[Ed. note: we welcome back contributor and minor league expert Ben Thoen for this early look at the 2023 Draft! Thanks Ben!]
While it’s been a quiet offseason on the major league talent acquisition front for the Mariners, the club has made strides towards infusing exciting new players into the organization through a different avenue since the 2022 season came to an end: the MLB Draft. In addition to the 22nd pick Seattle receives based off last year’s finish, they’ll also select 29th and 30th in the draft thanks to the extra pick the club was awarded for Julio Rodríguez’s Rookie of the Year campaign, as well as a Competitive Balance pick the team was granted.
A quick refresher on how draft slot values work: essentially each draft slot has a dollar value allotted for that pick. The sum of all draft slot values equals a budget for each organization to use in an attempt to sign all of their draft picks. Often times, high school players or collegiate players with eligibility remaining can leverage the option of returning to school for another season in order to increase their contract offer. That being said, the Mariners—who have a couple extra picks—also have a bit extra money to sign their draftees. Seattle could use those extra picks and funds a couple of different ways. If they want to replenish the farm with a larger quantity of relatively safe, lower-ceiling guys that they feel confident they can sign, they could target a wider pool of college juniors with limited leverage. More excitingly, they could opt to go the “high risk, high reward” route and use one or two (or even three!) of their top 30 picks on potentially franchise-altering talent that is likely to demand an over-slot value deal, and fill out the rest of the draft with lower-ceiling college seniors or those who will sign for slot value or below.
With three picks in the back half of the first round, I’ve singled out a few players for Mariners fans to familiarize themselves with that may well be on the board and strong options for Seattle once they’re on the clock. For the purpose of this series, I’ve used MLB.com’s Prospect Pipeline’s Top 100 Draft Prospects and only identified players ranking no higher than 20th on the list. In an attempt to let you determine your favorite options without the influence of knowing their MLB.com Prospect Pipeline rank, I’ve withheld where each potential draftee lands on the list until the end of the article.
3B Eric Bitonti, Aquinas HS (CA)
6’4” 205lb Throws: Right Bats: Left
One year removed from selecting a talented left-handed hitting prep bat to plug into the left side of the infield, Bitonti would make it two straight were he to land in Seattle on draft day. After manning the six-hole throughout his high school career, it seems likely that the bigger-bodied Bitonti would move to the hot corner in the future. The University of Oregon commit uses all of his supersized frame to develop supersized power without looking out of control in the batter’s box. At just 17 years old, it’s easy to get excited about him as the more power-centric compliment next to Cole Young on the left side of Seattle for years to come.
C Michael Carico, Davidson
6’0” 190lb Throws: Right Bats: Left
Heralding from North Carolina, Carico didn’t go far to pursue his post-prep career, attending Davidson, where he was one of the most decorated players in all of college baseball in his first full season in 2022. Through 54 games, the lefty-hitting backstop slashed .406/.559/.843 while swatting 21 dingers and walking (16.9%) more than he struck out (12.9%), earning A-10 Conference Player of the Year honors. His propensity to control the zone goes beyond his eye-popping OBP, which led all of NCAA; he was also the recipient of the collegiate Rawlings Gold Glove for the catcher position. His smooth, compact swing and strong plate discipline provide a lot to dream on if the Mariners show they’re unafraid to go the mid-major route with one of their early picks, something they’ve shown a willingness to due in the recent past with the likes of Kyle Lewis, Logan Gilbert, and George Kirby.
wow, @DavidsonBASE C Michael Carico seems like a name to know for the '23 Draft. not a big prospect in HS but HUGE breakout soph. year: 1.404 OPS (!) w/ 21 HR and a Gold Glove. and now he's raking in the Northwoods League! walk-off grand slam last week:pic.twitter.com/SF5rG7fArx https://t.co/q22C2hLMFp— Céspedes Family BBQ (@CespedesBBQ) June 22, 2022
C/SS/OF Cole Carrigg, San Diego State
6’3” 190lb Throws: Right Bats: Both
If you’re somebody like me who marvels at Daulton Varsho’s blazing the trail for catchers that also man other defensive positions on the diamond, get a load of Carrigg. A switch hitter that can play any position up the middle, the sophomore out of SDSU oozes versatility, although he’s far from a glove-only player. After a perfectly adequate freshman season, Carrigg broke out to the tune of a .388/.426/.509 slash line while swiping 19 bags in 54 games. While there isn’t much power to speak of in his profile—he’s homered just five times in 91 collegiate games—he’s proven his bat can hang with the best of ‘em as he hit .329 through 41 games in the Cape Cod League this past summer.
Cole Carrigg ('23 elig.) played every position except LF & 1B on the Cape. Pitched 5.2IP 1H 0R 7K (4 app). As a switch-hitter, hit .329 (3rd) w/ .388 OBP & 15 SB. Ability for + contact w/ fluid swing & fast hands through the zone. Widens stance w/ 2 strikes. @AztecBaseball Jr. pic.twitter.com/uBv6fW69Jn— Ethan Kagno (@Ekagno32) September 2, 2022
OF Chase Davis, Arizona
6’1” 217lb Throws: Left Bats: Left
Questions linger about whether Davis can stick in center field, but nobody is questioning Davis’ skills in the batter’s box, where he slugged 18 homers and slashed .289/.414/.583 in his first season as a full-time player for the Wildcats. While there’s a little swing-and-miss to his game–he posted a 22.8% strikeout rate playing largely against talented Pac-12 pitching–he posted a 16.6% walk rate. The 21-year-old struggled badly in 15 Cape Cod League games over the summer, but believers in his power stroke will be tempted to gamble that he adjusts to swinging the lumber as a pro.
Arizona’s Chase Davis completely destroyed this one at Globe Life! pic.twitter.com/t2f17JJKmF— Alex Kielar (@AlexTBPK) February 20, 2022
LHP Hunter Dietz, Calvary Christian HS (FL)
6’6” 230lb Throws: Left Bats: Right
Dietz is about as big of a high school arm as you’ll find, toeing the rubber at 6’6”/230. Armed with a low-90s heater, hard slider, and developing change-up, the southpaw comes at hitters with a smooth delivery that he repeats nicely. It will likely take an overslot deal to pry the Floridian away from his commitment to join his brother at South Florida, but his tantalizing skillset from the left side and perceived durability just might be the kind of package a team with extra slot money might be willing to gamble on.
SS/3B Colt Emerson, Glenn HS (OH)
6’0” 185lb Throws: Right Bats: Left
An Auburn commit, Emerson’s 60-grade hit tool outpaces any other bat on this list. While he’s primarily manned the shortstop position, scouts anticipate him moving to another infield position, something he did with the USA U-18 team this last summer when he manned the hot corner. The similarities between he and another former top prep prospect Jarred Kelenic go beyond their midwestern roots and backyard baseball facilities. Emerson’s swing, setup, and general offensive profile from the left side of the batter’s box parallels the former top prospect as well, with Prospect Pipeline projecting that his strength and bat speed could translate to consistent 20-homer power at the big league level someday.
OF Travis Honeyman, Boston College
6’2” 190lb Throws: Right Bats: Right
The younger brother of 2018 Mariners draftee Bobby Honeyman, Travis erupted onto the scene as a sophomore for the Eagles, slashing .329/.402/.506 and posting a minuscule 8.7% strikeout rate. The 20-year-old parlayed his strong season at the dish into a productive campaign in the wood bat Cape Cod League, where he tallied four homers and posted a .930 OPS in 24 games. The folks at Prospect Pipeline likened his quick-twitch athleticism and wiry build to four-time MLB all-star Hunter Pence, and given his “good at everything, not elite at anything” skillset, it’s easy to see why. Like Pence, he should have a chance to stick in center field, but may be bumped to a corner as his career unfolds.
Travis Honeyman (@BCBirdBall) had a .930 OPS in 24 G on the Cape this season. The toolsy OF displayed solid power (4 HR), the ability to hit the gaps (8 2B) & some speed (4 SB). The former CCBL Player of the Week is a projected 1st-rounder in '23.@OfficialCCBL | @FirebirdsCCBL pic.twitter.com/BAQgoWTCuE— Ethan Kagno (@Ekagno32) August 3, 2022
LHP Cameron Johnson, IMG Academy (FL)
6’5” 230lb Throws: Left Bats: Left
Prospect pundits got a good look when Johnson took the ball in the national spotlight, starting for the East squad in the 2022 Perfect Game All-American Classic on ESPN. The 17-year-old didn’t let the bright lights of Chase Field faze him as he retired the 35th, 6th, and 21st ranked prospect on Prospect Pipeline’s draft board in order, including a strikeout of the top rated prep player in the nation, Max Clark. Coming from a low three-quarters arm slot, the LSU commit is equipped with a heater that sits 95-96mph, a high 70s slider, and a change that he’ll throw into the mix as well. His velocity and effectiveness allegedly dipped as the summer wore on, but he should immediately become one of the top left-handed pitching prospects in the game as soon as he decides to go pro.
*Johnson’s inning starts at the 7:00 minute mark.
SS Matt Shaw, Maryland
5’11” 185lb Throws: Right Bats: Right
Shaw’s debut 2021 season for the Terps was one of the most impressive seasons you’ll ever see from a freshman. The New England native slashed .332/.409/.544 in 45 games before going on a demolition derby through the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League where he posted an 1.158 OPS and swiped 14 bags in 35 games. The versatile infielder took a step forward in his second year on the college circuit, particularly in the power department, as he hit 22 long balls in 60 games. He followed that up by slashing .360/.432/.574 with five homers and 21 stolen bases in 36 games in the wood bat Cape Cod League. Shaw himself referenced the gains he’s made in the gym since setting foot on campus, and if that’s the case again this season, he may rise up out of range of Seattle’s selections come July.
RHP Travis Sykora, Round Rock HS (TX)
6’6” 220lb Throws: Right Bats: Right
Another participant in the 2022 Perfect Game All-American Classic, (29:00), Sykora flashed triple-digit velocity en route to fanning two in his one inning of work, although he also struggled at times to stay around the strike zone. Another arm with a big-league body coming out of the high school ranks, he complements his already-elite heater with a slider and splitter that both sit in the mid-80s. The flamethrowing Texan is committed to the University of Texas, but the upside indicates he could be yet another prepster that might be worth opening the pocketbook for.
*Sykora’s inning starts at the 29:00 minute mark.
RHP Alonzo Tredwell, UCLA
6’8” 230lb Throws: Right Bats: Left
Following a January 2020 Tommy John surgery, Tredwell made his college debut in 2022 as he worked exclusively as a bullpen piece for the Bruins. In 47.0 innings spanning 25 games of relief work, he racked up 62 strikeouts and issued just six free passes. Keeping hitters off-balance with a high 90s heater, two breaking offerings, and a change-up, the big-bodied strike-thrower is slated for a move to the Bruins’ starting rotation in 2023. While that could boost his draft stock, he’s already made a strong case for himself as a big league-caliber bullpen arm.
RHP Juaron Watts-Brown, Oklahoma State
6’3” 190lb Throws: Right Bats: Right
Originally a Texas Tech commit, Watts-Brown lost his spot as a Red Raider when he injured his throwing arm playing quarterback. Eventually landing at Long Beach State, Watts-Brown was named a Big West Conference all-league honorable mention following a season in which he posted a gaudy 13.6 K/9 through 15 starts spanning 73.1 innings. Among those was a no-hitter—the first in Long Beach State history—in which he fanned 16. The Oklahoma State Cowboy-to-be possess an arsenal consisting of a low-to-mid 90s fastball that features armside run, a low 80s slider that is said to be his best offering, a bigger breaking curve, and a change. He continued to miss bats against fierce competition in the Cape Cod League, posting 11.9 K/9, although his walks ticked up slightly to 4.0 BB/9. Already equipped with a smooth delivery that he repeats well, the soon-to-be 21-year-old should offer a relatively high floor with the possibility to move quickly through the pro ranks.
Industry is light on Okla. State RHP Juaron Watts-Brown. Sat 93-96 w/2500 rpm FB last week over 2 IP. Short, mid-80s SL w/above average spin. CB can be separator. Big-time athlete, quick arm. Big up arrow.— Joe Doyle (@JoeDoyleMiLB) October 3, 2022
Ranked no. 36 @ProspectsLive
RHP Tanner Witt, Texas
6’5” 215lb Throws: Right Bats: Right
The second Tommy John-recoveree on this list, Witt—like the aforementioned Alonzo Tredwell of UCLA—is ticketed for a bullpen-to-rotation transition. After flashing impressive stuff as a true freshman for the Longhorns in 2021, the right-handed Texan with big league bloodlines actually saw his strikeout rate tick up and walk rate dip upon stretching out into a starting role in the Cape Cod League. In three starts covering 11.0 innings against the cream of the college crop, Witt allowed just two earned runs, striking out 17 and walking five. He was off to as good a start as you could ask in 2022 prior to suffering his injury, posting a 1.64 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 11.5 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 through two starts. Last we saw Witt, his pitch mix consisted of a lively mid-90s heater and high-70s hammer of a curve, as well as a slider and change that are considered above-average as well. It remains to be seen if and when Witt will return to the mound in 2023, and if so, what his role will be. It’s likely he’ll receive a first-round selection regardless of whether he pitches in 2023 or not, but it stands to reason that he’ll just head back to Austin unless a big league organization ponies up a substantial offer—something the Mariners should be well-equipped to do with their extra draft slot funds.
Had an extra couple hours this morning to go back and watch some games I missed, and was blown away by Texas RHP Tanner Witt.— Ian Smith (@FlaSmitty) March 3, 2021
Freshman who’s a known two-way talent may have a sky high ceiling on the mound. Touched 95 with late life, flashed a CB and deadly CH. More in the tank. pic.twitter.com/cPvCwMBFlb
SS Nazzan Zanetello, Christian Brothers HS (MO)
6’2” 190lb Throws: Right Bats: Right
A strong performance in showcase events over the summer put Zanetello squarely on the map of draft analysts. Listed as a shortstop, the five-tool prospect also received work at third base, and the outfield as well, which is where many scouts anticipate his eventual home may be. Just 17 years old, the Arkansas Razorback commit demonstrates a smoothness in both the field and the batter’s box that point towards a long career as a major league regular. Prospect Pipeline praises his control of the strike zone and ability to make hard contact consistently, projecting him for 25-homer potential at the major league level as he continues to add strength to his athletic frame. Zanetello took home honors as the MVP of the USA Baseball Breakthrough Series, which is “an MLB developmental program that gives highly ranked Draft prospects a chance to be scouted by professional and college scouts.” Upon receiving the award, Zanetello said “If you look around the walls in the building, there’s a lot of keywords: excellence, teamwork, integrity, courageousness. That means I represented all of that, so that means a lot that they noticed that. I want to be a part of Breakthrough Series, because as a young African American man who plays baseball, this is where you want to be. It paved the way for a lot of young athletes like the Cam Colliers and Termarr Johnsons, and now look where they are. ”
Did you pick out some favorites from this sampling of talent available in the Draft? Time to find out where everyone ranks on Prospect Pipeline, headed into the 2023 season:
20) SS Matt Shaw, Maryland
23) OF Travis Honeyman, Boston College
24) RHP Tanner Witt, Texas
27) RHP Travis Sykora, Round Rock HS (TX)
32) C/SS/OF Cole Carrigg, San Diego State
39) RHP Juaron Watts-Brown, Oklahoma State
45) SS/3B Colt Emerson, Glenn HS (OH)
50) LHP Cameron Johnson, IMG Academy (FL)
51) OF Chase Davis, Arizona
57) 3B Eric Bitonti, Aquinas HS (CA)
58) SS Nazzan Zanetello, Christian Brothers HS (MO)
63) C Michael Carico, Davidson
72) RHP Alonzo Tredwell, UCLA
75) LHP Hunter Dietz, Calvary Christian HS (FL)