Following the five-round 2020 MLB First-Year Player Draft, MiLB.com takes an organization-by-organization look at each pick with help from team scouting executives.
No team competes with the intention of losing, but a barren landscape that finds care often sprouts life. That is the situation the Mariners find themselves in after a very strong 2020 First-Year Player Draft.
Count Seattle director of amateur scouting Scott Hunter among those who believe his club hit a grand slam.
"We feel very fortunate with the way things broke this year. Our staff did a tremendous job, lining up our board and knowing what we value as an organization."
What the Mariners did was select five of MLB.com's Top 200 Draft prospects among their six picks, highlighted by first-rounder Emerson Hancock. Seattle added another second-round selection plus prospect Adam Hill in a trade with Milwaukee last December.
It was mostly business as usual for Hunter and his team, although the spring cancellations did cause some hiccups as far as evaluation goes.
"A lot of the work we do comes the previous summer anyway," Hunter said. "Of course, there are some blind spots when you're not able to see the jumps certain second-tier types make and/or if it was sustainable. That part was a little tricky [this spring], particularly in cold-weather states where some kids didn't even have a chance to play at all."
First Round: RHP Emerson Hancock (No. 6 overall)
Hancock joins Logan Gilbert (2018) and George Kirby (2019) as college arms Seattle selected in the first round of the last three Drafts. The Cairo, Georgia, native finished his collegiate career at the University of Georgia with a 16-7 record, a 3.47 ERA, a 1.068 WHIP and a 206-to-55 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 192 innings. Named the 2020 Vince Dooley Athlete of the Year as the school’s top male student-athlete, the 21-year-old checks in with a fastball that sits in the 94- to 97-mph range which he compliments with a biting slider, hard curveball and developing changeup.
Listed at 6-foot-4 and 213 pounds, the fourth-ranked Draft prospect has the build, demeanor and stuff to develop into a frontline starter.
"I didn't meet Emerson until January, but had heard and knew all about his potential," Hunter said. "He was a top college guy with [first-overall pick] potential. We did our due diligence, but after meeting him, I commented that I didn't think there would be any way we'd have a shot at him. To me, this is the easy one. Emerson's had pluses across the board, he's already an elite strike thrower ... but we already knew that. Meeting him gave me the chance to realize he's a terrific kid."
Second Round: OF Zach DeLoach (No. 43 overall)
Ranked 79th by MLB.com, DeLoach's early second-round selection was a surprise to some. The Texas A&M product hit a combined .239/.340/.342 in 406 at-bats in his first two seasons with the Aggies. However, a trip to the Cape Cod League last summer with Falmouth and several tweaks to his swing not only produced a league-best average, it convinced Hunter that DeLoach was the real deal.
The Irving, Texas, native batted .353/.428/.541 with five homers among his 14 extra-base hits plus 23 RBIs in 37 contests on the Cape. DeLoach carried that success into 2020, when he put together a .421/.547/.789 slash line, nine extra-base hits and 17 RBIs in 18 collegiate games before the season was halted.
"Very impressive kid. I got numerous reports to watch him last year up in Cape Cod and he really made an impression on us," Hunter said. "Even during his first two seasons at A&M, he had a solid walk-to-strikeout ratio (59-to-62), so he knows the strike zone. He has the potential to be an above-average hitter with decent power. Will he stick in center field? Only time will tell, but he can play anywhere in the outfield. He fits the mold of player we look for."
Competitive Round B: RHP Connor Phillips (No. 64 overall)
The Draft pick acquired in last winter's trade with the Brewers hopes to follow in the footsteps of another McLennan Community College alumnus, Mariners Hall of Famer Jay Buhner. The 19-year-old passed up a chance to play at Louisiana State so he could be Draft-eligible after one year, a decision Seattle was ecstatic he made.
"We were excited to get the pick included in the deal at the Winter Meetings," Hunter said of the Dec. 5, 2019 trade. "With a shortened Draft, to be able to grab this type of player who has so much upside was huge. We had that extra pick, so we decided to take that chance. As a high-school senior, he was up to 98 [mph], he throws four pitches and is an all-around terrific athlete with great projection. He just needs to harness that stuff."
The No. 94 Draft prospect was compared to Trevor Bauer by Hunter, who sees similarities in delivery, routine and his terrific spin rate on a curveball that is on its way to becoming a plus pitch. Armed with a fastball that sits 92 to 96 mph and more projection in his 6-foot-2 frame possible, Hunter's gamble could hit the jackpot.
Third Round: 2B Kaden Polcovich (No. 78 overall)
Following its usual trend of targeting college players early on, Seattle snagged the junior college-turned-Oklahoma State product with its fourth selection. The son of former Major Leaguer Kevin Polcovich may be small in stature, but he more than makes up for it with a booming bat from both sides of the plate.
The 5-foot-8 middle infielder spent two years at Northwest Florida State Junior College before moving on to an abbreviated season with the Sooners. In between, Polcovich hit .305 with an .899 OPS in the Cape Cod League last summer, showcasing good pop with 13 extra-base hits and 28 RBIs in 40 games.
"So many of our guys in our virtual Draft room kept telling me we couldn't lose this kid," Hunter said. "He's hit everywhere he's been, and although most of his career was spent as a juco, his work in the Cape Cod League was so impressive. He's very strong and was hitting balls just as hard as the big boys. We took immediate notice."
Fourth Round: 3B Tyler Keenan (No. 107 overall)
Currently a third baseman, Keenan calls to mind another former hot corner denizen in Major Leaguer Matt Adams, whose size eventually moved him across the diamond to first. Like Adams, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound slugger uses his immense size and strength to his advantage, blasting 15 homers and driving in 66 runs in 2019. Keenan was off to an even hotter start this year, batting .403/.488/.791 with seven roundtrippers and 33 RBIs in Ole Miss' first 17 games.
"Tyler fell our way in some respects," Hunter said of the No. 127 Draft prospect. "We were targeting him and Polcovich in the third- or fourth-round area. He's terrorized Southeastern Conference pitchers the last few years, which makes his performance all the more impressive. Even with his size, he could stick at third. It will depend on the work he puts in, keeping himself in shape and his athleticism around the bag."
Fifth Round: RHP Taylor Dollard (No. 137 overall)
The Mariners went back to the mound with their final pick in Dollard, who moved to the rotation for the first time in 2020. The Cal Poly product made 38 appearances -- all in relief -- in his first two years. The Sherman Oaks, California, native compiled an 8-0 mark, a 2.67 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 85 strikeouts in 84 1/3 innings. Dollard made a seamless transition to the rotation, albeit only through four starts before the season was canceled.
Although the 6-foot-3, 195-pounder sits in the upper-80s with his fastball, he has an uncanny ability to miss bats thanks to his heavy sink and strong slider. Dollard yielded five runs and whiffed 36 in 27 frames this spring, including a pair of double-digit strikeout performances.
"He was a very intriguing pitcher to us," Hunter said. "His strikeout-to-walk ratio is off the charts, but he was getting it up to around 93 last summer [in the Cape Cod League]. [Yarmouth-Dennis coach Scott Pickler] gave him a comp of [Indians right-hander] Shane Bieber, which isn't a bad guy to be mentioned with. He's one of those unassuming college right-handers who gets undervalued because he doesn't throw very hard, but he really knows how to pitch."
If the Mariners did not have the best Draft, they were certainly in the conversation. The club kept to its usual standard of targeting college players, and on paper, it looks to have paid off. While nabbing Hancock with the sixth pick was a no-brainer, it could prove to be the signature move of Seattle's last few Drafts, which along with shrewd trades, has helped replenish a system that was on the lower end of the spectrum in the not-too-distant past.
Michael Avallone is a writer for MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @MavalloneMiLB.