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ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel mocks INF Nick Gonzales to the Mariners w/No. 6 pick in the draft

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The first mock draft from Bristol projects Seattle takes a top college bat out of New Mexico State.

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With the draft shortened and settled, June 10th will host what may be the most important draft in the Jerry Dipoto regime’s history. Kiley McDaniel, newly of ESPN, has released his first mock draft, projecting the Mariners will use their top pick, the No. 6 overall selection, on 2B/SS Nick Gonzales out of New Mexico State University. The projection is a slight surprise, considering Gonzales is viewed as one of the highest floor options in the draft, which has had a reasonably well-stratified top tier of five prospects in public discussions since the sport was suspended at professional and amateur levels throughout the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico. 1B Spencer Torkelson out of Arizona State University and INF/OF Austin Martin from Vanderbilt likely will vie for the first selection of the draft (McDaniel projects them in that order), with a pair of SEC pitchers in LHP Asa Lacy from Texas A&M and RHP Emerson Hancock of Georgia following them.

If McDaniel is correct, the Toronto Blue Jays pick at No. 5 is projected to be prep OF Zac Veen from Spruce Creek High School in Florida, who represents one the most traditional high-ceiling options in the entire draft. Veen is a personal favorite of mine for Seattle at No. 6, and Gonzales’ staggering offensive numbers in both college and the Cap Cod League make him a highly plausible pick at No. 5, but reportedly the Blue Jays are quite enamored with Veen.

Mock drafts are an inexact science in the best of circumstances, but are particularly difficult in this climate. Players haven’t been seen in action for at least a month, and much of the work in creating a mock involves recognizing team personnel at various games and events, hinting at who various clubs are prioritizing with their scouting resources. None of that is possible, nor is further evaluation of the players themselves, so much is reliant on prior patterns. It appears that is at least part of McDaniel’s calculus for Seattle taking Gonzales, as the Mariners have been as college-heavy in their top picks than any club in the league since 2016. That’s not to say it wouldn’t break with some trends, at least.

Gonzales would be the first middle infield prospect taken in the first seven rounds by Seattle since Bryson Brigman (3rd round, No. 87) and Donnie Walton (5th round, No. 147), which is one easy explanation for the lack of impact depth at SS/2B in the system. On the most recent episode of “The Wheelhouse” podcast, Jerry Dipoto referenced a desire to acquire impact talent this draft, with a preference towards “middle of the field, athletic, offensive players near the top of the draft”.

Certainly, Gonzales seems like the best option if this is how the draft breaks down. Gonzales has absolutely raked in college, but is tempered by his playing at New Mexico State, set at 3,900 ft above sea level in Las Cruces, NM, on par with some of the most hitter-friendly parks in the Pacific Coast League and nearly 3,000 feet higher than any non-Coors park in MLB. As Kate noted in profiling him in the fall, the stronger case for Gonzales is his excellent numbers with a wood bat in the Cape Cod League, against some of the toughest competition around. He’s long drawn high marks for his bat speed, which helps him produce above-average power despite his size.

The expectation on Gonzales is that he will settle at 2B long-term, though he’s played SS for much of his college career. His arm strength is better suited to the right side of the infield, though some scouts have suggested he might require a move to the outfield if he doesn’t improve his mechanics. Comparisons to Brewers 2B Keston Hiura and Nationals INF Carter Kieboom have been made, as bat-first prospects who only need to be competent in the infield to shine thanks to their immense offensive potential.

Mariners fans needn’t look too far back to get skittish on drafting a “sure thing” college bat with eye-popping numbers from “The Land of Enchantment”, as D.J. Peterson’s snake-bitten career still lingers as a disappointment. Fortunately, Gonzales has a far higher floor as a likely middle infielder, and by all accounts the player development staff is at the very least all on the same page. If Seattle does go for the powerful Arizona native at No. 6, they’ll likely not need to make many adjustments to his swing, which has drawn glowing reviews from coaches, competitors, and evaluators alike, as has his intensity and work ethic. The Mariners have a month to make up their mind.