The Annual Draft Preview Post: Q and A with Draft/Prospect Expert, Chris Crawford

marc w · July 16, 2022 at 5:30 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

The M’s just finished up their 13th consecutive win. Emerson Hancock is in the Futures Game (going on now, on PeacockTV). The M’s farm system looks better than we’d thought thanks to the emergence of Edwin Arroyo and the return to form of Noelvi Marte. And now comes word that Juan Soto might be available in trade. It’s a hopeful time for us M’s fans, and the amateur draft is a hopeful event. As we’ve done each year since 2012, I’ve asked Chris Crawford to set the stage a bit: what’s the draft class like, who might the M’s target, and how the draft has changed/evolved in recent collective bargaining agreements between the league and the players union.

Chris Crawford is a staff writer with NBC Sports EDGE, and has been making some great podcasts for them at Circling the Bases. If you want to dive even deeper into this draft, check out his podcast with ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel. Local sports radio listeners get to hear him talk about the Mariners with fellow friend-of-the-blog Nathan Bishop on KJR FM’s “Mollywhop Monday” segment, which is on 93.3 each Monday afternoon during Ian Furness/Kevin Shockey’s show.

Let’s go:

1: We start off the same way each time: what do you make of this draft class as a whole? Deep? Shallow? Lopsided?

It’s a weird class. There’s some incredibly high upside players in this class, both as pitchers and hitters. In terms of ceiling I think this class competes with a bunch of em. It’s also one of the lowest floor drafts I can remember for reasons we’ll get into. Every draft has a few players that have “safe” consideration, but it’s much more about upside in 2022. Kinda weird.

2: Who are some players the M’s may target at #21? And how about pick #58? Who would you take at 21?

They’re kind of interesting because of how this draft class shapes up. I have mostly heard college bats, but I mostly heard college bats when they took Harry Ford. The name most commonly attached was Zach Neto — a shortstop out of Campbell — but it looks like he’s going to go several picks ahead of that. Dylan Beavers of Cal is a name that makes a lot of sense as a power-hitting college bat, and collegiate outfielders like Drew Gilbert and Jordan Beck of Tennessee also will be in consideration if they’re there. If someone like Cole Young falls that could be the pick, and that’s who I would take.

58 is a little tougher, of course. I would imagine they address pitching if they go with a bat at 21. Someone like Trystan Vrieling of Gonzaga could make sense, or an arm like Jake Bennett out of Oklahoma. They could also target a prep arm like Cole Phillips or a local kid like Jackson Cox out of Toutle Lake.

3: This is kind of big/open ended, but how, in your view, has the pandemic impacted this class? Disparate impact on HS or college players?

I think we’re years away from finding out how much impact there was, but in the short-term, I think it’s definitely played a factor. I kinda wonder if one of the reasons why there’s more talk about the prep bats is that there’s been less of a chance to nitpick those players. Same kinda true of the college players — keep in mind these guys have been scouted for years — but there was so little prep baseball for a couple years.

4: This year, a potential #1 overall pick and one of the best prep arms in the class went down with an injury. At the same time, we saw some talents sitting out the year, figuring the risk wasn’t worth it. Is this something we’ll see more of? Should we? With the rise of measurables, Trackman, etc., what is the value of a prep season for a high round kid?

I think you’re going to see more of it. Now, I do think that it’s not going to be the norm, because scouts really do want to see how players make adjustments and what not. But if a player has “established” themselves in a certain area of the draft? It’s justifiable for that player to not take the risk of injury. It’ll be interesting to see where some of those players go next week.

5: Similarly, we’ve seen The development and growth in the MLB draft showcase thing. Who benefits most from this? What’s your view on its utility for teams and players? Is there a way you can think of that would make it better?

I think the teams, especially because of the pandemic. It’s a chance to get another look at players they didn’t see as often as they would have liked, a chance to see how players react to different situations, etc. I don’t think it’s a world changer, but it’s great for the middle-to-late rounds.

6: There’s been so much tinkering with the draft, and with the minors that take in draft picks. With fewer teams, do teams draft differently at all?

There’s no question. Again, however, we’re not going to know the true impact for a couple of years. For one thing, most teams use the late rounds to fill organizational need. There’s half as many rounds now, so that’s more difficult to do. Teams are still going to sign a lot of those guys as UDFAs, but there’s no doubt that having only 20 rounds impacts things.

7: Jeff Passan had an article about the decline of the starting pitcher (or the SP’s workload) last week, and it’s clearly a topic of interest. MLB has been limiting pitcher roster spots this year. And yet, college pitchers continue to log pitch counts we don’t see anymore in affiliated ball. At the same time, there’s not a lot of evidence that lower pitch counts reduce injuries; they enable max effort pitching, countering any workload-related benefits. So: is college pitching not training pitchers for the job they’ll get drafted into? Or is college pitching a gauntlet that players walk to demonstrate an ability to log innings? Do we fret too much about pitch counts in college? Or is college baseball a fundamentally different animal at this point?

This is a tough one. I think we’re starting to see a slight change in that because we’re starting to see more MLB coaches move over to college rather than vice versa. But the fact of the matter is that college coaches are not paid to get players drafted, they are paid to win college baseball games. While we know lower pitch counts don’t equal no injuries, we have seen that throwing a bunch of them doesn’t help. The reason college pitchers get drafted higher is because there’s less volatility and MLB owners don’t want to spend a bunch of money on prep players that offer no guarantees. I don’t think we can ever fret too much about pitch counts because we’re talking about quality of life, not just MLB success. But it’s all very tricky.

8: Maybe (?) related to that: this draft seems light on pitching. Is that accurate? If so, why is that?

It’s the worst college pitching class I’ve ever seen and it’s not close. It sucks. Some of it is injury related, some of it is that these guys just aren’t very good. It’s bad. It’s a bad college pitching class.

Now, that being said, the prep arms? Pretty good. There’s a ton of high-upside arms, and that’s not even including Dylan Lesko who is one of the most talented high school arms I’ve seen. But again, high school arms offer massive risk. So the answer is yes, but it’s mainly just because the college pitching absolutely sucks.

9: Let’s talk about the independent leagues. We’ve seen them act as a kind of back-up plan for college-aged players who, for whatever reason, can’t play in college anymore. James Paxton comes to mind, and we see it this year with Kumar Rocker. But can they become what the European/Australian leagues have become for the NBA? A pro option *in lieu* of college, as opposed to an option once something goes weird after you’ve already been in college?

I think that could be what happens in the future, anyway. I think the difference between baseball and basketball in this situation is community college. There are some really good programs that players can either enroll in or transfer to with good coaching. The collegiate basketball JC program isn’t atrocious but it’s not really an option for NBA Draft picks. But the fact you can go to a JC and then be eligible for the draft the next year is big.

10: The M’s have had some success in developing pitchers. Their record with batters is more of a mixed bag. I know the traditional thinking is that you have to take the best player available, but at this point you could argue that a random pitcher has a better chance of working out than the median batting prospect. Do you…ignore that? If you do, is it because that assumption isn’t actually true, or because that median hitter has a better chance of working out, irrespective of development staff/coaches/track record of the org?

The Mariners deserve a ton of credit for their development of guys like Gilbert and Kirby and so on and so forth. But I think it’s worth pointing out that in their class, these guys were considered some of the “safer” prospects, so, it’s not a surprise that they’ve reached the bigs and had success? But where they deserve credit is for tapping into their ceiling. I don’t think you can ignore that, but at the same time, you gotta start adding upside guys with the bats to the system. Have to mix and match.

11: You were very high on Seattle prep OF Corbin Carroll a few years back, and he’s rewarded that confidence by becoming one of the best prospects in the game. Any Pacific Northwest amateurs in that tier? Ok, ok, any a few tiers below, but still great draft prospects?

There’s two guys who have a chance to go pretty high from Washington, both prep arms. There’s a bit of a debate who’s better between the aforementioned Cox and J.R. Ritchie, a right-hander from good ole Bainbridge Island. Both are guys that have high ceilings, but both could end up going the college route because of bonus demands. Oregon State has one of the more intriguing college arms in Cooper Hjerpe, it wouldn’t surprise me if he was a potential target for Seattle as one of the safer arms because of his command. Josh Kasevich also could be a target in the second round as a bat from Oregon (go Huskies) who is a plus defender and offers some offensive upside. Pretty solid year in the PNW.

12: Any early thoughts on the potential rule changes coming to MLB (further pitcher limits, ban on shifts, pitch clock) and how/if they shift draft strategy? Are there pitchers who might be better in a pitch clock environment than others?

The ban on shifts is going to have to play a part. The fact of the matter is that defense up the middle just got more valuable. You will see less offensive-minded second baseman I believe. The pitcher limits I don’t think really changes anything right away, but defense is going to matter more.

13: Due to a number of reasons (high bonus demands/strong commits, pitchers opting out of their HS senior season, injuries, etc.), we could see a bunch of talented players drop in the draft and quite likely head to college. So, the perennial question is, will we see a team ignore the penalties and try to sign a ton of these guys? Blowing past the bonus pools used to be a thing in international signings, until MLB banned it. The penalties are high enough in the Rule 4 draft that no one’s blown past them. Is this the year we see someone do it? Or is this year’s potential reward not high enough to justify the very real sanctions?

I don’t think so. Especially with a really strong 2023 draft class (on paper), anyway. Someone will do it someday, and maybe next year because of the upside in the class that’s what happens. But the penalties are just too stiff right now.

Thanks once again to Chris Crawford, whom you can follow on twitter here, or catch the next Mollywhop Monday on KJR.


2 Responses to “The Annual Draft Preview Post: Q and A with Draft/Prospect Expert, Chris Crawford”

  1. Westside guy on July 17th, 2022 12:12 am

    Awesome – I always enjoy reading these! Thanks, Marc and Chris.

  2. dnc on July 18th, 2022 9:45 am

    Nice to see he likes Cole Young.

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