With the 2020 Major League Baseball draft limited to just five rounds due to the shutdown because of the novel coronavirus, the Mariners stayed within the college ranks for all their selections, taking five college players on Day 2 — the final day.
“It was quite challenging across the board,” said Scott Hunter, the Mariners director of amateur scouting. “We had good balance of three pitchers and three position players and we feel made some impact to the organizations.”
Of the five picks made on Thursday, four of them participated in the prestigious Cape Cod Summer League, which features the top college players in the country. In typical fashion, the Mariners sent two waves of scouts to Massachusetts last summer — five area scouts went in June for an extended look. After a week break, five national cross-checkers followed along with Hunter for another extended look.
“Cape Cod was such an important event for us, especially in a draft like this,” Hunter said. “It’s an opportunity to see the best players in the country and really see if some of these kids are trending in the right direction. And in a year where you have a shortened season because of this pandemic and limited amount of time to see these guys in 2020, looking into what they did in the Cape and seeing how they came out this spring and seeing if some of those trends and that ability were taking place was so important for us.”
That sentiment encapsulated the selection left-handed-hitting outfielder Zach DeLoach out of Texas A&M with their second-round pick — No. 43 0verall.
DeLoach’s draft stock rose from nonexistent to a top-100 ranking after winning the batting title in the Cape Cod League last summer. He hit .353 with a .428 on-base percentage, a .541 slugging percentage, eight doubles, a triple, five homers, 23 RBI and eight stolen bases in 37 games in the wood-bat league.
It was a stunning performance considering his subpar sophomore season with the Aggies, in which he posted a .200/.318/.294 slash line in 56 games with four doubles, a triple, three homers, 16 RBI, 24 walks and 29 strikeouts.
This season he posted a .421/.547/.789 slash line with three doubles, six homers, 17 RBI, 14 walks and just three strikeouts in 18 games before it ended because of the pandemic.
What spurred the breakout in the Cape Cod League and the subsequent success this season?
“I calmed everything down and was able to simplify what I was doing at the plate,” DeLoach told TexasAgs.com. “Being able to pick out the right pitches to hit. I’ve always had good plate discipline, but I haven’t always been there mechanically. In the Cape, I found the consistency within my swing to where if I mishit a ball, I was still able to have a chance to get a hit. There were plenty of times this summer where I would either get jammed or hit it off the end, but I was still able to stay through the ball and get a hit.”
The Mariners, who love drafting hard-throwing college pitchers, went with a younger version by taking Connor Phillips out of McClennan Community College in Texas with their competitive balance B pick — No. 64 overall.
Phillips, 19, was offered third-round bonus money coming out Magnolia West High School (Waco, Texas) last year, but he was looking for more and fell to the 35th round. Instead of attending LSU, where he had committed to play, he took the junior-college route so he could be draft eligible after one season. The gamble worked as he moved up into the top 70 picks.
He has a fastball that touches 97 mph but sits around 93-94 mph with plenty of movement in on right-handed hitters. The secondary pitches improved in junior college but still need work. The talent is still raw at times, but his athleticism should allow him to make adjustments with ease. He made six starts with McClennan, posting a 3-1 record with a 3.16 ERA with 27 strikeouts and 15 walks in 25 2/3 innings pitched.
The Mariners took switch-hitting infielder Kaden Polcovich out of Oklahoma State with their third-round pick (No. 64 overall). Like DeLoach, he had turned heads in the Cape Cod League, where he posted a .305/.426/.473 slash line in 40 games with eight doubles, a triple, four homers, 28 RBI, six stolen bases, 27 walks and 29 strikeouts.
A coveted recruit out of high school, he was dismissed from the University of Kentucky before playing a game. He spent two seasons at Northwest Florida State College before transferring to OSU.
He slashed .344/.494/.578 over 18 games in his abbreviated junior season with five doubles, two triples, two homers, 21 RBI, eight stolen bases, 19 walks and 10 strikeouts. His father, Kevin, played two MLB seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Mariners picked up power potential in the fourth round selecting massive third baseman Tyler Keenan out of Mississippi with the No. 107 pick. Keenan is not a small person, checking in at 6-4, 240 pounds. And he has the power to match the size. In 17 games this season, he posted a .403/.488/.791 slash line with five doubles, seven homers and 33 RBI, nine walks and 14 strikeouts. As a junior, he slashed .285/.420/.506 with seven doubles, two triples, 15 homers and 66 RBI in 68 games.
The biggest question is whether Keenan can remain at third base, or will he move across the diamond to first base where most scouts think he will fit. He has soft hands and solid arm, but lacks the expected range for a MLB third baseman.
The Mariners closed out the draft by taking right-handed pitcher Taylor Dollard out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with their fifth-round pick (No. 137 overall). Dollard doesn’t have the plus fastball that makes him standout. But he controls the strike zone, which the Mariners love, and his fastball, which can touch 93 mph has deception and high spin rate.
After excelling as a reliever his first two seasons, Dollard converted to a starter this season. He made four starts, posting a 1-0 record with a 1.67 ERA. In 27 innings pitched, he struck out 36 batters and walked just four. But like DeLoach, Polcovich and Keenan to a lesser extent, his performance in the Cape Cod League helped boost his draft stock. He posted 1.56 ERA with five saves in 11 relief appearances, including 27 strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings.