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Undrafted Free Agent Targets for the Mariners

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With just five rounds in the 2020 MLB Draft, there’s a ton of talent still out there. Let’s find some.

Desperately seeking something (Devin) Sweet
MiLB.com

After the conclusion of the 2020 MLB Draft on Thursday night, phones started ringing across America—some, congratulatory ones for the lucky few who were drafted, and many, many more feeler calls for the thousands of players who were not. Players who weren’t drafted now have a choice to make: do they accept the pittance offered by the league-mandated 20K minimum or gamble and return to school to a roster about to swell with the ranks of college commits who forewent the draft in hopes of waiting for a more normal environment? It’s not an easy choice to make. The amount being offered by each club is so low, insultingly low; for some players, taking that money and walking away from a scholarship represents a significant pay cut. Not every player has the financial stability or privilege of being supported by parents or guardians. But this is a chance to join an organization and get one’s professional career rolling, to get one step closer to the dream of playing Major League Baseball and to do so without losing a year of one’s athletic prime. Nevertheless, many will choose to return to school and await 2021’s longer draft and a better chance at being fairly compensated. Some, however, will not.

Here are some players who might choose to sign with a club, and specifically some we think might opt for the Mariners’ insulting offer of 20K vs. another team’s insulting offer of 20K. It’s heavy to pitchers because well, there are a metric ton of pitchers who make good candidates, and the Mariners have a good chance at wooing those particular players given the successes they can point to in professional development (witness the case of Logan Hoffman, drafted in the fifth round by the Pirates yesterday, a 5’10” strikeout artist with sub-average fastball velocity and a killer breaking ball. 23rd-rounder Sam Delaplane walked so Logan Hoffman could fly). The list is also heavy to seniors (denoted by a * after their names), who even with an added year of eligibility have the lowest amount of leverage in this draft class, and to older juniors (those who would be 23 by next year’s draft). Translation: you will not find Arkansas catcher Casey Opitz on this list no matter how hard you look. Also unincluded: any high schoolers or most of the best available draft board. We even bickered about including Kale Emshoff [Kate was a hard no, John says yes, so he’s here anyway.]

Per Jerry Dipoto and Scott Hunter, they won’t go hog-wild in signing a ton of these names, as other teams are planning to do, but are rather seeking to fill specific organizational needs (translation: the Mariners are more interested in spending around 100K, or the cost of a tenth-rounder in a typical year, than they are in spending around a million, or the cost of the prep players the Mariners steadfastly refuse to draft). Perhaps you will see some of these names fly by on Twitter as signings are announced. Likely few of them will be linked to the Mariners, but at least you will enjoy a brief thrill of recognition.

Catchers:

C Kale Emshoff, Arkansas-Little Rock - Emshoff has one of the bigger power bats of any catcher in the entire 2020 draft class. Frankly, it’s a surprise he wasn’t selected. He was hitting .417/.527/.800, ranking 11th in the country in slugging percentage and was smacking dingers left and right. There’s a good chance Emshoff goes back to school, but at the same time, he is 22 years old and may want to get into affiliated ball right now. Entering the draft as a 23 year old is a very, very risky, often futile, exercise. Emshoff has the defensive prowess and arm to stay behind the plate, albeit not in a full-time role. He’s likely a platoon catcher as he’s still technically recovering from Tommy John surgery on his throwing arm.

Adam Kerner, USD - Kerner has a career slash line of .305/.379/.472 at San Diego but is primarily known as being an excellent defensive catcher despite being on the smaller side (5’10”/and listed at 185). Kerner actually uses his size and plus athleticism to his advantage behind the dish as he’s especially rangy for a catcher and blessed with a big arm. Kerner was off to a hot start this season after spending the off-season training hard to gain muscle and had seemingly added some pop—he was slugging close to .500 when things shut down—so might want another year to prove he merits consideration in the first few rounds, although he’ll be three months from his 23rd birthday at the time if he does.

Matt Scheffler, Auburn* - It was just last year I wrote up Lake Washington HS grad and Kirkland native Matt Scheffler:

Catcher Matt Scheffler (yes, he is cousins with Steve) is a Kirkland native who played two seasons at Pierce Community College before transferring to Auburn. He’s a plus defensive backstop recently named to the Buster Posey Award watch list, but shows a solid hit tool as well, along with plus plate discipline.

Alas, the power of my words was not enough to get Scheff drafted at the time, but come on home now, Matty Scheff, you come right on home now.

Infielders:

SS Cam Shepherd, Georgia* - Shepherd has been a four-year starter for the Bulldogs and a defensive force up the middle in the SEC. He’s a career .262 hitter who’s come across his fair share of walks. He’s also run into 22 home runs during his time in Athens, so the pop isn’t entirely absent. On the diamond, he’s an above average defender with an average arm. It’s a pretty average run tool, maybe fringe average even. Shepherd will be 23 years old this year, so there’s almost zero chance he returns to school. He’s a better prospect than former senior signs Mike Salvatore and Matt Sanders. He’d be an excellent organization piece, even if his ceiling is that of a AAAA guy.

2B Drew Smith, GCU - After being named the Spaulding D-II player of the year in 2019, Smith was poised for a big year after transferring from JUCO to GCU. He might still go back to continue to up his stock and prove he can hit at the D-I level but he’s a contact hitter and a defensive-oriented second baseman, which has a limited ceiling as a profile. If you like your 2B less power-hitty and more Bloomquist-gritty, Smith is your man.

3B Brett Harris, Gonzaga - Harris began his college career in 2017 as a redshirt at University of Houston before transferring to a community college in Arizona. His transition to the WAC in 2019 went smoothly, as he batted .305/.366/.444 and he was off to a similarly solid start in 2020 before things shut down. He’s also solid defensively at third base with a strong arm. What’s lacking for Harris is the power necessary for a third baseman, and while he’s 6’3”, he’s barely 200 pounds soaking wet. A trip through the Mariners’ High Performance Camp might help Harris unlock some power if he can be tempted away from Gonzaga, and it should be noted that despite the Washington state connection, the Mariners probably won’t have additional sway with the Illinois native.

1B TJ Collett, Kentucky* - Collett is a swing-studier in the mold the Mariners like and gets extremely high marks for character as well. After a slight dip in production in his junior year that might have hurt his draft stock, Collett was off to a roar this season; he’d already hit 5 home runs, half of his total from all last season, in the first 17 games before the shutdown. He’ll get picked up by someone; maybe former teammate Evan White can lean on his fellow Wildcat. However, even that might not be enough:

1B Blake Baumgartner, UCSD - Baumgartner is that rare combination of big power and a patient approach at the plate. He hit over .300 and slugged over .500 every year at UCSD and would likely have been drafted along with teammate Shay Whitcomb if the draft had stretched on just a couple extra rounds. As it is, Baumgartner is already 22 and another year of beating up on D2 competition might not improve his stock much.

1B Trevin Esquerra, Loyola Marymount* - Power is something that was sorely lacking in the lower levels of the Mariners’ system last year and Trevin Esquerra brings it. A switch-hitter with legitimate power from both sides, Esquerra mashed 16 homers last season along with 20 doubles, although swing-and-miss is a concern.

SS McClain O’Connor, UCSB* - Tired: two first names; Wired: two last names. Dell McClain O’Connor might not have the most powerful slash line over his career at UCSB, but he’s a wildly athletic table-setter who can play all over the diamond.

SS/2B Scott McKeon, Coastal Carolina*

A JUCO transfer, McKeon hit well enough in his first season at Coastal Carolina to be drafted by the Tigers in the 21st round of the 2019 draft, but opted to return to school. McKeon is a good athlete who can play across the diamond and a patient, contact-oriented hitter.

Outfielders:

Mitch McIntyre, Brigham Young - McIntyre fits the Mariners’ profile of a breakout performer, with a .300/.400/.500 slash line in his sophomore season, but struggled badly on the Cape last summer and was off to a slow start in 2020, but can play anywhere in the outfield and gets high praise for his makeup.

Parker Chavers, Coastal Carolina - Chavers, 22, still has eligibility left, but he will be 22 in a month and may want to jump into affiliated ball early. Chavers has been held down by injuries, but when he’s on the field, he’s dynamic. He’s a true 70 runner and plays a plus defense in center field. At the plate, he’s shown at least average power and the hit tool may get to above average if swing and miss issues are rectified. Chavers certainly can make a strong case to return to school and show he’s healthy and performing, but if the opportunity presents itself, he’d be an excellent target for the Mariners.

Jacob Hurtubise, Army* The Mariners liked Hurtubise enough to draft him in the 39th round last year and might invite him back into the fold again depending on how things go with his military commitment. Hurtubise, you will recall, stole 45 bags last year, good for third in the nation, and struck out a mere 26 times while walking 69 times (nice) for an OBP that trailed only Adley Rutschman in D1 baseball.

Anthony Amicangelo, South Carolina - A Bremerton native who started his career on the JUCO route, Amicangelo was off to a solid start at South Carolina before the shutdown. Amicangelo tweeted that he intends to sign if a team offers.

Pitchers:

RHP Luke Smith, Louisville* - Luke Smith isn’t really known for his pitching as much as he’s known for the entire bravado he brings to the mound. Smith famously struck out Austin Martin in the 2018 College World Series and than proceeded to tell him to “Go sit the f*** down! Sit your a** down!”

Smith would then go on to get in a chirping match with the entire Vanderbilt bench for the reminder of the game. Unfortunately, he was run back out there in the very next inning and ended up giving up blowing the game. Still, as a Mariners fan, it’s hard not to want a guy who wears goggles and talks a bigger game than he brings to the field. Smith is a starting pitcher, but is probably a candidate to move to the bullpen thanks to his lackluster stuff and struggles over extended outings.

RHP Nolan McCarthy, Occidental* - Perhaps you have heard of Occidental College, a small liberal arts school in LA that competes in the D-III SCIAC, or the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Obama went there for two years, and Ben Affleck and Luke Wilson are graduates, as is Jim Mora. I had not heard of this place, where 6’5” Nolan McCarthy plied his trade as a pitcher for four years with career numbers of 208 strikeouts and 71 walks in 249 innings, although it’s also possible the Mariners saw him in a brief stint in the Cape Cod League last summer. If he wants to keep playing, they might have a leg up with the Portland, OR native.

RHP Austin Smith, Southwestern* - Let’s keep that D-3 train going with Smith, who has a career K/9 at Southwestern of 12 and doesn’t walk many people to boot. D-3 competition, but the stuff looks legit:

LHP Jared Wetherbee, Elon - Wetherbee could be signed at the confluence point of a couple Mariners connective tissues. Seattle’s lengthy connection to Elon University in recent years now extends to the player development group, where former Elon pitching coach Sean McGrath was plucked to fulfil the same role with the High-A Modesto Nuts. McGrath is a huge backer of Wetherbee, and if the warm feelings are mutual, with his 22nd birthday approaching in August, the 5’10 lefty might forgo a second junior season to get his big league career started with the backing of his old coach. Wetherbee has neither the dominant numbers of former teammate George Kirby, nor the powerful fastball of his other former teammate, Ty Adcock, but the undersized lefty has befuddled hitters for over two years now between campus and the Cape Cod League. His fastball seems average, working 90-93, T94, but McGrath alluded in the link above that there’s excellent spin numbers that help it play up. He fills out his mix with a slower curveball and a tighter slider, along with a fading changeup. McGrath had a bit of a bugaboo with his command, but ran double-digit K/9 numbers as a sophomore and junior, as well as in the Cape Cod League this past summer.

RHP Chase Walter, Western Carolina - If you like large human/country boy JT Salter, you will like Chase Walter. 6’7” and 260, the 22-year-old Walter is a solid relief prospect with a fastball that can touch 96 paired with a slider that stymied batters on the Cape last summer. Unfortunately, like his large-bodied doppelgänger, Walter also suffers from command issues, leading to some uninspiring college numbers. Walter hails from Cullowhee, NC, a town with a population of 6,230 that also happens to include current Mariner Cal Raleigh.

RHP Blake Brown, UNC-Asheville* - There have been a lot of safe-ish pitchers listed here, but Brown has truly electric stuff, able to run his fastball up to triple digits and pairing that with a hard slider. The problem is he doesn’t always know where it’s going, as evidenced by 25 WPs, 16 HBPs, and 72 walks in just 93.2 career innings. However, before the season ended this year he had struck out 26 batters in just 19 innings. Perhaps while Cal Raleigh is on his recruiting trip he can tootle over to Dallas, NC to have a chat with the electric BB.

RHP John McMillon, Texas Tech* - Let’s stick with electric arms here. The Tigers drafted the 6’3”/230 beef boy hurler in the 11th round last year but McMillon opted to return to school, already a risky play but for someone who routinely hits triple digits on the radar gun, an understandable gamble. Unfortunately, [gestures at everything everywhere]. Similar to other members of the Electric Mayhem, McMillon struggles with walks, issuing 110 free passes in 145 innings at TT, but with 189 career strikeouts. In 9.1 innings of work before things got shut down, he struck out 20 batters (he also walked 11, but let’s focus on the good here.)

RHP Collin Baumgartner, Southern Illinois-Edwardsville - Continuing the theme of Big Boyz, Baumgartner is a 6’6”/240-lb power pitcher who had a 13.5 K/9 this year and has steadily improved each of his three years at SIEU. Unlike other bigger pitchers, Baumgartner has largely solved the command problems that plagued him freshman year when he walked almost as many batters (25) as he struck out (26) in just 38.1 innings. Baumgartner deserved to be drafted and would have been if the draft was even just a couple of rounds longer; the Mariners are limited to the same 20K bonus pool as everyone else but could point to their success in propelling relievers to the bigs, although they’ll have to out-pitch not just the allure of returning to school but also the Cardinals, Baumgartner’s favorite team.

LHP Jackson Wolf, West Virginia - Wolf is a 6’7” lefty whose fastball is below average in velo (89-91) despite his size and extension, leading to below-average strikeout numbers and somewhat uninspiring college numbers. However, his Trackman data is apparently impressive, and a team with strong analytics like the Mariners could potentially unlock much more potential from the slender lefty. He’s also performed on the Cape, striking out 27 batters in 26.2 innings. Wolf is from Gahanna, OH, the same hometown as Evan White.