06/07/2004 11:13 PM ET
Mariners pick familiar name
Tuiasosopo is team's first draft choice, 93rd overall
By Jim Street / MLB.com
|Matt Tuiasosopo comes from a long line of athletes. (courtesy Woodinville HS)
SEATTLE -- A meeting held at Safeco Field on the eve of Monday's First-Year Player Draft convinced the Mariners that a local athlete with a familiar last name would be their ideal first draft choice.
But they were more hopeful than confident that when they finally got around to making their first selection, midway through the third round and the 93rd pick overall, 17-year-old Matt Tuiasosopo would still be available.
The three-sport star from nearby Woodinville (Wash.) High School was rated by Baseball America as the top prospect in the state of Washington, the 60th-best draft prospect overall, and pegged him as the second-best athlete among overall draft-eligible high school players.
Even so, he passed through the first round without being drafted, and also made it through the second round unclaimed. When it finally came time for the Mariners to select, they wasted little time letting MLB draft headquarters know that the 6-foot-1, 210-pound son of a former NFL star lineman and brother of an ex-University of Washington quarterback was their man.
"We were all very pleased that he made it to us," said Bob Fontaine, the Mariners scouting director. "It was like getting a first-round pick in the third round."
The Sunday meeting at Safeco gave the Mariners a chance to make their pitch and also to hear how Tuiasosopo felt about pursuing a baseball career.
He said the magic words.
"I told them I wanted to be a baseball player and wanted to be a Mariner," he said.
Tuiasosopo batted .394, scored 20 runs, hit five doubles, one home run and drove in 14 runs in 23 games as a senior at Woodinville High. He was named First-Team All-King County 4A as a shortstop and helped lead his team to a 16-7 record.
He also played basketball and was the starting quarterback.
Tuiasosopo has a football scholarship offer from the University of Washington, but if the Mariners offer a good enough deal, he will attend college as a student and concentrate on his baseball future.
The scholarship offer and football genes probably had something to do with Tuiasosopo lasting as long as he did in the draft.
"It could have been a combination of things," Fontaine said. "He has a lot of options in his life and that's something he has earned and deserves. For a lot of clubs, even though they like him as baseball player, maybe the possibility of him playing football caused them to go in a different direction.
"I don't know, but it was something we thought was a chance worth taking. There was a good feeling between both parties and it made sense to go forward.
"Personally, I think it's a great day for Seattle. Here is a kid who has a chance to go to the local university or sign with the local professional baseball club."
Tuiasosopo has decided to become a one-sport player.
"We decided at the beginning of the process that I would play one or the other, either baseball or football," he said. "If I don't sign with the Mariners, I will go to the UW to get my education and play football."
Fontaine said the fact Tuiasosopo is willing to give up a sport that he loves says a lot about his character.
"That shows a lot of determination and dedication," he said. "And whatever decision he makes, we have to respect it. We feel it's that type of makeup and determination that will make him a very good baseball player."
There was no immediate indication as to when contract negotiations would begin, but both parties seem anxious to get started.
"Hopefully, we can get this resolved as quickly as we can," Tuiasosopo said.
"We hope it happens sooner than later and he can get started on his career," Fontaine said. "It think he is anxious, and so are we."
The Mariners selected a catcher with their second draft choice (123rd overall), choosing the University of Houston's Robert Johnson, a physically mature 6-foot-1, 200-pounder who "takes charge of the game and runs well," according to the scouting report, and right-handed pitcher Mark Lowe from University of Texas-Arlington with their fifth-round pick.
"Robbie Johnson is a kid who can catch and throw and has potential with the bat," Fontaine said. "Lowe is a big kid with a good arm, throws hard and sinks his fastball.
"He was used primarily as a reliever, but I think we probably will use him as a starter."
Of the Mariners' 16 players selected on the first day of the 50-round draft, six of the first seven are position players and five of the first eight are collegians.
"I think there is a good blend and we always tried to stress that at Anaheim," said Fontaine, who worked with Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi with the Angels. "I thought we had a pretty good day, especially getting [Tuiasosopo] with the 93rd pick."
The Mariners lost their first- and second-round draft choices to the Royals and Twins by signing free agents Raul Ibanez and Eddie Guardado.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.