Last night’s All Star Game was all about the best that baseball currently has to offer, but earlier in the day, the Mariners had put the finishing touches on a Draft that could set them up for a dazzling future.
With an unprecedented three first-round picks in a loaded draft, the Mariners had the opportunity to revamp a farm system viewed by many outlets as “thin” (MLB Pipeline), “shallow and lack[ing] huge impact up top” (FanGraphs) and “risking becoming a bottom-five system” (Keith Law, The Athletic).
Some of that is to be expected as the Mariners graduated so many prospects over the past two years—which, after all, is what a farm system is for—but the Mariners also emptied the farm of some significant talent in acquiring players in trades, and the overall weakness of the 2020 draft class, where the Mariners actually had high picks in the rounds but had to scout around the pandemic and also were limited to just five rounds—has also hurt the system. (The Mariners also have a significant amount of their system strength in young, international prospects, typically the hardest for evaluators to see.) Drafting well is especially important to the Mariners as a club, an organization that focuses more on “draft, develop, trade” and less on improving the team via free agency.
That made this particular draft, where the Mariners had a bonanza of early-round picks in an especially deep draft, crucial for the Mariners to crush. You won’t see the Mariners pop up in any lists of draft winners or losers (and if you see anyone assigning grades to drafts, run)—it’s really hard to do that when you’re picking in the back third of the draft, even with many picks—but Scott Hunter and team did crush this draft, blending a group of high-upside prep players with some sneaky-good college picks and creatively using the flexibility afforded to them by their large draft pool. They also got two players who could be legitimate steals of the draft in their third and fourth-round choices, Wake Forest pitcher Teddy McGraw and Texas high school outfielder Aidan Smith, respectively.
The Mariners also shifted strategy by drafting very position-player heavy early this year. In 2019, just two of the Mariners’ first 11 picks were position players, and they took five straight college pitches to start, then one position player, then two more high school pitchers. This year, the Mariners didn’t take a pitcher until their fifth pick, in the third round, before going on a run of college pitchers between the sixth through eighth rounds. They also didn’t draft any high school pitchers this year after taking at least one in every other Dipoto-led draft aside from 2016.
Here’s the quick rundown of all the players the Mariners drafted this year, grouped by types:
SS Colt Emerson (1st), OF Jonny Farmelo (1st), INF Tai Peete (1st), OF Aidan Smith (4th)
Emerson and Smith are two of the most pure hitters in the class, with smooth, repeatable strokes that are geared for contact from the left and right sides, respectively. Emerson has drawn comparisons to 2022 first-rounder Cole Young, although Emerson has more present physicality than Young did when he was drafted and projects to hit for more power. Smith is an under-the-radar player who put up first-round numbers at his Texas high school playing in a competitive environment but didn’t trawl the showcase circuit as much as some of his peers and might have gotten overlooked in this very deep draft class for prep position players.
The Seattle Mariners have selected SS Colt Emerson. Compact lefthanded swing with excellent feel for the barrel and great hand action. Peppers line drives all over the field and has continued to add impact. Sure-handed defender at SS with smooth actions. pic.twitter.com/PzWvhqltFT— Peter Flaherty III (@PeterGFlaherty) July 10, 2023
The other two prep bats offer less polish but more raw tools. Farmelo is a big, physical up-the-middle type who probably profiles best as a center fielder thanks to his plus speed; he could blossom into an exciting speed-power combo, although currently the power is still developing. Tai Peete is a pure athlete and one of the youngest players in the class, having not even turned 18 yet, but his resume includes playing in the Little League World Series as well as on the showcase circuit in Georgia, a hotbed of MLB talent. He has a big personality and an infectious smile; it’ll be fun tracking his journey.
Upside college pitchers:
Teddy McGraw (3rd), Brody Hopkins (6th), Brandyn Garcia (11th)
The Mariners got some great upside in the middle rounds of this draft, a place they’ve uncovered a lot of pitching talent. Teddy McGraw from Wake Forest is a potential Day One pick if he didn’t get injured, needing a second TJ surgery after previously having it prior to his senior year of high school. When healthy, McGraw has some of the nastiest stuff in this draft, with a heavy sinking fastball that can touch the upper 90s and induces a ton of groundballs and a wicked swing-and-miss slider; his third pitch is currently a changeup, but the Mariners might have him shelve that as he recovers. McGraw, who came out of the analytics-heavy pitching lab at Wake Forest, tabbed the Mariners as one of the teams he was interested in going to, which makes sense considering the Mariners’ analytic bent and their recent success in helping players who are recovering from TJ, like Ty Adocok and Bryan Woo.
Teddy McGraw is a pretty fun arm for a Sunday guy.— Tyler Jennings (@TylerJennings24) May 8, 2022
One of our top 2023 arms, McGraw came out firing 94-96 MPH with plus sink, main secondary was a nasty slider with downer shape at 85-87 MPH. Flashed firm CH 87-90. Got one whiff, coming on this sword (@PitchingNinja may approve) pic.twitter.com/R5X5vVHWE8
Brody Hopkins is another upside play and potential small-school hidden gem. The Mariners have been very successful scouting in the Colonial Athletic Association, which includes several schools the Mariners have drafted out of: Elon, Campbell, Stony Brook, William and Mary, and Hopkins’ former school, the College of Charleston before he moved to Winthrop. Hopkins was a two-way player—like Ty Adcock—but his future is definitely on the mound, where the 6’4” righty has some excellent pure stuff that can blossom with full-time refinement in a big-league pitching lab: a sinking fastball that can get up to the high-90s and a slider that, once he figures out how to land it consistently, will be a devastating out pitch. He’s also got a changeup the team could play with if they wanted to see if he could go full conversion into starting pitcher, and he’s such a gifted natural athlete it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.
Brandyn Garcia is intriguing, both as a tall (6’4”) lefty, and as someone who flourished after transferring to Texas A&M. With his raw stuff that includes a lower-velocity fastball and a wicked sweeping slider, it’s exciting to dream on where he might go with some MLB-level coaching resources, especially in a system like the Mariners’.
Ryan Hawks (8th) doesn’t fit neatly into any of these boxes; he’s a polished college arm who has a chance to be a starter or a reliever.
Ty France types:
Ben Williamson (2nd), Brock Rodden (5th), RJ Schreck (9th)
Just your annual reminder that Ty France was drafted in the 34th round of the 2015 MLB Draft, a round that no longer exists, and has carved out a very nice role in MLB for himself anyway. When drafting a lot of prep players who require overslot bonuses to sign, MLB teams have to make up those savings elsewhere, usually by signing college seniors who lack the leverage of their younger peers. But these aren’t throwaway picks or lotto-ticket picks: each of these hitters is a proven college performer who can hit the daylights out of the ball, much like Ty France was when he was drafted by the Padres out of SDSU as a cute hometown boy pick. Scott Hunter singled out Brock Rodden, out of Wichita State, as a prime example of a player who they’re expecting big things from even as a senior sign. Williamson and Rodden both won Player of the Year in their respective conferences; Schreck, at Vanderbilt, played against some of the premiere college talent in the country.
Bullpen Spin Wizards:
Ty Cummings (7th), Logan Evans (12th), Elijah Dale (13th), Ernie Day (14th), Daniel Ouderkirk (18th), William Watson (20th)
The Mariners love a pitcher who can spin it. Cummings is another player out of the CAA (Campbell) with a groundball-friendly sinker, high-spin slider, and tricky arm slot. Evans is a spin-rate darling who impressed on the Cape and, at 6’5”, gets a ton of groundballs with his sinker that comes in on a heavy downward plane. Are you seeing a pattern here? Dale is the physical opposite of Evans, standing just 5’11”, but it’s not hard to see some Paul Sewald-ish characteristics in his riding lower-velocity fastball and a hard, high-spin slider. Ernie Day, Cummings’ teammate at Campbell, has the biggest fastball out of this crew but also the poorest command, but he’s worked hard on improving that command and guess what, he can spin both a slider and a fastball. Ouderkirk is the biggest boy here, at 6’9”, and will give the Mariners a lot of raw material to work with; there’s an argument he could go in the “upside” section because with a physical outlier like that, there’s always the possibility something truly wild could get unlocked with pro coaching. Watson, the lone JUCO arm the Mariners drafted this year, can also spin it, and racked up a ton of strikeouts on the JUCO circuit.
College power bats:
Jared Sundstrom (10th), Carson Jones (15th), Caleb Cali (16th), Charlie Pagliarini (19th)
The Mariners system is badly in need of some more over-the-fence thump, and these players are poised to bring it. Sundstrom is a true righty, old-fashion Beef Boy slugger. Carson Jones is one of the more interesting names here as a toolsy outfielder with tremendous power who played at VT. Cali transferred to Arkansas from a JUCO and has drawn praise as a pure hitter, but down the stretch for the Razorbacks he was one of their best power hitters. Pagliarini is another player who earned Player of the Year honors in his conference (MAAC) after breaking his own home run record at Fairfield University, which is honestly such a flex.
Hey look, a catcher:
Someone has to catch all those arms, and the lone catcher the Mariners took in this draft, Jacob Sharp out of UNLV, is the one for the job. Sharp was the Co-MVP of the West Coast Baseball League, a wood bat league based in our own backyard, so should settle in comfortably to Everett.