With a tendency towards college bats, several experts have named the Texas Tech infielder a good fit at No. 20.
We’re under a week from the 2019 MLB draft, and still no closer to certainty about Seattle’s tendency. Obviously draft preferences are held close to the chest like precious jewels on a late night stroll, but a conflux of factors have made this year’s draft more difficult to auger than most. There are few surefire stars, and not even last year’s bevy of tantalizing prep talents outside of the top-10. After the first few picks, things clump together dramatically, with a lack of tiering that makes whole ranges of picks more dependent on those that come before than usual.
With that in mind, there’s yet to been a mock draft we’ve seen that holds any definitive insight on what sort of player Seattle is seeking. We’re going through the Mariners drafts of years past this week and will reach the Dipoto years tomorrow, but spoilers: there’s been a tendency towards college players at the top of the draft. In fact, in eight of the nine drafts Dipoto has been the GM of a team during, his team has gone with a college player with their first pick. That’s one with Arizona, three in Anaheim, and all four in Seattle. The lone exception was 2013, when the Angels had forfeited their 1st-round pick to sign Josh Hamilton and their first selection was pick No. 59. It tracks, then, that experts continually peg Seattle to call a collegian’s name first on June 3rd.
Josh Jung fits that bill nicely. He’s a 21-year-old junior infielder from Texas Tech who has performed well in the Big-12, posting an OPS of 1.068 this year on a .333/.471/.597 line that is nearly as impressive as his sophomore campaign where he hit .392 and OPSed 1.130. His college wOBA, per Baseball Cube, have gone .368, .478, .448 by year. Wood bats haven’t perturbed him as he performed quite well in the California Collegiate League as well. The production has been stellar, though scouts reportedly worry he has only average bat speed that may make his contact-heavy approach too feeble to get to his power at higher levels. While his swing is compact and generates line-drives, the bat speed doesn’t appear to be an issue from video I’ve watched, though his pop-up leg-kick could probably be smoothed.
There’s also a somewhat surprising gap on his defense, as he’s played both shortstop and 3rd base consistently in college and been well-regarded for his results. The hands and arm are good for the infield but his foot speed is below-average and he seems somewhat tight while moving. It’s an array of evaluations that have some calling him an easy average 3B and others projecting a move to first or the outfield.
The reason we didn’t write him up as thoroughly before was that, frankly, we thought he was a long shot to be available for the Mariners at pick 20. Ben Thoen has put together a few notes on him, both as His Guy and in our Big-12 Preview, but noted he’d been trending towards the upper part of the teens. As recently as early May, he was in the top-10 to top-15 of nearly every major outlet’s rankings. Despite continuing to produce, he’s begun to slip slightly. Now, both Bleacher Report and Baseball America’s most recent mock drafts have set Seattle with Jung.
It’s a pick I’d be happy with, as Jung’s productivity and college age makes him a plausible quick mover, and if his defense remains solid he’ll be able to handle the hot corner, which is the biggest question mark position in the next four years for the organization. The danger is that Jung is a collegiate Joe Rizzo type, with great bat-to-ball skills and the 3B tag but questions that persist about his ability to handle the position and concerns about the power to handle a lesser defensive spot. Jung is larger than Rizzo at 6’2, 215, and would not be the first player to turn good contact into great results with more strength and a juicier baseball, but like any player available at the 20th spot, the warts are easier to pick.