Draft Preview: Selection highly important
Mariners hold second overall pick, badly need to bolster hitting
SEATTLE -- To put the next First-Year Player Draft in perspective from the Mariners' standpoint, Tom McNamara, the organization's new scouting director, said, "This is the most important Draft in the history of the Mariner franchise."McNamara does not beat around the bush and has searched hither and yon for a future superstar. For the past six months, he has traveled to big cities and small towns, attended high school games with no bleachers and college games with superb facilities to find the next Ken Griffey Jr. or Alex Rodriguez -- or even someone remotely close to either.
Both were no-brainer, first-round, first overall Draft selections in 1987 and 1993, respectively.And not since that '93 First-Year Player Draft have the Mariners selected as high as they will on Tuesday evening -- second overall. Seattle also has the 27th and 33rd selections as compensation for losing free-agent outfielder Raul Ibanez to the Phillies, along with the 51st pick. "Obviously, we need to hit on the high guys, because we have a lot of high picks," McNamara said. "But there's also eighth-round, 12th-round, 25th-round guys out there that can become good Major League players." McNamara is one of general manager Jack Zduriencik's hand-picked personnel he brought with him to Seattle from the Brewers, who are reaping the benefits of superb recent Drafts. "My job here is to bring the people of Seattle, Jack, [team president] Chuck [Armstrong], everyone, the most talented players out there," McNamara said. "We're going to be looking for players with, obviously, talent, tools and good statistics, but character -- a winning character."
MLB.com will offer live coverage and analysis of the entire First-Year Player Draft on June 9-11. MLB Network will broadcast the first round at 6 p.m. ET on June 9 from its Studio 42 in Secaucus, N.J., and those 32 selections also will be simulcast live on MLB.com.
Beginning with the 33rd pick, up-to-the-minute on-air coverage from the remaining rounds will shift exclusively to MLB.com/Live, where host Vinny Micucci will be joined by MLB.com Draft expert Jonathan Mayo and Major League Scouting Bureau director Frank Marcos.
Once the first night is done, the Draft will continue with rounds 4-30, via conference call from MLB headquarters in New York, at noon on June 10. Rounds 31-50 will be on June 11, starting at 11:30 a.m.
Here's a glance at what the Mariners have in store as the First-Year Player Draft approaches:
In about 50 words
Zduriencik made a name for himself throughout the industry for his brilliant judge of talent, netting such future Brewers stars as Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy, Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks via the First-Year Player Draft. With four of the first 51 selections, the start of something big could occur during the upcoming three-day event.
This might not be a banner year for position players, and McNamara is the first to admit that.
"I would say, gun to my head, it's more pitching-oriented this year, but that can change," he said.
That being said, anyone who has watched the Mariners play the past two seasons realizes that this organization needs some hitters -- and not a moment too soon.
Assuming the Nationals select starting pitcher Stephen Strasberg with the first overall pick, the Mariners are -- most experts say -- leaning in the direction of Dustin Ackley, a first baseman/outfielder from the University of North Carolina. He is regarded as the best pure hitter available in the Draft and could climb through the farm system quickly. He bats left-handed and Safeco Field is built for a power-hitting left-handed hitter.
The old adage that "you never have enough pitching" certainly will be a factor again this year for the Mariners, who have been top-heavy in arms the past several Drafts. But it takes balance and adding some offense is a must if the organization is going to become playoff contenders.
After starting off the first day last year with five college players in their first six selections, the Mariners ended up with just 11 high school players among their 50 selections, and four of the first five are pitchers. Except for '07, when five of their first seven selections were position players, the Mariners have dwelled on pitching since '04.
Recent top picks
2008: Josh Fields -- A "tired arm" put the right-handed reliever on the sidelines for more than two weeks, but he returned to action on May 28, pitching one inning for Double-A West Tennessee. The arm situation might have been partially caused by his extended holdout, which started last June and ended in late February.
2007: Phillippe Aumont -- A starting pitcher in his first season, the hard thrower has been the closer for Class A High Desert (California League) this season and leads the team in saves. His strikeout/walk ratio is outstanding and Aumont could become the Mariners' future closer, although Fields was one of the top closers during his collegiate career.
2006: Brandon Morrow -- The former University of California-Berkeley standout reached the Major Leagues in his first full professional season, but the organization has not yet figured out where he's best suited to pitch -- start or relief. He has been solid at times as a closer, but also wobbled in that role, and there also is a question of whether Morrow, a diabetic, has the stamina to pitch around 200 innings a season.
Ezequiel Carrera, one of the players acquired from the Mets in the three-team, 12-player trade last December that sent J.J. Putz to New York, is having a fine season at Double-A West Tennessee, batting well over .300, stealing bases and demonstrating the defensive prowess that led him to be named the "best defensive outfielder" in the Florida State League in 2008 by Baseball America.
Alex Liddi, a third baseman for Class A High Desert who signed as a non-drafted player out of San Remo, Italy, is having his best professional season. He has already hit more home runs than in any single season of his career, which started in 2006.
In The Show
Third baseman Matt Tuiasosopo had a tremendous Spring Training, leaving little doubt that if Adrian Beltre departs via free agency at the end of the 2009 season -- or is traded during the campaign -- that the Woodinville High product would take over at the hot corner. Tuiasosopo had elbow surgery two weeks ago and is expected to return to action in late June or early July.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.