The entire situation was atypical of the Mariners and their past draft process. First, they were targeting a high school player with their first-round selection in 2021, something the organization had never done under general manager Jerry Dipoto.

And then July 3, Dipoto and assistant general manager Justin Hollander took a flight to Atlanta to watch a high school player work out privately along with amateur director of scouting Scott Hunter, who was meeting them at a facility.

A flight delay for Dipoto and Hollander had them arrive at their hotel 2 1/2 hours later than expected and past midnight. Tired and famished, their only option for dining well past midnight was a fried chicken place, which turned out to be pretty good, and then they did a phone interview about Julio Rodriguez.

But any exasperation turned to excitement the next day for Dipoto when he met Harry Ford, a recent graduate of North Cobb High School in Kennesaw, Georgia, and watched him swing a bat.

Sunday, the Mariners selected Ford, a hard-hitting catcher, with the 12th overall selection of the 2021 MLB draft. He is the first high school player selected in the first round during Dipoto’s Seattle regime.

“Very much worth it,” Dipoto said via text.

“Harry is a unique five-tool player since he is a catcher,” Hunter said. “A tremendous athlete that will thrive in all areas of the game. Even though he could play center field or even second base we see Harry as a catcher that has a chance to impact the game with not only his bat and defense, but also with his legs as he is a plus runner. We couldn’t be more thrilled to add an athlete like this to our system.”

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Ford, 18, hit .343 with 83 runs scored, 20 doubles, seven triples, seven home runs, 57 RBI, 76 walks, 40 strikeouts and 32 stolen bases in 104 games over four seasons with North Cobb. He got on base at a .510 clip, slugging .539 with a 1.049 OPS in his high school career. He reached base safely in 30 of 33 games in his senior season.

“I’ve played pretty much everywhere on the diamond,” Ford said. “My first position was third base and outfield and I moved over to catcher a little later. I didn’t get to play as much outfield or infield at North Cobb just because I was kind of needed at catcher. I can play anywhere. I’ve always try to take pride in that and keep working on my other skills. I don’t want to be a guy that gets stuck at a position and can’t move around.”

Ford is listed at 5 feet 10, 200 pounds, but Hunter said he thinks he’s closer 215 pounds of “all muscle.” Ford was rated as the No. 13 overall draft prospect, the No. 9 position player and the No. 5 high school position player by MLB.com. He verbally committed to Georgia Tech on Aug. 4, 2019.

So back to Dipoto’s trip to see Ford, which Hunter called “one of the best kept secrets in baseball.”

“I’m shocked nobody had it,” Hunter said. “It’s not every day that you get a GM to fly coast to coast to watch a workout.”

“We went in there and watched him just take a round of BP,” Hunter said. “Harry said, ‘Do you me to throw for you, do you want me take ground balls or run in the outfield?’ We said nope, we had plenty. So this was a process that started obviously last winter and ended with a really good trip. To be able to have Jerry and Justin at a player’s workout that we spoke so highly of, to have them go down there meet him and see him really put us at a place where we’re really comfortable in taking him.”

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The batting practice wasn’t typical of a high school player, Hunter said. It was more like a veteran player.

“You’re always a little nervous about a high school kid taking batting practice for a general manager,” Hunter said. “And the kid wasn’t fazed by it at all. He went to the cage. He did his routine and the first two rounds of BP he slaps a doughnut on his bat to add weight and starts taking batting practice like some of the big-leaguers do in their routines. I’m sitting there watching this going, ‘Is this kid for real right now?’ He’s just hitting line drives to right field with a weighted doughnut on his bat while the GM is there. Then he took it off and he starts spraying the balls around the park. This kid has a maturity level that is beyond his years and took a major league batting practice in front of a major league GM and that was what really solidified it for us.”

Edgar Martinez famously took BP with a doughnut on his bat during his time with the Mariners. But Ford learned it from the Instagram account of another former Mariner.

“It was from Nelson Cruz,” he said. “I watched his page all the time. I go to his trainers page. And I watch what he does over there. He would always use it. It was always on my mind. But some guy in my school, he had one and he gave it to me and I started using it. And I think I went like 3 for 3 that day. So I haven’t stopped using it. And I train with it every day in practice before a game.”

Since taking over as GM, Dipoto, in conjunction with his amateur scouting director had selected only college players in the first round.

  • 2016 — Kyle Lewis, OF
  • 2017 — Evan White, 1B
  • 2018 — Logan Gilbert, RHP
  • 2019 — George Kirby, RHP
  • 2020 — Emerson Hancock, RHP

Ford is the Mariners’ first high-school selection in the first round since outfielder Alex Jackson was taken sixth overall in the 2014 draft by then-GM Jack Zduriencik.

Ford’s Notable Awards

  • 2021 Baseball-America High School All-American — 2nd team
  • 2020 Perfect Game USA All-American Classic Team
  • 2020 Perfect Game USA “Nick Adenhart” Award
  • 2020 Baseball Factory All-American