SEATTLE -- A most unusual MLB Draft is in the books. The process was shortened to five rounds because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, well below the normal 40, and conducted virtually with general managers and scouting departments working from their own homes and offices instead of crowded rooms at team headquarters.
For the Mariners, that didn’t change their expectation of adding top talent to a growing pool of prospects that general manager Jerry Dipoto and his crew have been accumulating the past few years.
The Mariners believe they landed the best pitcher in the Draft in University of Georgia standout Emerson Hancock with the sixth overall pick Wednesday. If that proves to be the case, this will have been a successful Draft no matter what else happens.
They added five more college players over the final four rounds Thursday. Although there are no games being played during the pandemic, that group figures to eventually bolster a Minor League system that has improved dramatically in the past two years as Dipoto has started pushing his youth movement.
The Mariners expect to sign all six of their Draft picks soon. Scouting director Scott Hunter said the only real hurdle is getting the necessary physical exams for the players before deals can be finalized, given travel difficulties with the pandemic.
To solve that, the Mariners will enlist doctors around the country to help out in cases where players can’t get to Seattle or Peoria, Ariz., for exams. Financial terms have already been worked out in most cases. Each pick in the five rounds comes with an assigned value, with the total for each of a team's selections equaling what it can spend in those rounds without incurring a penalty.
Hancock’s assigned slot value as the No. 6 overall selection is $5.74 million. Second-rounder Zach DeLoach has a slot value of $1.73 million, followed by Competitive Balance Round B pick Connor Phillips ($1.05 million), third-rounder Kaden Polcovich ($793,000), fourth-rounder Tyler Keenan ($543,500) and fifth-rounder Taylor Dollard ($406,000).
The signing deadline this year is Aug. 1. Even if there are no Minor League games this season, the Mariners hope there might be an expanded Fall League or instructional league in Arizona to enable players to get some action in 2020 if the health situation allows.
The Mariners’ overall bonus pool is $10,265,500. If a club exceeds its assigned pool, it faces a penalty. Teams that outspend their allotment by 0-5 percent pay a 75 percent tax on the overage. At higher thresholds, clubs lose future picks: a first-rounder and a 75 percent tax for surpassing their pool by more than 5 and up to 10 percent; a first- and a second-rounder and a 100 percent tax for more than 10 and up to 15 percent; and two first-rounders and a 100 percent tax for more than 15 percent.
In eight years with these rules, teams have exceeded their allotments a total of 149 times but never by more than 5 percent. Twenty-one of the 30 teams outspent their pools last year.
The Mariners stayed strictly with college players, selecting five college juniors and one junior-college freshman. That was no surprise given their history. In the five Drafts since Dipoto took over, Seattle has selected 25 college players and only two high schoolers in the first five rounds. And with most high school seasons wiped out by the pandemic this spring, taking college players with a longer track record figured to be the safer route.
The Mariners did opt for more balance with the shorter Draft, taking three position players and three pitchers after drafting eight pitchers with their first nine picks in 2019.
The day after being drafted by the Mariners, Hancock was named to the CoSIDA Academic All-America First Team. He carries a 3.42 grade point average as a sports management major at Georgia and is 12 credits shy of graduation.
Day 2 name to watch
Phillips, a right-handed pitcher out of McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas, was the player with the most upside projection taken by Seattle on the second day. The 19-year-old made just six starts before his first season of college ball was postponed by the pandemic, but he was the first junior-college player selected in the Draft and the Mariners love his athleticism. He was also a football defensive back at Magnolia West High School just north of Houston and led the baseball team to the 5-A Texas regional finals by going 12-3 with a 1.13 ERA and 125 strikeouts in 92 2/3 innings last year. If he can command his upper-90s fastball and slider, Phillips could quickly join the Mariners' group of top pitching prospects.
With teams able to start signing non-drafted free agents on Sunday, the Mariners’ scouting department began focusing on potential targets Friday. Hunter said they’ll employ every avenue available to compete in that market, including using some Minor League staff and current Mariners players to recruit, where possible.
“There are some really good players out there on the market that want to continue their careers if they were seniors in college and some college juniors who have shown to their advisers they’re interested,” Hunter said. “I’d love to sign as many as we can, but realistically with Minor Leagues possibly shrinking and no season to be played this year, I’d say 5-10 players would be our range of players to sign.”
The last word
“Just to be able to add this kind of young talent, not just with Emerson but Connor and Taylor Dollard, it really starts building our organization. Emerson is going to catch up with the guys at the top like Logan [Gilbert] and Justus [Sheffield] and [George] Kirby and [Brandon] Williamson really quick. But to have Dollard and Connor Phillips, really upside players that are going to jump in the mix with that second wave of talent, that’s exciting for us. We want to create waves of talent, no matter if it’s in the pitching or hitting ranks.” -- scouting director Scott Hunter