Editorials

The Mariners should swing for the fences, draft Benny Montgomery

Benny Montgomery is good at baseball.

Really good.

And he just might be there for the Mariners to take at pick No. 12 in next month’s draft.

But as the annual event approaches closer, very little indication has been given that general manager Jerry Dipoto and company will break tradition and select a non-college athlete.

Mock drafts, especially at this point in the process, are nothing to scoff at and often provide great insight as to what teams are thinking. They’ve particularly been good at nailing down Dipoto’s Mariners in the past, heavily linking the likes of Logan Gilbert, Evan White and George Kirby to the team in the buildup to their respective selections.

This year, the consensus of most outlets is that Seattle has its sights set on selecting one of the draft’s top college hitters, with UCLA shortstop Matt McLain jumping out as the favorite at No. 12. Other names often mentioned here are Sam Houston State outfielder Colton Cowser and Boston College outfielder/middle-infielder Sal Frelick, the latter of which may be gone well before the Mariners are on the clock.

While I certainly wouldn’t be let down by the Mariners coming away with any of these prospects—or Texas right-handed pitcher Ty Madden—I firmly believe they could use a change in early-draft strategy at this stage in their rebuild. Over the nearly three years since Dipoto pivoted to the current chapter in Seattle’s lore, he has long preached the idea of sustained success and building a product that consistently churns out winning baseball beyond the team’s presumed “window of opportunity” in the mid-2020s. That requires investments that won’t be paid off for years down the road, such as drafting an exciting prep player, whereas an advanced college bat offers the quickest path to the majors.

Of course, that’s not always the case. Prospects are prospects and timelines are just projections, but the Mariners haven’t been shy about their desire to accelerate the rebuild as fast as possible and that’s very much reflected in their most recent drafts. If not for a global pandemic that wiped out 102 major league games and an entire minor league season, perhaps they’d already be within their window. Major events of the 2021 season, such as the call-ups of Gilbert and Jarred Kelenic, would likely be mere specks in the rearview mirror at this point, occurring well before they actually happened and giving Seattle a better lay of the land heading into last winter.

Still, the Mariners’ farm system is rich with prospects either ready for the challenge at the MLB level or close to it. Many of their top names have an ETA between 2021 and 2023, boasting few exceptions like Jonatan Clase, Sam Carlson and Starlin Aguilar. They’re not short of options to find young pieces to build around within the next year or two, and the next great Mariners team isn’t going to be solely made up of homegrown talent. Therefore, drafting a player simply because he’s closer to the bigs should not be the leading argument for taking someone like McLain or Cowser over a prep star of Montgomery or Harry Ford’s caliber. From that perspective, it neither makes sense in terms of future value on the Mariners nor as a trade asset, unless they truly believe one of these college bats has a higher ceiling than Montgomery. Either way, I disagree.

Questions about his hit tool aside, it feels wrong that the Mariners may have the opportunity to draft Montgomery. The tools are among some of the best in this draft class: an arm that has enough firepower to make Final Fantasy VII’s Barret Wallace blush, legit 70-grade speed that would give the likes of Clase and Victor Labrada a run for their money for fastest in the organization and growing power at the plate conducive to high-end slugging percentages. He has some room to grow in his frame, but so do most 18-year olds. And though he’s not alike most 18-year olds in the sense that he’s 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, he could stand to add some more muscle and should be able to do so without inhibiting his extraordinary athletic gifts.

The mystery here is the swing, which has earned knocks from several scouts for its janky motion and flat bat path. Though he’s been able to get by with it thus far, pro ball will be a different story if changes don’t come. That said, Montgomery has put a ton of work into it and has made great strides in fixing his mechanics as of late, though it’s ultimately going to fall on the team that drafts him to get him where he needs to be. Thankfully, he should be more than receptive to any and all advice given; along with his eye-catching toolset, one of the biggest and most common positives on the Virginia commit has been his excellent work ethic.

He just needs time and patience to develop, which could turn the Mariners off on him and I hate that. It’s not that I dislike the profiles of the prospects they’ve become synonymous with, but I just don’t think timeline should be the deciding factor in this whatsoever—not this deep in the rebuild, anyway. Montgomery has one of the highest ceilings in this entire class, offering elite upside both offensively and defensively. Passing that up because he may not arrive until 2025 or later feels silly, even if a Cowser or a McLain is more of a sure thing which, when talking prospects, doesn’t exist.

Simply put: the Mariners shouldn’t be in the business of making the “safe” play because there’s really no such thing. In terms of talent that’s major league ready or knocking on the door, they have enough to comb through and move forward with now, and have tons more supplementary pieces coming down the pipeline over the next two-to-three years. They can afford to take a risk without it being destructive to their own organizational timeline.

Ceiling over “certainty.”

Not just for the sake of sustained success, but for the wealth of the assets they hold. For an organization that’s supposedly going to compete for something significant in a year’s time, prospects like Benny Montgomery not only raise the ceiling of your future outlook for what they can provide in your uniform, but for what they can help net you on the trade market as you build a ballclub capable of competing for pennants. I mean, isn’t that the goal—winning pennants?

Whether Montgomery is a part of that on-field success or assists in bringing in someone who is, I believe he offers the highest upside on both fronts. And that’s what the draft is really about: upside, because you can’t bank on anything else.

Shoot for the stars and hope for the best.

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