Analyzing Seattle Mariners' Early-Round Picks in 2014 MLB Draft
With Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez tying up a lot of money over the next few years, the Seattle Mariners are going to need to draft and develop well to surround the two superstars with the right pieces.
The Mariners have mostly hit on the drafting part under Jack Zduriencik, who previously gained a reputation for drafting strongly with the Milwaukee Brewers, as several Seattle draft picks have reached the majors with the team in some capacity since 2009. That includes four first-round picks, with D.J. Peterson on the way as well.
It’s the development part that the Mariners have struggled with. Many of these prospects have fallen well beneath their expected ceilings, particularly on the hitting side, continuing a trend that started well before Zduriencik’s tenure.
The Mariners hope this year’s class will change that, and they grabbed a couple of players with huge upside in the early rounds. First-round pick Alex Jackson will immediately jump in as one of Seattle’s top prospects, but the Mariners selected a few other interesting prospects in the first two days of the 2014 MLB draft.
Alex Jackson, Outfield
An unpredictable first round shook out perfectly for the Mariners, as Jackson fell to them with the sixth overall pick. The team had been closely tied to Jackson in the months leading up to the draft, and many, including Zduriencik—as he told Kiro Radio's Wyman, Mike and Moore—viewed Jackson as the best hitter available.
Jackson destroyed opposing pitching during his senior season at Rancho Bernardo High School in San Diego, posting a .400/.579/.800 line. The video above shows the right-handed Jackson has already developed nice swing mechanics and an ability to hit line drives to all field.
Ranch Bernardo coach Sam Blalock, who has coached eight first-round draft choices, talked to Greg Johns of MLB.com about Jackson’s limitless raw power, saying he even switched to a wood bat at times.
Not too many people use wood bats in high school and he did for about five or six games before we made him go back to aluminum when we got toward the playoffs. He hit a ball at Poway High that went probably 450 feet over the track onto their football field. It was a tape-measure blast with a wood bat.
The Mariners wasted no time in announcing their intentions for Jackson, as Shannon Drayer of 710 ESPN Radio reports he will be making the transition from catcher to the outfield.
Part of that could be the Mariners feel more set long-term at catcher with Mike Zunino than they do in the outfield, but it’s not necessarily wise to try and project a roster that far in the future. Jackson’s athleticism and 6’2’’, 215-pound build projects better as an outfielder.
The position change will also accelerate Jackson’s path to the big leagues by a year or two if he indeed pans out, in a similar vein to what the Washington Nationals did with Bryce Harper coming out of high school.
Jackson has the kind of superstar ceiling that few other hitters available in the 2014 draft possess. Drafting the player with the highest upside is an interesting contrast to the Peterson selection in the first round a year ago, as he was considered a much safer, more polished pick.
As always with a high school player, there is a bust factor and a small chance Jackson could forgo his seven-figure slot bonus and join a good Oregon baseball program next season. But overall, it certainly appears for the moment that the Mariners made the right selection with Jackson.
Gareth Morgan, Outfield
After a few years of drafting infielders early and often, it made sense for the Mariners to try and get some outfield help in 2014. They continued focusing on the position by selecting Gareth Morgan from Blyth Academy in Toronto in Competitive Balance Round B.
Morgan’s upside comes from his tremendous amount of raw power. In the video above, you can see his strength and physical prowess, giving Morgan great power potential.
An anonymous scouting director talked with Teddy Cahill of MLB.com before the draft about Morgan, the top prospect in all of Canada.
He has the kind of tools you're looking for. His raw power is outstanding. It's well, well above average…Depending on how good a team feels about his bat and the contact and the plate adjustment is where he'll get selected. If you feel real good about it, he's going to be a high pick. If you feel so-so, maybe he'll go in the third or fourth round.
Clearly, the Mariners felt good about Morgan’s bat. The team has been looking to draft and develop a power hitter for a number of years, and Morgan has the skill set to be a potential candidate.
Morgan is the right build for a power hitter at 6’4’’, 220-pounds and projects to have a strong enough arm to play right field. He’s just slightly smaller than Mariners outfield prospect Jabari Blash, who has impressed in the minors with his power.
Like with Jackson out of high school, there is a question about the level of competition Morgan faced. Morgan did line a sharp single off of Toronto Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow in March and reportedly had no problems clearing the fences of spacious Petco Park during a batting practice at a showcase earlier this season.
Morgan should be able to use his power to rise through the low minors fairly quickly. When Morgan starts facing more complex pitching in Double-A, we’ll learn more about what he might be able to provide.
You could fault the Mariners for not grabbing a left-handed power bat that might play better in Safeco Field, but overall, the team deserves praise for grabbing two high-upside bats in the first two rounds.
Austin Cousino, Outfield
With such little luck with the outfield in recent drafts, the Mariners decided to focus on quantity in 2014. They continued going outfield-heavy by selecting junior Austin Cousino, a three-year starting center fielder from Kentucky, in the third round.
Cousino brings a different skill set than the two outfielders selected before him. He has plus speed (19-for-20 on stolen bases in 2014) and is a great defensive outfielder, making a nice catch in the highlight video above.
MLB.com’s scouting report on Cousino states that he has a claim to be called the best defensive outfielder in college baseball. Cousino backed that up with a Gold Glove in 2013 and has been on the SEC All-Defensive team two years in a row.
Cousino has some tools that will make him interesting for a while, but he isn’t expected to bring much offensively, limiting his overall upside. He hit .308/.365/.441 with little power this season at Kentucky.
Interestingly enough, the Mariners grabbed an outfielder from high school, college and the international ranks in the first three rounds of the draft. All three are very unlikely to stick, but the Mariners will need at least one to rise through the minors and bring some long-term stability to the position.
The Rest of Day Two
Following the Cousino pick, the Mariners finally went in a different direction. Seattle picked six straight college pitchers after the third round, adding valuable depth to the farm system, before closing out day two with a catcher.
Many of these pitchers, including fourth-round pick Ryan Yarbrough, show limited upside from their college statistics and pitch repertoire. It’s possible the Mariners tried to grab a couple of under-slot signings, as Jackson and Morgan could command a lot of money.
Of all the day two picks, right-hander Dan Altavilla of Mercyhurst College appears to be the most interesting. The junior dominated in 2014 with a 1.23 ERA and 14.5 K/9 ratio, taking home just about every Division II pitching award available.
Altavilla has a fastball that sits in the mid-90s to go along with a developing slider and changeup. His three-pitch repertoire and small size (5’11’’, 200 pounds) indicate he will likely be transiting to the bullpen at the professional level.
The Mariners have had luck with hard-throwing relievers such as Dominic Leone and Carson Smith. Altavilla could be the next on a fast track to the majors.