Mariners like the depth in this year's draft class
"I've read a lot about this year's draft, and I think it's a little better than people say it is," said Mariners scouting director Tom McNamara said.
Seattle Times baseball reporter
The experts have mostly disparaged this year's MLB draft class, widely regarded as a paltry crew after last year's embarrassment of prospect riches.
Baseball America recently quoted an American League front-office executive who called this year's draft — which kicks off two weeks from Monday — "one of the most volatile, erratic and weak drafts I can remember."
But one expert begs to differ. That would be Mariners scouting director Tom McNamara. And he should know — he has been crisscrossing the country for months now (with a few side trips, no doubt, to Puerto Rico to see highly touted shortstop Carlos Correa) checking out the talent.
"I've read a lot about this year's draft, and I think it's a little better than people say it is," McNamara said. "I've been pretty satisfied with what I've seen. I don't think it has a real top-of-the-line group like last year, but there's a lot of depth in this draft. You can go into the second, third and fourth round and find some quality players out there."
McNamara admits he is an eternal optimist, one who tells his scouts in the field, "Tell me what they can do, not what they can't do."
The Mariners once again have a high pick they can't afford to mess up. In the Jack Zduriencik regime, they've picked second overall in 2009 (Dustin Ackley), 43rd overall in 2010 (Taijuan Walker) and second against last year (when they confounded most experts by taking Danny Hultzen instead of the expected Anthony Rendon, Rice third baseman).
This year, they choose third, behind the Astros and Twins. The last time they picked third, back in 2005, they selected catcher Jeff Clement (instead of Troy Tulowitzki, as most people expected). It was a blown call that still reverberates.
On Saturday, Mariners scouts convened in Seattle for a three-day session to hash over their reports before heading out for one more scouting blitz.
"This year, I've seen the top guys multiple times more than ever, because it's pretty tight this year," McNamara said. "What I'm doing is putting us in position, if this team takes this guy, we'd better be ready if they take two players we want ahead of us."
McNamara won't give any hint which way the Mariners are leaning — college or high school, position player or pitcher — but I'd be shocked if they didn't select a hitter, considering both their pitching depth and offensive woes.
Of course, I said the same thing last year. McNamara said that "last year I would have taken Hultzen in my sleep."
He indicated he's pretty sure he knows who the Mariners will take, "but things can change."
Most of the draft gurus have the Mariners looking at Georgia high-school outfielder Byron Buxton, regarded as an Eric Davis type combination of speed and power; Mike Zunino, a catcher from Florida regarded as the top collegiate position player; and Correa, from the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, a shortstop with power.
But Keith Law of ESPN threw a wrench in his recent mock draft by having the M's taking California high-school right-hander Lucas Giolito, who hit 100 mph before spraining his elbow early in the season. Law also said the Mariners are on Giolito's teammate at Harvard-Westlake High School, lefty Max Fried, as well as Oklahoma State lefty Andrew Heaney.
Most mock drafts have the Astros taking Stanford right-hander Mark Appel, the most polished college pitcher, first overall. The question then would be if the Twins, needing a quick fix, would bypass Buxton, generally regarded as having more upside talent than anyone in the draft, for someone on a quicker path to the majors. If they do, I'd be surprised the Mariners didn't swoop in and take Buxton.
Speaking in general terms, McNamara noted that high-school players are making it to the majors faster than ever. You can point to Mike Trout, selected in the 2009 draft by the Angels and now starting in their outfield, and Bryce Harper, picked just two years ago and already starting for the Nationals.
"A lot has to do with baseball on the amateur side that's a little different than 20 years ago," he said. "The high-school player is traveling all summer and all fall, playing AAU or with a showcase team, getting a taste of what professional baseball is like before his senior year in high school. I call them advanced high-school players."
One new wrinkle this year is that each team has been given a pool of bonus money to sign their picks through the first 10 rounds. If they exceed that pool, they face severe penalties via taxes they must pay.
According to Baseball America the Mariners' pool for their 11 picks in the first 10 rounds is $8,223,400, including a slot of $5.2 million for their first round pick. Teams can go over or under slot for any particular pick, but the total must not exceed their pool if they don't want to be penalized. By comparison, the Mariners paid out $9,840,000 to their top 10 picks last year, according to Baseball America.
The Twins, with 13 picks, have the highest pool figure ($12,368,200), while the Angels are lowest at $1,645,700.
Any player picked after the 10th round has a signing bonus limit of $100,000, though teams can borrow from their pool money to exceed that if they haven't maxed out.
No one quite knows how it's all going to play out, but McNamara knows his job doesn't change: Find the best player he can for the No. 3 pick.
About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.