2017 Draft Preview with Chris Crawford

marc w · June 12, 2017 at 8:00 am · Filed Under Mariners 

:Jim Nance voice: A tradition unlike any other – the sixth annual USSMariner Draft preview is here. For those with experience, the signs are everywhere. Twitter stirs with draft talk. Lookout Landing goes all out with draft coverage. JY comes out of hibernation and posts about the state of the M’s and what the M’s might be looking for. The only thing left to do is to post our annual draft preview. Every year since 2012, I ask a bunch of questions of Chris Crawford, draft expert and writer for Hero Sports. He’s written for Baseball Prospectus, ESPN, and Sports Illustrated, too. Beyond all of that, I’ll go with a timely reference and note that if you go back through the history of these posts, you’ll find Chris talking up a gigantic OF named Aaron Judge. News you – and GMs – can use. The first round of the draft kicks off today at 4 pm. The first two rounds and the competitiveness balance picks are on MLB TV tonight, with rounds 3-10 following tomorrow. If you simply cannot get enough draft coverage, or Chris Crawford content, check out this post at CBS Sports from Dayn Perry.

Let’s get to it. My questions are in bold, and Chris’ answers follow.

1: Like last year, the M’s have three selections in the top 100. What kind of draft class are they looking at? Above-average, average-to-mediocre, or a repeat of 2015 (which I believe you didn’t much care for)?

I am not a huge fan of this class. I like the players at the top (Hunter Greene, Brendan McKay, McKenzie Gore, Kyle Wright), but after that, it becomes kind of a mess. There’s always things to like just because an MLB Draft class is always so vast, but on paper this isn’t my favorite.

How does it stack up with recent classes? Like 2016, 2015, etc?

It’s worse than both, and I didn’t love both classes. Maybe that’s just a case of being too close to the group or whatever, but it’s just not a very good class.

2: Who should the M’s take at #17? Who WILL they take?

I’ve heard nothing but college players associated with this pick. I think the dream is that Pavin Smith is available, and if he is, they should jump on it, he’s one of the best bats in the class — college or prep. The name I think is most realistic is Jake Burger, a third baseman out of Missouri State with big power that probably has to move to first.

3: We’ve talked for years about the impact that HS showcases, travel ball, Area Code and Perfect Game..er, games can have on the draft. The HS ranks are perhaps more visible now, and you don’t have to beat the bushes to find some young hitting prodigy – in all likelihood, they’ll be coming to the same big-city tournament you were going to scout anyway. That would seem to tilt things towards HS hitters, but we haven’t seen a huge shift in that regard. College bats still dot the first round, and will again this year. I’ve got two questions related to this phenomenon. First: do you think, over time (like 10-20 years), most or nearly all of the impact bats taken in the draft will come from the HS ranks?

I think most is probable. It’ll never be all because of the financial implications of the draft, but yeah, I think at some point people are going to realize this is the smartest way to go.

How good do you think colleges are at developing players? What round would you counsel a HS kid to sign, and what round would you counsel a kid to honor a commitment to a big-time college program?

I think there’s programs that do it well (Vanderbilt, Florida) and programs that don’t do it very well (Stanford, almost everyone else).

I’ll break it down as if it was my kid. If my kid gets offered six figures or more to go play professional baseball, there’s no way in hell I’m letting him go to college. The amount of kids that see their stock improve is just not very high. I do this every year, and I look at where a kid was ranked as a HS senior compared to college junior, and far too often the stock doesn’t come close to improving. Go get your paper. College is a nice backup plan if you can’t, but if it’s there? Go get it.

4:…. and second, when I go through the list of draft prospects, I’m actually struck by how few of the college guys were drafted before. Kyle Wright, Seth Romero, Alex Lange slipped through as preps. Does this mean that despite all the exposure, really talented kids will still suit up for colleges, or do you think it means that colleges still do a very good job of developing players and tapping into a lot of potential that hadn’t been uncovered at age 18?

There’s some of the latter, without question. But some of those kids went undrafted because they asked to not be drafted or put out bonus demands that are unrealistic. This is an imperfect science, though, and there’s no doubt that guys slip through the cracks to become major draft “stars.”

5: The M’s also pick at #55. Who might be available in that neighborhood? Would you say this class is deeper than previous classes? Does that matter past the first round? I think you saw last year’s class as rich in “good, not great” guys which meant that picking at 50 was probably pretty good – there wasn’t a ton of fall-off between #25 and, say, #70. How about this class?

It’s sort of similar again. If the M’s do go college route, they could do what they did last year and look for a prep talent with that selection. If they take an arm, a bat like Ryan Vilade makes sense as a third baseman with plus power from the right side. if they take Burger, Smith or some other college bat, maybe you see them go with a prep arm like James Mariman or Jake Eder. Even in a bad draft class, there’s certainly things to like.

If you had to pick in a class you’re not super high on, would you go bat or arm with this pick? And let’s say they go with a college bat at #17 – HS arm? HS bat? Does it change the calculus, or nah?

For me, I’m always looking to go BPA (best player available). Whether that’s a college bat or a prep arm, doesn’t matter. What I will say is that if I take something volatile like a prep bat in the first round, I might look college arm in the second, but only if — and it’s a big if — the talent is close. I do get taking out risk, but talent is talent.

6: Related to that, a number of mock drafts or prospect lists feature a big name – and an even bigger stat line – kind of close to #55. Brett Rooker, the 1B out of Mississippi State, just put up what seem to be the best slash line in the SEC in at least a decade, and that’s going back to the pre-BBCOR bats. Rooker is one of a select few players who might be known to people who don’t follow college ball, thanks to an insane hot streak that got him on ESPN and the like early on. He plays in a huge conference, and is slashing .404/.505/.821 right now. I get the position isn’t ideal, but how does he NOT go in the first round?

A few reasons. The first being age. He’s going to be 23-years-old in November. As good as those numbers are, when you’re the age of a High-A player, you should be crushing SEC pitching. I think he goes in the first two rounds, and the power is legit. Having said that, if he’s anything but a platoon player at the next level, I’m surprised.

7: Time for our annual check-in on Alex Jackson. Last year, you called him one of the worst “misses” of your career. This year, he’s slashing .301/.359/.575 for the Braves org. Is he fixed? What did the M’s do or not do? Scary high K:BB ratio, but all of baseball has a scary high K:BB ratio to guys like me who grew up in the 80s. Fundamentally, is this something Atlanta did right, or do you think the M’s did something wrong with the kid?

Fixed may be too strong a word, but he’s looked good. He’s hurt right now, but it doesn’t appear to be anything serious, and the people I’ve talked to with the Braves have just raved about him.

As for whether or not this is a failure of the Mariners or something the Braves figured out, I’m not sure. Baseball is really, really hard. Jackson wasn’t just not seeing enough pitches, he was making weak contact. Maybe Jackson figured something out, maybe he matured. Swing doesn’t look too different to me. Right now, I’d say the credit goes to Atlanta but there’s a good chance he never becomes that prospect with Seattle.

8: As usual, the the local draft-eligible list isn’t a long one. There’s UW catcher Joey Morgan, the Oregon/Oregon State pitchers (Heimlich, Rasmussen, Peterson, etc.), and a few preps like Jesse Franklin and Mason Martin. Do any of them stand out? What kind of pro player do you think Morgan will be?

I love Franklin’s swing. There are questions about where he’s going to play, but if you have a chance to watch him swing the bat, it’s pretty. He’s probably headed to college.

I think Morgan can be a starting catcher, if you don’t mind your catchers being…I can’t think of a nice way to say bad hitters. He’s similar to Austin Rei, although I thought Rei had more offensive potential than he’s shown with Boston. Still, above-average defense and plus arm can play at the next level.

9: A kind of under the radar local prospect – thanks to a smaller college conference and injury woes – is Seattle University lefty Tarik Skubal. He showed great promise as a freshman and then in half a season as a sophomore, with his velo creeping up over 91, but then his elbow gave out. Depending on how teams evaluate his rehabilitated elbow, he could conceivably go in the first 4-5 rounds. What sort of prospect is he, or at least, WAS he before the TJ surgery? We’ve talked a lot about guys who’ve had TJ surgery in their draft year, though typically near the top. Jeff Hoffman, Mike Matuella, Cal Quantrill- these guys were still drafted pretty high. What would you counsel a guy like Skubal to do? Come back, demonstrate health, but take a risk in doing so? Or sign now, if the discount isn’t too steep?

It’s interesting, because Skubal was a top prospect for this class a couple years ago. Things haven’t gone so well since then, which is why I’m always skeptical of these kind of lists. I think he has the stuff of a backend starter, but maybe the stuff plays up in relief?

If I’m Skubal and I get close to slot for being a 4th-5th round pick, I’m taking the money. I just don’t think his stock can rise enough to not sign. The reward doesn’t come close to outweighing the risk, for me.

10: Jake Adams of Iowa’s made a splash in the CWS this year, and put up big numbers throughout the year. He’s essentially a poor man’s Rooker, with a .750 SLG% in a major conference. He’d conceivably be there for the M’s 3rd pick, but even there, might be considered a stretch. Is he a pro prospect? Going back over these posts over the years, I’m reminded of one guy you loved despite defensive question marks: Aaron Judge of Fresno State (and now the Yankees). How good does a bat have to be to essentially ignore defensive issues or position? Do you think people were TOO caught up in positional value and not enough on “can the guy mash?”

Adams is a non-prospect for me. Putting up monster numbers in a bad conference with a bad body. These type of players just never do it for me.

To answer your question, they have to be really, really good with the bat for me to ignore the defensive/body issues. I think Judge was underrated as an athlete. It was just the fact that there aren’t outfielders as tall as him that gave everyone pause, and I totally get that. If you aren’t plus hit, plus power — or somewhere close to that — and you can’t play defense, you just aren’t a prospect to me. Prove me wrong, Vogey and Rowdy.

11: Related to that, were first basemen kind of underrated, and are we seeing a correction? The 2016 top 101 prospects had 2 1Bs on it, both in the back half. This year, there were a lot more, headlined by Cody Bellinger, who’s been phenomenal with the Dodgers. There’s been a renaissance at the position in the big leagues (Freeman/Goldschmidt/Rizzo/Votto/Zimmermann/Thames), too.

Yep, the position is starting to see a renaissance, so to speak. It’s the best way to get a great bat in the lineup in a lot of cases, and why wait? If they can hit and you don’t wanna wait to see if they can stick in the corner outfield or third, get them going now. Long-term concerns be damned.

12: Who are some guys you’re particularly high on – guys you like better than what you think the industry consensus is? Do you have particular TYPES of player that you tend to like more than many teams?

I am always a sucker for projectable left-handers. I overrate them every year and I won’t stop anytime soon. MLB teams love them too, but I probably go overboard. Can’t help it. That’s why I’m a little higher than the industry I think on guys like Trevor Rogers and Seth Lonsway, because, well, projection. And left-handed. Great combination.

Going way, way back, the M’s were huge on projectable lefthanders. It didn’t go well. In your mind, how much of a draft pick’s success in pro ball is due to innate talent, and how much is player development? Same question applies to ANY draft pick of course.

I’m going to give two cop out answers. The first cop out is that if I knew I would be making lots and lots of money. Or more money than I make now, anyway. The second cop pout is that the answer is probably somewhere in between. If I had to do a split, I’d say it’s 2/3 talent, 1/3 development. The fact of the matter is that it doesn’t matter how much you know about mechanics of the swing, mechanics on the mound, defensive awareness drills, etc.., if the kid can’t play, he can’t play. You have to be good at this sport to be good. Obvious point is obvious, but yeah, talent is more important than coaching. Sorry coaches.


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