Seattle Mariners chief executive officer and chairman John Stanton likely noticed the same big trend most would when looking at the profiles of players the Mariners drafted through the first 10 rounds of the Major League Baseball draft.
The Mariners drafted four pitchers, two catchers, an outfielder and another player who projects as a utility infielder in the third through 10th rounds Tuesday after drafting 6-foot-6, 225-pound right-hander Logan Gilbert in Monday’s first round and Louisville outfielder Josh Stowers in the second.
This is Scott Hunter’s second year as the director of amateur scouting running the Mariners’ draft. He said he thought he set a record on his Fitbit for steps taken in a day with how much he was pacing back-and-forth all day.
“Stanton said he noticed all of our guys we are getting are big and physical,” Hunter said. “I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ (It) turns out our guys are averaging 6-3 and bigger, and that wasn’t by plan. It just happened that way.”
He seemed most excited by their first pick Tuesday. The Mariners drafted Florida State catcher Cal Raleigh in the third round as a player they think will be playing baseball for a long, long time. Hunter almost guaranteed it before backtracking.
“A lot of scouts are saying, ‘Wow, that guy is going to be playing,’” Hunter said.
The 6-3, 225-pound backstop hit .326 with 13 home runs for the Seminoles this year and was ranked the No. 78 prospect by Baseball America – with the Mariners getting him at 90th overall.
They drafted another catcher in the seventh round in Nova Southeastern (Florida) prospect Jake Anchia, who hails from the same NCAA Division II school as Boston Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez. Hunter said the school earned a reputation as the home run king of D-II baseball. Anchia hit 22 home runs this past season.
Why two catchers? Hunter said that became a priority when the Mariners traded away catcher David Banuelos to the Minnesota Twins this past offseason for international slot money — which was being acquired by the Mariners in their attempt to court Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani. Banuelos was a fifth-round pick last year.
“We wanted to restock catching,” Hunter said. “These guys are good starts. They aren’t the defensive catchers Banuelos was, but they’re offensive guys.”
Hunter said nine of the 10 picks had been signed. Gilbert seemed like the one who hadn’t because they have a verbal agreement to sign once his college season closes. His Stetson University team, which also produced aces Corey Kluber and Jacob deGrom, plays the University of North Carolina in the NCAA Division I Super Regionals this weekend.
Hunter said eight of the 10 picks will be reporting to the Mariners’ Arizona mini-camp.
The most major-league ready player they drafted might be their eighth-round pick, right-hander Joey Gerber.
Hunter’s scouting director predecessor, Tom McNamara, was on hand and gave Hunter a high-five for that pick.
Gerber throws up to 97 mph and projects as a power-armed reliever and was considered one of the top college relievers in the draft. Baseball America ranked him as the No. 145 overall prospect and the Mariners picked him at No. 238.
“McNamara said he said he saw (Gerber) play and he said, ‘That’s a quick-to-the-big-leagues kind of guy,’” Hunter said. “If you know Mac’s history here, he likes those hard-throwing arms, so that made me feel good that we got the right guy.”
Last year’s first-round pick, Evan White, apparently forced his way into the conversation.
The first baseman, currently with 2016 first-round pick Kyle Lewis at high Single-A Modesto, texted Hunter throughout the morning and afternoon on the Mariners’ picks. He made sure to get Gilbert’s phone number to reach out to their newest top draft pick.
“I sent him a few names to reach out to them,” Hunter said. “Hopefully when Evan White touches the big leagues, some of these arms and Logan Gilbert and Cal Raleigh will be knocking on the door as well.”
Maybe the two most interesting picks to this point are Texas A&M right-hander Nolan Hoffman (fifth round) and College of Southern Nevada right-hander Joey Takashi O’Brien (sixth round).
Start with the sidearm pitcher, Hoffman.
Yes, the Mariners picked a sidewinder with their fifth pick, and he didn’t start throwing that way until this season, transitioning from a traditional three-quarter slot at the almost-demand of his college coach Rob Childress.
He went from a 12.00 earned-run average to a 1.15 ERA in 55 innings (with 53 strikeouts) as a reliever this year. Hunter said Hoffman could be a situational specialist in the mold of the Rockies’ Pat Neshek, who has spent 11 years in the big leagues with a sidearm delivery.
“Intriguing pick,” Hunter said. “It was a team effort from our scouts and analytics department. He’s a situational specialist, and he could be a fast mover in our system as well.”
Their next pick is the son of a U.S. Marine, Joey O’Brien, who moved to the United States this year from Japan, where he was born, and pitched at a junior college in Nevada this year as a two-way standout. He said he modeled his game growing up in Okinawa, Japan, after Masahiro Tanaka and Ichiro.
Reports were that he can touch 96 mph on his fastball and throws a splitter. Hunter said they want to use him as a starter with potential to move into the bullpen.
“He came over and impressed,” Hunter said. “(He has a) three-pitch mix and a delivery similar to Hisashi Iwakuma.”
Through the first two days the Mariners had drafted 10 college players — no high school players.
“Now we feel we have some flexibility with the bonus pool to have a little extra to spend,” Hunter said, “but this does solidify the middle of our organization a little bit because we were so thin.
“Hopefully we can built this organization where we can get more comfortable getting to a point where we can take bigger risks and really shooting for the moon and be able to withstand if one of them doesn’t make it. When your foundation is strong you can start being more aggressive with bigger, more aggressive players in the draft.”
The remainder of the draft (rounds 11-40) will finish Wednesday.