06/01/2004 8:00 AM ET
Mariners draft preview
Free agent signings take away top two picks
By Jim Street / MLB.com
SEATTLE -- There's no need for Mariners officials to hurry in to work on the first day of the First-Year Player Draft.
|Ryan Christianson signals that he was a Mariners No. 1 pick, in 1999. (Elaine Thompson/AP)
The first two rounds, and most of the third, will have been completed by the time the Mariners make their first selection -- the 93rd pick overall -- in the 50-round draft.
Seattle relinquished its first-round selection (22nd overall) to the Twins for signing closer Eddie Guardado and the second-round pick (31st overall) goes to the Royals for left fielder Raul Ibanez. Each player was offered salary arbitration by his former team, which therefore received compensation from Seattle.
The Mariners didn't offer salary arbitration to any of the free agents they lost -- Mike Cameron, Mark McLemore, Armando Benitez, John Mabry, Arthur Rhodes and Rey Sanchez -- so Seattle received no compensation.
"When you draft that late, you can't zero in on one player, so you have to be prepared to make a pick from a larger number of players," said Bob Fontaine, the Mariners' scouting director. "But I have always been a firm believer that the majority of [future Major League] players come after the third round."
In fact, most of the current players on the Mariners roster were drafted later than the third round. That list includes Ibanez (36th round), Quinton McCracken (25th), Rich Aurilia (24th), Ryan Franklin (23rd), Guardado (21st) and Joel Pineiro (12th).
Catcher Dan Wilson (Reds in 1990) and starting pitcher Gil Meche (Mariners in 1996) are the only first-round draft picks on the 25-man roster and reserve Dave Hansen was a second-round draft choice by the Dodgers. Third-round picks were Willie Bloomquist (Mariners, 1999) and John Olerud (Blue Jays, 1989).
Fontaine and his scouting staff have been on the road since January watching college and high school games, taking notes on more than 500 players who will fill the draft board in the Mariners' Safeco Field war room.
"Our goal is to improve the inventory in our minor league system," general manager Bill Bavasi said. "So you might not see many 'draft-and-follow' selections."
The Mariners drafted 50 players a year ago and signed 20 of them, including shortstop Adam Jones, a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds and the 22nd selection overall.
Five of the first eight selections were left-handed pitchers and two had college experience.
College pitchers reportedly are the cream of the 2004 draft crop.
"The pitching is real strong," Fontaine said, "and there are some good position players out there, just not a large number of them."
The Mariners have a history of selecting high school players higher in the draft than college players, but that might not happen this year.
"There are some organizations that draft mostly college kids and others draft mostly high school kids," Fontaine said. "My philosophy is: Why limit yourself to one part of the talent pool? We have to be open to everything and try to draft the best talent available."
| Past five No. 1 picks|
|| John Mayberry Jr., 1B
|| Ryan Christianson, C
The Mariners drafted 29 pitchers and 21 position players last year.
This year's draft will be held on June 7-8, the latest it has been since 1982. Major League Baseball decided to move the draft back a week so teams would have an opportunity to scout players participating in NCAA regional championships leading up to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
Another change in the draft process is on the horizon. Beginning in 2005, teams will draft in reverse order of winning percentage, rather than alternating leagues.
Here's a quick look as to how Seattle's top choices from last year are doing:
Jones is playing for Class A Wisconsin (Midwest League). The 18-year-old had a .236 batting average (38-for-161), with seven doubles, three triples, two home runs and 21 RBIs in his first 42 games with the Timber Rattlers.
Third baseman Jeff Flaig, who signed late for $710,000, will miss the entire 2004 season because of a torn labrum in his right shoulder.
Left-hander Ryan Feierabend, who had a record of 2-3 and 2.61 ERA in six games with Peoria (Arizona League) last summer, has a 5-2 record and 3.47 ERA for Wisconsin.
Left-hander Paul Fagan, the fourth selection a year ago, currently is attending extended Spring Training in Peoria, where he had a 1-2 record and 4.36 ERA last season. There is a chance he could start the 2004 season at Everett (Wash.).
Left-handed pitchers Casey Abrams (0-0, 12.00 ERA) and Eric O'Flaherty (2-2, 4.73) are pitching for Class A Wisconsin. Tom Oldham, another lefty, also is on the Timber Rattlers pitching staff and his 52 strikeouts in 47 1/3 innings of work are impressive.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.