The *10th Annual* MLB Draft Preview with Chris Crawford

marc w · July 11, 2021 at 9:53 am · Filed Under Mariners 

MLB’s amateur draft has been thoroughly rearranged/rebooted/moved around this year, partly due to the pandemic, and partly due to the same manic energy that leads to all sorts of new, limited edition hats that everyone hates. 15 years ago, the draft was still a low-tech affair, conducted by telephone with no TV coverage at all. That changed in 2011, as MLB Network decided to show the first round, and got some Jersey kid named Mike Trout to show up in-studio. Since then, interest in the draft has skyrocketed, and thus, this year, the first round (and competitive balance picks) will be on ESPN today at 4pm. The draft will continue on Monday and Tuesday, with coverage back on MLB Network.

The draft is only 20 rounds this year; up from the pandemic-shortened 5 rounds last year, but still half of what it was before Covid. There are, after all, fewer roster spots to fill after MLB’s restructuring of the minors axed several teams and entire leagues from the affiliated-ball ladder. In addition to having ESPN televise the first round, they’ve moved the draft physically for the first time: it’ll be in Denver, on All-Star Weekend. Many seem miffed that it could essentially compete with the Futures game, as just about anyone motivated enough to watch the draft probably also wants to watch the best prospects play each other. But you can kind of see what MLB is thinking: you’ve got a day to revel in the future of the game and get everyone interested in the stars of 2025 or so.

The draft has seen pretty remarkable changes since I’ve been doing this; the bonus pools that essentially limit what teams can spend were brand new when we started this series, and they may change again in the next CBA, due to be negotiated this year/next year. With so much in flux, it’s nice to fall back to tradition, and a familiar expert to help make sense of all this. So for the *10th year* in a row, I’ve talked with NBC Sports’ Chris Crawford. Chris is a local guy, and you can hear his segments (with fellow friend-of-the-blog Nathan Bishop) on the Ian Furness show every Monday on 950 am KJR. He does some great videos for NBC Sports Edge, like this one on JP Crawford (no relation), and a great podcast called Circling the Bases with other NBC baseball writers (DJ Short, Drew Silva). In the first post of this series, we talked about the M’s looking at Florida catcher Mike Zunino, and not only did the Mariners pick him, but he’s brought everything full circle by making his first All Star team. In that post, Chris waxed poetic about Byron Buxton, who looked set to dominate baseball this year before injuries sidelined him. All of that to say, Chris knows his stuff, and I look forward to this post every year.

1: Last year’s 5-round mini-draft should produce a really deep class for 2021. Has that happened? Is this one of the deepest classes in recent years?

It is not. Now, it’s not the shallowest class, either, but this is not a great class. It looked it was going to be on paper, but some bats — particularly in the college class — didn’t hit, and some pitchers got hurt and/or didn’t perform well. I would say this is an average class, but the added redshirt juniors/seniors/redshirt seniors really didn’t help as much as you might think.

2: Beyond the players themselves, the league has made some sweeping changes to how teams find amateur talent. 150 players attended the North Carolina scouting combine, with games, strength testing, workouts, etc. Essentially a lot of the things teams would do when holding in-person workouts in prior years have now been kind of centralized, allowing teams to get a look at more players, particularly at the top of the draft. What does this do for teams? What does it do to scouting and the need to have a lot of eyes on players all across the country?

I think adding extra looks was big. Look, there’s a lot of development that happens with these kids at that age, and in 2020, scouts just didn’t get as much of a chance to see these players. The workout stuff is nice as well, but really just getting an extra look after the pandemic (not to say we’re still not in a pandemic) is big. Ultimately I think the games they play against their competition is more important? But the more looks the better.

3: In addition to all of that, the top ~100 or so high schoolers will play in the Prospect Development Pipeline (PDP) league through July and August. What do you think MLB wants out of this set-up, and are there any potential unforeseen consequences?

I think again it’s just another way to get looks. Prep prospects are the most volatile prospects and it’s not close. That’s obvious. So getting a chance to see these guys play against each other rather than inferior competition is nice. It’s just taking a little bit of the risk off the top.

4: The other big change this year was the sweeping changes to the minor leagues. There are now fewer leagues, with the lower levels cut back pretty dramatically (Pioneer/Appy leagues). How does this change a team’s draft strategy? Or does it?

I think so, yes. You’ll still see lots of young players drafted and signed — everyone is young if they’re draft eligible, you know what I mean — and they’ll get more “hands on” instruction in the ACL or FCL. But teams will certainly need to draft less for “organizational depth” I think, because you don’t need to fill as many rosters.

5: Ok, ok, let’s talk about the Mariners. The M’s have about $8.5M to spend in this year’s draft, starting with pick #12 (valued at around 4.4 M). Who do you think they take, and who are some of the best picks around #10-15?

Goes without saying, but a college player. Difference this year is it seems like there’s an emphasis — for lack of a better word — on adding a college bat. I think the name that makes the most sense is Matt McLain, a shortstop out of UCLA. He fills a bit of an organizational need, and he is probably the best college bat on the board. That being said, if Sal Frelick of Boston College — a diminutive but talented outfielder — is there, then I think he’s the selection. Just not sure if he falls to 12 at this point. Colton Cowser is kinda in between Frelick and McLain, and he’s an outfielder who could hit for average and power at the highest level and is by no means slow. If an arm like Ty Madden of Texas or somehow one of the two Vandy boys (Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker) fell then yeah, I think they’d swoop. But I’d bet on McClain, Frelick or Cowser being the pick at this point.

6: The M’s have focused on college pitching. We talk about this every year, it seems. They’ve been successful at this; their development group has done extremely well with those high-pick arms, and we’re now seeing Logan Gilbert in the majors. Do you stick with what works – with what your own PD group has been good at – or do you draft for need? The M’s need infielders.

I think sticking with what works here is fine; the Mariners have done a good job of identifying college arms and also understand that they offer less risk. I also think it’s been a case where bats just haven’t made since where they picked, but Dipoto’s history tells you that prep players just aren’t going to get drafted high. You just have to go with best player available in my opinion. if there’s a “tiebreaker” than taking the one who offers less volatility makes sense. But unfortunately this year is an awful class of infielders after the big name shortstops — so the two just kinda match. Again.

Just a quick hit this year, given Chris’s busy schedule this week. A reminder that the draft will be on ESPN today at 4pm Pacific, 7pm Eastern. It’ll be back at 1pm Pacific tomorrow for the middle rounds, and it’ll wrap up the day after. Days 2 and 3 can be seen on MLB Network.

So far, most mock drafts have the M’s taking Matt McClain, SS, from UCLA, just as Chris discussed above. Where the two big Vanderbilt pitchers go could really shake things up; Jack Leiter wants to fall to Boston at #4, but no one thinks he will. Meanwhile, Kumar Rocker’s velo inconsistency could see him slide down towards #10, but I’m starting to think that teams are overly harsh on draft-year inconsistency (see Carlos Rodon, Sean Manaea, etc.). Can’t wait to see how it shakes out. And don’t forget the futures game itself! Coverage starts at noon, so you can watch before the draft. The AL’s line up starts with Bobby Witt, Jr., Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodriguez, and then Adley Rutschman. Wow.


4 Responses to “The *10th Annual* MLB Draft Preview with Chris Crawford”

  1. Stevemotivateir on July 11th, 2021 11:54 am

    This is one heck of a jam-packed day. I think I’m most interested in the Futures Game.

  2. Thoan on July 11th, 2021 2:33 pm

    Very grateful for this preview. Thank you.

  3. sexymarinersfan on July 11th, 2021 10:24 pm

    A prep hitting catcher, what do you know?! Lol

  4. bookbook on July 11th, 2021 10:52 pm

    I bet he ends up in CF

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