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Expect M's to make safe pick in draft
Seattle Times staff reporter
Richie Sexson has never been afraid to take a big swing. So when the topic of today's Major League Baseball draft was broached the other day, he hacked away with some unsolicited advice for Mariners execs.
"Get a college pitcher that will be ready in a year," said Sexson, the Mariners' first baseman. "Make sure you write that."
That doesn't appear to be the way the Mariners will go today.
Instead, almost all draft projections have the Mariners ready to take Troy Tulowitzki, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound shortstop from Long Beach State.
That's assuming the top two picks go according to plan — high-school shortstop Justin Upton to Arizona at No. 1 and Nebraska third baseman Alex Gordon to Kansas City at No. 2.
Should either Upton, who many project as a center fielder with the talent to be an impact player along the lines of a young Ken Griffey Jr., or Gordon, who is regarded as the best college position player available slip, the Mariners will surely take one of them.
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Several other players have also been mentioned as possible Mariners targets, notably right-handed pitcher Mike Pelfry of Wichita State, generally regarded as one of the top two college pitching prospects available; Stanford first baseman John Mayberry Jr., Seattle's first-round pick in 2002 who opted for college instead; and USC catcher Mike Clement.
But the Mariners know they can't botch this pick, which is why most analysts figure they will take Tulowitzki.
"Tulowitzki is regarded as a safe pick who almost certainly will return the investment a team makes in him," wrote Baseball America magazine.
That would be good news for the Mariners, who haven't had a first-rounder reach the majors since Matt Thornton in 1998, though there is obviously still hope for players such as Adam Jones, taken in the first round in 2003. (As well as Matt Tuiasosopo, the team's first pick a year ago, though he was selected in the third round).
That Jones and Tuiasosopo are each shortstops has led to the question of whether the Mariners really need to take another one. But Tuiasosopo may project elsewhere long-term and Tulowitzki may simply be too good of a player to ignore.
Getting a return on the first-round pick is critical since the Mariners won't select again until the fourth round with the 113th overall pick, having lost their second- and third-round picks as compensation for signing Sexson and Adrian Beltre.
The last Mariners first-round pick to really make an impact is Gil Meche in 1996.
Tulowitzki is regarded as a similar prospect to Oakland shortstop Bobby Crosby, the 2004 American League rookie of the year. Like Tulowitzki, Crosby played shortstop at Long Beach State.
But as the Mariners clubhouse itself vividly illustrates, the baseball draft is far from an exact science. In fact, it's probably more of a crapshoot than either the NFL or NBA drafts.
Meche, Thornton and Ron Villone (1992) are the only players on the current 25-man roster whom the Mariners drafted in the first round. The only other first-rounder on the active roster is Aaron Sele, taken first by Boston in 1991.
There are a number of other high picks — Jeremy Reed and Dave Hansen were second-round selections, Mike Morse and Willie Bloomquist third-rounders and Bret Boone a fifth-rounder, for instance.
But there are also a number of late-round picks, notably Sexson (24th round by Cleveland in 1993), Raul Ibanez (36th round by Seattle in 1992) and Eddie Guardado (21st round by Minnesota in 1990).
Asked why he thinks he went so low, Sexson said, "It's probably because of the area I grew up in," referring to his high-school days in Brush Prairie near Vancouver, Wash. "I probably would have been a higher pick if I played down in California, but it rained every day and we were lucky to get the game in."
But Sexson also immediately proved to be a can't-miss player.
That's what the Mariners will look for today, as well, though being a high-round pick brings with it not only instant riches — the average signing bonus for a first-round pick last year was $1.8 million — but the pressure to prove they are worth the money.
"If you are taken in the top three rounds, they are really expecting you to turn into something," said Thornton, who joked that he knows the Mariners might be wondering still if he has turned into something.
Sexson, though, thinks the first-rounders have it made.
"If anything, it should be easier," he said. "You're getting paid, you've got all the money you're ever going to need before you step on the field. If that's not easy, I don't know what is.
"He will get every chance to fail. He can fail forever before they will let him go. If you're a late-round pick, you've got one or two chances to stay around and that's it."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company