The Mariners selected Georgia right-hander Emerson Hancock with the No. 6 pick on Day, and under GM Jerry Dipoto the Seattle Mariners have shown a strong tendency to select college players in the MLB Draft, especially when it comes to the Top 5 rounds.

Expect that to change a bit on Day 2 this year.

Dipoto has overseen four drafts with the Mariners, three with current scouting director Scott Hunter. During those four years, the club has selected just two prep players before Round 6 — Joe Rizzo in Round 2 in 2016 and Sam Carlson in the second round in 2017.

The 2020 Draft is a little bit different:

  • It’s merely five rounds, rather than 40-50 it’s been the last several years.
  • The bonus pool for 2020 was locked in at 2019 rates and, obviously, sliced to five rounds worth.
  • Clubs didn’t get a chance to see players extensively, despite a month of the college season taking place before being cancelled.
  • Prep players have had to rely on video and data reporting.
  • Clubs have had to rely on that video and data, plus scouting info gleaned last spring and summer.

Why would Seattle be more prep heavy in a college heavy draft class?

It’s actually not that college heavy. All classes are heavier college than high school, and just about any way it’s diced up it comes out the same: college over high school. But in a year when owners are trying to avert risk, pinch pennies and think even more about the bottom line than ever before, college players are likely to be over-drafted.

For example: Most analysts have Aaron Sabato, the slugger from North Carolina, as a Top 40-60 pick, but not a first-round talent, yet it appears the Texas Rangers have zeroed in on him at No. 14. Jordan Westburg, a college shortstop who’ll move to third base in pro ball is another likely to go late in Round 1, but generally receives second-round grades. Arizona C Austin Wells and Arkansas SS Casey Martin are two others likely to go in Round 1 for reasons not based on pure talent and/or pool manipulation.

While this isn’t unheard of in previous drafts, this strategy is typically reserved for clubs attempting to push some of their bonus pool to later picks, rather than the big splash in Round 1, rather than to avert risk on the player himself.

This strategy will not end after the first round, either. Clubs are still expected to prefer college players more than ever well into Day 2.

The result is the value in the compensation round and beyond is high school talent, more than it otherwise would have been, and more than the last four classes.

Key prep prospects that could be passed on in Round 1  and become great values after that include Texas products RHP Jared Kelley from Refugio High School and two-way star
Masyn Winn from Kingwood High School.

My draft board includes 14 high schools players between No. 42 and 64 and 22 high school prospects between 42 and 80. When the ratio is near half, it’s a strong high school lean, compared to most classes, and there are large pockets after Round 1 where the prep talent is the clear value.

What Seattle has done in recent years is go college for the overwhelming majority of the picks inside the top 5 rounds, then venture out and take some shots at high school players. Carlson represents the only over-slot upside play at the prep level in the Dipoto era. The club went aggressively over slot at $2 million to get a player many believed was a Top 25 talent.

After the first round, Seattle selects at Nos. 43, 64, 78, 107 and 137. If their top pick is a slot player we may see some fancy footwork at 43 and 64 to try and take advantage of the flexibility they created with acquiring the extra pick from Milwaukee in the Omar Narvaez deal and the fact many clubs are looking to avert risk, leaving high school talent on the board.

I don’t expect a high-school heavy draft in general from Dipoto, Hunter and the Mariners, just significantly and notably more so than in previous drafts.

No matter the strengths and weaknesses of the players in a given class, or the value of the class as a whole, every club has an opportunity every June to gain ground on the clubs in front of them and put more space between themselves and the organizations behind them.

The Mariners, even in a five-round draft, have that inherent chance. But they also have a chance to take a few risks on prep prospects and, as I said on Baseball Things Wednesday morning, take the deep three-ball for the win, rather than looking for the push.

The buzz is Seattle wants to do something unique early on Day 2, which likely means prep talent to some extent.

As other clubs lay up, Seattle should be going for it. And it appears they will.


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Jason A. Churchill

Churchill founded Prospect Insider in 2006 and spent several years covering prep, college and pro sports for various newspapers, including The News Tribune and Seattle PI. Jason spent 4 1/2 years at ESPN and two years at CBS Radio. He now serves as the Executive Copy Editor at Data Skrive, a tech company that manipulates data to provide automated content to clients including the AP, BetMGM, USA Today, and ESPN. Find Jason's baseball podcast, Baseball Things, right here.