This kind of thing never leads to tears and recriminations
Getting invested in the MLB draft is a double-edged sword: while picking out favorite prospects makes the draft more fun to follow, it can also lead to heartbreak when your team doesn’t draft the apple of your eye—or worse, when a division rival does. That being said, we at LL have, perhaps foolishly, each chosen a player whom we hope the Mariners will select with their first-round draft pick.
The Mariners are famously tight-lipped about player acquisitions in general but especially with the draft, although Keith Law stated in his most recent mock draft that he’d heard a rumor that had the Mariners going way overslot for NJ prep SS Anthony Volpe, and FanGraphs—perhaps working on the same intel—also assigned Volpe to the Mariners. None of us are especially enthused about Volpe, who in the same FanGraphs mock draft is listed as a “signability question,” and is said to have a small list of teams, northeast-focused, for whom he’d consider breaking his commitment to Vanderbilt. We did our due diligence in a scouting report on Volpe, but having followed the Dipoto Mariners for several years and seen how leakproof this particular FO is, we think it’s wise to cast a slightly wider net in considering players.
We did have some criteria: we only looked at players slated to go by most mock drafts at pick 15 or higher, even though in this draft there isn’t a ton of consensus about who will go where after pick #5 or so. While we’re hopeful West Virginia’s Alex Manoah or JUCO pitcher Jackson Rutledge might get to the Mariners’ spot, it just doesn’t seem realistic in a year that’s so thin on college pitching. Having sorted through the next tier of names, here is who each staff member hopes to see paying a visit to T-Mobile Park in June:
George Kirby, RHP, Elon (Kate)
To be honest, Kirby is not really “my guy” as much as some of the other players on this list. But because I am a kind and benevolent leader and let the staff select first, Kirby was the most appealing of the remaining options, and someone I think there’s a good chance they could get with pick 20. The 6’4” righty plays for Elon University, so the quality of competition in the CAA (Colonial Athletic Association) might scare some teams off, but the Mariners have taken two players out of Elon in recent years (INF Nick Zammarelli in 2017 and INF Ryne Ogren in 2018), so it’s a program they’re comfortable with, at least on the position player side. Besides, velocity will play anywhere, as Kirby’s 93-97 mph fastball shows. But what makes Kirby especially appealing to the C-the-Z Mariners is his K/BB ratio: this year he has struck out 105 batters while walking just six, improving even further from a sophomore year in which he posted a 2.89 ERA with a 96:27 K/BB ratio. He has a solid four-pitch mix led by the fastball and complemented by a late-biting slider, a curve and a change that shows promise of being a plus pitch but needs development. Some scouts—Keith Law chief among them—wonder if Kirby really has the stuff to miss bats at the next level and see a potential reliever. He’s listed at 200lb but looks to me like he could add some muscle (and maybe even more velo) with a major-league strength and conditioning program, and with already plus command would be a good candidate for the M’s lauded Gas Camp.
Keoni Cavaco, 3B, Eastlake HS (Chula Vista, CA) (Tim)
Before we dive into the ability, let’s pause and note that his name is KEONI CAVACO, a top-flight name entry if there ever was one. Cavaco, whose last name autocorrects to all caps on my phone already, hails from Eastlake High, south of San Diego, and is committed to college ball at San Diego State. The problem for SDSU is Cavaco’s explosive spring, in which he’s skyrocketed from “who?” to the first round on most draft boards. His weakest projection is speed, which should merely be average, but as a capable defender at third that’s just fine. He hits line drives to all fields, he has an exceptional arm that plays at third base and then some, and the quickness of his hands lets him wait on pitches and gives him a batter’s eye that will allow him to rely on more than extra base hits for value at the plate. In a draft that’s crowded with corner bats and little else, Cavaco’s rise this spring indicates a slightly late bloomer with a ton of potential and the Mariners would be fools not to jump on him. I don’t mean to brag, but MY GUY last year was Jarred Kelenic, so obviously this is a slam dunk pick for Seattle. It has my stamp of approval.
Logan Davidson, SS, Clemson (Eric)
If you read our LL 2019 Mock Draft piece (you didn’t?! How ‘bout now?), you may recall that I am quite high on young buck Logan Davidson. He’s got tools to spare, can hit from both sides of the plate, and racked up 202 hits over 3 seasons with Clemson University in South Carolina with a career .534 SLG%. This is pure conjecture on my end, but I picture Davidson in my head as a Henry Skrimshander from the book “The Art of Fielding” who can also hit well. I mean, look at this:
And here he is working on those crucial fundies:
Logan’s father, Mark Davidson, played outfield for the Twins and Astros for six seasons, so he has that good ol’ baseball family pedigree. I mean, look at him. 6’3”, almost 200 pounds, “high ass” as the scouts like to say, what’s not to like? I can already picture him crushing dingers and turning double plays with aplomb in West Virginia next season.
Quinn Priester, RHP, Cary-Grove HS (Cary, IL) (Grant)
There are two kinds of MLB draft prospects that I really like. One is a rangy, athletic outfielder, with 60+ speed and great defense; in other words, the professional doppelgänger of my own high school baseball playing self (except, y’know, actually good). The other is a projectable pitcher with a gorgeous 12-6 curveball. Enter Quinn Priester.
Priester is neither a Jane Austen character (thanks Kate) nor a made up name from the MLB 2K series (thanks John). He is, however, a 6’3” high school righty with a tight curveball that arcs right through the zone. You can check it out here at the 0:22 mark.
That curve pairs nicely with good touch on both a four-seamer and a two-seamer, although there are differing reports around his velo — while MLB Pipeline says he touches 97 MPH, the last Perfect Game showcase from 2018 cites him at 93. Perhaps he’s added a little oomph on his heater, but regardless, that two-seam fastball has some significant movement and is especially difficult for lefties.
Hailing from Cary, Illinois, Priester perhaps hasn’t garnered the attention he would have received had he gone to high school in Florida or Texas. He’ll likely need to develop another pitch to become a quality starter, but he’s got all the pieces, and I’d love to watch that curveball for years to come in the Mariners org.
Brennan Malone, RHP, IMG Academy (Bradenton, FL) (Ben)
I’m typically pretty risk-averse when it comes to first-round selections, avoiding prep kids on account of their lack of perceived “safety.” That said, Malone—in addition to a dearth of genuinely exciting college options in the 20-30 range—is enough to get me to break the mold this June. IMG Academy RHP Brennan Malone is regarded as one of the top two prep arms available in this year’s draft. At 6’3” 200, he’s got an extremely projectable athletic build that he uses to produce easy velocity on his pitches. He occasionally modifies the grip on his running mid-to-upper-90’s fastball to produce a heater with more sink, and adds a 60-grade slider as well as a curve and change-up that he’s still working on but has good feel for.
The parallels between Malone and the last high school arm the Mariners used their first selection on, Taijuan Walker, are obvious; however, the former is far more polished than Walker was at the time of his selection. Per MLB.com Prospect Pipeline, he tossed a “complete-game shutout for IMG Academy in front of a lot of scouts at USA Baseball’s National High School Invitational in early April really helping his stock.” If the Mariners take him, they’ll do so knowing full well that they’ll have to pay up to sign him away from his commitment to North Carolina, but for a guy with his upside, it may just be a risk worth taking. Particularly when you consider that the good-not-great college options that should be available with the team’s next selections could likely be signed at or under slot value.
Brett Baty, 3B, Lake Travis HS (Lake Travis, TX) (Matthew)
Nobody* follows the MLB Draft as closely as I do.
That’s how I discovered* Brett Baty of Spicewood, TX, a 6’3”, 210-lb, left-handed hitting third baseman.
*was assigned by Kate
While Baty has a verbal commitment to the University of Texas, scouts view him as a first-round talent, which comes with significant money and could entice Baty to eschew college altogether in favor of securing the bag.
The dwindling days of Kyle Seager, a semi-rebuild that favors young players, and the Mariners’ draft position makes Baty a logical selection with the 20th pick. MLB Pipeline has even linked Baty to the organization in a recent mock draft. The prep star is considered one of the best high school hitters for both average and power, and Perfect Game notes that he also has the skillset to play outfield, and ranks the youngster in the 99th percentile of exit velocity.
While the Jerry Dipoto regime has gone exclusively with college players in the first round, Baty seems like the exact type of player that could cause them to reverse course. Seattle absolutely needs a hot corner replacement at some point, but is in the luxurious position of not needing one right away. If the third baseman on the Mariners’ next playoff team is not named Seager (which seems incredibly likely), it makes more sense to insert another young prospect on to the Kelenic-Rodriguez-Gilbert timeline than to acquire one via trade or pricey free agency.
It is worth noting that Baty is already 19, making him a graybeard high school senior and older than JULIOOOOO. This fact, plus his commitment to the Longhorns, could be a turnoff for other clubs, leading Baty to the Mariners at #20.
Matthew Allan, RHP, Seminole HS (Sanford, FL) (Nick)
Matthew “signability concerns” Allan might be the splashiest player the Mariners could snag on draft day. He’s considered the top prep pitcher in the draft but has been mocked anywhere from the early teens down to the slot-rich D’Backs at 26. For the thrill of the risk (and the fact that Ben took Brennan Malone…) I have given him my rose.
Allan is a fully developed human male at 6’ 3” 210 who throws three pitches, two of which Fangraphs has graded out at 65+: a fastball at 93-96, which PG has ranked second in his class, and a power curve ranked as the top bender in the nation.
Here’s the curveball (there’s another good one at 2:07)
And the spin:
Last night @kileymcd saw our 15th-ranked 2019 draft prospect, FL prep righty Matt Allan, sit 94-96 and hit 97 until a rain delay. He also broke off a couple 65-grade breaking balls, here’s one of them https://t.co/8sFc7Sizgb pic.twitter.com/o1jmbUrmZI
— FanGraphs Prospects (@FG_Prospects) April 10, 2019
If you buy today, Allan also comes fully equipped with a developing changeup and inconsistent command. While he repeats his mechanics well, some scouts are concerned about his “mullet delivery,” a term I just made up that means there’s wildness in the back of the delivery but sleek efficiency in the front. He checks the INTANGIBLES box as well with Top Level Athlete affiliation (a Driveline-esque facility), numerous pitching twitter retweets, and is well regarded as a teammate and leader blah blah blah.
The issue, of course, is money. Rumor is he’s seeking four million to lure him from his Florida commitment (my choice was car wash employee or college, but whatever) while the Mariners 20th round slot is valued at only $3,242,900 (their total pool is $7,559,000). That means to sign Allan, they’d need to go overslot by roughly the value of their 76th CBB pick. Would they take that risk on a prep RHP? There’s rumors they plan to go overslot on a player (presumed Volpe); might that mystery player instead be Allan? Personally I think if he’s there, you pull the trigger on the elite talent. The franchise should be more risk tolerant with their improved farm system and in position to take a gamble. I’d push some extra chips in on this one.
Matthew Lugo, SS, Carlos Beltrán Academy (Manati, PR) (Denise)
Having a shortstop who can hold his own both offensively and defensively is huge, and somewhat rare, and that’s what Matthew Lugo is. Lugo, barely 18 come draft day, is a 185-pound, 6’1” righty from the Carlos Beltran Academy. And not only does he attend the Beltran Academy, he happens to be Carlos Beltran’s actual nephew. Signing Lugo would be like marrying into baseball royalty – don’t you want to run into Carlos Beltran in our bright pink beer garden someday?
Lugo’s draft ranking varies widely, from 14 at Baseball Farm to 33 at Fangraphs up to 76 at Baseball America. He’s speedy, running the 60-yard-dash in 6.46 seconds, is light on his feet, charges well and has a quick, smooth transfer. MLB puts his hitting grade at 55 and his fielding/defense/etc at 50, making him a very balanced player we could really use at a position where few of those seem to come our way – Lugo won’t be another whiz with a glove whose deplorable offense we can try to forgive (*cough* Brendan Ryan *cough*), or good bat who gives up costly errors. His approach at the plate has been called “advanced,” and his swing is beautiful:
While I’m on the topic of Latin born 2019 draft eligible players I love, how sweet is Matthew Lugo’s swing?! Think he will be a big Riser come draft time. Made this gif from @2080ball video on him here https://t.co/UTY2YRFGwG pic.twitter.com/cptoz3sIoT
— Alex “Juicy” Jensen (@jensen_juicy) December 12, 2018
My guess is that Lugo will go in the second round, but he could be a sneaky first-round pick for a clever team and I think that clever team should be the Mariners.
Daniel Espino, RHP, Bulloch Academy (Statesboro, GA) (John)
Nick introduced us to potentially the top prep pitcher in the class in Matthew Allan. Ben highlighted the most easily projectible in Brennan Malone. Grant wrote up arguably the most refined. I’m here to talk about the most overpowering. Daniel Espino is the most enticing, terrifying thing around—a high school pitcher with an upper-90s fastball.
Espino was born and raised in Panama, moving to Georgia his sophomore year of high school. That moved him from the limitations of international free agency to draft eligibility, and also helped him further develop what by all accounts is bilingual fluency in English and Spanish. Reports on him are glowing with regards to work ethic, and he has gotten great reviews on his makeup and attitude. The stuff is there, as is the maturity not always present in players at his age.
The gap on what to think of Espino springs from two cracks: one portion from his archetype, another from him specifically. His 92-96 mph heat with 99 peak comes from a somewhat stocky frame, which has been listed anywhere from 6’0 to 6’4 and around 200 lbs, but is likely closer to 6’1. Espino has two distinct breaking balls—both quite effective—in a mid-80s slider with mostly horizontal movement and late drop as well as an upper-70s curve with an 11-5 angle heavy vertical break. He’s worked on a changeup, though reportedly it’s been too firm thus far to be useful, but it’s not hard to imagine it developing further considering his ability to add sink on his fastball when desired.
But all that talent is ironically a red flag for prep pitchers. Throwing in the upper-90s at such an early age has not had a happy ending for most high schoolers despite the immense talent obviously evident. That goes double for a guy the height of Dan Altavilla. There have also been criticisms of Espino’s “long arm action”, which is a concern point for scouts who worry about his ability to repeat it consistently, creating both command and injury worries. I’m hardly a match for entire teams of scouts and reams of data, but what mitigates some of those worries for me is how well Espino uses his lower half, and replicates that while working from the stretch and slide-step as well.
Espino is reportedly off the board entirely for a few teams for all those reasons, but the talent and character, along with Seattle’s creativity and patience with pitchers in recent years (Gilbert, Kikuchi, and even Paxton), make him too good to pass up.
Shea Langeliers, C, Baylor (Connor)
I’ll be honest: as someone who barely follows amateur baseball, I chose Langeliers based purely on his name. Imagine my pleasant surprise, then, when I discovered that not only does he sport an 80-grade name, he’s arguably the top catcher in the draft aside from consensus first overall pick Adley Rutschman.
Hailing from small-town Texas, Langeliers was drafted in the 34th round of the 2016 draft by the Blue Jays, but opted instead to honor his commitment to Baylor, a decision he believes will benefit his pro career. He draws rave, rave reviews on his defense, especially his arm: as a sophomore, he threw out a mind-boggling 70% of attempted base stealers. His pop-up time is a lightning-quick 1.8 seconds in game, though he hasn’t called pitches during his time in college ball, instead closely working with pitching coach Jon Strauss. His framing appears to be excellent, especially in the lower half of the strike zone, though his arm is undoubtedly his claim to fame.
A righty swinger, Langeliers has flashed solid power and has ran a strikeout rate of right around 15% in his three years of college ball. He’s hit every year at Baylor, putting up a composite .289/.370/.508 slash, including a career-high .311 batting average in 2019. He also made an appearance in the Cape Cod League after a monster freshman year, slashing .234/.324/.469 – impressive power for a 19-year-old in the wood-bat league.
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that Langeliers will fall all the way to the 20th pick; in fact, Eric took him second overall in our mock draft last week, and MLB.com has him ranked as the third-best prospect in the whole draft. Still, his superb defense, rocket arm, and intriguing bat make him a very attractive target, and one can dream that nineteen other teams will pass on him before Seattle’s on the clock.
Michael Busch, 1B/OF, North Carolina – Zach
If you’re anything like me, your least favorite type of player might have big power, but struggles to break .300 in the OBP column. If you’re anything like me, you will fall in love with Michael Busch.
Busch, a smooth-swinging lefty from North Carolina, is projected to be taken right around where the Mariners pick at 20. After struggling during his freshman year, he exploded for a .317/.465/.521 slash line last season and has posted similar, albeit slightly deflated, results this season.
Even a .300/.400/.500 slash line undersells Busch’s amazing control of the zone. This year, Busch has posted a mind-blowing 20.7 BB%, contrasting with a 13.4 K%. Busch walks more than he strikes out, and it’s not that close.
A loveable Midwestern soul, Busch originally drew the ire of North Carolinians by using “pop” instead of “soda.” Since then, he’s learned to fit right in. His left-handed bat profiles similarly to another North Carolinian with whom we’re all familiar: Kyle Seager.
Unfortunately, Busch’s glove does not profile similarly at all to Seager’s. Busch’s glove is the main knock against him. Though he is athletic, his arm strength is lacking, which probably will relegate him to first base or left field. However, if he can figure out a way to bump the arm strength, he could be a very real presence in the field.
A #SCTop10 play here from Michael Busch to make the diving catch over the bullpen fence in left field.
— Carolina Baseball (@DiamondHeels) May 11, 2019
A loveable Midwestern demeanor? A toothy smile? A slick glove and the ability to actually ghit for power without sacrificing OBP? If your guy isn’t Michael Busch, you need a better guy.
Nasim Nunez, SS, Collins Hill HS (Lawrenceville, GA) (Amanda)
So, there I was, assigned to determine a player I’d love to see the Mariners pick. I eliminate the high school pitchers because I feel like they’re too high risk to bother getting attached to (I still bear a Ryan Anderson-sized scar, it seems). I start looking through the remaining players. Tall dude. Tall dude with lots of power. Tall, bulky dude. Lots of power. Yawn, yawn, uber yawn.
Then, the clouds part and the sun shines brightly. I see birds winging through the sky, I hear bells ringing, I smell sweet fragrant meadows. I found him.
— InCogNY (@MoneyMigg) March 17, 2019
— InCogNY (@MoneyMigg) March 20, 2018
This kids loves baseball, and has boatloads of confidence (some may even say swag):
“It takes a real man!” @Diamonds_Nas23 knows what it takes it play the game of baseball!
The @CHHS_Sports SS is our @wsbtv Athlete of the Week.
More Sunday at 11:50pm on Channel 2.@PGAllAmerican @PerfectGameUSA @MLBDraft @ClemsonBaseball @USABaseball @BASEBALL_CHHS pic.twitter.com/z28CQLXqgL
— Nelson Hicks (@NelsonHicksWSB) April 19, 2019
I hear you asking: so this kid likes baseball, speaks with the confidence of an 18-year-old yet to be confronted with the rigors of life, and has done a few cool-looking things? So, what? For you, I offer the following “concrete information”:
Nunez is the polar opposite of all the big, power-hitting draft prospects. He is listed at 5’9” and 160 pounds. Watching videos of him, though, his size looks like an asset. He is extremely quick and athletic. He doesn’t have a lot of body to haul around the field, and his footwork is stellar. Scouts have raved about his defensive abilities; he is easily the best defensive shortstop available in the draft. MLB Pipeline grades his arm and fielding at 60, and Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs gives him a 55-60 grade glove. His range is impressive, and he is uniformly predicted to stick at shortstop, although he has the athleticism to play most other positions.
He also has plus speed, graded at 65 and 55-60 by MLB Pipeline and Fangraphs respectively. He’s going to get infield hits, beat out bunts, and steal some bases. Due to his speed, he started switch hitting his junior year of high school. He thought batting from the left side would help him get down the line quicker. He says he is still adjusting to the change, admitting that he doesn’t yet see the ball as well as he does from the right side of the plate.
And so it is, that his hitting is the weakest part of his game. Some scouts express doubt about whether it will translate well to professional baseball. He is a gap-to-gap hitter and has shown limited power. His swing can be long at times. However, Baseball America notes that his knowledge of the strike zone is above average, and he can work deep counts.
The Georgia native is a Clemson commit; however, he told the Baseball Prospect Journal, “A lot of kids dream about being a professional athlete and you think about it and you don’t want to take it for granted because you don’t know when it could be your last game.” Future Seattle Mariners shortstop Nasim Nunez has a nice ring to it.