Mariners stock system with fresh arms in Draft

Seattle tabs high school pitchers with big upside, plus seasoned college players

July 19th, 2022

SEATTLE -- “Take the best player available” is the ageless adage when discussing the MLB Draft, a cliché that goes way back to the event’s inception in 1965. 

Yet, for the Mariners, that saying particularly rang true this year, and their selections near the top show as much, specifically when looking at how they will allocate their $7,254,400 worth of spending across their 20 picks.

First, an explainer: Draft picks in the first 10 rounds come with an assigned value, with the total for a club's selections equaling what it can spend in those rounds without incurring a penalty. But selections and teams don’t have to agree to that number, as it’s more of a benchmark.

If a player taken in the top 10 rounds doesn't sign, his pick's value gets subtracted from his team's pool. Clubs near the top of the Draft often spend less than the assigned value for those choices and use the savings to offer more money to later selections.

And now to the Mariners: They selected three high school arms with big upside who could conceivably fill the voids in the farm system left by Logan Gilbert, Matt Brash and George Kirby, who’ve all graduated to the Majors in the past year-plus.

The new guys are Walter Ford, Ashton Izzi and Tyler Gough, all of whom have college commitments to Alabama, Wichita State and Oregon State, respectively. Combined, their pick values are around $1.5 million, but Mariners director of amateur scouting Scott Hunter indicated that they will go higher for that group.

“We had to do a lot of creative stuff, especially up top with Ashton and Tyler,” Hunter said. “We were able to navigate our way through and make the bonus pool work, and it looks like we’re in a good spot where we’re not going to have to worry about any penalties or tax.”

In addition to throwing 96-97 mph, Ford is a power-hitting infielder who reclassified high schools in order to be Draft eligible. Gough was one of the more impressive prospects at last month’s Combine, striking out each of the five batters he faced. Izzi also competed there, allowing Hunter to get to better know them. Each was ranked higher on MLB Pipeline’s list of Top 250 Draft prospects than the actual pick number at which the Mariners selected him, indicating that Seattle acquired value without overreaching.

“It was kind of fun and nerve-wracking at the same time, trying to find the best players available that were at the right cost,” Hunter said. “There were probably five players that we kind of went all in on, and then we just had to make that adjustment once we got past that point.”

In doing so with Ford (their Competitive Balance Round B pick), Izzi (fourth round) and Gough (ninth), Seattle went with more seasoned college players who maybe don’t have as raw upside. That would be left-hander Reid VanScoter (fifth round), shortstop Josh Hood (sixth), second baseman Hogan Windish (seventh), catcher Tatem Levins (eighth) and outfielder Bill Knight (10th). Hunter added that he anticipated all Day 2 Draft picks would sign.

“This season was a really big season for me,” Ford said. “Coming into the Draft a little late for me, I knew this high school season was going to be pretty important to kind of really prove myself as a starter this year, and I did really well for it.”

These tactics aren’t uncommon. The Mariners paid overslot last year with second-rounder Edwin Arroyo and third-rounder Michael Morales, both out of high school. Arroyo, the club's No. 4 prospect, this year is putting together arguably the best season among its Minor League position players, hitting .318/.387/.516 (.903 OPS) with an eye-popping 13 homers for Single-A Modesto.

The Mariners’ farm system likely won’t hold its No. 2 standing when MLB Pipeline releases its updated rankings in a few weeks due to many of those prospects reaching the big leagues. But by injecting promising pitching the past few days, the farm received a healthy restock with an eye to the future.