Now the waiting begins for the Mariners, their six recent draft picks and their fans. Under normal circumstances, the annual amateur draft provides minimal instant gratification for those involved.
Only a very select few, usually pitchers, can provide an immediate impact to an organization’s big league club in the same year as being selected. Unlike the NFL and NBA, where top draft picks are expected to fill needs and contribute, top MLB picks are destined for at least two seasons minor league baseball before being ready to compete at the MLB level.
It’s why teams should never base draft selections on the needs of the MLB club.
But this year, with baseball being shut down due to the spread of the novel coronavirus, the wait for these draft picks could be even longer once they sign their first contracts.
“I would say 99% of our deals are done right now or committed,” said Scott Hunter, Mariners director of amateur scouting. “It’s just a matter of going through the physical process, getting kids trying to figure out to have their normal physicals from our doctors or team doctors around the league, which is one of the options we have. If we can’t get kids to Seattle or Arizona, we’re going to use other team doctors across the country so they can get their physicals and be prepared as soon as we’re lifted from this quarantine basically for baseball.”
There is an expectation that the 2020 minor-league season, at least in its traditional form, will not take place. Teams are hoping to get minor-league players and these recent draft picks to their spring training facilities to at least have group workouts and possible intrasquad games and an extended spring-training games with other teams in the late summer and early fall.
In most years, the drafted players would report to Arizona for a camp and start preparing to report to Seattle’s short-season affiliate in Everett or remain in Peoria to play for the Arizona Rookie League team.
Because they were picking so high each round, the Mariners had hoped there would be at least 10 rounds to this year’s draft. But when MLB and the MLB Players Association couldn’t come to an agreement on signing bonuses, the draft was limited to just five rounds.
With the addition of a Competitive Balance B pick — No. 64 overall — the Mariners were able to select six players — three right-handed pitchers and three infielders — five from four-year universities and one junior-college player.
The selection of hard-throwing right-handed pitcher Emerson Hancock with the No. 6 overall pick was the highlight of this shortened draft class.
An opposing MLB scout said that Hancock was the most polished pitcher of the draft class and was stunned that a few subpar outings this spring before the NCAA season shut down dropped him out of the top 3 picks.
“The Mariners got a steal with Hancock,” he said. “If there is a regular college season, he probably isn’t there for them at six.”
Seattle’s farm system, which was considered one of the worst in MLB three years ago by Baseball America, has been restocked with talent during the rebuild plan started by general manager Jerry Dipoto. It came into the season rated as the No. 5 system. The addition of Hancock and the five other picks add needed depth.
If there is a strength of the system, it’s in the starting pitching. Seattle has selected college pitchers — Logan Gilbert (2018), George Kirby (2019) and Hancock (2020) with its first-round pick in each of the last three drafts and along with the trades made by Dipoto, there is a cadre of young power arms at various levels.
Per Baseball America, Gilbert is rated as the top pitching prospect in the organization (No. 4 overall) and No. 59 in all of baseball, while Kirby is just behind him at No. 5.
Hancock has the talent and potential to be better than both of them.
“When he signs, he’ll be their best pitching prospect,” the scout said. “Gilbert and Kirby are solid, but Hancock is a front of the rotation guy.”
With Justus Sheffield (No. 7) and Justin Dunn (No. 8) expected to take spots in the starting rotation when/if the MLB season begins and Gilbert expected to make his debut this summer, the framework for the future rotation is starting to take shape.
Given his maturity and plus command, Kirby was expected to reach the Double A level this season with the hope he’d make his MLB debut by mid-2021.
But the Mariners pitching talent runs beyond the first-round selections. Hunter likes to refer the layering talent in the system as “coming in waves.” Dunn, Sheffield, Gilbert are the first wave of pitching talent.
Kirby, who is 22, represents that second wave along with two high picks — lefty Brandon Williamson (No. 9 prospect) and right-hander Isaiah Campbell (No. 14 prospects) — from the 2019 MLB draft. All three were expected to be in the rotation at High A Modesto. Williamson made nine starts and one relief appearance last season for Everett and looked strong. The Mariners raved about adjustments he’d made to his delivery and the gains in velocity from training. Due to his heavy workload during his junior season, Campbell did not pitch after being drafted. Hancock and right-hander Taylor Dollard, who the Mariners took in the fifth-round of this draft out of Cal Poly would also join this wave of pitchers.
Beyond that group, there is third wave of talent featuring right-handers Juan Then (No. 14), Sam Carlson (No. 21) and Connor Phillips, who the Mariners’ selected with that competitive balance round pick along with lefties Brayan Perez, Adam Macko and Damon Casetta-Stubbs. The selection of the 19-year-old Phillips out of McLennan Community College (Texas) represents an upside player. He has a fastball that touches 99 mph with a riding natural movement that needs to be harnessed. A standout high school football player as well, Phillips has the athleticism to make the mechanical improvements need to get consistent command.
“I really like the starting pitching that they’ve started to build in the system,” said the MLB scout. “They’ve got the elite arms and have built depth at the lower levels.”