Rounding up what was discussed yesterday, Friday’s announcement the 2020 MLB Draft will be shortened to 5 rounds instead of the supposed 10 drastically impacts the amount of talent to be had on the undrafted free agent market. On any given year, roughly 1200 players are selected by big league clubs over the course of 40 rounds. Only 160 players will hear their names called in June.
We’re not going to dive into prep players like Kyle Russell, Cole Fontenelle or Nate Clow. Chances are, those guys will honor their college commitments and go play at school for a few years.
What we are going to continue doing, however, is identifying those guys who have far less leverage right now. The older college juniors and college seniors that may not have the luxury of potentially returning to school in 2021.
Sure, some players may elect to take their chances and return to campus, or even transfer to a junior college for that matter, but many of these guys were banking on signing with a big league ball club this summer, and regardless of the lens you look at it through, that’s still going to happen.
These guys will all be privy to a maximum signing bonus of $20,000. It’s not much, but the opportunity at hand may be enough to encourage them to forgo another year at school and jump into pro ball. The unique angle of the players listed below is they are local kids. These guys, in theory, could spend their off-seasons living at their parents house and working full-time while training. It’s a tough grind, but it’s an option other players may not have. The familiarity to the region and the Mariners shouldn’t be understated. It is, at bare minimum, a conversation starter.
So, that being said, who can Jerry Dipoto and Co.™ target as potential lifelong Mariners fans? Who can this front office bank on being familiar with the Pacific Northwest feeling like home? The easiest place to start, once again, are local colleges.
The Local Collegians
University of Washington
If you like speed, Ward is your guy. The Mariners have a history of selecting speedy centerfielders that excel at patrolling Husky Ballpark, specifically those named Braden, so Ward fits the bill in that respect.
Ward may quite literally be the fastest player in the entire draft class, zero hyperbole necessary. At 5-foot-10, 155 pounds, Ward clocked a 6.20 60 yard dash at Cape Cod last summer. That being said, there’s a lot of development necessary for him to reach his ceiling of a fourth outfielder at the big league level. Ward has a fringe-average arm, and the hit tool likely grades out below average right now. It’s worth mentioning, the power tool is well below average at this stage. It certainly doesn’t help that his negative-angle bat path is cookie-cutter-crafted for ground balls. It’s easy to dream on a Billy Hamilton-esque profile in there, but Ward will need to refine his instincts on the base paths, as well as find more line drive pop in the bat to climb into the upper minors. Currently rated the 238th best prospect in the class by Baseball America, Ward is a native of Merced, Calif., so Dipoto and Co.™ may have some competition when trying to employ his services to fill out rosters.
Yake, a Bellingham native, has a contact-oriented lefthanded swing that generates gap-to-gap power. He’s an above average defender up the middle, posting a .967 fielding percentage in 2019, and was off to a hot start in 2020 posting even better numbers. Yake didn’t hit any home runs over his first 90 games with the Bulldogs, but recently tapped into a swing change, lowering his hands and engaging his lower half more. The result was a swing with slightly better loft, accompanied by five dingers over his final 33 games in Spokane.
Yake looks a little like Chipper Jones at the plate; relaxed, effortlessly manipulating the barrel through the zone. He doesn’t generate the best bat speed, so even 40-grade power probably isn’t to be expected, but Yake has shown a propensity to get on base, avoiding strikeouts and drawing a good number of walks. The Gonzaga product is currently the 426th best prospect in this class as ranked by Baseball America. For reference, none of Matt Sanders, Patrick Frick, Ryne Ogren or Mike Salvatore, all middle infielders selected before the 12th round by Seattle over the past two years, ranked in their respective Top 500s. These are not inconsequential players. They have legitimate value and conversation-sparking profiles.
O’Brien, a Brier, Wash., native, brings a similar skillset to Yake, but provides a shade more value on the base paths. At 6-foot-2, O’Brien is a long-strider who had some success stealing bases during hit Seattle U career. The entire profile is eerily reminiscent of Brad Miller, and he has a striking resemblance to Miller at the plate; albeit from the right side. O’Brien is still getting stronger, and with time, could fill into a profile not too dissimilar to Miller. There’s still some work to do with O’Brien’s arm talent from short, but the arm strength is there. Just 21 at the time of the draft, there’s some leverage there, but an offer to play for the hometown team may be too good to pass up. Baseball America currently ranks O’Brien as the 476th best prospect in the class.
Harris, a native of Illinois and product by way of Central Arizona Community College, has a bit more projection in his frame than compatriot Yake, but similarly lacks a track record of punch. At 6-foot-3, Harris has moved around the infield a good bit and provides a bit of versatility, a favorable trait to Dipoto and Co.™. The defense hasn’t been standoutish, but the hands are soft enough and the arm strong enough to get away with playing anywhere on the dirt.
Harris currently possesses a similarly flat swing to Yake, but with his bigger frame and projection, may be able to tap into more pop with some mechanical adjustments. The 484th best prospect in the class, Harris has some projection, but will need to polish things up on the diamond first to ascend through the minors.
Some birds choose to leave the nest, forgoing the opportunity to play in front of family. For the next five players, departing the state of Washington to play ball out-of-state was the route selected. These players saw their stock rise in some capacity or another, and each represent legitimate prospects.
For my money, Franklin is the most valuable prospect on this board, and represents easily the biggest ceiling of the bunch. Franklin hails from Seattle, Wash., and was unquestionably the best high school player in the state in 2017. He’s no stranger to Dipoto, beings he a 37th rounder by the Mariners while at Seattle Prep. Franklin was Michigan’s top recruit of his class and burst onto the scene leading ‘Big Blue’ in home runs, slugging percentage, and RBI as an 18-year-old. He’d follow up his freshman campaign with a less spectacular sophomore year hitting just .267, but still mashed for 13 home runs and 29 extra-base hits in 68 games. Unfortunately, It was the beginning of a downward trend. Franklin struggled in the Cape Cod league last summer and missed all of 2020 with a broken collarbone.
As for the toolbox, Franklin gets high marks for his athleticism, grit and effort on the field. He’s a grinder. The bat has some adjustments necessary, but some scouts believe a minor change in his setup would pay dividends. His spine angle is ideal for driving the ball, and the excessively wide stance is similar to Juan Soto. That being said, he struggles to keep his back elbow tucked, occasionally limiting his ability get on top of and drive high fastballs. He does a good job of keeping his weight back, but that may be a byproduct of the wide stance. All in all, the full package at the plate is a player development department’s dream. In the field, Franklin is heady and sharp. He takes great routes to the baseball and is full-go at all times. At his best, Franklin profiles as a steady everyday left fielder with above average power. The hit tool, specifically whether he can tap into reliable contact to utilize his raw power, will determine how far he can go. Off talent alone, when healthy, Franklin has first or second round ability, akin to that of a Daniel Cabrera. Baseball America currently ranks Franklin the 143rd best prospect in the class. He represents a pretty attractive under-slot option for a team looking for upside and value in the draft, though his medical charts could be enough to keep him from being selected. Stay tuned.
University of Portland
BSB: Chad Stevens with an RBI double to further increase the Portland lead! pic.twitter.com/Nt3lR8VTHE— Portland Pilots (@PortlandPilots) April 28, 2019
Stevens hails from Gig Harbor HS and features an athletic frame player development staffs dream on. At 6-foot-4, 190 pounds, Stevens has long legs and a narrow torso that looks like it can easily handle 20 more pounds of muscle. It’s likely he grows off of shortstop and into third base or left field, but at the newly presumed 210 pounds, that profiles well. As it stands, Stevens can handle shortstop, though his footwork and technique have led to some errors on routine plays over the course of his collegiate career. He lacks an explosive first step, though he’s got more than enough arm to handle either position on the left side of the diamond.
At the plate, Stevens has a strong approach with a good lower half load and an athletic hand position that allows the bat to sweep through the zone with good barrel angle. He’s recently begun tapping into some of the natural power his long frame provides, hitting six home runs over his last 58 games. The swing can get a little long at times, though his long levers and still developing strength may have something to do with that. The result is lot balls pounded into the dirt or loopy infield fly balls. Stevens also isn’t the fastest player on the diamond, routinely posted 60-yard times in the 7.00 second range. It’s below average speed. Stevens currently ranks as the 312th best prospect according to Baseball America, and appears to be a fun project should Seattle elect to make him an offer.
Catcher/First Base/Third Base
McGuire, a Kentwood HS alum out of, well, Kent… ranked as the third best state prep in 2017. A strong, athletic backstop, McGuire has one of the more sound left-handed strokes you can find at the plate. His wide base, picturesque spine angle and exemplary bat path have helped contribute to a .345 average the past two seasons. Couple that with an above average approach at the plate, limiting strikeouts and drawing his fair share of walks and you have a mature hitter that should translate well into minor league ball.
McGuire posted a .988 fielding percentage over his three seasons at the University of San Diego, and his ability to throw out base runners has improved, though some worry about his footwork and mechanics behind the plate. Shane’s family is no stranger to big league ball. His brother, Reese, was the 13th overall selection in the 2013 draft to the Pirates. He’s since debuted for the Blue Jays and is platooning the position alongside Danny Jansen. The younger McGuire doesn’t have the power stroke his brother does, but the swing is there and with a little more strength and tinkering, he could unlock fringe-average power. As it stands, McGuire profiles as a big league backup catcher with fringe-average tools across the board and the ability to play some corner infield, not too dissimilar to an Austin Nola archetype. Currently rated the 354th best prospect in the class by Baseball America, McGuire is exactly the type of player Dipoto and Co.™ should target in this undrafted class of players.
The 2020 MLB Draft will be June 10 and 11. Undrafted free agents will immediately be available to sign on June 12. Teams will have until mid-August to sign their draft picks, as well as undrafted free agents.