Churchill: Mariners Must Nail No. 6 Pick
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Under GM Jack Zduriencik and scouting director Tom McNamara the Seattle Mariners have drafted well. Among the selections that have made some sort of contributions in the majors include starting third baseman Kyle Seager, regular left fielder Dustin Ackley, starting shortstop Brad Miller (No. 62, 2011) starting catcher Mike Zunino (No. 3, 2012), two frontline starting pitchers in James Paxton (Rd. 4, 2010) and Taijuan Walker (Comp A, No. 43, 2010), with Stefen Romero (Rd. 12, 2010) and Dom Leone (Rd. 16, 2012) also seeing big-league time. Others include Stephen Pryor (Rd. 5, 2010), Carter Capps (Rd. 3, 2011) and Nick Franklin, No. 27, 2009).
You can certainly argue that Ackley hasn’t worked out — because he hasn’t — and that the injury to 2011 No. 2 overall pick Danny Hultzen mean those selections weren’t the wisest. Ackley, however, was the consensus No. 2 player in that draft. Overall, the M’s have put together a solid group of draft classes since Zduriencik and McNamara came aboard prior to the 2009 season.
The Seager pick in Round 3 in 2009, among their better picks, is a fun story. As the club’s pick approached at No. 82 overall, the second pick in the round, McNamara asked his scouts in the draft room “where do we have Seager?!” One of the crosscheckers pointed and replied, “right here,” pointing to their board and saying “fifth round.” McNamara took a second to think and then said with confidence, “we’re taking him right here.”
Now, picture the draft room at Safeco Field, much like the draft rooms shown on TV for the NFL Draft. After a pick, the group shakes hands, smiles widely, some high-five, even in the middle or later rounds. After McNamara announced Seager was the pick, he went looking for those celebratory high-fives. There weren’t any. He’d gone off the board and as a group they had Seager a fifth-round talent. He laughs about it now, since Seager has been a terrific value and reached the majors inside of two years since signing.
That pick has certainly worked out well, and there are several similar choices, such as getting Walker at No. 43 in 2010, Romero in Round 12 and Paxton in Round 4 that same year. All are very good picks that appear to be huge values, especially considering where they were taken. What has not happened under this regime, however, is the drafting of a true star player. I’m not talking about a superstar, necessarily. How about a player that makes some All-Star teams and is above-average early in his career?
They missed out on the chance to draft right-hander Stephen Strasburg and couldn’t reach for Mike Trout in ’09, did not have a pick until 43 in 2010, and went for the quicker return in 2011 with Hultzen — which obviously hasn’t worked out so well. Even if it had, and Hultzen was doing his thing, he’s not an ace and really never had the ace-type potential clubs generally prefer that high in a solid-to-good draft. Zunino, in terms of value, could be a star. In terms of raw production, however, the Mariners don’t have that guy anywhere in their organization, and they need to get that guy at No. 6 this June.
Getting a future star doesn’t mean they have to take a high school position player. It doesn’t mean they have to take a hitter at all. If they select a pitcher, the end-result needs to be a No. 1 starter. A star. Whether it’s East Carolina right-hander Jeff Hoffman, Vanderbilt ace Tyler Beede or a prep arm such as Tyler Kolek or Brady Aiken, who are unlikely to get out of the top 3-4 picks, the M’s need to nail that pick.
The 2014 draft class is solid, led by the prep pitching class followed by the college arms. Few college hitters will garner top-10 consideration sans a pre-draft deal that saves the club pool money. San Francisco outfielder Bradley Zimmer, North Carolina State shortstop Trea Turner and Oregon State outfielder Michael Comforto are the top college position players in the class. The top high school hitter is Rancho Bernardo High School (Calif.) C/OF Alex Jackson, a right-handed hitter with power, strength and enough athleticism to handle right field if he has to forget about catching. Olympia High School (Fla.) shortstop Nick Gordon is another potential consideration.
Whoever the pick is June 5, his timetable to the majors, risk, probability and even bonus expense — provided it’s within reason and doesn’t blow up the club’s entire draft — absolutely cannot be valued so much more than the player’s upside that the ‘safer’ pick is ultimately announced. The Mariners need a star-quality player out of their fourth top-10 pick in six drafts. The time to get the player that can help sooner was three years ago. I’m not suggesting anyone has done a poor job here — I have outlined above that they specifically have done well, but the players just haven’t turned out to be good enough, particularly when selecting this high. That isn’t to say they haven’t drafted the right players, at least for the most part.
Player development in Seattle hasn’t exactly drawn rave reviews as I ask around about how they do things, and that staff has the job of teaching prospects how to play in the big leagues. It’s not completely out of the realm of possibility that Ackley, among others, wasn’t handled properly by the minor league staffs. I’m not accusing anyone of anything of that nature. I’m merely suggesting it’s plausible. Either way, the end result has not been good enough. That has to stop if this organization is going anywhere under this ownership and this front office. If they eventually decide to spend big on payroll — not just on a few players as they have done in 2014 — they will need impact production from their drafts.
Other organizations are getting stars; athletic shortstops (Javier Baez, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor) and outfielders (Byron Buxton, George Springer) who get on base, show some pop and profile as high-impact talents. Corner defenders who profile as legitimate middle-of-the-order hitters (Baez, Kris Bryant), or are already (Trout, Bryce Harper). It’s time for the M’s to join that club. Thus far, Walker has been McNamara’s only upside play early in the draft.
They’re at the mercy of the top five picks in the draft, but there are more than five five future All-Star talents in this class. College or high school, hitter or pitcher. It doesn’t matter one single bit. Find a future all-star.
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