High-school pitchers are your typical high-risk, high-reward scenario mainly because teams draft these young hurlers based on potential and without a track record of competing against top college-level batters. In Jerry Dipoto's first seasons, he went the college pitch route, snagging Brandon Williamson, George Kirby, and Logan Gilbert. These past few years, he's shifted course and drafted Ashton Izzi, Tyler Gough, and Walter Ford. The 18-year-old Ford comes in at number #19 in our prospect rankings.
The Mariners slow-rolled Ford this season, and rightfully so, considering his age during his first professional season (17). The sample size is small, just nine games and 22 innings, but Ford flashed in the Arizona Complex League. He finished his 2023 campaign with a 3.57 ERA and 9.13 strikeouts per nine innings. The downside is Ford's spotty command (10 BB in 22 innings), which could limit his role to a high-leverage reliever instead of the #3 starter ceiling the Mariners are clamoring for.
Ford, affectionately nicknamed The Vanilla Missile, already has a 55-grade fastball, which he rachets up to 97 mph. He also throws a sweeping slider and a changeup to neutralize lefties. Both secondary pitches are below average but are the key to his career taking off. If Ford can rein in his control and command, his ability to land these off-speed pitches should increase. Thankfully, his age will give the fantastic Mariners Development Staff a long runway to help the 6'4" right-hander reach his immense potential.
Look for the Mariners to continue to protect Ford and manage his workload, which means we'll see him in the ACL again. A stellar performance could get him to Modesto by season's end.