With the dust settled and the playoffs beginning tomorrow, the topic on the lips in hipster coffee shops everywhere is, naturally, the 2020 draft. The Mariners, courtesy of a March/April and September where they played a group of since-traded veterans and Kyle Seager & The Kids, respectively, have earned the 6th overall pick in next June’s draft.
2020 Draft Order
|Pick Number||Team||2019 Record|
|Pick Number||Team||2019 Record|
|11||CHI White Sox||72-89|
|30||Houston Astros||infinity symbol-4|
Since every team signed their first-rounder in 2019, the only thing that could affect this draft order is if a team goes $40M over the luxury tax ($206M) in free agency signings, for which the penalty is steep: a drop of ten spots in the draft order, a price paid by the 2019 Red Sox, who didn’t make their first selection until the 43rd pick overall. Excepting a team with an already high payroll shelling out for both top FAs Anthony Rendon and Gerrit Cole, this scenario doesn’t seem likely for 2020, especially with GMs under increasing pressure to keep teams under the luxury tax.
Given that the 2019 Mariners, as lousy as they were at times, had no chance to break into the tier of the truly abject 100-loss teams, this is about as good a result as one could hope for; the Mariners get a high draft choice and bragging rights over Blue Jays fans. The sweep in Pittsburgh and the bottoming-out of the Rockies made things close down the stretch but having to close out the season against two playoff-bound teams, one competing for home field advantage, locked things down for the M’s. Not only will they get to select sixth overall in a draft that’s regarded by many analysts as one of the deepest since 2011’s fabled draft, but getting to select near the top of each round rather than the murky middle will offer more opportunities to go after the players at the top of their draft boards rather than hoping certain names will fall to them.
It’s so early in the draft cycle that colleges haven’t even posted their spring schedules yet, but there are some names emerging as favorites to come off the board with the first few picks: ASU slugger Spencer Torkelson is favored to go first overall, which would make sense for the offensively-challenged Tigers, having used three of their last four first-round picks—including 2018 first overall pick Casey Mize—on pitching. Georgia righty Emerson Hancock and Vanderbilt infielder Austin Martin round out the consensus top three in a draft that’s heavy on college players, and college pitching in particular.
Beyond those three names, things get predictably muddy. We’ve been previewing some of the top names for the draft each week, and while it’s early, we each have our pet prospects: Joe sees a good fit with Arkansas shortstop Casey Martin, while John is enthralled by the loud bat of prepster Austin Hendrick; Kate loves the hit tool of U18 Team USA star Robert Hassell III and Cape Cod standout and small-school quick-riser Nick Gonzales. Assuming the first three picks go as projected, at least two of these players will be guaranteed to be there at pick six, as well as many other intriguing players.
It’s all the better that 2020 is shaping up as an exciting class, because the Mariners have had outsizedly poor results throughout their history when picking at No. 6. This will be their sixth shot in the six slot, no doubt aspiring for better than they’ve gotten out of the first five gos.
Mariners No. 6 Overall Picks
Per Baseball Reference, the No. 6 pick fountain has pumped out a total of 581.4 Wins Above Replacement in the 55 years of the MLB Draft. Is more than a quarter of that exclusively from Barry Bonds? Yes! But the sixth pick has been a pretty steady outlet for at least decent MLB players, in addition to three or four Hall of Fame caliber ones. Bonds, Derek Jeter, Zack Greinke, and Gary Sheffield are the dream outcomes, but even a serviceable or good MLBer would be a worthy outcome, like Andrew Miller, Zack Wheeler, or John Mayberry. There are busts, as is always possible, but 40 of the 55 No. 6 picks have at least cracked the big leagues, and 10.6 bWAR is the mean production created from this pick in any given year based on past results.
In the table above you can see the Mariners have had just one particularly positive return in this slot, despite picking here more often than any other place in the order. Spike Owen was a popular, capable young shortstop for the mid-80s Mariners, who went on to a 13-year career thanks to a strong defensive reputation. Everywhere else, they’ve hit duds. Tito Nanni signed for a $100,000 bonus that ultimately led the Mariners to fire the scout who pushed for his selection. Marc Newfield struggled to hit enough to merit his high selection, and while Darnell Coles has developed a great reputation as a coach, his playing career was fairly underwhelming. Alex Jackson’s story is still unwritten, but his star has faded significantly since he initially burst into the pros as a top-50 prospect.
Of course, the Mariners have high hopes for another #6 pick in highly touted young prospect Jarred Kelenic, taken by the Mets in 2018 and flipped to the Mariners in the now-infamous Canó/Díaz trade. Kelenic, plus whomever Seattle selects at #6 this draft, will have the opportunity to reverse this unpleasant tide, or at the very least not cost anyone their jobs. Early returns on Kelenic have been overwhelmingly positive; here’s hoping for similar from his future fellow member of the #6 Overall club.