ARLINGTON, Texas — The itinerant life for Scott Hunter and his staff of amateur scouts and cross-checkers returned to somewhat normal. When the COVID-19 pandemic made travel and face-to-face interaction impossible for 2020 and much of 2021, the Mariners director of amateur scouting and his group were forced to rely on video and Zoom calls with perspective players leading up to the 2020 and 2021 amateur drafts.

But with vaccinations and improved protocols, life for scouts moved closer to what it used to be pre-pandemic.

“It’s definitely a lot nicer to be at a ballpark and be able to bounce around and not in the car by yourself as much,” he said. “Now we are seeing some other scouts in the field, and we’re also not having to use video as our crutch. It’s more to supplement.”

The Mariners amateur scouting philosophy values face-to-face interaction with potential draft picks, their families, coaches, teachers and any person important in their life.

“It’s been great,” Hunter said. “Our guys have been in houses. They’ve been meeting players, talking to coaches. Zoom calls were great and the video is outstanding. But the next layer of what we do is get to know the player and see how they interact with their teammates, how they interact at the ballpark. So those things are really getting that into our evaluations at a lot higher clip.”

All that work and time will reach their culmination Sunday when the 2022 MLB draft starts at 4 p.m. PT.

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The first two rounds of what is now a 20-round draft will be televised from Los Angeles on ESPN.

Much to the chagrin of teams, scouts and baseball fans, Major League Baseball moved the draft to the All-Star break, thinking it would generate more interest in the process. But given all that is going on with the All-Star break that expected jump hasn’t really happened. Teams don’t like the lateness because it delays getting players signed and into their organization while scouts are forced to immediately pivot to the summer schedule of next season’s draft class.

After winning 90 games last season, the Mariners were slotted into the No. 21 overall pick.

It’s a familiar territory for Hunter.

Since he took over as the amateur scouting director, the Mariners have only had one pick in the top 10. Seattle selected Emerson Hancock with the No. 6 overall pick in a 2020 draft that featured only five rounds.

The list of first-round picks under Hunter:

  • 2021 (No. 12): Harry Ford, C
  • 2020 (No. 6): Emerson Hancock, RHP
  • 2019 (No. 20): George Kirby, RHP
  • 2018 (No. 14): Logan Gilbert, RHP
  • 2017: (No. 17): Evan White, 1B

“We’ve been pretty successful in those picks,” Hunter said. “It is a challenge because it’s a lot harder to predict what’s going to be coming your way. But it’s also a lot easier to sit back, if you’ve done your work and you’re prepared, you sit back and wait to see what falls to you.”

Both Gilbert and Kirby were projected to go higher in their respective drafts and the Mariners were waiting to grab them quickly with their picks.

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The 2022 draft is considered to be a little wide open in terms of projecting picks beyond the top handful of players that include high-school players: outfielder Druw Jones, the son of Braves outfielder Andruw Jones; shortstop Jackson Holliday, the son of longtime MLB outfielder Matt Holliday; second baseman Termarr Johnson and outfielder Elijah Green. Also Cal Poly shortstop Brooks Lee, LSU first baseman Jacob Berry and junior college third baseman Cam Collier.

With so many top prospects moving to the MLB level, there is some thought the Mariners will select a college position player that can move through the system quickly instead of going with a projectable high-school player.

“Right now with like the first seven or eight picks, we have a good idea of what’s going to happen,” Hunter said. “But from eight to 30, it’s wide open with the amount of conversations I have had with advisers and looking at our reports. There’s not a lot of separation.”

Hunter said the high amount of arm injuries to the college pitchers has changed the draft projection for their pick

“Usually by this time, I’ll have three or four players that we really start talking about, but our window’s a little bigger. We might try to really get a little deeper and start thinking six or seven and the window of opportunity on them.”

The Mariners, who will have $7,254,400 in bonus money to use over the 20 rounds, will make three picks Sunday. The No. 21 overall, the No. 58 overall pick (second round) and No. 74 (competitive balance B round).

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“I’m taking the best player available,” Hunter said. “I think organizationally, we’re in a good spot if there’s a chance to be taken that’s more long range, we can take it. It doesn’t have to be the college guy that is going to help us like we did our first two or three drafts. I don’t want to shoot for upside that’s not there. But if the right player hits, we’re willing to take that, and Jerry [Dipoto] has been all for it.”

Draft notes:

Sunday, 4 p.m. PT: Round 1 (including two compensation picks), Competitive Balance Round A (seven picks), Round 2 and Competitive Balance Round B (eight picks) and six second-round compensation picks. Televised on ESPN

Monday: Noon PT: Rounds 3-10, streaming coverage on MLB.com

Tuesday: Noon PT: Rounds 11-20, streaming coverage on MLB.com

Mocking-draft

Unlike the NFL draft where everyone with a keyboard has a mock draft, there are only a handful of mock drafts in MLB. Here’s a roundup of who they have the Mariners selecting at No. 21.

MLB.com: Cooper Hjerpe, LHP, Oregon State

  • Also mentioned: Jace Jung, 2B, Texas Tech, Connor Prielipp, LHP, Alabama

CBS Sports: Cooper Hjerpe, LHP, Oregon State

  • Also mentioned: Jordan Beck, OF, Tennessee, Cole Young, SS, North Allegheny High School

The Athletic: Drew Gilbert, OF, Tennessee

ESPN: Connor Prielipp, LHP, Alabama

  • Also mentioned: Drew Gilbert, Jacob Melton, OF, Oregon State, Cole Young, SS, North Allegheny HS, Zach Neto, 3B, Campbell

Baseball America: Cade Horton, RHP, Oklahoma

Prospects Live: Jett Williams, SS, Rockwell-Heath HS

  • Also mentioned: Drew Gilbert, Justin Campbell, RHP, Oklahoma State