For the fourth time in the past six years, the Mariners hold a top 10 overall pick in the annual MLB first-year player draft. And even though they have selected players in that time who have become starters (Dustin Ackley and Mike Zunino), it’s clear that the Mariners are still looking for a star they can put beside Robinson Cano in the lineup.
Someone who will help director of amateur scouting Tom McNamara draft in the bottom third rather than the top third.
“It would be nice to pick 22 or 25 some year,” McNamara said. “That’s our goal.”
This draft seems loaded with elite pitching both from the high school and the collegiate ranks. Picking sixth, is it possible that that the best hitter falls to the Mariners? Or will McNamara see that the best player on their board is yet another pitcher?
Many experts believe that a trio of pitchers — Brady Aiken, Tyler Kolek and Carlos Rodon — will comprise the top three picks. What happens with the next two selections, where the Chicago Cubs and Minnesota Twins select, is anybody’s guess. With just two consensus top five bats —high school catcher/outfielder Alex Jackson and high school shortstop Nick Gordon — it’s possible the Mariners will get their choice of the top hitter.
McNamara has been drafting for a long time and knows, regardless of organizational need, using a best-player-available approach is key.
“I was taught a long time ago, you take the best player, whether it’s a pitcher or position player,” McNamara said. “Sometimes you look at your system — we’re human, of course — and say, ‘Hey, we could use some arms at the lower level or we could use speed’ . . . You need to be careful. You don’t want to sidestep the best player out there and draft for need.
“We’ll take the best player or best pitcher out there, whether it is a high school or college player.”
Because drafted players in baseball take years to develop, it typically takes the best high schooler four or five years before he even steps foot on Safeco Field in a major-league game.
The last time the Mariners took a high school player in the top 30 selections was Nick Franklin, 27th in 2009. Franklin made his debut last season, but after being demoted back down to AAA Tacoma Tuesday, it is clear he still has much developing to do before becoming a serviceable major-league regular.
One development brought to the draft by the latest collective bargaining agreement is a slotting system that gives each franchise a pool of money to sign its picks in the first 10 rounds.
“Take the best player,” McNamara said. “Rank the players (in preferred) order. If you take a player with lesser ability early on because of money, that might come back to bite you. I would prefer to take the best player.”
Asked whether he takes special pleasure in seeing one of his draftees playing in the majors, he said, “I should enjoy it more than I do. We’re thinking about tomorrow.
“We’ve been getting after it for about a year now, since last June. We’re ready to go.”