The Mariners And 2011 Draft Strategy


I’ve trying to put off this post for nearly three months now. Not because I didn’t want to write it but that I wanted it to be relevant when I did. I love the MLB Draft (if you couldn’t tell) it’s one of the best things about baseball that there just isn’t enough coverage about. I think it’s rather funny that with the NFL Draft complete last week everyone is already looking towards the NBA Draft and skipping Baseball’s draft all together.

It’s a beast that is unlike any other. You don’t get to trade picks, there are suggested price “guidelines” for players but if you wait until August you can break guidelines and it’s a full 50 rounds! 3-days of unknown players and goggling them. Pure hope in the truest sense.

The Mariners in the last two years under the leadership of Jack Zduriencik and his right hand man, Scouting Director Tom McNamara, have accomplished two completely different drafts so far in the past two years. With small over laps of consistencies.

Warning: 3,400+ more words after the jump…

While predominately different drafts with different mind sets on the players they went after there are some similarities between the two that we can take away from both of them. Here are just a few points that I came away with.

  • They have been shy of High School bats. In fact in the combined first 20 rounds of the ’09 and ’10 drafts, the Mariners have drafted only 4 high school position players out of 42 picks. Nick Franklin and Steve Baron were first round picks and Marcus Littlewood was a second rounder. The only other high school position player is Christian Carmichael, who was a 6th round pick in 2010.
  • Mariners have signed four players (Vinnie Catricala, Carlton Tanabe, Christian Carmichael and Charles Kaalekahi) from the island state of Hawaii, the most of any club in the past two years. 2 of the 4 are pretty interesting prospects and Carmichael could be a third. It’s clear that they’ve spent a bit of time over there and it should be interesting to see what comes out.
  • Former Mariner pitcher Brian Holman’s son David Holman has been drafted in the late-40’s each of the past two years. Not important, just interesting.
  • 2009 was commonly considered a hitters draft in which McNamara used 9 of his first 13 picks to select position players. Then in 2010, considered an overall weak draft, but with an emphasis on pitching he took 7 high school and 6 college pitchers  in the first 20 picks of 2010.
  • The Mariners haven’t been discriminative in the selection of pitchers. They’ve drafted Johnathan Hesketh, Tyler Burgoon, Jordan Shipers and Willy Kesler. All of which are under 6 feet tall.

2009 vs. 2010: The Good

One good thing that we can say looking back on both 2009 and 2010 is he didn’t botch the first pick. While Ackley may not be the best player of the 2009 draft think of the next 5-10 picks, Donavan Tate, Tony Sanchez, Matthew Hobgood, Zach Wheeler.

Tate played all of 25 games before injuring himself and being out for all of 2010. He came on strong in 2011 but injured himself again and has been on the disabled list the last two weeks. Now, Tate has a ton of talent. But, with a new regime taking over Tom McNamra said it best himself.

"“It’s a lot of picks. We’ve got to get them right,” he said. “We’re trying our best in there to make sure (with) the decisions we make, the people of Seattle three, four – maybe two years – hopefully will sit back and say, ‘Hey, this is the core of a playoff-, championship-, World Series-type team.’ – Seattle PI"

Sanchez and Hobgood were clear over drafts. Sanchez was a guy that the Mariners had hopped was going to be available at 27 and has proved to be pretty good. But, Hobgood was likely a supplemental pick that the Orioles instead chose to save some money early in the draft.

McNamara got the right guy.

The same can be said for 2010 and Taijuan Walker. I can personally say that there was at least 3 or 4 other guys on the board at that time that I had wanted instead . Nick Castellanos, Peter Tago and Stetson Allie were all guys that I immediately thought were better and I was excited about possibly coming into the organization. In fact I used my first pick in my Shadow Draft on Allie.

While those guys wouldn’t have been bad picks, Walker signed for slot and earlier than all other first round picks. Walker got to Arizona and worked (and worked and worked some more) all summer. As recently as last month Walker was seen hitting 97,98 and 99 mph repeatedly in extended spring training.

McNamara got … well he got a right guy. It’s way too early to say that he got the wrong  guy or that he got the right one. But at this point I think it’s fair to say the pick appears to be a good one.

2009 vs 2010: The Bad

Anyone that knows me, or if you have read this blog for long, knows that I don’t dwell on the bad. I generally do not. I’m susceptible as anyone else to the negatives of life. But overall my joy isn’t based upon baseball and so when things go bad it’s frustrating and disappointing but I can still become excited about the good things.

That said, I hate to focus on some of the bad moves but to me there are lessons to be learned. It’s too early to really “grade” the drafts. They say you need 3-5 years to really gain perspective on the a specific class. But, I think it’s obvious that some players aren’t going to be anything like what we had expected them to be.

The first pick that stands out for me is Shaver Hansen, 6th round in 2009, was a terrible pick. Immediately there was some disappointment after  kind of figured that the hope would be that he could turn himself into a decent utility player with pop. But, the trouble with the wood bats continued as suspected. I just never liked the pick and with a career line of .200/.279/.315 in 482 plate appearances he hasn’t done anything to change my mind.

The other real problem with the 2009 draft was that they took absolutely NO gambles outside of the first round. I suppose you could point to James Jones. But it’s been a move that has been praised ever since with very slow results.

Don’t get me wrong the front office made an assortment of solid picks. But there were some talented prep pitchers that dropped and retrospectively I’m surprised that McNamara didn’t jump on them. Instead choosing to stay pretty safe through the draft and the most disappointing part of that is they only signed 37 of 52 picks, whereas even with the risks they took in 2010 they still signed 39 of 50.

If there was a time to take some risks it’s when you first get hired, rather than when you butt’s on the line. That’s just my opinion. Though I see the purpose behind the draft. It was to get high floor talent into a barren minor league system.

The biggest eye sore of the 2010 draft is of course the Ryne Stanek gamble. At the time everyone loved it, including myself, but retroactively he was just the wrong guy to gamble on. There was a few high ceiling high school arms that fell outside of Stanek. The Washington Nationals gambled on A.J. Cole just 17 picks later, while it cost them 2 million dollars, they got their man. Cole, just like Stanek, was projected to be a first round talent and was considered a tough sign. Both slid due to signability concerns.

The bottom line being that the Mariners just gambled on the wrong talent here. The Rays made a similar move in the 4th round with Austin Wood. While neither of the draftees that spurned their draft teams to go on to big colleges have done well, Stanek still has two years before being draft eligible again so you never know which way it could go. Considering his stuff he could still be a first round pick in 2013.

I personally never cared too much for Marcus Littlewood in the second round. But it’s hard to complain about it at this time. I had a few different ideas of who I’d rather draft but ultimately it doesn’t matter. Because this wasn’t a bad pick. I still give it a B- until we really know what he’s capable of

This is a really short list of problems. The Mariners have done a pretty good job to get talent in to the system that was absolutely bare two years ago. They may look back and realize they missed out on a few different guys but it’s not like the drafts in 2005, 2006 or 2008. We made sacrifices on names, but not on talent. The front office has done a very commendable job.

What makes this year different?

With all that review  it’s time to start turning our focus towards the 2011 draft which is just a month away (June 6th, 7th and 8th) and look at what the possible strategies could be.

It’s partly why I posted that the poll the other day. Going into the draft I think it’s important to evaluate where you are at right now within your own farm system. Knowing and understanding your own weakness. The successes over the past year and the failures.

It goes without saying that the Mariners need to continue beefing up their system and this is the year to do it. Last year I remember going through about 50-100 notable names. This year it’s closer to 200-250. It’s been said dozens of times that this year is possibly the deepest draft in the history of the draft.

Add into the equation that with a new collective barging agreement may soon be in place. There could be some serious money thrown around this year.

"In the negotiations that will lead to a new CBA, Bud Selig’s team–the Commissioners Office–will be pushing for what they have been unable to weedle and cajole: hard and fast slotting of the Rule 4 draft.  Selig has pushed baseball’s ownership to adhere to annual projections for what each “slot” in the draft is worth.– John24qgp iSportsfan."

"It is no secret that Commissioner Selig is unhappy with the present structure of the Rule 4 draft (aka amateur draft). Selig has, with mixed results, attempted to control spending in the Rule 4 via his office’s “slotting recommendations”.–   Peter Toms The Biz of Baseball"

The Mariners always have a lot of money set aside in their budget for amateur signings. Last year they spent more than 11 million dollars combined between international and rule-4 talent. The previous year(2009) they spent upwards of 15 million dollars.

Regardless of the specific talent that they get in the first round it’s safe to say that it’s going to take a significant amount of money to sign them and I believe that you could rationalize an argument for their draft budget being larger than what it was in 2009.

So I ask, do you over pay for talent this year? To avoid the possibility of missing out on talent in the future? Or is this just business as usual? While overspending could cause some serious issues with the whole draft it could also lead to a huge in flux in the amount of talent in the system. It leads to the big question and that is how do you go about using the picks that you have for the most value.

The 1-2-3 game plan

The Mariners have 51 total picks this year, how do you go about making sure that we fill in the holes of the organization? The lack of catching prospects internally is a specific issue that is continually raised and there is ever a need for more pitching. How do you balance that need versus the talent available? Do you over draft in the 2nd or 3rd rounds in an effort to make sure you get top talent at that position? Or do you wait and hope that it comes to you over the early stages (up to round 10) and just go with the best available talent?

I realize that’s it’s most likely situational but I’m asking because I want to know what fans expect going into the draft. How disappointed are you going to be with the Mariners if they don’t use one of their 6 picks in the first 5 rounds on a catcher? If it also seemed like there was 10-20 other names better than the next best catcher on the board, could you blame them?

I ask this specifically because looking at just about any top-50 talent boards out there, you consistently see 6 names that are repeated over and over at catcher. Blake Swihart (High School), Austin Hedge (High School), Andrew Susac (Oregon State), Peter O’Brien (Bethune-Cookman), James McCann (Arkansas) and then CJ Cron (Utah).

Now CJ Cron is basically Jeff Clement of 2011. Only everyone already knows he won’t stay behind the plate. Which is fine because the guy has epic power that should play at first base.

The rest of them all profile to go in the first or supplemental round. Reading as much as I have it’s doubtful at best to think that any of them drop outside of the first round. So with all of them out of the picture what do you do?

The next tier is somewhat comprised of high schoolers  Tyler Marlette, Brett Austin, and Elvin Soto. There isn’t much that really separates these guys.

Keith Law and Conor Glassey both really like Austin and Marlette. I really like Brett Austin for his ability to hit from both sides of the plate. The reports seem to be good, though while there are a few things on his hitting there isn’t much on whether he’ll stay behind the plate or not. Though Perfect Game has him with a pop time of 1.84 which is above average from my understanding.

Tyler Marlette isn’t bad either showing above average raw power and being called one of the better “catch and receive” guys in the draft. He hit a home run in the area code games while at Petco Park which is significant in the fact that Petco draws similar comparisons to Safeco as being a pitcher’s park and it takes some serious leverage to get it out.

I also like switch hitter Elvin Soto, a Team USA team mate of projected first rounder Blake Swihart, a strong defensive catcher who could also add value at the plate. Though I like his swing better from the right side I think he’s easily a better bet than Steve Baron.

Then you also have an a compilation of Cameron Gallagher, Brandon Sedell and Eric Haase somewhere in that tier as well.

Brandon Sedell, an AFLAC all-american, reminds me more of a first basemen than a catcher with his 6’2, 210 self. Haase has great pop times and is considered the top high school position player in Michigan. Cameron Gallagher was considered a top-50 high school talent by Baseball America as early as fall 2010, he has serious plate skills but also doubts about his ability to stick behind the plate.

On my personal big board (which I’m sure doesn’t mean much to you) I have Brett Austin next in line ranked at 92 overall and the last catcher ranked in the top 100. Ranking just is based upon overall talent level.

Which Is More Important?

The next question that I pose to you all is what is more important with the Mariners second round pick? Do they go with a need in catcher or do they go with what could be a top available talent.

Possible college pitchers include Ryan CarpenterKyle Winkler, Andrew Chaffin, Logan Verrett and Burch Smith. All of which profile at being middle of the rotation type pitchers.

There are also High School pitching studs such as Bryan BrickhouseKevin ComerDillon Maples and Deshorn Lake which all have high ceilings as well.

Then there are the assortments of other position players as well.

Do we take a player that’s ceiling is higher or do we take a player for need? Especially when it’s that early in the draft. If we wait for the “right” time is that in the third, fourth, fifth round? Where you don’t have the same options with guys that don’t have the ceilings or have more question marks surrounding them.

Throw a wrench into theory

Let me further complicate the picture. Austin Hedges, #31 on Keith Laws’ Top 50, #37 on Baseball America’s mid-season Top 50 and #30th overall on Diamond Scape Scouting’s top 100, has a full ride scholarship to UCLA. Has a family background that holds college attendance to an important. Most college commitments have a price tag, but with Hedges the question mark isn’t so much what the price tag is it’s whether or not you believe in his bat enough to pay it.

Hedge is the best catch-and-throw receiver in the entire draft. But, his bat has question marks. Sound familiar? I’ve heard a few people compare him to Steve Baron.

My question is with someone that is advanced defensively and considered one of the top 3 catchers in the draft, if he were to drop due to signability concerns do you pull the trigger and throw 3-4 mil at him or do you go with someone that you know you can get into the organization and at a cheaper price even if he’s not as good?

Personally to me it depends on who we draft in the first round.

If Cole drops to us, I’m going all in on the best available catcher on my board. Now who that is can be argued but the point is I’m going to get the catcher I feel can stick behind the plate and still hit. If that’s Hedges, if that’s Austin, whatever. I’m grabbing them. That’s me.

Now, if we grab Rendon I’d prefer to try and grab the best pitcher available, regardless of high school or college affiliation.  It’s been said in a few different papers (Seattle Times and Seattle PI) that despite the lack of High School arms in 2009 McNamara has an “affinity” towards high school arms over other possible draftees.

High School Hitters and the like…

The last big question I see facing the front office during this draft is will they take a high school bat in the top-10 or will they continue to prefer college bats and arms early on. I have about a dozen guys highlighted for each pick right now.  I’ll go over them as time gets closer. But the thing is at each pick there are usually about 5 HS bats.

Example is Jake Cave could very well still be around in the third round, local high schooler Michael Conforto could be right in the third or fourth round but could drop as far as the sixth or seventh round. Shawon Dunston Jr is looking to drop into the back half of the first ten rounds. Speaking of bloodlines one of my favorite high school bats outside of the sure first rounders is Dante Bichette Jr.

These guys are getting pushed back due to plethora of solid position players readily available coming out of college and the forest of arms that are in this draft the first 10 rounds. The question is will the Mariners take some risks when the high school position players drop on the board.

I really like how they showed the courage to take some gambles last year with James Paxton, Jabari Blash, Ryne Stanek, Luke Taylor, Jon Keller, Tyler Linehan, Charles Kaalekahi and Jordan Shipers. They rolled the dice and the awesome thing about it was that they signed 5/8 and all 5 have shown some type of promise.

Luke Taylor is the most raw and he may not be very good his first year but give him some time to develop. Kaalekhi impressed almost immediately after reporting to Arizona and Jordan Shipers while having some mechanical problems could be in Clinton by the end of the year.

Last year the Mariners answered my plea for young high school pitching, this year I ask that they bring some young bats into the organization.

There are questions…

So there are a lot of questions in the post that I’ve posed to you. I don’t necessarily expect an answer on all of this but I think it’s important to start to think about.

I’ll have some polls up next week for you all so for those of you that don’t like to reply in the comment section you’ll have a chance to have your voice…err… fingers…err opinions heard.