead to play college baseball with Oregon State.
First Round (11th overall): Kyle Lewis, CF
For the 11th overall pick, the Mariners selected CF Kyle Lewis from Mercer University. Lewis, from Snellville, Georgia, dominated at the college level and won the Southern Conference Baseball Player of the Year award two years straight, as well as being named the Baseball America College Player of the Year in 2016. Lewis began his baseball career in Everett and saw continued success until, just two months after he was drafted, a gruesome collision at home plate left him with a torn ACL as well as medial and lateral meniscus in his right knee. The injury required total knee reconstruction and a second surgery the following year to remove scar tissue and a bone spur. This past spring was the first time Lewis was healthy enough to participate in spring training, and he started the spring on a wild tear, going .393/.452/.857 in his first 31 plate appearances. Since returning to the AA Travelers he’s quieted down considerably, going just .211/.316/.325. A few weeks ago we took an in-depth look at his progress.
Second Round (50th overall): Joe Rizzo, 3B
Rizzo has been having the best season of his young career offensively down in Modesto, going .314/.377/.419 so far, and that’s after a relatively slow first couple weeks. If Rizzo keeps this pace up, he may land in Arkansas by the end of the year, which also just seems like a good way to tell people they’re on the right track - “you keep up this quality of work, and you’ll see Arkansas before you know it.” There are defensive concerns about Rizzo - at times he appears a competent third baseman, but at other times he struggles with routine plays, leading to talk of him being moved from the position.
Third Round (87th overall): Bryson Brigman, SS
Brigman impressed early in his minor league career with the Mariners, boasting a .304/.373/.391 line in his 2018 season with the Modesto Nuts, and all that boasting got him sent to the Miami Marlins for Cameron Maybin at the trade deadline. Brigman finished the year strong with Miami’s High-A team and then their AA team, but has not seen the same success in 2019, his line dropping to .231/.305/.300 in AA so far this year. With Cameron Maybin lost to free agency and eventually the Yankees, we currently have nothing to show for our third round pick.
Fourth Round (117th overall): Thomas Burrows, LHP
Burrows was sent to the Braves as part of a trade in 2017 to bring Mallex Smith to Seattle for a few minutes before Smith was sent that same day to the Rays as part of another trade, all so Drew Smyly could continue to not play baseball for the Seattle Mariners. Burrows is still in the Braves’ minor league system, where he pitched well enough through 2018 to start 2019 with the AAA Gwinnett Stripers, but was recently sent back to AA after posting an ERA of 5.21 in 16 relief appearances with the Stripers. Also sent to Seattle in the trade was Shae Simmons, who pitched 7.2 fairly disastrous innings for the Mariners, suffered an injury and became a free agent, leaving us with nothing to show for this draft pick either save for all the fun we can have remembering Drew Smyly, Mariner.
Fifth Round (147th overall): Donnie Walton, 2B
Walton has been filling the leadoff spot in Arkansas with a .271/.365/.388 line so far this year. He’s shown some speed, already matching last year’s stolen base total with four on the season. Walton has also displayed versatility defensively, having played significantly more games this year at shortstop than second base, his listed position.
Also drafted this year, still in the system: 11
14 members of the 2016 draft class are currently still playing in the Mariners’ system, which seems pretty good compared to earlier years, although this being a more recent draft, our trading days continue to stretch on ahead.
Those players are:
Matt Festa (7th round): hey, we know this guy! More on him later.
Nick Zammarelli (8th round): so far this year Zammarelli, 1B, hasn’t matched the offensive numbers he was putting up last year and the year before. Nearly a third of his 2019 at-bats have been strikeouts. In his first couple months of AA with the Arkansas Travelers he’s hitting just .209/.282/.351.
Michael Koval (11th round): RHP currently on the IL with the Modesto Nuts. Koval has not pitched yet this year.
Tim Viehoff (12th round): Viehoff’s Instagram account says he’s a pitcher in the Seattle Mariners organization. However, all reports indicate that for Viehoff, it is 2017 and he is playing for the Clinton LumberKings. Given the period of time he’s been inactive and his being a pitcher, we can only assume he’s either recovering from Tommy John surgery somewhere or frozen in 2017, playing for the Clinton LumberKings for all of eternity. Has anyone heard from Tim? We’re worried.
Reggie McClain (13th round): RHP with the Arkansas Travelers, McClain was called up to the Rainiers in April but struggled through four innings in his only appearance and was sent back down to Arkansas. Since that game he has shut down his opponents in six AA appearances, giving up two runs on two hits in 15.2 innings, striking out 20 and walking only 4. He has worked hard to raise his velocity and clocked 97 last night for the Travelers.
Dimas Ojeda (17th round): RF currently on the IL with the Modesto Nuts.
DeAires Moses (19th round): LF, on the roster for the AZL Mariners.
Eric Filia (20th round): 1B/OF, currently serving a 100-day suspension for testing positive a third time for a drug of abuse, rumored to be marijuana.
Jansiel Rivera (22nd round): CF for the Modesto Nuts, has yet to really get things going since signing with the Mariners. Rivera has only played in one game this year, but finished last year hitting .217/.315/.357, mostly in Everett.
Jack Anderson (23rd round): has posted an ERA of 1.35 so far this year in 20 innings of relief for the Arkansas Travelers, striking out 26 and walking 8. Since we keep playing Whack-A-Mole with his Travelers teammate Dan Altavilla, I’d like to think we’ll see Anderson at least playing AAA ball sometime soon.
David Ellingson (34th round): as a relief pitcher for the West Virginia Power this year, Ellingson has struck out 26 and walked 10 in 25.1 innings with an ERA of 2.84.
Hero of the draft: Matt Festa
The first member of the 2016 draft class to play in the majors, Festa gave up the dream of being a starting pitcher, perhaps sensing that the Mariners would soon be in dire need of bullpen arms. After transitioning to the bullpen in Arkansas last year Festa dominated, finishing the year with a strikeout-to-walk ration of 5.58 and winning the Jamie Moyer Minor League Pitcher of the Year award. He has been up and down between Seattle and Tacoma this year and hasn’t performed particularly well at either, but he’s still spent less than a year adjusting to non-AA hitting.
Also drafted by the Mariners this year, still active in affiliated ball: 4
Aside from the previously-discussed third and fourth round picks Bryson Brigman and Thomas Burrows, two other draftees are still active in affiliated ball: Jason Goldstein, picked in the 9th round, is active in the Oakland system and Robert Dugger, selected in the 18th round, was part of the trade that brought us Dee Gordon and we thank him for his service. Dugger is still playing in the Miami system.
Number of picks who went unsigned: 12
Biggest ‘What If?’: What if Adley Rutschman had signed with the Mariners?
It’s the obvious choice, and he wasn’t going to sign, but if he had, the Mariners would theoretically have a catcher to build around, leaving our already-significant catching depth available to trade for other pieces. Rutschman wasn’t the same player in 2016 - he put in serious work on his swing while at Oregon State, and was afforded a unique opportunity to develop his defense and game management skills with Oregon’s elite pitching staff. The biggest difference for Rutschman, though, was finally giving up football and focusing on baseball - he believes playing both sports kept him from committing the time necessary to really excel at either. It stands to reason that all those adjustments could have been made in our minor league system. Still, it’s for the best we don’t think about these things - our hearts have been broken by a top catching prospect before.
Overall draft impression: At this early point, we’re seeing more from later rounds than anything in the top five. I hope to see Kyle Lewis turn things up in the minors very soon, but he’s been pretty quiet since returning from his second surgery. Rizzo probably doesn’t have the defensive chops to be Kyle Seager’s eventual heir. Our third and fourth round picks haven’t performed particularly well in the minor league systems of their respective teams. Of our top five draft picks of 2016, Walton has shown the most real potential to be an eventual player of impact for the Mariners. Later in the draft, though, Reggie McClain is an exciting pitcher to keep an eye on, and relievers Festa, Anderson and Ellingson all show potential at a position always in demand.
Draft grade: I have no idea how to grade a draft. However, it seems good that so many of the players we drafted are still playing in our system. Kyle Lewis still has great potential and was a stellar pick, as we couldn’t have predicted his injuries. A few other players we drafted seem reasonably likely to make an impact on the big team. Overall: B