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Potential Mariners draft targets to watch for in the College World Series

Plus an overview of the teams still in it and how to watch

Associated Press

Eight teams have arrived in Omaha to compete for the College World Series, which is always the sign that it’s time to get really serious about draft coverage here on the site. I am going to be honest: I initially pitched this idea as a way to talk about the Tennessee trio of outfielders Jordan Beck, Drew Gilbert, and pitcher Blade Tidwell, with a gif or two of fireballer Ben Joyce. It was a perfect strategy to briefly touch on three guys who are legit possibilities for the Mariners at the 21st pick in next month’s draft, as well as Joyce, who could be an option in the second round. It felt like a fool-proof plan until Tennessee was knocked out in the super regionals by Notre Dame. The same thing happened when left-handed pitcher Cooper Hjerpe and Oregon State were eliminated. There’s a chance we will devote an entire article to one of the Volunteers or Hjerpe if there’s more smoke around one of them landing in Seattle over the next month.

However, there are still a handful of potential options for the Mariners that will be playing in Omaha over the next two weeks, so here’s a handy guide to some players to watch for if you plan on tuning into the College World Series. Games start Friday (as in tomorrow), with Oklahoma playing Texas A&M (11 AM PT) and Notre Dame playing Texas in the evening (4 PM PT). Both games are on ESPN. On Saturday, on the other side of the bracket, Arkansas takes on Stanford in the 11 AM spot (ESPN) and SEC foes Ole Miss and Auburn play the nightcap on ESPN2. ESPN is the exclusive home of the College World Series, and every game will be broadcast either on ESPN or ESPN2, as well as streamed via the ESPN app or Watch ESPN service.

Stanford OF Brock Jones

If you only have the capacity to focus on a single player during the college world series, might I suggest Brock Jones? Things are more difficult to pinpoint this far out from the draft, but Jonathan Mayo of MLB Pipeline has Jones heading to the Pacific Northwest in his last two mock drafts. Jones is also probably the only guy in this article that could be an option for Seattle at #21, so let’s dive in.

A common phrase in scouting reports about Jones is that he is “built like a football player.” There’s a reason for that, and that’s because he quite literally was a football player for Stanford his freshman year in the fall of 2019. He gave that up after his first season to focus solely on baseball for the rest of his college career, so we don’t have to worry about him pulling a Kyler Murray if Seattle takes him. Jones also did not win the Heisman trophy, so that probably helps.

Jones struggled on the diamond in his first season in Palo Alto. He slashed .228/.328/.316 in the abbreviated season before COVID shut things down. I don’t think it is inconceivable to think that having to balance two sports hindered Jones’s ability at the plate to some extent.

Now focused solely on one sport, Jones turned some of that raw ability into an outstanding sophomore campaign. The Fresno native hit .311/.453/.646 on the season. The over 300-point improvement in his slugging showed that Jones clearly tapped into something to unlock his power between his first and second seasons on campus. He led the Pac-12 with 18 home runs on the year. Perhaps more intriguing to Jerry Dipoto and company, he walked 49 times, showing off a superb understanding of the strike zone. Jones earned first or second-team all-American honors from just about every publication that votes on such things.

Beyond those honors, Jones also pretty much solidified his standing as a first-round pick the following year, or so it seemed, until he got off to a brutal start in 2022. Brutal is probably a bit harsh, but it was nowhere near what he did in his sophomore campaign and nowhere close to a guy who was getting top-ten buzz before the season. After leading the Pac-12 in home runs the year prior, it took until the 15th game of the season to go deep for the first time. That may not sound like a lot, but you have to consider that, for the most part, Stanford wasn’t facing the best of the best early on. To his credit, Jones was still consistently walking while his power lagged behind. Jones saw his average dip to a season-low .247 on April 8th, and he clawed to within three percentage points of .300 by the end of the month. Then he decided to go supernova in May.

He had six home runs in the first 38 games of the season. He has had 14 since the calendar flipped to May. His most impressive outing was a three-homer game against UCONN in the first game of the super regional.

The power should translate to the next level, and his outstanding defense in center field isn’t a huge question mark, although scouts claim his arm strength is by far his weakest tool. There is some concern on if he will be able to hit enough at the next level, but his command of the strike zone should be enough to off-balance some swing and miss concerns.

With a few of the higher-profile teams getting upset before they reached Omaha, Jones is probably the biggest star left playing in college baseball right now, with a chance to shine on the game’s biggest stage. The question is if he will shine too much to be off the board by the time the Ms are on the clock.

Texas IF Ivan Melendez

This is me if the Ms don’t find a way to draft Ivan Melendez.

I have never fallen in love with a potential draft prospect faster than I did with Ivan Melendez. The only possible starting point is that he is nicknamed “The Hispanic Titanic” Yes. Absolutely. He also has an NIL deal with Last Stand Hats selling one of the best designs I’ve ever seen on a shirt with the iceberg one.

I will buy 20 if Jerry can get him to Seattle next month.

On top of having an 80-grade nickname and branding, it turns out Melendez is pretty good at baseball too, which is equally as important. He is going to finish as the D1 home run leader with at least 32 on the season.

He has a shot to leave Omaha with a .400 batting average on the season; he enters the week at .396. He is currently fourth in OBP at .516. I am not an expert, but I think it is good when a player reaches base over half the times he comes up. To top it off, Melendez is leading the country with an absurd .888 slugging percentage. For those about to do the math at home, that is good for a Bondsian 1.404 OPS.

There are some concerns surrounding Melendez’s agility and defense. He was limited to first base and DH while in Austin, and MLB Pipeline has a 30-grade on his running ability and just a 40 on his fielding. Baseball America paints a much rosier picture with a 40 run and 55 on his fielding. That is a pretty sizable discrepancy, and watching how he handles the field in Omaha should be a focus for Ms fans this week. I fully believe that if he can hit, and he has proven that during his two seasons at Texas, it isn’t as big of a deal to find a spot for him going forward. They are different players, but there was concern around Ty France’s ability against superior pitching and if he could do enough defensively to warrant being in the lineup on a daily basis; now look at him. Yes, I just compared a likely day-two draft pick to a potential all-star this season. It’ll be interesting to see how Melendez plays in Omaha, but I could see a world where the Hispanic Titanic is an option for the Ms at #58 or #74, making staff writer and Texas Longhorn Jacob, who has been spamming the links channel with Melendez highlights all season, extremely happy.

Oklahoma SS Peyton Graham

Look, I really wanted to close this out by talking about a pitching prospect in Omaha, but man, the college pitching crop in the draft is not super impressive, especially for those still playing. So, Peyton Graham it is.

Mayo has Graham going #34 in his latest mock draft and Baseball America does not have him going in the first 30 selections. Graham would be considered a reach if Seattle took him at #21, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if the Sooner ended up in Seattle. There exists a world where the draft board falls in a weird way and the Ms select Graham to go under slot a little bit, and to make a bigger splash with a prep player with their second or third picks. They could do a lot worse than walking away from the draft with Peyton Graham.

Graham hit .336/.416/.660 during his junior season in Norman. He led the Big-12 with 20 home runs on the season and was second in the conference with 32 steals. That type of power/speed combo is quite appealing. To go on top of what he did offensively, he played 61 of his 63 games at shortstop this season and is a finalist for the Brooks Wallace award, given annually to the best shortstop in college baseball. Baseball America gives him 55 across the board. There’s no loud tool here, but he does have all five of them.

The most intriguing part of Graham, beyond his lethal speed and potentially borderline elite power, is that it is easy to see a way that he sees a sizable improvement. Graham is listed at 6-4 and anywhere between 170-185 pounds. He is lankier than the average college prospect. It is conceivable that with the right program around him, he could put on a solid 20 pounds and unlock even more of that power that he has displayed. You definitely want to balance keeping Graham’s excellent speed with adding some more pop, but it is easy to dream of Graham turning into a very good player at the next level. Ideally, that happens in Seattle.

I don’t think it’s worth dedicating a whole section to him, but Auburn senior infielder Sonny DiChiara is leading the country in OBP with a .560 on the season. He is another guy to watch in Omaha as the Tigers face off against Ole Miss on Saturday. He could be a potential Day Three option for the Ms.