BY John Hickey 06:30AM 06/06/2011

Hickey: Mariners need a good draft in the worst way

After a decade of minimal production from the draft, it’s time for the Mariners to turn it around, starting Monday.

Doug Fister - Seattle Mariners - 2010 - 2

Doug Fister is one of the few recent success stories from the draft for the Mariners. / Ben Van Houten, Mariners

Ask any baseball executive, and he’ll tell you the amateur draft is as important a few days as a team has.

Those three days start Monday. The Mariners have the second pick. Around the web, there are plenty of mock drafts and strong opinions about who the Mariners should take. Likely it will be Rice University third baseman Anthony Rendon, assuming his injury issues aren’t too severe. That will sort itself out soon enough.

Perhaps it’s time to take a longer look at the Mariners’ draft  — a decade of fumbled chances. And we should take a look at how important this draft is to Seattle’s long-term well-being.

It’s easy to make a case that the Mariners drew less out of the draft from 2000-10 than any team.

From those 11 drafts, there is one position player playing every day in the big leagues. But he’s not playing for the Mariners. He was at Safeco Field this past week, however. Adam Jones, Seattle’s top pick in 2003, is the center fielder of the Baltimore Orioles

From the same drafts are two starting pitchers in a big-league rotation – but only one, Doug Fister (seventh-round pick in 2006), is pitching for the Mariners. Brandon Morrow, Seattle’s top pick in 2006, is starting for the Toronto Blue Jays.

The draft is supposed to be the best way for a team to replenish itself, but the Mariners have only two players they drafted – Fister and reserve outfielder Mike Wilson (second round, 2001) – on the 25-man roster. They had three, but outfielder Michael Saunders (11th round, 2004) was sent down after Thursday’s game.

It is to that meager record, as much as any other fact, that Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik owes his job. After going from 1997 through 2008 without any decent drafts, the club took on Zduriencik as GM specifically because he built the Milwaukee Brewers into a contender with a series of strong drafts.

One of the players Zduriencik drafted, shortstop J.J. Hardy, is playing with the Orioles. He homered off Michael Pineda Wednesday. In 2007, Hardy was one of a half-dozen or more Zduriencik draftees the Brewers put on the field at one time, among whom were first baseman Prince Fielder, second baseman Rickie Weeks, third baseman Ryan Braun, outfielder Corey Hart and starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo.

Compare that to Seattle’s production and . . . well, there’s no comparison.

Tom McNamara is Zduriencik’s friend and his scouting director. It’s up to McNamara to do what scouting directors Frank Maddox (1998-2003) and Bob Fontaine (2004-2008) never did – draft successfully.

The Mariners have made some savvy international signings in the same period – Ichiro Suzuki, Kazuhiro Sasaki, Felix Hernandez and Pineda come quickly to mind – but teams can’t live on international signings alone. They need a steady influx of domestic talent.

Not every signee has to be a star. But there have to be enough competent players coming from the minors to give any team a chance to win. For more than a decade now, the Mariners haven’t had that.

From 1987 through 1995, the Mariners picked, among others, Ken Griffey Jr., Tino Martinez, Alex Rodriguez, Jason Varitek and Jose Cruz Jr.  That’s decent production – five players with careers of more than a decade. Cruz won a Gold Glove. Martinez and Varitek were All-Stars. Griffey and Rodriguez were among the best players of the last quarter century.

Those drafts paved the way for the first good Seattle team in 1995 and playoff teams in 1997, 2000 and 2001. But drafts started to go south after 1996. That is a huge reason that after Seattle averaged 93 wins per year from 2000-03, the Mariners have gone seven years with two winning seasons and no playoff appearances.

It takes five to six years to judge the quality of a draft. So McNamara’s two previous drafts and some of the drafts preceding him are difficult to judge now.

On the other hand, the Mariners don’t appear to be in any immediate danger of repopulating their roster from those recent drafts, even with the possibility that 2009’s top pick, second baseman Dustin Ackley, will be in the big leagues in the next few weeks.

What the Mariners have never had in the last decade plus is much help from non-marquee draft picks. Jones and Morrow were well-known players in their draft years. They would not have lasted much further in the draft had the Mariners passed.

Seattle has not struck gold with a complete unknown, someone like Jake Peavy, a two-time All-Star drafted by the Padres in the 15th round. Or even with a relative unknown – someone like Tim Hudson, a sixth-round pick of the A’s who has been an All-Star four times.

The Mariners not only need to hit on their first pick in this draft – and future drafts – but they need to hit on some of the mid-round picks,  such as Jose Canseco (15th round, A’s) or Mike Piazza (62nd round, Dodgers) who were huge surprises, although Canseco had more than a little help from the pharmacy.

Seattle drew a high rating this spring for its player development status from Baseball America magazine, but that was due in large part to Pineda, who is already here, and Ackley, who isn’t too far away. Beyond that, depth is questionable.

The remedy renews today.



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    Yawwwnnnn……man…a little on the late side there chief……

  • If Emmert knew Kanter was not likely to be cleared to play, while Emmert was at UW, why did Emmert allow the Romar to continue recruiting Kanter?  Why did he not say “Just forget about him”? 

    “The vast majority of people in collegiate basketball knew that this was an issue with Enes Kanter,” Emmert told Davis in January. “Kentucky knew it. Everybody who talked with him knew it. So I’m amazed that people are shocked by the fact that he is ineligible.”

    Was Emmert shocked as well or is this paragraph simply Emmert’s spin to hide some facts.

  • Anonymous

    hmm…the $33 K was over a three year period (14-15-16 year old Enes) and was set aside in an account used for Enes’ education and living expenses…the NCAA stipulated that had the Turkish Club paid those costs directly instead of giving it to Dr. Kanter, then Enes would have been declared eligible…Dr. Kanter also produced detailed records and offered to return the money (similar to what Selby was forced to do) but was refused by the NCAA…nobody questions both UW and UK being “warned” about Enes’ impending investigation (or ongoing), what is questioned is whether the NCAA singled him out (which I believe they did) to serve a punishment that did not fit the crime…and one that could easily be compared to the Selby case… I do feel Emmert had some say in how the eligibility (or lack thereof) played out…in hindsight, the NCAA (after the second semester) indicated that UK would face penalties on their APR if Enes had left school….of course, Enes not only stayed at UK but finished in good academic standing (as his education is important to him and his family…hence the reason for the large $ used for his education that is at the heart of his ban), while Selby meanwhile dropped school and headed to Vegas to workout for the draft (where he was taken in the 2nd round…behind Kanter AND his replacement Josh Harellson–teehee)….the NCAA missed this one…unless it was their intent to deter top-flight, NBA ready foreign players from coming to the US to play as some favor to the NBA and their goal of international “branding”…Kanter goes to school for a year and still goes top-3…good  for him and shame on the NCAA…would have been nice to see him play in blue

  • SleehraT

    As President of UW at the time, why did Emmert allow Romar to take his commitment if it was so clear cut that there were issues?  The Selby and Sidney situations – along with the recalcitrance that surrounds KNOWING that OSU was going to play ineligible players in the Sugar Bowl are but three recent instances that show the NCAA to be as crooked as a dog’s hind leg.  Did Emmert ever change his FB picture with OSU garb on during a tailgate?  He and the organization he leads is an antiquated joke.

    • Eric K

      Why not, there is no risk to let him verbally commit and then waiting to see if he can be ruled eligible, until he actually plays for you no penalty has been committed

      • SleehraT

        I see.  Do you think that Kanter would have been ruled ineligible for UW after Emmert left UW for the crooked organization on which he sits atop?  Of course not.  The consistency that the NCAA uses to make judgments is a joke.

  • Pete Taylor

    If 33 thousand makes a player a professional then the salaries of the very unprofessional NCAA heads are far too high.